Corruption in the European Union

Corruption in politics is defined as the abuse of power for illegal private gain by government officials. The absence of an autonomous judiciary along with a nonexistent transparent system results in corruption. A legal system must thwart and tackle the exploitation of power by government officials in order to work without corruption. Since their beginnings, Romania and Bulgaria have been infested by corruption. Over the last two decades, however, both have been fighting relentlessly against corruption. Bulgaria and Romania joined the European Union in 2007 in hopes of reducing corruption in their governments, however, has the EU actually made an impact on the front to end corruption or have Bulgaria and Romania taken measures into their own hands?

The European Union, previously known as the European Economic Community, is a union that includes twenty-eight European countries that span across the continent.

Before the European Union, in 1958 in the aftershock of World War II, the European Economic Community (EEC) originated in order to unite countries that trade with each other and make them become economically codependent.

The EEC was intended to increase the economic collaboration of the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Italy, France, Germany, and Belgium (Europa, 2018). Since its origination about twenty-two countries have become member states. Decades later in 1993, the European Economic Community converted into the European Union. What was once a merely economic alliance developed into a union that spanned political areas from justice and migration to climate to external relations amongst other areas (Europa, 2018). The European Union is responsible for decades of peace, affluence, and prosperity, along with the improvement of the standard of living and the creation of a single currency for all of Europe, the euro (Europa, 2018).

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The European Union takes comprehensive and rigorous approval measures to confirm that applying members will only be admitted when they have demonstrated they can be adequate members when playing their part. Applying states must demonstrate that they will comply with all of the criteria and policies set forth, have the sanction of institutions and member states in the EU, and have the approval of its citizens through expression in referendum or national parliament (European Commission, 2016). As long as a state holds the European Union’s democratic values in high esteem and is dedicated in the promotion of those principles, any European nation is eligible for application as stated in the Treaty on the European Union.

There are several criteria that need to be met in order to apply. Naturally, meeting those criteria is the initial step for induction into the EU. The standards were set forth in Copenhagen at the European Council in 1993 and are conclusively known as the Copenhagen criteria. States who wish to join are obligated to have the capability to endeavor and effectively implement membership responsibilities, involving devotion to the economic, political, and fiscal union, as well as have an operative marketing economy and the aptitude to handle opposition and market forces in the European Union, and must contain secure institutions that guarantee democracy, civil rights and security and regard for minorities, and the rule of law (European Commission, 2016).

The European Union expansion of 2007 finally included the joining of Bulgaria and Romania. However, before joining, both Bulgaria and Romania had been postponed during the accession of 2004 (Watt, 2006). Both nations were reported by the European Commission in 2004 to have made progress towards the implementation of the accession criteria, though, the Commission expected the criteria to be fully met by the 2007 accession. The EU had serious concerns about whether both countries would be able to thwart organized crime and corruption. Particularly, the EU was uneasy about Bulgaria and its insufficient results on ending corruption. Romania was seen to have been making steady progress due to its implementation of a transparent judicial system.

Bordered to the North by Romania, Bulgaria is a unitary parliamentary republic according to the new constitution. Bulgaria’s constitution guarantees freedoms similar to those of the USA’s First Amendment, along with direct presidential elections, and a separation of powers; properties seized by the prior communist regime. Articles 9-11 of the constitution guarantee the autonomy of the state, direct suffrage, and the concept of political pluralism (Grand National Assembly, 2007). The constitution emphasizes the separation of powers by announcing the president as the head of state and is elected for a term of five years. The prime minister is elected by the majority party in the National Assembly, which is a unicameral body that composes the legislative branch (Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 2018). Prior to this new constitution, however, Bulgaria had a lengthy fight with political corruption.

