EU chides Romania and Bulgaria on corruption

BRUSSELS – The European Commission criticized EU newcomers Bulgaria and Romania yesterday for insufficient progress on fighting corruption but decided they will face no sanctions for the time being. «High-level corruption is still a point of weakness,» EU Justice and Security Commissioner Franco Frattini told a news conference after the EU executive adopted reports on the poor Black Sea neighbors’ performance on justice and home affairs. The reports on the two countries which joined the European Union in January were slightly toned down at the last minute for political reasons, Frattini acknowledged. The Italian commissioner, accused by critics of being soft on Bulgaria in particular, said this was «not a blaming and shaming exercise.» He chose instead to emphasize the substantial efforts both had made in adopting reforms and said they needed to concentrate now on implementation. Both governments responded by promising to work to remove the remaining shortcomings identified. The final versions omitted a warning that there was «no room for complacency» in either country. However, severe criticism of persistent unpunished «contract killings» in Bulgaria and judicial prevarication in prosecuting former senior officials in Romania survived in the documents. The EU executive said it was too early either to decide on possible sanctions or to remove the threat. It will issue further progress reports early next year and in mid-2008. «There is a need to step up efforts in the pursuit of judicial reform and the fight against corruption and organized crime,» the EU executive said in a survey of Bulgaria. It made a similar comment for Romania on judicial reform and corruption but not on its fight against organized crime. Contract killings Bulgarian EU Affairs Minister Gergana Grancharova said: «The report on Bulgaria’s progress is balanced and objective. The big challenge… remains to speed up procedures in the justice system and have enough court sentences with convictions.» Romanian Justice Minister Tudor Chiuariu said in a statement, «The report confirms the priorities of my mandate: adopting the integrity agency bill and the efficiency of the fight against corruption.» Romania was credited with progress in judicial reforms and substantial progress in creating a National Integrity Agency. The Bulgaria report was critical of the absence of practical results across the entire area of crime fighting. «Contract killings continue to be of great concern, and in particular the most recent killings of local politicians since January. To date no prosecution and conviction has taken place.» The EU executive was mandated to report every six months on the eastern Balkan newcomers’ progress in meeting a series of benchmarks on judicial reform, corruption and organized crime under their accession treaty. It is also due to report separately later this year on their ability to administer and absorb regional aid and agricultural subsidies, which may lead to a partial withholding of some money from Brussels, EU officials say. Ognyan Shentov, a political analyst at the Center for the Study of Democracy in Sofia said, «This is the most sincere report of the Commission so far and also with unusually sharp language.» «The threat of financial sanctions remains and it would be too embarrassing for Bulgarian politicians not to start real work and show results,» he said, urging strict monitoring.

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