Category Archives: Enlargement

2011 Reports for Bulgaria and Romania under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism

The European Commission has published its fifth progress reports for Bulgaria and Romania under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) for 2011. The reports monitor the progress of the two Member States on progress with judicial reform, the fight against corruption and, concerning Bulgaria, the fight against organized crime.

The report on Bulgaria notes that Bulgaria has strengthened the Supreme Judicial Council and improved rules for the appointment, professional training, appraisals and promotions of judges. Several organised crime and corruption cases have reached verdicts in court. At the same time, an increased number of indictments in cases related to organised crime and fraud with EU funds have been achieved. The report notes that the leadership of the Bulgarian judiciary has yet to show a real commitment to thorough judicial reform as slow progress is not just the result of shortcomings in judicial practice and in the Penal Code. Again and again the Commission points out that judicial appointments still lack the necessary level of transparency and credibility. The report also notes that there is a lack of consistent disciplinary practice in the judiciary. The Commission sees weaknesses in the collection of evidence, the protection of witnesses as well as in investigative strategies, comprehensive financial investigations and the securing of assets. The Commission recommends that coordination within the prosecution and between the prosecution and the police should be improved. The most important recommendation of the Commission is to establish proposals for a reform of the Supreme Judicial Council, the Supreme Cassation Prosecution Office and the Prosecution in general regarding structures, legal attributions, composition, appointments and internal organization.

The report on Romania points to the significant steps Romania took since the last annual report of July 2010. Romania improved judicial efficiency, re-established the legal basis of the National Integrity Agency, continued preparations for the implementation of the four new codes, launched preparations for a functional review of the judicial system and carried out an impact analysis of its anti-corruption policy. At the same time, the report also notes that consistency and results in a number of areas remain a challenge and that progress in the fight against corruption still needs to be pursued. The report concludes that Romania needs to take urgent action to accelerate high-level corruption trials and to prevent their prescription due to expiry of statute-barred periods. The fight against corruption should remain a top priority, with support from Parliament, and urgent measures should be taken to improve the recovery of proceeds of crime, the pursuit of money laundering and the protection against conflict of interest in the management of public funds.

 

 

The Gates to Schengen Remain Locked for Bulgaria and Romania

France and Germany have officially announced that they will block the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the Schengen area, Euractiv reports. The main deficiencies in both countries that they outline are the absence of a satisfactory juridical and administrative environment in the fields of security and justice, persisting corruption at different levels and worrying levels of organised crime.

This letter does not come as a surprise to this blogger. I have time and again noted that both Bulgaria and Romania are facing significant challenges in the reform of the judiciary and the fight against corruption and organized crime. Two questions, however, linger on.

The first question is whether Bulgaria and Romania were fit to become Member States in 2007. The European Commission believed so, and so did France and Germany at the time. However, this leads to the logical conclusion that both countries in fact experienced a deterioration of the rule of law since accession.

The second question is whether Bulgaria and Romania can actually, at any point in the future, join the Schengen area. This is not an absurd question, since if separate Member States reaffirm their right of individual assessment of the quality of the judicial systems of candidates, it may turn out that both Bulgaria and Romania are assessed against unachievable standards that surpass the present level of rule of law in the Schengen area. Again, this is a logically derived possibility.

France and Germany should understand that answering both questions will have its consequences for the level of solidarity and cohesion in the European Union.

 

 

No Comment: Basescu, Sarkozy and Berlusconi

Below is a video shot during the recent NATO and EU summit in Lisbon. The supporting text is in French. Hat tip: J. S. Lefebvre.

The 2010 Enlargement Progress Reports in a Nutshell

The European Commission has presented its annual assessment of the European Union’s enlargement agenda. It comprises a 2010-2011 Strategy paper, the Opinions on the membership applications by Montenegro and Albania and seven Progress Reports on the potential candidate countries and on the candidate countries including Croatia. The progress reports and opinions for separate countries are summarized below.

The big news is, of course, Croatia. The Commission thinks that the negotiations are entering their final phase. There are some outstanding benchmarks, in particular in the field of judiciary and fundamental rights. The Commission notes that corruption remains prevalent in many areas. If everything goes normally, Croatia should conclude its negotiations somewhere in 2011, meaning a possible accession in 2013.