Since Bulgaria was created, the state has been influenced by some of the utmost notoriously corrupt empires ever known to exist; the Ottoman Turks, and more recently, the Soviet Union (Littlehale, 2012). The flawed legal systems supported by these empires made way for the current corruption in Bulgaria’s modern legal system. Corruption comes about when power is abused for personal gains. When the Ottoman Empire ruled over Bulgaria, a Muslim empire governing an Orthodox Christian society, the Ottoman Turks forbade Jews and Christians from purchasing land, carrying swords, and holding positions of authority over Muslims (Littlehale, 2012). Thus, many believed that the only way to be able to assert any rights was to convert to Islam. The Ottoman Empire’s Muslims were abusing their power over the Bulgarians for their own personal gains. Eventually, Bulgaria was able to declare themselves independent and create their own system after the Russian-Turkish war of 1877 (Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 2018). The Bulgarians created a new constitution shortly thereafter and announced themselves a constitutional monarchy. Under Ottoman rule, Bulgarians were not considered equal under the constitution, however, under the Turnovo Constitution created after their independence, Bulgaria’s people were seen as equal. Conversely, the Turnovo Constitution gave too much power to the monarch by allowing the cabinet and prime minister positions to be exclusively selected by the monarch (Littlehale, 2012). Once again, Bulgaria was infested with corruption that hindered the formation of a responsible judiciary and gave rise to instability and political unrest.

Bulgaria was entangled in several conflicts. On top of the issues with the monarch’s abuse of power, the Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1914 occurred. The first Balkan war was intended to push the Ottoman Turks out of Europe while the second war was mean to divide territory (Littlehale, 2012). Promptly after the second Balkan war, the two World Wars erupted. During this time, Bulgaria and the Soviet Union became exceptionally close. However, Bulgaria began a sort of friendship with the socialist empire long before when Russia backed the Bulgarians in their 1870 war of independence against the Ottoman Turks (Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 2018).

Soviet Union association, though, didn’t do much to help create an autonomous judiciary and an authentic social system that is law based. Boris II, Bulgaria’s monarch, allied himself with the Axis Power and the Germans throughout World War II. At this point, Bulgaria’s political system was extremely unsteady. By the end of World War II, the political institutions with the most power, along with the Bulgarian Communist Party, formed the Fatherland Front Coalition. The principal role of the Fatherland Front was to overthrow fascism and institute a democratic administration (Valev, 2010). It is said that the Fatherland Front was working hand in hand with the Soviets to end the fascist regime in Bulgaria. Simultaneously, the Fatherland Front staged a coup d’état once Bulgaria was invaded by the Red Army. The Red Army was a clique of communists who declared themselves the new government of Bulgaria when they stormed the War Ministry building (Tzvetkov, n.d.). Consequently, the forty-five-year reign of the corrupt Bulgarian Communist Party began.

Between 1946 and 1989, the Bulgarian Communist Party employed total power while simultaneously abusing it to their benefit (Littlehale, 2012). A single-party state was created when the Communist party eradicated all rival parties from the government. The regime also overtook the economy by making private enterprises public and placing them in the hands of the elite. The elite were meant to control and evenly redistribute amongst classes (Littlehale, 2012). According to the American Bar Association, non-communist judges, law professors, and investigators were killed or eliminated, the judicial council was eradicated and even the mere concept of an autonomous judiciary was rejected while the Communist Party controlled judicial appointments. In order to encourage the communist philosophy, the majority of judges, of high level courts in particular, were supporters of the Communist Party. Communist Party members and leaders operated above the law (American Bar Association, 2004).

It is understood that for corruption to manifest there must be an absence of an independent judiciary, no accountability, and the exercise of unlimited discretion. The Communist Party provided Bulgaria with the exact ingredients needed for corruption to take over: complete control was exercised along with unlimited discretion while absolutely no person was held accountable. Just as Romania gained its independence from Communism, the Soviet Union fell in 1991 leaving Bulgaria to finally make its own decisions. In order to shift from communism to democracy, Bulgaria implemented a new constitution that introduced a system that was the polar opposite of the ones used by the Ottoman Turks and Communist regimes practiced. The system would introduce new democratic reforms which operated to protect people’s rights as a whole.

