Brussels, 5 October 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The European Commission is no stranger to putting pressure on applicant countries as accession deadlines loom.
The months before the closure of talks with the first wave of accession countries in 2002 were a rough ride for many of them.
In Romania's case, however, the pressure comes close to testing the limits. While the commission's annual progress report does recognize for the first time Romania's "functioning market economy," the shortcomings of the country's political system occasionally appear so severe that the question must arise whether Romania is ready for membership -- especially as soon as the "common objective" of 1 January 2007.
Although the Copenhagen criteria are intended to be met before a candidate country begins accession talks -- witness Turkey -- the report on Romania could be construed to suggest that there is still some way to go. The report proposes a "safeguard clause" that could delay by one year the entry of either Romania or Bulgaria if economic and administrative reforms stall.
Freedom of the media is a case in point. The commission report says that "certain structural problems may affect the practical realization of the freedom of expression," despite legislation adopted over the past few years.
It goes on to suggest that the Romanian state is propping up "most private TV stations," refraining from calling in debts in return for preferential coverage. Such a situation, the report observes, may compromise editorial independence, adding that studies suggest Romanian television is notably less critical of the government than the printed press. Locally elected officials use their public offices to influence the local media -- through the selective awarding of advertising contracts, for example.
The report also says studies show "financial inducements" often lead to self-censorship among journalists.
Finally, the report says, "cases of serious physical attacks against journalists have increased" since 2003. Local investigative journalists are said to be particular targets.
Coming to the freedom of association, the report says legislation adopted on local elections earlier this year -- together with earlier laws on political parties -- make it "increasingly difficult for new or regionally based parties to participate in the political process." The report blames considerable bureaucratic hurdles and high registration thresholds.
The report notes a "recent official survey found that a majority of judges had come under political pressure while exercising their official duties."
Local government is said to lack transparency, and there are "credible reports" that resources are misappropriated by specific political groups. Officials regularly change party affiliation during office, with most deciding to shift to the ruling party.
Some of the severest criticism is reserved for the Romanian judicial system, where insufficient progress has been made in guaranteeing its independence from the executive branch. The report notes a "recent official survey found that a majority of judges had come under political pressure while exercising their official duties." Political interference in the nomination process is a "common practice." There is also said to be a shortage of judges, and the quality of judgments "also remains a problem."
Romania's legislative process is said to be opaque, and laws are prepared hastily and with little consultation of relevant interest groups -- even other ministries involved. As a result, this leads to "low-quality legislative output."
The fight against corruption, although bolstered by recent administrative changes, is said to be ill-coordinated and have little or no parliamentary oversight.
The report says corruption remains a "serious and widespread problem." The number of successful prosecutions remains low, "particularly for high-level corruption." The report notes this is the case despite the fact that Romania's anticorruption legislation is well-developed and broadly in line with relevant EU laws.
The report stresses in its introductory passages that the ability to implement and enforce EU law -- requiring an "adequate judicial and administrative capacity" -- is a key condition of membership.
Under the heading "civil and political rights," the report says that, despite positive legislative developments, cases of "ill treatment" in police stations, prisons, and psychiatric hospitals continue to be reported. Violence is said to be "most common" against the disadvantaged, such as the Roma.
The "de facto" discrimination of the Roma is said to continue to be widespread, despite recent legislative changes and the setting up of equality-monitoring bodies. The report says the Roma are still exposed to considerable social inequalities.
It notes that while official census figures estimate the Romany population at 535,000, rights groups say the actual number ranges between 1,800,000 and 2,500,000. The discrepancy is explained at least partly "by the reluctance of some Roma to identify themselves as such."
Trafficking in human beings is said to be rife and the impact of the Romanian measures taken so far is judged as "rather modest."