EC Paradoxically Slams Romania, Praises Bulgaria in Possibly Last Post-Accession Progress Report
Praise for Buglaria has been described as perplexing by commentators in Sofia.
In its 2019 annual report on the post-accession progress of Bulgaria and Romania, the two poorest EU member states which were allowed to join the Union 13 years ago despite certain deficiencies, the European Commission has somewhat unexpectedly praised the former and slammed the latter.
Both Bulgaria and Romania became members of the EU on January 1, 2007, but on the condition of tackling their most overt problems rule of law, with the EU executive, the European Commission, monitoring their progress under the so called Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM).
Romania has thus been monitored on top-level corruption and judicial reform, while Bulgaria has been monitored on those two counts as well as the fight against organized crime.
While Romania had made very tangible progress in cracking down on high-ranking corruption, the EC monitoring reports of 2018 and now 2019 have been rather critical of a certain degree of backtracking in Bucharest.
“[Since the previous report in November 2018] the Commission has had to raise a number of times rule of law-related concerns with the Romanian authorities in relation to developments on judicial reforms and the fight against corruption,” the EC said in a statement.
“On each of these occasions, the Commission has confirmed backtracking from the progress made in previous years and this evolution is a source of great concerns,” it added.
Romania’s Prime Minister Viorica Dancila recently lost a no confidence vote over corruption allegations involving the former leader of her Social Democratic Party, Liviu Dragnea, who has already been in prison on corruption charges.
Ludovic Orban, the leader of the conservative opposition, is presently working to form a new Cabinet, and early elections will be called if he fails.
With Dragnea as the central figure, the EC had issued warnings about Romania’s rulers seeking to undermine anti-corruption progress even before Dancila became Prime Minister in January 2018.
At the same time, the 2019 EC monitoring for Bulgaria contains somewhat surprisingly contains some praises for progress made on judicial reform and the fight against a corruption – an assessment totally in contrast with the gloomy feeling in Sofia connected with numerous grave controversies surrounding the pre-determined election of a new Chief Prosecutor for a seven-year term.
The 12th annual EC post-accession progress report on Bulgaria does account for the controversial developments in the country in the recent months, and does reiterate criticism with respect to the insufficient tools to hold the Chief Prosecutor accountable for their actions.
“The Commission notes in particular the commitment of the Bulgarian government to put in place procedures concerning the accountability of the prosecutor general, including safeguarding judicial independence,” the EC report said.
The EC also made it clear it was proposing ending the annual post-accession progress reports for Bulgaria. It has initiated consultations with the European Council and the European Parliament on the issue although the final decision rests with the Commission.
On Wednesday, a day after the 2019 progress reports for Bulgaria and Romania were released, EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova said the decision on ending Bulgaria’s monitoring would probably be made by the end of the year.
The new President of the European Commission who is to take over from outgoing President Jean-Claude Juncker, Ursula von der Leyen, has already put forth the idea of ending the post-accession monitoring of Bulgaria and Romania, and introducing a mechanism to monitor the rule of law in every single EU member state. For the time being, however, given the latest criticism, the CVM does not seem likely to be lifted at least with respect to Romania.
Government critics and pundits in Bulgaria have met the EC report’s praise of the government of Boyko Borisov with criticism and reservations given that there have hardly been any radical improvements in the problem areas. Some even described the proposed lifting of the monitoring mechanism as “Juncker’s parting gift” for Borisov.
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