Like its Southern neighbor Bulgaria, Romania is a parliamentary republic according to its Turnovo Constitution adopted in 1991. Romania is the same as Bulgaria in the aspect that there is direct suffrage, the president is the head of state, and the prime minister is the head of government. The constitution expresses similar freedoms to Bulgaria’s constitutions as well as the USA’s. Article 2 of the constitution expresses the political plurality that is necessary to amending corruption in government (Constitute, 2018). However, much like Bulgaria, Romania experienced many hardships with communism and corruption.

Just like the Bulgarians, Romania was under Ottoman rule. Romania acted as a sort of vassal state where the Ottoman Turks indicated how the country would be run but was not formally declared a territory (Romania Tourism, n.d.). When the Turks were eradicated, Romania turned into a royal dictatorship by King Carol I. However, that was incredibly short-lived. This vast expansion that WW1 left Romania with created the challenges of forming an enlarged multiethnic region, establishing a political system that is democratic, and improving what was known as one of the frailest economies in Eastern Europe. Romania soon went into a depression, as did the rest of the world, and King Carol II reassumed his position of power, after renouncing his right to the throne in 1925, through a clique of army officers and elitists who were authoritarian minded (BBC News, 2017). However, when King Carol II made a promise to observe the constitution, political parties accepted his return. Romania transformed from a royal dictatorship to military dictatorship. Carol is known as one of the most corrupt and power-hungry monarchs who ever sat European throne in the 20th century. There seemed to be a political breakthrough when the National Peasants, a democratic party that supported representative institutions, came into government, however, it was incredibly brief and lasted a single year. Factions in numerous parties split off and moved further toward the right wing and the political system was crumbling.

The National Peasant Party’s collapse led to the creation of the Legion of the Archangel Michael, also known as the Iron Guard. The Iron Guard was a far right, extreme anti-Semitic, nationalist movement created by Corneliu Codreanu, an enthusiastic believer of redemptive violence. The Iron Guard was a reflection of anti-individualism and detested the concepts of socialism and capitalism (Romania Tourism, n.d.). Soon after, Romania became a communism and Nicolae Ceausescu ruled the nation from 1948 until 1989 (BBC News, 2017).

Ceausescu maintained a monopoly of power and practiced cronyism while rotating the members of his party and members of the government routinely in order to ensure complete power. Romania was officially what is considered a police state. Citizens were oppressed and their daily lives were actively controlled. Even travelling was restricted by the communist regime. Despite its many perils, however, by the 1990s Romania revolutionized against communist Nicolae Ceausescu and his cabinet. The single-party monopoly was eliminated and Romania held a multi-party election for the first time since World War II (Romania Tourism, n.d.).

Still, all was not smooth sailing. A new constitution was created that promoted essentially the same concepts as Bulgaria’s constitution of 1991. The promise of universal suffrage, equality under the law, individual freedoms, and a separation of powers (Constitute, 2018). Enterprises that were made public were gradually made private. Still, Romania was left to tackle the lingering effects of corruption and continue to fight to better the political situation.

Since both nations joined the EU, the Commission has been actively involved to ensure that both countries develop the proper judicial and administrative systems essential to satisfy the requirements of EU membership and certify appropriate application of EU laws, programs, and policies (Europa, n.d.). Thus, the Commission created the European Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) simultaneously with Bulgaria and Romania’s accession. The CVM is a traditional measure that assists both countries in remedying their issues with corruption, judicial reform, and organized crime which in turn, would allow both nations to experience their whole rights as EU members. In practice, the CVM bases its reports on meticulous examination and observation. Contained in the reports are the Commission’s evaluation and suggestions for Bulgarian and Romanian officials. Certain benchmarks are evaluated. For Romania, benchmarks include the transparency and efficiency of the judicial system, corruption prevention, fighting corruption on all levels, and integrity (Europa, n.d.).

