Romania flagging in fight against corruption, says EU

 

THE EUROPEAN Union has lambasted Romania over its flagging efforts to fight corruption, while giving a positive report on the work of Bulgaria’s new government.

The EU scolded Romania on several scores including its treatment of its National Integrity Agency (ANI), a Brussels-backed body that monitors politicians’ financial interests, which was emasculated by a constitutional court ruling and a new law passed by parliament last month.

“While Bulgaria has embraced reform efforts and achieved important results, Romania has lost momentum with this report showing important shortcomings,” the EU Commission said in its annual report on the Balkan states, which joined the bloc in 2007.

“Romania showed overall insufficient political commitment in support of the reform process. In addition, the leadership of the judiciary appeared unwilling to co-operate and take responsibility for the benefit of reform. Lack of efficiency of the judicial process and the lack of consistency of jurisprudence remain fundamental weaknesses in Romania,” the report stated.

“The amendments to the law on the National Integrity Agency voted on June 30th represent a serious step back,” the commission continued.

“The law puts at risk the positive track record which the National Integrity Agency had achieved and puts Romania in clear breach of its accession commitments. The commission calls upon Romania to honour its commitments by finding the most appropriate legal means to re-establish ANI’s powers to propose the effective forfeiture of unjustified wealth.”

The ANI was intended to be a key weapon to counter the corruption and conflict of interest that are seen as rife among Romania’s politicians, but the constitutional court and subsequent law passed by parliament stripped it of its most important powers.

President Traian Basescu, an advocate of the ANI, complained to the constitutional court about the new law, and judges ruled this week that it was illegal. Parliament will now have to redraft the law, and Brussels wants to see the teeth restored to the ANI.

While the EU said it would not impose financial sanctions against Romania, the country’s leaders fear that Brussels could withhold part of a €20 billion aid package unless they do more to fight graft.

“The report on progress in Bulgaria points to a strong momentum of reform,” the commission said, praising the new government of prime minister Boyko Borisov, a former fireman and bodyguard who won power last year on an anti-corruption ticket.

However, it said further effort was required to improve police and judicial work in the investigation of complex criminal cases.

Despite a higher number of indictments for high-level corruption and organised crime, the commission said too few cases were concluded in court.

Important organised crime cases have seen little development and the number of confirmed asset forfeiture decisions at court remained very low, it added.

“The judiciary must take the initiative more often and show a stronger sense of responsibility. Public funds must also be better protected against fraud and conflict of interest.”

The commission said the new strategy for judicial reform demonstrated political determination to achieve a profound change, but emphasised that success would require a sustained commitment by Bulgaria, the European authorities and other member states.