Romania to adopt law ahead of EU bid report

BUCHAREST (Reuters) – The parties in Romania’s fragile ruling coalition have pledged to back anti-corruption legislation to try to save it one week before a European Union report on the country’s entry bid, officials said yesterday. The bill, which sets up an integrity agency to monitor politicians’ wealth, stumbled in Parliament in recent weeks due to opposition from smaller groupings in the coalition. The failure to create the watchdog drew heavy criticism from the European Union just as Romania struggles ahead of the September 26 EU report to convince the bloc it is ready to join next year. «From now on, there is backing from all parties in the coalition to approve the agency law, in the form adopted by the government,» Democrat Party leader Emil Boc told a private television station after a coalition meeting. However, analysts said it was uncertain whether the government could muster sufficient support within the fragmented Parliament to pass the bill. Parliament has in the past hampered the government’s efforts to introduce laws to curb corruption, particularly at top level, despite pressure from Brussels which says endemic graft is a crucial problem in Romania. Observers say reluctance in Parliament is driven mostly by fears among some deputies that they would come under fire from such laws. Earlier this month, two groupings in the centrist government, the UDMR which represents ethnic Hungarians and the Conservatives, teamed up with the ex-communist opposition in parliamentary committee discussions to water down the bill. The UDMR, which had been in the previous government with the ex-communists widely criticized for allowing corruption to fester, said it would back the government’s version of the integrity agency. »All the (coalition) parties, including us, agreed to back the setting up of an efficient tool to fight high-level graft, in accordance with what EU officials want,» UDMR Deputy Arpad-Francisc Marton told Reuters. Neither of the two groups said whether they would give up a controversial amendment that weakened the agency’s ability to monitor wealth by withholding its agents’ access to public officials’ bank accounts. «Nothing has been decided for good. The law can be further adjusted to what the government aims during Parliament debates,» Conservative senator Sabin Cutas said. Coalition sources say the bill might clear the lower house in early October before discussions in the Senate, which is the decision-making house. Debates in parliamentary committee are due to resume on October 2. »I heard lots of statements by politicians. There is an inflation of declarations so I think it’s better to wait and see what is going on during the vote (in Parliament),» Sorin Ionita, head of independent think tank Romanian Academic Society, said.