EU Raps Bulgaria for Lingering Corruption, Organized Crime
By Alexandra Mayer-Hohdahl
Bulgaria is not making adequate progress on tackling corruption and organized crime, the European Union‘s executive said Wednesday, seven years after the country first joined the bloc.
"Overall progress has not yet been sufficient and remains fragile," the European Commission noted in a statement. "There remain very few cases where crimes of corruption and organized crime have been brought to conclusion in court."
"In Bulgaria, there is a need to galvanize the forces in favour of reform and provide leadership," commission President Jose Manuel Barroso noted.
Bulgaria, along with Romania, was subjected to an unprecedented monitoring mechanism when both countries joined the EU, in 2007, due to major deficiencies in the rule of law.
Since then, EU calls for reform have become a regular chorus for both Bucharest and Sofia.
Bulgarian officials immediately responded with a promise of action.
"We are ready and will immediately start working on an action plan that should produce significant progress ahead of the next report," Interior Minister Tsvetlin Yovchev said.
He and Justice Minister Zinaida Zlatanova both described the European Commission‘s monitoring report as "objective." They addressed reporters after the commission report was released.
Romania received a more upbeat assessment this year, with Barroso praising the country for having taken "significant steps," thanks to officials showing "a real commitment to reform."
However, he also warned that "progress is not straightforward."
The commission pointed in particular to a "rushed and untransparent" reform of the criminal code in December, which was criticized as safeguarding politicians from corruption charges. It also lamented the "interference" seen in some political appointments.
This raises questions as to whether the reforms are "sustainable" and "irreversible," it warned.
In Bulgaria, meanwhile, there have only been "a few steps forward," the commission said.
Public confidence has been shaken by "integrity issues" in political appointments, the "escape from justice of convicted organized crime figures" and political influence in the judicial system, it noted.
At the same time, it acknowledged that the country has faced a challenging situation, with three governments in place during the 18 months that the commission‘s new report analysed.
The country has seen waves of street protests, with demonstrators calling for measures to fight corruption and improve living standards in the EU‘s poorest member state.
The commission‘s next assessment of progress in Bulgaria and Romania is expected to be issued in a year‘s time.
Bulgaria and Romania‘s failure to break free of EU supervision on rule of law and corruption matters has harmed the countries chances of joining Schengen, the European border-free area.
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