When Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU on 1 January 2007, many deficiencies in terms of judicial reform and the fight against corruption were still unresolved. In this sense, the CMC was created in order to assist the two countries in terms of justice, after joining the EU.
Eight years after accession, CMV is still working. CMV’s annual reports are referring especially to the progress of the two countries in terms of the law enforcement system.
The last CMV report, issued by the Commission on 28 January 2015, analyzes the measures Romania has taken in the past twelve months in the areas of judicial reform and the fight against corruption and shows where further steps are needed.
The report noted progress in many areas. The activity of the main judicial and integrity institutions to combat high-level corruption was maintained with a remarkable dynamism. This trend has been supported by an increased professionalism in the judicial system as a whole.
DNA (National Anticorruption Directorate) activity in 2014 covered a wide range of high-level cases, in all strands of public offices and involving public figures from a variety of political parties. Indictments and ongoing investigations included serving and former ministers, parliamentarians, mayors, judges and senior prosecutors. HCCJ (High Court of Cassation and Justice) cases included final instance convictions of a former Prime Minister, former ministers, parliamentarians, mayors and magistrates. There were also other important cases involving influential business figures, concluded at the Court of Appeal level. However, it remains the case that the majority of sentences are suspended in corruption cases (although this is less marked at the HCCJ level).
The National Integrity Agency (ANI) continued to process a strong flow of cases in 2014. A high percentage (70%) of ANI’s decisions on incompatibilities and conflicts of interests are challenged in court, but about 90% of these cases have been confirmed by the courts. ANI’s interpretations of the law have been confirmed in both the CCR (Constitutional Court) and the HCCJ. It can therefore be seen as acting on a sound legal footing. In 2014, the HCCJ also helped by finding ways to accelerate incompatibility cases, despite other calls on its workload. This has helped to deliver certainty and to improve the dissuasive effect of the integrity laws.
At the same time, the report noted that political attacks on the reform foundations showed that there was no consensus to pursue the objectives of the CVM. Whilst the implementation of the Codes (Civil, Civil Procedure, Criminal and Criminal Procedure) has shown the government and judiciary working together in a productive and pragmatic way, one year on, many legislative issues remain outstanding. There continues to be inconsistency in some court decisions, which raises concern. Decisions in the Parliament on whether to allow the prosecution to treat parliamentarians like other citizens still seem to lack objective criteria and a reliable timetable. Parliament has also provided examples of reluctance to apply final or Constitutional Courts decisions.
The fact that ministers continue in office after indictment on criminal charges, and parliamentarians with final convictions for corruption stay in office, raises broader issues about the attitudes towards corruption in the Romanian political world.
Public procurement procedures, especially at the local level, remain exposed to corruption and conflicts of interests – a fact widely acknowledged by the Romanian integrity and law enforcement authorities. This has had consequences for the absorption of EU funds. However, there are many other factors involved including the administrative capacity of public purchasers, the lack of stability and fragmentation of the legal framework, and the quality of competition in public procurement procedures. The ex-ante check of public procurement designed by the ANI seems to be a right step but needs to be accompanied by other actions to minimize the scope for conflict of interests, favoritism, fraud and corruption in public procurement.
In the report, the Commission invites Romania to take action in the following area: judicial independence and reform, integrity and fight against corruption.
The next CMV report will be released in around one year’s time.