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EU says Bulgaria, Romania must do more to reform judiciary, tackle corruption

[JURIST] The European Commission (EC) [official website] reported Wednesday that new EU members Bulgaria and Romania need to do more to achieve judicial reform, fight corruption and organized crime [press release]. A report [PDF text; summary] on Bulgaria's progress in adhering to EU norms noted its passage of constitutional amendments relating to the judiciary [JURIST report] as a positive step that met EU benchmarks for judicial independence and accountability, but said more time was needed to assess whether the legislation had achieved its intended effects. It also found that efforts to counter corruption, especially among high level officials, remain insufficient as there is little indication that inconsistent asset declarations are "systemically" pursued by the judiciary. "Legal prosecution of alleged contract killings" was explicitly found to have been insufficient, although the study acknowledged Bulgaria's extensive judicial cooperation with other EU states in fighting organized crime.

The EC progress report on Romania [PDF text; summary] praised that country's establishment of an independent National Integrity Agency empowered to "verify assets, incompatibilities and potential conflicts of interests" amongst elected and high-level public officials, but it questioned Romanian officials' commitment to prosecuting high-level corruption, finding that the judiciary frequently issued suspended sentences that reduce the deterrent value of convictions. The report also took issue with the decriminalization of bank fraud, as well as the Romanian parliament's proposals to reduce the maximum duration of criminal investigations and attempts to dismiss senior officials at the National Anti-Corruption Department.

EC President Jose Manuel Barroso [official profile] said that the reports were a "reality check" that affirm Bulgaria and Romania's commitment to address the issues, but show that the focus needs to shift to the implementation of legislation already in place. Earlier this month, Bulgarian Justice Minister Georgi Petkanov resigned [JURIST report], saying in advance of the expected EC report that he was tired of the difficult job of judiciary reform.

In January, Bulgaria and Romania officially joined the EU [JURIST report] following six years of accession negotiations. Both countries have been required to comply with a series of benchmarks; failing to do so could result in EU intervention and the potential loss of economic aid under Articles 36-38 of the Act of Accession [text], which lays out safeguard mechanisms [EC backgrounder] in the event of problems posing a threat to the functioning of the EU. Reuters has more.

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