EU Praises Romania, Scolds Bulgaria, Keeps Monitoring on Both
Bulgaria needs to "consolidate and reinforce its overall resolve" to step up judicial reform and pursue and independent analysis of the prosecutor's office, the Council of the EU believes.
At a General Affairs Council session in Brussels, EU ministers have approved conclusions now adopted by all 28 member states with regard to monitoring reports issued annually about Bulgarian and Romania's state of the judiciary and anti-corruption efforts under the so-called Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM).
The vast part of conclusions and recommendations refer to Bulgaria, with Romania's effort being "commended" and with the council stating that Bucharest is on the way "to attain the objectives of the Mechanism" by "ensuring sustainability and irreversibility".
Although the latter comment could translate as a possibility for Romania to have the CVM revoked over the next years, the council has asserted that the mechanism "continues to be instrumental for progress" and that it "stays in place" pending the results expected from each of the two member states.
"Overall progress in Bulgaria needs to be accelerated urgently," the General Affairs Council says in a statement, adding some "encouraging steps have been taken to put the reform process back on track."
"The Commission's overall assessment reiterates a number of concerns that still need to be addressed. Bulgaria should focus its efforts on removing controversy about political influence on the judicial system and integrity issues regarding appointments, as well as the need to improve on the monitoring and the addressing of deficiencies, and the effective implementation of court judgements. Pursuing reforms of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) and the prosecution office, and strengthening the powers of the Judicial Inspectorate (ISJC) remain of key importance."
"The fight against corruption, in particular at high level, needs to be intensified, to bring about concrete and sustained results, including in improving the transparency of public tender procedures. An urgent priority should be to adopt a new anti-corruption law, which consolidates the intentions set out in the anti-corruption strategy," the conclusions read further, urging the establishment of a new anti-corruption body "with a strong independent mandate."
Last year Bulgarian lawmakers failed to pass an anti-corruption bill, raising concerns among EU countries' ambassadors and prompting the government to promise a new draft would be resubmitted in 2016.
The Council says it "appreciates the continued good co-operation of Bulgaria and Romania with the Commission and with the other Member States under the Mechanism" and "reiterates the need for broad and unequivocal political support for such reforms".
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