The European Commission adopted on Tuesday its latest reports on developments on judicial reform and the fight against corruption in Romania and Bulgaria, in the context of its commitments under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM).
The Commission’s report, which evaluates the situation since November 2018, criticises Romania for the fact that it has backtracked from progress made in previous years and calls the latest developments “a source of great concern”, and as a result will continue monitoring the country through the CVM.
In Bulgaria’s case, the EC says it has seen “consolidation of the legal and institutional framework put in place over previous years”, and that Bulgaria has met the commitments it made at the time of its accession to the EU.
On Romania, the EC writes that “since the last report the Commission has had to raise a number of times rule of law-related concerns with the Romanian authorities in relation to developments on judicial reforms and the fight against corruption. On each of these occasions, the Commission has confirmed backtracking from the progress made in previous years and this evolution is a source of great concerns.”
The Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) was established at the accession of Romania to the European Union in 2007 as a transitional measure to facilitate Romania’s continued efforts to reform its judiciary and step up the fight against corruption. It represented a joint commitment of the Romanian State and of the EU. In line with the decision setting up the mechanism and as underlined by the Council, the CVM ends when all the benchmarks applying to Romania are satisfactorily met.
In January 2017, following a comprehensive assessment of Romania’s progress in the ten years since its accession, the Commission issued 12 recommendations for Romania under the CVM. Had these 12 points been resolved, Romania’s CVM oversight could have been lifted. However, in November 2018, eight additional recommendations were issued. “Ending the CVM was made dependent on fulfilling these recommendations in an irreversible way, and on the condition that developments did not clearly reverse the course of progress,” the Commission says.
In last year’s report, the Commission called on the key institutions of Romania to demonstrate a strong commitment to judicial independence and the fight against corruption, and to restore the capacity of national safeguards and checks and balances to act when there is a risk of a backwards step. At the time, the European Parliament also issued a resolution calling for cooperation and citing the risk to the rule of law.
EU officials also note that it warned Romanian authorities in May 2019 that “if the necessary improvements were not made, or if further negative steps were taken, the Commission would take steps under the rule of law framework, beyond the parameters of the CVM.”
“These recommendations need to be followed if the reform process is to be put back on track and the path towards the conclusion of the CVM, as set out in the January 2017 report, resumed. The Commission is confident that Romania could give a new momentum to fulfilling the objectives of the CVM, and stands ready to help the Romanian authorities to this end. The Commission will continue to follow developments closely through the CVM.”
“The Commission welcomed the fact that in June the Romanian government expressed a wish to reset the approach. It notes that an effort has been made to invest in new consultation and dialogue with the judiciary. The Commission looks forward to the translation of this commitment into concrete legislation and other measures. Progress will require concrete steps – both legislative and administrative – to address the recommendations summarised in this report. The key institutions of Romania need to collectively demonstrate a strong commitment to judicial independence and the fight against corruption, and to ensure the effectiveness of national safeguards and checks and balances,” the report reads.