At the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the European Union on 1 January 2007, certain weaknesses remained in both Member States in the areas of judicial reform and the fight against corruption, and in the case of Bulgaria in the fight against organised crime. These weaknesses could prevent an effective application of EU laws, policies and programmes, and prevent Bulgarians and Romanians from enjoying their full rights as EU citizens. Therefore, the Commission undertook to assist Bulgaria and Romania in remedying these shortcomings and to regularly verify progress against specific benchmarks set for this purpose, through the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM). These benchmarks are interlinked and should be seen together as the expression of a long-term political commitment of the two countries to their own citizens as well as to the other Member States. The Commission believes that the monitoring process of the CVM, together with the opportunities provided by EU funds and the constructive engagement of the Commission and many Member States, has provided valuable support to encourage, advance and consolidate reform in Bulgaria and Romania. With the CVM having reached its tenth anniversary this year, the Commission is taking stock with an overview of the achievements, the challenges outstanding and the remaining steps needed to achieve the CVM's objectives.
How long will the CVM last?
The CVM will end when all of the six benchmarks applying to Bulgaria and all of the four benchmarks applying to Romania are satisfactorily met. The Commission considers that the CVM objectives can be achieved by following up the recommendations set out in the 2017 CVM reports. The speed of the process will depend on how quickly Bulgaria and Romania will be able to fulfil these recommendations in an irreversible way, and on avoiding negative steps which call into question the progress made so far.
Who decides when to lift the CVM?
According to the Acts of Accession, which are the legal basis for the CVM decisions, the "Commission shall inform the Council in good time before revoking the safeguard measures [the CVM], and it shall duly take into account any observations of the Council in this respect". Therefore, when the Commission considers that the benchmarks have been fully met, and after taking account of the Council's position, it can conclude that it is possible to revoke the CVM.
What has been achieved in 10 years of the CVM?
The 2017 reports look back at 10 years of the CVM and conclude that overall the CVM has enabled substantial progress, albeit not at the speed and to the extent that was originally expected. The Commission considers that the CVM has proven instrumental in both Bulgaria and Romania in helping a reform process which has put in place legal and institutional measures to address the CVM's objectives. This is a view shared by the Council and advocates of reform in both Member States.
What are the benchmarks for Romania?
- Benchmark 1: Ensure a more transparent and efficient judicial process notably by enhancing the capacity and accountability of the Superior Council of Magistracy. Report and monitor the impact of the new civil and penal procedures codes.
- Benchmark 2: Establish, as foreseen, an integrity agency with responsibilities for verifying assets, incompatibilities and potential conflicts of interest, and for issuing mandatory decisions on the basis of which dissuasive sanctions can be taken.
- Benchmark 3: Building on progress already made, continue to conduct professional, non-partisan investigations into allegations of high-level corruption.
- Benchmark 4: Take further measures to prevent and fight against corruption, in particular within local government.
What are the benchmarks for Bulgaria?
- Benchmark 1: Adopt constitutional amendments removing any ambiguity regarding the independence and accountability of the judicial system.
- Benchmark 2: Ensure a more transparent and efficient judicial process by adopting and implementing a new judicial system act and the new civil procedure code. Report on the impact of these new laws and of the penal and administrative procedure codes, notably on the pre-trial phase.
- Benchmark 3: Continue the reform of the judiciary in order to enhance professionalism, accountability and efficiency. Evaluate the impact of this reform and publish the results annually.
- Benchmark 4: Conduct and report on professional, non-partisan investigations into allegations of high-level corruption. Report on internal inspections of public institutions and on the publication of assets of high-level officials.
- Benchmark 5: Take further measures to prevent and fight corruption, in particular at the borders and within local government.
- Benchmark 6: Implement a strategy to fight organised crime, focussing on serious crime, money laundering as well as on the systematic confiscation of assets of criminals. Report on new and ongoing investigations, indictments and convictions in these areas.
How does the Commission report on progress in Bulgaria and Romania?
The Commission regularly assesses progress in judicial reform and the fight against corruption in Bulgaria and Romania, and in the fight against organised crime in Bulgaria. The Commission's assessments and its formal reports are based on a careful analysis and monitoring, drawing on a continuous dialogue between the Bulgarian and Romanian authorities and the Commission services. The reports have also benefitted from contacts with Member States, civil society, international organisations, independent experts and a variety of other sources. Each Commission report, as well as its methodology and conclusions, is subsequently discussed and has been endorsed in conclusions by the Council of Ministers. It is also presented to the European Parliament.
