EU Sees Slow Change in Bulgaria Justice Reform, Romania on Track

  • Bulgaria's biggest challenge fighting high-level graft, crime
  • EU releases regular monitoring reports on Bulgaria, Romania

Romania has shown a “strong track record” in fighting high-level corruption and organized crime, while Bulgarian policy changes have stalled on “lack of determination,” the European Union said in a report on the bloc’s poorest states.

“Real results in tackling high-level corruption and organized crime cases remains Bulgaria’s biggest challenge and must be the highest priority,” European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said in a statement Wednesday.  In Romania “we have seen the professionalism, commitment and good track record of the judiciary and the anti-corruption prosecution and reforms being internalized,” he said.

The two countries that joined the 28-nation bloc in 2007 are judged to be among the EU’s most corrupt along with Greece and Italy, according to Berlin-based research organization Transparency International. The Black Sea nations have had repeated warnings to fight corruption harder to ensure a fair distribution of EU aid. Romania, the bigger of the two, stands to receive 33 billion euros ($36 billion) in EU aid through 2020. Bulgaria will get about 16 billion euros.

Corruption Convictions

After a record number of corruption convictions in 2014, Romania further intensified its anti-graft drive last year as prosecutors sent to trial former Prime Minister Victor Ponta on charges of money laundering and complicity to tax fraud. Ponta, who denies the allegations, resigned in November. after a deadly nightclub fire outraged thousands of citizens who took to the streets with anti-corruption slogans.

In Romania “further support to the consolidation of reform is needed to ensure the irreversibility of progress,” the commission said.

Bulgaria amended its constitution last month to divide the Supreme Judicial Council, which oversees the judiciary, into two chambers - one for judges and another for prosecutors, seeking to ensure the independence of the court.

Former Justice Minister Hristo Ivanov resigned Dec. 9 after lawmakers rejected a proposal to curb the chief prosecutor’s powers. Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s Gerb party urged the Council to disband on Tuesday, accusing its members of influence trading and losing public confidence.

Concrete Results

“It is time to move to the next stage by turning the strategies on judicial reform and the fight against corruption into action on the ground and delivering concrete results,” the commission said about Bulgaria.

Romanian Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos’ government, the first technocratic cabinet in Romania since the fall of communism, pledged on Wednesday its commitment to meet the objectives of the EU’s supervision report.

“Considering the positive results of the report, we think there are premises for the mechanism to be lifted,” the government said in an e-mailed statement.

The commission will continue monitoring the two countries and will issue the next two reports in one year, the commission said.

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