EU Considers End of Graft Monitoring for Bulgaria, Slams Romania

Slav Okov and Andra Timu

(Bloomberg) -- The European Commission will consider ending a 12-year corruption and judiciary monitoring mechanism for Bulgaria, though it slammed neighboring Romania for a lack of progress in fighting graft.

The two countries have been under EU scrutiny since joining the bloc in 2007 amid concerns over the rule of law. Neither has been granted membership of the EU’s passport-free Schengen area.

Bulgaria has achieved “sufficient” progress over judiciary and graft-fight commitments made at the time of its accession to the EU, the Commission said Tuesday. Even so, dozens of investigations over two years into high-ranking politicians have yet to bring about meaningful convictions. The Commission will take a final decision on ending the monitoring mechanism after consulting member states and the European parliament.

The country -- the EU’s poorest -- still ranks worst among the bloc’s members in Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perceptions Index.

“Bulgaria will need to continue working consistently on translating the commitments reflected in this report into concrete legislation and on continued implementation,” the Commission said. “Bulgaria will need to monitor the continued implementation of the reform with a newly-established post-monitoring council.”

The report comes at a time when Bulgaria is picking a new prosecutor general in a procedure criticized by non-governmental organizations for the lack of competition. The commission noted the commitment by the government to put in place procedures concerning the accountability of the top prosecutor, it said.

Romania -- which is fourth in the corruption index, ahead of Hungary and Greece -- was criticized for controversial changes to criminal legislation approved by the outgoing government. After former ruling-party leader Liviu Dragnea was jailed in May, outgoing Prime Minister Viorica Dancila vowed to halt the changes but wouldn’t reverse measures already approved.

Read More: Anti-Graft Crusader Wins Uphill Battle for Top EU Prosecutor Job

For the first time since the monitoring, the anti-corruption agency was also criticized by Brussels for failing to maintain its good track record under anti-graft crusader Laura Codruta Kovesi, who was fired last year by Dragnea’s allies. She was recently appointed as the EU’s chief prosecutor.

Separately, the Commission gave a green light to Croatia joining the Schengen area, though its entry still requires sign-off by the European Council.

(Updates with details starting in first paragraph.)

To contact the reporters on this story: Slav Okov in Sofia at sokov@bloomberg.net;Andra Timu in Bucharest at atimu@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Irina Vilcu at isavu@bloomberg.net, Andrew Langley, Andrea Dudik

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