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Bulgaria and Romania: Political consensus needed to push forward the progress on judicial reform and the fight against corruption

European Commission - IP/09/1166   22/07/2009

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IP/09/1166

Brussels, 22 July 2009

Bulgaria and Romania: Political consensus needed to push forward the progress on judicial reform and the fight against corruption

Cross-party political support is now needed to underpin the momentum that is building for reform in both Member States. However, more needs to be done to deliver convincing results in judicial reform, tackling corruption, and in the case of Bulgaria in the fight against organised crime. This is the main conclusion to be drawn from the two reports adopted today by the Commission. In the last year, Romania has tabled important proposals to reform criminal law, civil law and judicial procedures but more political support is required to deliver swift and effective decisions on cases of high-level corruption by an independent judiciary. Bulgaria started to restructure its prosecution service and recorded more indictments and convictions as a result. At the same time, the fight against corruption and organised crime needs stronger political support – this clearly should be a priority task for the new government. The Commission recognises that further support and monitoring is needed and invites the other Member States to continue assisting Bulgaria and Romania in the reform process. To guide this process, the reports include a series of concrete recommendations to be implemented by the two countries over the next year.

The President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso, said: “The reform momentum that has been established now needs to be backed up by a national political consensus involving all political parties and institutions, and more convincing delivery of results. Citizens in both countries and across the rest of Europe must feel that no one is above the law. I hope that the two governments will move quickly to implement the concrete recommendations for reform that the Commission has put forward"

As in previous reports, the Commission's analysis is based on an assessment of progress by the Bulgarian and Romanian authorities and on information by Member States, international organisations, independent experts and a variety of other sources. The Commission has carried out several missions to Bulgaria and Romania, including with the support of high level experts from other Member States. The reports also take into account the responses by Bulgaria and Romania to detailed questionnaires prepared by the Commission.

The report on progress in Bulgaria notes a positive change of attitude and identifies a number of technical steps taken by Bulgaria in response to the Commission's report of July 2008. Bulgaria has taken initial action to improve its track record in the prosecution of serious crime: a reorganisation of the prosecution and a change in methodology has resulted in a growing number of indictments, in particular regarding fraud with EU funds and in some first convictions on organised crime. In addition, Bulgaria analysed delays in serious criminal cases and issued recommendations to speed up court procedures which have partly been implemented and led to the swift conclusion of some cases. The inspection of the Supreme Judicial Council has established an encouraging track record and contributed, together with the Supreme Cassation Court, to improvements in the equal application of the law.

However, these signs of progress have not yet had an impact on the daily reality for Bulgarians who do not yet see improvements. In the public perception, justice in Bulgaria is slow and sometimes inequitable, with some prosecutors and magistrates allegedly subject to influence and interference. Bulgaria still suffers from an outdated Criminal Code and from excessive formalism in judicial practice. Thorough reform of the judiciary has not yet started and the positive results of recent reform efforts remain fragmented. They need to be adequately backed up by a broad political consensus and a convincing strategy to make the fight against organised crime and corruption the top priority for Bulgaria. The report calls for an unequivocal and long term political commitment by Bulgaria to sustain and extend the current momentum of progress in order to register more substantial results in investigating, prosecuting and judging cases of high-level corruption and organised crime.

The report on Romania notes that the authorities reacted effectively to the concerns expressed in the interim report of the Commission of February 2009 by an adoption of new Criminal and Civil Codes and by tabling proposals for reform of judicial procedures. The positive track record of the prosecution in high-level corruption cases was maintained and complemented by steps to improve the staffing situation of courts and prosecutors' offices and by actions to improve the consistency of jurisprudence, such as appeals in the interest of the law lodged by the General Prosecutor and recommendations by a working group. The National Integrity Agency is now operational and has delivered good results by following up on declarations of assets while the first judicial cases launched by ANI are still pending decision by courts.

However, these reform efforts remain fragmented, they have not yet taken firmly root and must still produce practical results for Romanian citizens. The Parliament should show the full commitment to pursuing the fight against high level corruption. A lack of initiative in addressing local corruption is apparent. Jurisprudence remains contradictory and a legislative patchwork of emergency ordnances and implementing rules creates legal insecurity. Overall, a broad based political consensus behind reform and an unequivocal commitment across political parties to real progress has still to be demonstrated. There is a real risk that an ever growing web of legislation, implementing rules and practices resulting from permanent political party infighting may result in a loss of focus for the ultimate objective which is to establish an independent and stable judiciary. The report calls for a political consensus in Romania to allow the judicial system to work independently and to allow non-partisan investigations into corruption lead to swift and effective decisions.

Both reports recognise that further assistance and monitoring by the Commission is needed to support the reform processes in Bulgaria and Romania until all benchmarks are fulfilled and the CVM can be repealed.

Background

On 1 January 2007, the Commission established a Cooperation and Verification Mechanism to assess the commitments made by Bulgaria and Romania in the areas of judicial reform, fight against corruption and organised crime. The Commission was asked to report on the accompanying measures on a regular basis. The Commission issued its first report on 27 June 2007 and reported since then on a bi-annual basis. The Commission reports published today make an assessment of progress in meeting benchmarks set at the time of accession on judicial reform, the fight against corruption and - for Bulgaria - organised crime. The reports draw on information provided by the Bulgarian and Romanian Governments, the Commission and Member States' representations in the two countries, civil society organisations, associations and experts. The Commission reports are supplemented by in-depth technical reports on each country.

A more detailed overview of the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism and the safeguard clauses can be found in MEMO/07/260 .

Copies of the full reports can be found at:

http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/secretariat_general/cvm/index_en.htm


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