Why does the Commission report on progress in judicial reform and the fight against corruption in Bulgaria and Romania?
At the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the European Union on 1 January 2007, certain shortcomings remained in both Member States in the areas of judicial reform and the fight against corruption, and in the case of Bulgaria in the fight against organised crime. These weaknesses could prevent an effective application of EU i laws, policies and programmes, and prevent Bulgarians and Romanians from enjoying their full rights as EU citizens. Therefore, the Commission undertook to assist Bulgaria and Romania in remedying these shortcomings and to regularly verify progress against specific benchmarks through the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM).
The CVM benchmarks are interlinked and should be seen together as the expression of a long-term political commitment by the two countries to their own citizens, as well as to the other Member States. The monitoring process of the CVM, together with the opportunities provided by EU funds and the constructive engagement of the Commission and many Member States, has provided valuable support to encourage, advance and consolidate reform in Bulgaria and Romania.
In January 2017, ten years after the CVM began, the Commission set out the remaining steps needed to achieve the objectives. The Commission provided concrete recommendations to both Member States which would allow them to fulfil the benchmarks and close the CVM process under this Commission's mandate - if completed, and unless developments clearly reversed the course of progress. Since then, the Commission has carried out two assessments of progress on the implementation of the recommendations in November 2017 and November 2018.
How long will the CVM last?
The CVM will end when all of the six benchmarks applying to Bulgaria and all of the four benchmarks applying to Romania are satisfactorily fulfilled. The speed of the process depends on how quickly Bulgaria and Romania are able to respond to the recommendations in an irreversible way, and on avoiding negative steps which call into question the progress made so far.
In today's report, the Commission considers that Bulgaria's efforts since its accession are sufficient to meet the commitments it made on accession. The implementation of judicial reform and progress in the fight against corruption and the fight against organised crime should continue to be monitored internally in Bulgaria, via a newly established post-monitoring council which will be co-chaired by a deputy Prime Minister in charge of judicial reform and the representative of the Supreme Judicial Council. This will also feed into the future dialogue with the Commission in the framework of the comprehensive rule of law mechanism.
When it comes to Romania, the Commission notes that the backtracking identified in the last report in November 2018 has continued. It regrets that Romania did not engage with the recommendations made, supported unanimously by the Council and fully in line with the resolution of the European Parliament. These recommendations need to be followed if the reform process is to be put back on track and the path resumed towards the conclusion of the CVM, as set out in the January 2017 report.
Who decides when to lift the CVM?
The CVM can be lifted by means of a decision of the Commission. For that purpose, according to the Acts of Accession, which are the legal bases for the CVM decisions, the "Commission shall inform the Council in good time before revoking the safeguard measures [the CVM], and it shall duly take into account any observations of the Council in this respect".
How does the Commission report on progress in Bulgaria and Romania?
The Commission regularly assesses progress in judicial reform and the fight against corruption in Bulgaria and Romania, and in the fight against organised crime in Bulgaria. The Commission's assessments and its formal reports are based on a careful analysis and monitoring, drawing on a continuous dialogue between the Bulgarian and Romanian authorities and the Commission services.
The reports have also benefited from contacts with Member States, civil society, international organisations, independent experts and a variety of other sources. Each Commission report, as well as its methodology and conclusions, is subsequently discussed with the Council of Ministers and has been consistently endorsed in Council Conclusions. The Reports and methodology are also presented to the European Parliament.
What are the next steps for Romania?
The report in January 2017 identified 12 specific recommendations to be followed by Romania. Since then, the Commission has carried out two assessments of progress on the implementation of the recommendations. In November 2017, the Commission noted progress on a number of the recommendations, but also that the reform momentum had been lost in the course of 2017. It warned about the risk of re-opening issues which the January 2017 report had considered as fulfilled. These concerns were echoed by the Council.
In the November 2018 report, the Commission concluded that developments had reversed or called into question the irreversibility of progress. As a result, the twelve recommendations set out in the January 2017 report were no longer sufficient to close the CVM and eight additional recommendations were made. This was in line with the positions of the European Parliament and the Council.
