The Economist highlights impending European Union sanctions aimed at corrupt politicians in Bulgaria, with 1 billion euro (US$1.6 billion) in aid at stake. While this certainly seems like a bad news day for Bulgaria, the tough medicine being imposed by the EU is a pretty strong signal that corruption in Bulgaria is being challenged.
This willingness (albeit external) to tackle sticky problems may explain our surprisingly positive assessment of Bulgaria’s anti-corruption policies in the latest Global Integrity Report. As we have said many times before: a scandal like this isn’t the worst possible outcome. Leaving problems unacknowledged is far more troubling.
FIRST fingers were wagged, then wrists were slapped. Now the pocket money is being stopped. The European Union had already frozen some EURO1 billion ($1.6 billion) in funds overseen by Bulgarian politicians whom it no longer trusts. Now, in a report to be published on Wednesday July 23rd, the EU says that Bulgaria may have to forfeit large chunks of that money altogether. At issue are hundreds of millions of euros allocated to programmes predating Bulgaria’s accession to the EU in January 2007. These were designed to get the country ready for the rigours of life within the EU…
The report says in caustic terms that there is no political will to deal with fraud and corruption in handling EU funds. It highlights close links between leading public figures and companies that have benefited from tenders for EU-financed projects. It concludes: “Bulgaria…has to ensure that the generous support it receives from the EU actually reaches its citizens and is not siphoned off by corrupt officials, operating together with organised crime.”
The outcry over the lack of political will is fascinating — we’ve often used the same phrase to describe the missing element in fighting corruption, and if the EU can create it by yanking away a billion euro (with even tougher sanctions in reserve), then good for them. The EU report also notes the suspected involvement of organized crime in government, a theme we touched on in last year’s Reporter’s Notebook: Bulgaria.