Romania could be next to lose EU funds over corruption

Publish date: 16-02-2009
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Romania is in line to become the second country, after Bulgaria, to have millions of Euro in European Union funds frozen after the bloc's executive issued a critical report suggesting Bucharest was not doing enough to fight corruption. "It is important that the Romanian authorities regain momentum on judicial reform and the fight against corruption so as to reverse certain backward movements of recent months," the European Commission's interim report stated.

The report noted that a number of high-level corruption probes remain blocked by the Romanian parliament and that vacancies within the judiciary remain "unacceptably high." Adrian Nastase, a former prime minister, is currently under investigation over allegations that he raised funds illegally during his failed presidential campaign of 2004, but parliament's judicial committee narrowly rejected a request from prosecutors that Nastase stand trial. The Nastase probe is just one of many to have attracted meddling by the country's politicians.

The Commission said in the latest judicial review that Romania's pace of progress in meeting EU standards "has not been maintained" over recent months, citing delays in high-level corruption cases. "Romania must demonstrate the existence of an autonomously functioning, stable judiciary which is able to try and sanction corruption and the rule of law," the Commission said.

Another high-profile controversy concerns the dismissal and subsequent reinstatement of the country's anti-corruption chief, Daniel Morar. Morar, who enjoys the backing of the European Commission, has been particularly active in fighting corruption, launching probes against eight former or current ministers, including Nastase. Meanwhile, the government has been unable to fill hundreds of vacancies for the posts of judge and prosecutor.
The Commission is due to issue its next report on Romania in the summer. "It will be crucial for Romania to achieve significant, irreversible progress by then," the interim report stated. And unless Romania demonstrates that it has "an autonomously functioning, stable judiciary" come the summer, it may lose millions of Euro in EU funds.

Last summer, Bulgaria became the first EU member state to suffer such an ignominy when the commission blocked nearly 500 million Euro in aid in a bid to convince it to stop corruption and organised crime.In November, Bulgaria lost about half that amount for good after officials in Brussels said it could not be trusted with the money. The interim report on Bulgaria was slightly positive, noting that it had at last taken "some initial steps" towards improving its judiciary. Bulgaria and Romania, which joined the EU in 2007, are two of the bloc's poorest countries.

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