Since the last report, the Commission has had to address frequently the developments in Romania relating to judicial reform and the fight against corruption. On each of these occasions, the Commission has confirmed backtracking from the progress made in previous years.
The evolution of the situation in the first months of 2019 was a source of great concern. As a result, the Commission had to inform the 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, which foresees a dialogue to address rule of law concerns, and which can therefore go beyond the parameters of the CVM.
The Commission welcomed the fact that in June 2019, the Romanian government expressed a wish to reset the approach, and that effort has been invested in new consultation mechanisms and dialogue with the judiciary. The translation of this commitment into progress will require concrete steps - both legislative and administrative - to address the recommendations summarised in this report. The key institutions of Romania would need to collectively demonstrate a strong commitment to judicial independence and the fight against corruption as indispensable cornerstones, and to ensure the capacity of national safeguards and checks and balances. This requires that the recommendations made in November 2018 are followed, so that the reform process is put back on track and the path resumed towards the conclusion of the CVM as set out in the January 2017 report.
What are the next steps for Bulgaria?
In November 2018, the Commission welcomed progress towards swift conclusion of the CVM and concluded that three benchmarks could be considered provisionally closed. On the remaining three benchmarks, relating to the continued reform of the judiciary and the fight against corruption, further efforts were still needed. The Council took note of the Commission's conclusions and encouraged Bulgaria to build on the positive momentum to consolidate progress in a conclusive and irreversible manner.
The past year has seen the consolidation of the legal and institutional framework put in place over previous years. Translating this into results over the long term will require determination and follow-up, Bulgaria will need to work consistently on translating commitments into concrete legislation and on continued implementation. The monitoring of the continued implementation of the reforms put in place by Bulgaria will need to be ensured by the high-level post-monitoring council recently agreed by the government, and that will feed into the future dialogue with the Commission in the framework of the comprehensive rule of law mechanism.
Commitments now under implementation include putting in place procedures concerning the accountability of the Prosecutor General which safeguard judicial independence in line with the recommendations of the Venice Commission i, as well as the repeal of provisions in the Judicial System Act requiring automatic suspension of magistrates in case of a criminal investigation against them, and reporting of membership in professional associations.
The Commission considers that the progress made by Bulgaria under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism is sufficient to meet Bulgaria's commitments made at the time of its accession to the EU. Bulgaria will need to continue working consistently on translating the commitments specified in the latest report into concrete legislation and on continued implementation. Before taking a final decision, the Commission will also take duly into account the observations of the Council as well as of the European Parliament.
Does the Commission provide financial and technical support to help with the reforms?
The Commission supports the efforts of Bulgaria and Romania in achieving the CVM objectives through funding under the European Structural and Investment Funds.
There were already a number of projects in the anti-corruption and judicial reform area in the 2007-2013 period funded by the Commission in Romania. In the 2014-2020 period, the Administrative Capacity Operational Programme (ESF) will have provided funding of about EUR 100 million for judicial reform projects. In addition, the ESF also supports reform and improvements in public procurement (with around € 10 million contracted so far), and the implementation of the National Anti-Corruption Strategy at local level. European Regional Development Fund resources of up to € 15 million will be invested in capacity building and technical assistance in public procurement, in fraud prevention for Management Authorities and in the Fight against Fraud Department. Romania is also benefiting from several projects in the justice area with the Structural Reform Support Service.
In Bulgaria, during the 2007-2013 programming period €18 million was spent under the Operational Programme for Administrative Capacity for the judiciary. In the current programming period, the Operational Programme "Good Governance" under the European Social Fund has dedicated some €30 million to a separate priority axis for judicial reform in Bulgaria. In addition to this, the European Commission's Structural Reform Support Service is active in providing technical support to the Bulgarian authorities in areas related to the CVM.
For More Information
 See Commission Decision 2006/929/EC of 13 December 2006 establishing a mechanism for cooperation and verification of progress in Bulgaria to address specific benchmarks in the areas of judicial reform and the fight against corruption and organised crime (C(2006) 6570) and Commission Decision of 13 December 2006 establishing a mechanism for cooperation and verification of progress in Romania to address specific benchmarks in the areas of judicial reform and the fight against corruption (C(2006) 6569).