The Commission believes that Macedonia is ready to start negotiations once the name issue is resolved. One of the important recommendations is to strengthen administrative capacity for the implementation and enforcement of legislation. The Commission says that further efforts are needed in areas related to the political criteria, in particular as regards independence of the judiciary, fight against corruption, reform of public administration and freedom of expression in the media.

Accession negotiations with Turkey have advanced, albeit rather slowly. The main obstacles remain full implementation of Turkey’s Customs Union obligations with the EU, and making progress towards normalisation of relations with Cyprus. The Commission notes that the package of constitutional amendments approved in a referendum on 12 September created the conditions for progress in a number of areas, such as the judiciary and fundamental rights and public administration.

On Bosnia and Herzegovina, the conclusion is that the lack of a shared vision by political leaders on the direction of the country continues to block key reforms and further progress towards the EU. The role played by ethnic identity in politics has continued to hamper the functioning of the executive, the legislative and the judiciary as well as the country’s overall governance.

The Commission notes that in Serbia additional efforts are required regarding public administration reform and the fight against organised crime and corruption. Despite the active on-going cooperation of Serbia with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the two remaining ICTY fugitives, Ratko Mladić and Goran Hadžić, are still at large. Serbia has further postponed the reforms to tackle structural shortcomings of the economy.

The Commission concluded that Montenegro is ready to become a candidate country to EU membership. Montenegro needs to effectively implement and enforce legislation in all fields. Main concerns are related to the following areas: effectiveness of anti-discrimination policies, freedom of expression and government relations with civil society, as well as the situation of displaced persons from Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo.

The Commission takes note of the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice, which concluded that Kosovo‘s declaration of independence did not violate general international law or Security Council resolution 1244 (1999) and the following resolution of the UN General Assembly that aims at opening the way for a process of dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade to promote cooperation, achieve progress on the path to the European Union and improve the lives of the people. However, the Commission notes that the judiciary is not functioning effectively in Kosovo. The rule of law remains a serious concern.

On Iceland, the Commission concluded that the country meets the political criteria for EU membership and, despite being hit hard by the banking crises, it is well prepared to undertake the pending measures needed to meet the requirements for EU membership.

Albania has made good progress during the last 12 months, but further reforms are needed in a number of key areas, before the country can be ready to start accession negotiations. The effectiveness and stability of Albania’s democratic institutions, notably the Parliament, is not sufficiently achieved. Political dialogue is confrontational and does not respect the democratic spirit, not least because of the political stalemate since the June 2009 elections.

 

 

Windless Weather for Enlargement?

There are reports that Slovenia is slowing down the accession negotiations with Croatia by preventing the chapter on freedom of movement of capitals from being closed, although Croatia has fulfilled all the necessary criteria. Macedonia’s name problems with Greece remain “in coma”.

That is why I read with great interest the report by Natasha Wunsch and Julian Rappold from DGAP about the EU accession of the Western Balkans. The authors outline two main reasons for the current enlargement fatigue: the early accession of Bulgaria and Romania, broadly viewed as a premature step, and the overwhelming focus on internal affairs that lets enlargement sink to the bottom of the list of priorities.

The authors warn that the slowing down of the accession process may lead to dangerous destabilization of the region. The economic consolidation in the region due to IMF intervention will be carried out at the cost of even the most necessary reforms. Social cuts also risk weakening the trust in the institutions. That is why according to the authors it is essential to mobilize all existing EU funds for the region and to facilitate their calling by the Western Balkan states.

On Turkey and the Criteria for Accession

In recent days both Turkish and European politicians have spoken in favor of the Turkish accession to the European Union. Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s chief EU negotiator, sought to unblock Ankara’s accession bid by calling on European Union countries to call referenda on the country’s EU membership. Germany’s ex-foreign minister Joschka Fischer has predicted that Austrian, French and German opposition to Turkey joining the European Union will melt away with time.

In both cases the main argument is the strength of the Turkish economy and the demographic profile of the population – Turkey’s median population age is just 28 compared to 42 in the Union and its economy grew by around 11 percent in the first half of this year compared to the EU’s 1-2 percent.

But this will not suffice. The criteria for accession are now legally binding (art. 49 TFEU), and they include the so-called “political criteria” that are especially hard to meet. The “political criteria” include stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities.

