Both countries were placed under the scheme when they joined the EU in 2007 and Brussels now believes Bulgaria has made sufficient progress in the fight against corruption and organized crime to leave the program.
Romania, on the other hand, has regressed in the fight against corruption and the monitoring should continue, the Commission said Tuesday.
It will take into account the opinion of other member states and the European Parliament before formally proposing the end of corruption monitoring in Bulgaria, it said.
The so-called Cooperation and Verification Mechanism was imposed on the two Eastern European countries over concerns that they had significant problems with corruption (and, in Bulgaria’s case, organized crime) and that their judiciaries were not strong enough to ensure the rule of law.
Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said he wanted the mechanism to end by the time he leaves office later this year, but for that to happen both countries needed to show progress in the anti-corruption fight and ensuring an independent, working judiciary.
In a reversal from three years ago, when Juncker said he expected Romania to be ready to leave the program but not Bulgaria, Sofia was the first to be given the good news.
Romania’s national anti-corruption directorate (DNA), which has prosecuted high-level corruption, was seen as a model in the region. It was led by Laura Codruța Kövesi, who was dismissed by the Romanian government and is now set to become the EU’s first public prosecutor.
Over the past couple of years, Romania lost momentum in implementing Commission recommendations on anti-corruption and judicial reforms and even backtracked on progress it had made, the Commission warned last year.
That change started in 2017, it said when the Social Democrat-led (PSD) government tried to decriminalize some acts of corruption through an emergency decree, triggering the biggest protests in the country since the fall of communism. The decree was dropped because of the protests.
But the Romanian parliament, which is still controlled by the PSD, has since managed to push through changes including making it easier to prosecute magistrates and making it harder to bring cases of corruption to court.
Romania’s parliament is expected to vote on Thursday on a new government led by the country’s National Liberal Party (PNL) after the government led by PSD President Viorica Dăncilă was ousted in a no-confidence vote on October 10.