Bulgaria’s benchmarks concern issues like independence, efficacy and professionalism of the judicial system, actions to end organized crime, and the anti-corruption fight (Europa, n.d.). Unfortunately, because the CVM essentially only provides recommendations to authorities, it is insufficient in actively eradicating corruption and organized crime in both Bulgaria and Romania. Even after over a decade of membership, Bulgaria and Romania are still the European Union’s poorest and corruption infested members. Clearly, the European Union has not had as much effect on the two countries as one would have anticipated.

Despite the EU’s creation of the CVM, Romania and Bulgaria have been self-sufficient on their front to end corruption. Romania created a National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA) in 2002, long before joining the EU, that indicted over 1,250 corrupted public officials 2015 alone (Macdowall, 2016). Amongst those indicted was the nation’s prime minster, 21 combined members of the houses of parliament, and the Mayor of Bucharest. The DNA has focused on the fight against high-level corruption.

Citizens of Romania have also become a part on the battle against corruption. This past January, tens of thousands of Romanians marched in Bucharest to ensure the laws that were set forth against corruption do not get reversed. Romania’s Criminal Code, amended in 2009, explicitly outlaws all variations of bribery, embezzlement, abuse of power, and unwarranted monetary gain (Parliament of Romania, 2009). If the government ensures the irreversibility of these laws, ending corruption is just a step away.

Bulgaria, on the other hand, hasn’t had the same success but is gradually making improvements in their corruption-infested government. Despite having the same “window of opportunity” Romania had when joining the EU in 2007, Bulgaria has yet to create a program with equal effectiveness as the DNA (Macdowall, 2016). Critics claim that still oligarchs and politicians remain acting with exemption with the assistance of the judiciary.

Hristo Ivanov, Bulgaria’s former justice minister, warns, “Unless you have decisive action to investigate and punish corruption, particularly at the highest level, we are not going to see any dramatic change that looks like you have in Romania.” Of all the member states, Bulgaria has the highest level of corruption as calculated by the National Transparency Index (Transparency International, 2015). However, unlike Romania, Bulgaria has focused its fight on lower-level corruption. Only recently did Bulgaria focus its attention on high level corruption. Bulgaria lately passed legislation that would give power to the newly created Anti-Corruption and Forfeiture of Illegally Acquired Assets Commission to investigate most high-ranking officials using secret surveillance to target corruptive conduct (European Free Alliance, 2018). Just like the Romanians, Bulgarian citizens marched the streets of Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital city to ensure the legislation would be passed.

Despite the gradual progress both Bulgaria and Romania have made, a report commissioned by a group in the European Parliament has concluded that the fight against corruption, especially in Bulgaria, requires more ambition from the EU than just a measly CVM report (European Free Alliance, 2018). While the EU has pressured both nations to pass legislation against corruption, there has been no actual anti-corruption regulator. Although the EU is stresses both countries to pursue more ambitious reforms, the ambition has not been matched.

Reportedly, the EU has also ceased the monitoring of corruption efforts in Member States (European Free Alliance, 2018). Adopting an anti-corruption regulation and enforcing it vigorously must be created in order to lead Member States by example. The Commission must also continue to monitor Member States in order to ensure they are actively pursuing the end of corruption.

Both EU Member States Bulgaria and Romania still have a long fight ahead of them in ending corruption in their political sectors. In spite of rocky beginnings, the two countries are progressively outrooting corruption one legislation at a time. Although joining the European Union in 2007, in hopes of gaining assistance on their front, both nations have efficiently worked towards their goal of a corruption free government on their own. The European Union has not been of the assistance that was anticipated, and Bulgaria and Romania have been forced to take measures into their own hands. Perhaps joining the European Union was unnecessary for both nations, as the progress they have made was not due to any help from the Commission.

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Corruption in the European Union. (2022, Apr 23). Retrieved from

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