What are the next steps for Romania?
The Commission's 2014, 2015 and 2016 CVM reports were able to highlight a positive trend and a track record pointing to strong progress and growing irreversibility of the reforms under the CVM. This positive trend was confirmed in 2016 with a continued track record for the judicial institutions in a time of change in leadership and a strong impetus by the government to strengthen corruption prevention. The 10 years' perspective of developments under the CVM shows also that, despite some periods when reform lost momentum and was questioned, Romania has made major progress towards the CVM benchmarks. At the same time a number of key issues already identified in earlier reports have remained outstanding, and therefore this report cannot conclude that the benchmarks are at this stage fully and satisfactorily met.
This report is able to identify a limited number of key recommendations to lead to the provisional closing of individual benchmarks, and then the conclusion of the CVM process. Most of these recommendations focus on the responsibility and accountability required by the Romanian authorities and the internal safeguards needed to ensure the irreversibility of the results, also once the CVM has ended.
The speed of the process will depend on how quickly Romania will be able to fulfil them in an irreversible way, and on avoiding negative steps which call into question the progress made so far.
The Commission therefore invites Romania to take action to fulfil the recommendations contained in the report. The Commission intends to work in close cooperation with the Romanian authorities and provide the necessary support where needed. The Commission will assess progress made towards the end of 2017.
What are the next steps for Bulgaria?
The Commission's 2015 and 2016 CVM reports were able to acknowledge important steps taken by the Bulgarian authorities to put the reform process back on the agenda. During 2016 Bulgaria made additional significant progress in the implementation of the judicial reform strategy, while implementation of the national anti-corruption strategy still remains in an early stage. More generally, over the past ten years, overall progress has not been as fast as hoped for and a number of significant challenges remain to be addressed. The new government will need to drive reform forward to secure irreversible results. Therefore, this report cannot conclude that the benchmarks are at this stage fully and satisfactorily met. However it is possible to identify a limited number of key recommendations to lead to the provisional closing of individual benchmarks, and then the conclusion of the CVM process.
The speed of the process will depend on how quickly Bulgaria will be able to fulfil these recommendations in an irreversible way.
The Commission therefore invites Bulgaria to take action to fulfil the recommendations contained in the report. The Commission intends to work in close cooperation with the Bulgarian authorities and provide the necessary support where needed. The Commission will assess progress made towards the end of 2017.
Does the Commission provide financial and technical support to help with the reforms?
The Commission supports the efforts of Bulgaria and Romania in achieving the CVM objectives through funding under the European Structural and Investment Funds.
In the 2007-2013 period Romania has implemented a number of projects in the anti-corruption and judicial reform area. The total amount of funding from the European Social Fund (ESF) is €16 million. The main beneficiaries have been the Ministries of Public Administration, Justice, Education and Health. European Regional Development Funds (ERDF) were invested in actions relating to integrity control projects and capacity building of the public procurement agency for a budget of around €15 million. In the 2014-2020 period the Administrative Capacity Programme (ESF) will provide funding of about €103 million for judicial reform projects in Romania, including €35 million specifically for anticorruption, and €35 million to support improvements in public procurement. ERDF resources up to €15 million will be invested in capacity building and technical assistance in public procurement, in fraud prevention for Management Authorities and in the Fight Against Fraud Department (DLAF).
In Bulgaria, during the 2007-2013 programming period €51 million was allocated under the Operational Programme for Administrative Capacity for the judiciary. The biggest share of the committed funds were for measures for human resources management and improvement of skills (about €27m) while the rest was split between measures related to transparency and effectiveness (€8m), and e-justice (€16m). Under the new programming period 2014-2020 a priority axis for the judiciary has been included in the Operational Programme for Good Governance with an allocation of €30.2 million.
In 2016, Bulgaria asked for the assistance of the European Commission's Structural Reform Support Service (SRSS) to prepare an independent analysis of the Prosecutor's Office. As a result, a report on the functioning of the prosecution has been prepared by experts from Germany, Spain, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom, also proposing recommendations. The development of further technical assistance projects under the auspices of the SRSS could be considered to further assist the Bulgarian authorities in particular.
For more information:
IP/17/129 - Bulgaria
IP/17/130 – Romania