Turkey must strive to cover these criteria in the first place. No level of economic development can substitute for the lack of democracy or respect of human rights. The Turkish narrative must be centered on the promotion of democratic values, and only after that – on economic development. Otherwise Turkey will only position itself as a valuable trading partner and an immigration source, but not as a potential Member State.

Serbia Risks Accession over Kosovo?

There’s an interesting article at waz.euobserver.com contemplating on the problem with the independence of Kosovo from Serbia. The article claims that the Serbian obstinacy in denying the obvious can jeopardize its own accession to the European Union.

That may be true, but we need to keep in mind the principal opposition of some Member States against the Kosovo independence. Until all EU Member states acknowledge the independence of Kosovo it would be preposterous to expect a major shift from Serbia on this issue.

Start of Accession Negotiations with Iceland

This is always an important event. Today the European Union and its Member States will officially start negotiations for the accession of Iceland to the EU. The process will probably be smooth given the membership of Iceland in the European Economic Area. The biggest stumbling block remains the Icesave dispute between Iceland and the UK and the Netherlands.

2010 Reports for Bulgaria and Romania under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism

The European Commission has published its progress reports for Bulgaria and Romania under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM). The reports monitor the progress of the two Member states on progress with judicial reform, the fight against corruption and, concerning Bulgaria, the fight against organized crime.

Both reports say that further assistance and monitoring by the Commission is needed to support the reform processes in Bulgaria and Romania until all benchmarks are fulfilled and the CVM can be repealed. In other words the monitoring will continue for an undetermined period of time.

The reports for both countries are quite critical. For Bulgaria the report seems to underscore the fact that noisy police actions do not necessarily transform into successful convictions. For Romania the main criticism is directed against the new amendments of the law on the National Integrity Agency.

The report on Bulgaria notes a strong reform momentum which has been established in Bulgaria since the Commission’s last annual report in July 2009. The Commission believes that there is strong political will in the Bulgarian government to achieve a deep and lasting reform of the judiciary. According to the report Bulgaria has adopted important reforms of its penal procedures. Bulgaria has increased its efforts to fight against high-level corruption. Bulgaria has also stepped up efforts by carrying out a number of police raids on organised crime groups although little judicial follow-up to these raids has been reported. However, the report notes that the judicial process in Bulgaria lacks initiative and professional capacity. Complex investigations show a lack of direction and purpose, procedures are too formal and too long and often fail in court. The implementation of the conflict of interest law is insufficiently effective. Shortcomings in the implementation of public procurement procedures are widespread.

The Commission points to important shortcomings in Romania’s efforts to achieve progress under the CVM. Romania did not show sufficient political commitment to support and provide direction to the reform process and demonstrated a degree of unwillingness within the leadership of the judiciary to cooperate and take responsibility. Judicial reform has shown important progress with Parliamentary adoption of the Civil and Criminal Procedural Codes. The National Integrity Agency (ANI) was able to demonstrate a further consolidation of its capacity and track record regarding the identification of unjustified wealth, incompatibilities and conflicts of interest. However, the amendments to the law on the National Integrity Agency voted on 30 June 2010 represent a serious step back.

Priorities of the Belgian Presidency of the Council 2010

The Belgian presidency of the Council has started, and it has published its six-month programme. The objectives and priorities are:

  • a return to maintained, sustainable and balanced growth throughout the European Union;
  • fulfilling the objectives of the EU 2020 strategy;
  • a new regulatory and supervisory structure for the financial sector;
  • green jobs and white jobs (health and social services jobs);
  • objectives and performance indicators for social protection, social inclusion, pensions and healthcare;
  • negotiations for a European patent;
  • guidelines for better coordination of Member States’ policy for research, development and innovation;
  • securing the energy supply;
  • agreement on European legislation which would allow Member States to recover the external costs generated by road transport from users;
  • establishing a single asylum procedure and a uniform international protection statute by 2012
  • fight against terrorism, organised crime, illegal immigration and human trafficking;
  • legal migration will also be a priority for the Presidency.

Interestingly, the program uses the motto “Let’s put Europe back into action!”. I wonder if this has anything to do with the outgoing Spanish presidency.