Must Try Harder EU Warns Bulgaria and Romania on Corruption

The European Commission has told Bulgaria and Romania they are not doing enough to tackle judicial reform and corruption. But the European Union's newest member states have avoided sanctions from Brussels -- for now.

The European Commission has warned new member states Bulgaria and Romania that they are not making enough progress in tackling corruption and organized crime. But it stopped short of imposing sanctions because, the Commission stated, both countries are making a genuine effort to reform.

Announcing its six-month progress reports on Wednesday, the European Commission warned the two countries against complacency, despite some real progress that has been made in the areas of justice and fighting crime.

"High level corruption is still a point of weakness, both governments are aware of this," European Union Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini told a news conference in Brussels, after the Commission adopted the progress reports. The EU is continuing to monitor the two Balkan states and will report on their progress every six months on a range of issues including judicial reform, corruption and organized crime.

But Frattini said he wasn’t interested in a blame game when it came to the problem and wanted to emphasize substantial efforts made in adopting reforms. And he said it was too early to say whether Brussels would be imposing sanctions in the future.

Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said Wednesday that the reports were a "reality check," and said they showed that "progress is being made but that the focus now needs to move from adoption of laws to implementation." The two countries joined the European Union on Jan. 1, 2007.

Romania was told it would have to do better in its efforts to tackle corruption in the upper echelons of politics. Bucharest was told to make its judicial system more transparent and efficient, but was praised for creating a National Integrity Agency.

Bulgaria was advised to develop a system to address its organized crime problem. And it was told it needs to guarantee the independence of the judiciary. "There is a need to step up efforts in the pursuit of judicial reform and the fight against corruption and organized crime," the report said.

The problem of contract killings in Bulgaria was singled out, "in particular most recent killings of local politicians since January. To date no prosecution and conviction has taken place."

But the two newest and poorest EU states managed to avoid sanctions. According to Frattini, it was too soon to punish them only six months since joining the bloc. But he warned that the so-called safeguard clauses could still be imposed in June 2008. These would suspend the two Black Sea neighbors from the EU justice and interior policies until they met EU standards. And they could also risk missing out on some economic aid from Brussels.