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Bulgaria, Romania: Corruption and the EU

Categories: Central Asia & Caucasus, Eastern & Central Europe, Bulgaria, Romania, Turkmenistan, Development, Economics & Business, Governance, Human Rights, International Relations, Law, Politics, Technology for Transparency Network

Every six months, the European Commission [1] issues reports [2] “on progress with judicial reform, the fight against corruption and, concerning Bulgaria, the fight against organised crime.” According to the latest progress reports, Bulgaria [3] and Romania [4] “have made genuine efforts, particularly in judicial reform, and […] progress has been made. But more work is needed.” Both countries joined the European Union [5] (EU) on Jan. 1, 2007 [6].

Below are some of the views from the blogosphere.

Edward Lucas reposted his story [7] that appeared in the July 24 issue of the Economist, providing background and analysis:

By the polite standards of Brussels, it was quite tough. On July 23rd the European Commission issued critical reports on Bulgaria’s and Romania’s progress (or lack of it) in fighting corruption and spending European Union money. Yet after intense lobbying, the language was weaker than in the scalding drafts leaked earlier. And the commission dropped an explicit warning that Bulgaria was endangering its chances of joining the euro and the Schengen passport-free travel area.

Even so, the reports hit home, complaining of a “striking” absence of convincing results in Bulgaria’s anti-corruption fight, and of a “grave problem” over the “lack of accountability and transparency in public procurement” when spending EU funds. The commission announced severe sanctions, suspending aid worth as much as €486m ($770m). Without reform, the suspended sum will rise sharply by November.


What scandalises ordinary Bulgarians is that their country, the poorest in the EU, is missing a vital chance to modernise. Public services are dire—shown by a crisis this month in Sofia’s rubbish collection, which has left the streets piled with rotting piles of garbage. So foreign criticism, which in some countries might arouse defensiveness, is in fact welcomed. The EU’s popularity has rocketed, whereas the government’s negative rating is now as high as 73%. […]


In Romania, by contrast, politicians are relieved after escaping sanctions in a softly worded commission report on their anti-corruption and legal reform efforts. […] The commission bemoaned the lack of practical results but welcomed a “move in the right direction”. In Bulgaria, sadly, outsiders find it hard to see any movement at all.


Bulgarian blogger Maya Markova wrote this [8] on her blog, Maya's Corner, on July 17, roughly a week before sanctions were announced:

In its Bulgarian variant, democracy means that people elect rulers entangled in corruption and organized crime and then the country is shaken by an endless row of corruption and crime scandals, till the next elections.


Probably countries with developed civil society and rule of law can afford the EU subsidizing industry without sinking into the quagmire of corruption (though the quagmire of inefficiency will remain). However, countries like Bulgaria haven't much rule of law. And while ordinary citizens are struggling with Third World-like poverty, EU subsidies only serve to further enrich the gang that is ruling the country.

On July 31, Vitaliy of The 8th Circle noted [9] that “corruption [was] not enough to bring down Bulgarian government”:

Following a damning report from the EU, Bulgaria’s center-left government survived a no-confidence vote Wednesday. This is despite the EU’s decision to freeze over 800 million euros of farming, road and regional development aid for the country. […]


It makes you wonder how far can a government in Bulgaria go before it stumbles? With politicians not being held accountable, it is little surprise that the public lacks much trust in their government […].


This perpetuates the vicious cycle whereby a disinterested public withdraws from the political process easing the pressure on politicians who are then – even more so – left to their own devices.

That’s too bad. Bulgarians deserve better.

J Clive Matthews of Nosemonkey's EUtopia/Europhobia, however, wasn't sure why Bulgaria was in the EU at all [10]:

It’s a question I’ve asked before [11], not least when the backwards Balkan oddity first joined [12]. And now, finally, the EU powers that be seem to have noticed that, erm… letting in a notoriously corrupt, organised crime-ridden country with a dodgy economy and poor track record on human rights may just have been a bad idea.


Of course, corruption alone is nothing too unusual within the EU. But Bulgaria also falls down in countless other areas, as the US State Department’s 2007 report on Human Rights [13] in the country notes:

The constitution and law prohibit such practices; however, police frequently beat criminal suspects, particularly members of minority groups… Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported complaints of police brutality from Romani victims who were too intimidated to lodge official complaints with authorities… Human rights groups continued to claim that medical examinations in cases of police abuse were not properly documented, that allegations of police abuse were seldom investigated thoroughly, and that offending officers were very rarely punished… Prison conditions generally did not meet international standards, and the government did not allocate funds to make significant improvements… The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention; however, there were reports that police at times ignored these prohibitions… Impunity remained a problem. All complaints involving interior ministry personnel and other police forces, as well as military personnel, are adjudicated by the military court system.

And on, and on… They could also have mentioned the arbitrary arrest of political dissidents [14]. […]

Maya Markova, for one, did mention it [15] on her blog:

[…] We Bulgarians are too overwhelmed by our hardships and too selfish to care about those who are in even more miserable situation. We often forget that, at least, we have been given freedom while billions of human beings are still oppressed, and we do not show much solidarity with them. Some of my earliest posts from 2006 (dated May 10 [16], 12 [17] and 15 [18], respectively) told the story of a Belarussian dissident to whom our authorities refused political asylum.


I have no details [on the Turkmen dissident's case], so I can only hope that this isn't true! But I feel obliged to post it – let the Turkmenis are cautious about seeking asylum in Bulgaria.

As for Romania, Anda of Kosmopolit wrote [19] about how the progress report was taken in Bucharest:

[…] One can almost hear the sigh of relief in the high governmental offices in Bucharest, at the confirmation of the fact that (1) no safeguard clause will be activated, (2) no funds will be suspended, (3) Bulgaria is considered to do worse and is more harshly sanctioned. ‘Schadenfreude’ and relief, that’s all.

Unfortunately. Now they can happily continue their holidays. They “escaped” this time again. This makes me doubt the effects of such a neutral report. Maybe next time the Commission can act more severely. It is sad, but only a “shock therapy” might make the Romanian political class aware of the importance of fulfilling its commitments and not just indulging in the mere satisfaction of doing slightly better than the neighboring country.

In a follow-up post, Anda wrote [20] about “one of the most prominent debates stirred by the report […] about the re-confirmation of Daniel Morar as Chief Attorney of the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA)” – and the subsequent reaction from the European Commission:

[Morar's] mandate is due to expire on August 12 and various scenarios have been voiced in the media that all aim at Morar’s replacement. […] Fears of being prosecuted for corruption, as well as the quasi-paranoid assumption that the DNA (and implicitly its leader) is a political tool of President Basescu can be traced as the main roots of these positions.

One should not forget that this discussion takes place only few days after the Commission harshly criticized Romania [19] precisely for the politicization of the justice system and fight against corruption. So, as could be imagined, all this political maneuvering is not at all well seen in Brussels. […]


[…] But the Commission probably realised that its neutral approach leaves too much room for interpretation to Romanian politicians. By putting aside the diplomacy for a moment and calling the facts by their name, the Commission is increasing the pressure on Romania. Controversial as it may seem, this attitude might prove to be the only “mild” weapon the Commission has left before it starts deploying its artillery of sanctions and safeguard clauses.