Romania and Bulgaria have made some progress on judicial reforms but none of the requirements laid down earlier this year by the European Commission have been “satisfactorily fulfilled,” according to a report out Wednesday.
Both countries had to sign up to the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM), which monitors and helps implement judicial reforms to combat corruption, when they joined the European Union in 2007.
The Commission’s latest annual progress report does not specify a timeline to implement the reforms, only saying the next report will be published at the end of 2018. “The end of the CVM will come when the benchmarks are satisfactorily fulfilled,” a Commission official said.
The report suggests Bulgaria, faced with organized crime as well as high-level corruption, has more work to do than Romania, which has received praise for the work of its National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA).
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The latest report was initially scheduled for January, but an EU diplomat said it was brought forward “to avoid dealing with it during the Bulgarian presidency” of the EU which begins in January and lasts six months.
The Commission voiced “lingering doubts” about Bulgaria’s capacity to ensure an independent decision-making process. While progress was made after Boyko Borisov came to power in May, the pace of reform “should not lead to the bypassing of consultation procedures,” the report said.
The Bulgarian Prosecutor’s Office called the report “reasonable and objective.” In a statement, it pledged to work on implementing the recommendations, adding that this is “only achievable in constructive interaction between the institutions involved in judicial reform and the fight against crime.”
While Romania has made progress, the reform momentum of earlier this year “was lost overall,” said the report, citing large-scale protests against a government proposal to amend judicial appointments.
“Challenges to judicial independence are a serious source of concern,” the Commission said.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said earlier this year that he hoped Romania would successfully implement the program by the end of his tenure in 2019.
Romanian Justice Minister Tudorel Toader said he was optimistic about fully implementing the reforms by 2019. “The commitment we took, to be out of CVM when Romania takes over the Council presidency in 2019, can be accomplished,” he told broadcaster DIGI24.
Jacopo Barigazzi and Carmen Paun contributed to this report.