(Mar. 31, 2010) The European Commission (the executive body of the European Union) released on March 23, 2010, the sixth set of progress reports for Bulgaria and Romania on their entry into the EU, conducted under the Control and Verification Mechanism (CVM). The CVM was established as a means of verifying the two countries' progress in meeting EU benchmarks for instituting judicial reform and combating corruption and organized crime.
The reports stated that in order for the two Member States to fully enjoy their membership rights, they must do more to address these issues, areas in which they were reported to need progress when they first joined the EU on January 1, 2007. (Steve Czajkowski, Bulgaria, Romania Legal Systems Need Improvement: EU Report, PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST, Mar. 24, 2010, available at http://jurist.law.pitt.edu/paperchase/2010/03/bulgaria-romania-legal-sys
tems-need.php; European Commission Mechanism for Cooperation and Verification for Bulgaria and Romania, Assessing Ongoing Progress by Bulgaria and Romania, EUROPA, Mar. 23, 2010, available at http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/secretariat_general/cvm/index_en.htm.)
The reports on Romania and Bulgaria are characterized as interim reports on significant developments from a technical standpoint achieved over the last six months, without providing an assessment on progress achieved in each country since the July 22, 2009, EC progress reports and recommendations. The next in-depth assessments are scheduled for summer 2010.
The EC report on Bulgaria noted the country's initiation of “several concrete proposals for reform” in the last six months, in response to EC recommendations. (EC, Interim Report from the European Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on Progress in Bulgaria under the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism, COM(2010)112 final (Mar. 23, 2010) [Bulgaria Interim Report], EUROPA, available at http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/secretariat_general/cvm/docs/com_2010_112_en.pdf.) These include a partial revision of the Penal Procedure Code now under parliamentary discussion, work underway “on a substantial reform of the Criminal Assets Forfeiture Act and on a revision of the Conflicts of Interest Law,” strengthening of prosecutorial structures to fight serious crime by the use of joint investigation teams for some high-level corruption and organized crime cases, structural reform of the National Revenue Agency and the National Customs Agency, and initiation of formulation of a comprehensive anti-corruption and organized crime strategy.
An ordinance to improve fairness and objectivity in the annual appraisal of magistrates was adopted by Bulgaria's Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) on the EC's recommendation, the report noted; the appraisals have been criticized for not being strict enough because “most magistrates were receiving the highest rating.” (Id.) In addition, Bulgaria will apply forfeiture of criminal assets “to a wider group of persons related to a crime unless the legal origin of assets can be proven,” as a means to improve the effectiveness of the forfeiture penalty. (Czajkowski, supra.)
The report praised the continuing “good track record” of the Inspectorate to the SJC and its continued monitoring of “cases of high public interest.” However, the report states, “the judiciary continued to produce only few results in cases involving high-level corruption and organised crime …,” with no convictions reported since 2009, and “[a]llegations of serious corruption related to senior appointments in the judiciary involving members of the SJC still need to be fully examined.” (Bulgaria Interim Report, supra.) Moreover, despite reports of new investigations and indictments for such high-level cases, “severe delays” in the trial of certain cases persisted. (Id.)
According to the interim report on Romania, the country “has not been able to keep the momentum of reform it had established by mid-2009.” (European Commission, Interim Report from the European Commission to the European Parliament and the Council: On Progress in Romania under the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism, COM(2010)113 final (Mar. 23, 2010), EUROPA, available at http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/secretariat_general/cvm/docs/com_2010_113_en.pdf.) The Romanian Parliament's consideration of draft civil and criminal procedure codes, “whose adoption “will be a vital next step in the reform process,” the report states, was delayed because of the recent electoral period, and net staff losses and protests put the judicial system under further strain. (Id.)
The report praised the “good track record” of Romania's National Anticorruption Directorate in impartial investigations into high level corruption cases, which “is beginning to be reflected at court level with an increase of the total of final convictions by one-third in 2009 compared to 2008.” (Id.) It noted, however, that the courts still appear to apply “generally too lenient” and inconsistent penalties for high-level corruption and that trials for such crimes continue to be excessively long and plagued by delays. (Id.)
Should Bulgaria or Romania fail to comply with the EC benchmarks, they might face EU intervention and the loss of economic aid under the Act of Accession, articles 36-38, on safeguard mechanisms to handle problems posing a potential threat to the EU's functioning. (Czajkowski, supra; ACT Concerning the Conditions of Accession of the Republic of Bulgaria and Romania and the Adjustments to the Treaties on Which the European Union Is Founded, 48 OFFICIAL JOURNAL OF THE EUROPEAN UNION, L157/203 (June 21, 2005), available at http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2005:157:0203