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At a snail's pace

by Victor Alistar

The Romanian fight against corruption is too slow and superficial. For the most part it consists solely in endless political debates, writes Victor Alistar, director of Transparency International Romania.

The lack of consistency displayed by the anticorruption reforms in Romania after the EU accession in January 2007 is a clear indicator that such an affiliation is not a universal remedy to Romania's problems. Then again, it has happened more than once that the voice of civil society coming for instance from Transparency International Romania or the Centre for Legal Resources in Romania has drawn attention to the purely formal fashion in which Romania undertook its duties on the way to accession. This was the case with the National Integrity Agency, established in 2007, which has only recently become operative. The creation of the National Integrity Agency was a long and slow process, dating back to 2004. It went through several disputed legal drafts and the Romanian MPs had been very critical of it, yet the final law was voted unanimously by the Romanian Parliament.

Two policemen at a carpark in front of a hotel in the centre of Reşita.

Photo: Matthias Häber

It would therefore be reasonable to question the degree to which the anticorruption reforms have become more a dispute between political parties than a credible effort. The fight against corruption is overused in the public discourse. This leads to a very dangerous lessening of public awareness, and such a trend may continue as the theme is monopolised or used for political interest.

Too much lenience

The reports published by the European Commission are in line with these findings. The most recent one, published on July 23, acknowledges the faltering of the anticorruption reforms and is extremely critical both of Romania and Bulgaria. It is only the latter that will be financially penalised, due to misuse of European funds, while Romania benefits from somewhat more lenient treatment. It is however clear that Romania must urgently accelerate the reforms to make them coherent, while also identifying and actually using impact indicators for such measures. To name but a few issues, although Romania is the EU member state with the largest number of ECHR unfavourable decisions, the Romanian magistrates are not accountable for their judicial errors. Although the investigations for high profile corruption crimes are brought to the limelight as public successes, the actual results of these investigations are yet to appear. It is consequently necessary to strengthen the integrity of the judiciary, to improve the transparency and efficiency of judicial acts.

A 0.6 point improvement

According to the last Corruption Perception Index published in 2007 by Transparency International, the global anticorruption watchdog Romania scored 3.7 out of a possible 10 points, while the European average was of 6.51. Even if Romania's score improved by a staggering 0.6 points, it is very likely that such progress may have been an effect of the accession itself and of the postponement of the activation of the safeguard clause. Meanwhile areas like the public administration, judiciary, education and the health care system, as well as the mining and defence industries and the privatisation process, are still vulnerable to corruption. It is therefore reasonable that, while western countries like Denmark, Holland and Switzerland went into the global top 10, Romania was outshined by all the other European states, Bulgaria included.

Prosecute each and every crime

The route Romania needs to embark upon to avoid the EU sanctions lies beyond doubt in strengthening coercion by applying the anticorruption laws, and ensuring the effectiveness of the mechanisms for preventing and combating corruption. Crimes must be sanctioned once they have occurred. Basically, Romania needs concrete results.

Victor Alistar
Victor Alistar, born 1977, is a lawyer and professor at the National School of Political and Administrative Studies in Bucharest. He is chair of the ...
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