Romania is still failing to meet European standards in fighting corruption, more than six years after it joined the European Union, the European Commission has found in its latest progress report on the rule of law in the country.
The Commission is also concerned that Romania’s judiciary is not sufficiently independent. The report, published yesterday (30 January), is the first since Victor Ponta, Romania’s centre-left prime minister with whom the Commission had been sparring for much of last year, won a landslide victory in a general election in December.
The report covers developments since last July, when the confrontation between Ponta and the Commission reached its peak over Ponta’s bid to unseat Traian Basescu, Romania’s centre-right president. The methods used by Ponta prompted José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, to summon him to Brussels and present him with a list of demands, many of which were met at the time.
But since then, new problems have appeared and others have not been tackled.
The report points out that three of Ponta’s new ministers are currently under investigation for corruption and suggests that they should resign, in line with the Commission’s demands from July. The report also calls on national parliamentarians to stop using their immunity as a shield when faced with corruption investigations. Some 20 members of the new parliament are currently being investigated for graft.
The Commission is also calling on the government to ensure that the selection procedure for a new prosecutor-general and a new head of the national anti-corruption body is transparent. (Basescu rejected previous nominees for the posts.) “Steps have been taken to address the serious concerns we raised in July and our report explains clearly where further progress is needed,” Barroso said yesterday.
Despite its diplomatic language, the report leaves little doubt that Romania’s performance on the rule of law is still seriously deficient. This could further delay the country’s bid to join the EU’s Schengen area of borderless travel, together with Bulgaria.
The Netherlands, supported by a few other member states, last year blocked the two countries’ accession to Schengen, primarily over the situation in Romania. The Dutch government wants to see two positive reports under the co-operation and verification mechanism – launched in 2007, when Romania and Bulgaria joined the Union – before it drops its opposition to Schengen membership for the two countries.
The Commission rejects any such linkage, and says that both countries meet the requirements for joining Schengen.