Centuries After Vlad Dracula, Corruption Continues to Suck Romania Dry

By: Calla Ketchens

“By the time you reach maturity, you comprehend corruption as an active part of your society.”[1]

The quote above is from a New York Times article in which a Romanian student, living in Paris, describes growing up in a place where corruption is essentially a way of life. [2]. The article further enumerates how corruption has infiltrated other areas of life, such as receiving health care, getting power back on, promoting students to the next grade level, or even when going on vacation. [3]. Corruption was so prevalent in Romania that when it joined the European Union in 2007, along with Bulgaria, the European Commission established the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) specifically for these two countries in order to assess Romania’s progress in fighting corrupt practices. [4]. Romania has made progress in its fight against corruption, but, if the recent protests in Romania are any indication, Romania still has a long way to go before the CVM reaches its expiration date of 2019. [5].


The Unclenching Fangs of Corruption

As of 2016, Romania is third worst in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. [6]. The European Commission, in the 2016 progress report for Romania’s implementation of the CVM, stated that, since the CVM was put in place in 2007, Romania has made “major progress.” [7]. It did, however, emphasizes that Romania still needs to strengthen internal safeguards and focus on holding authorities accountable before the CVM can be lifted. [8]. The CVM was set up to address the “shortcomings in judicial reform and the fight again corruption” in Romania. [9]. The CVM created four benchmarks for Romania to meet and maintain. [10]. Romania must: 1) establish an independent and efficient judicial system; 2) create an “integrity agency” charged with investigating corruption; 3) tackle high-level corruption in a professional and non-partisan manner; and 4) prevent and fight corruption at all levels, particularly within local government. [11].

Romania has been making strides mainly because of the revamping of the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) in 2007. [12]. In 2015, the DNA indicted 1,250 public officials for corruption, including former Prime Minister, Victor Ponta. [13]. Yes, you read that correctly; so, it is no surprise that the DNA has been struggling with the caseload (a good problem?). [14]. The DNA’s success could be linked to its collaboration with the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI). [15]. Some critics of the DNA believe that the DNA would be more legitimate if it used a “regular police apparatus” in lieu of the SRI, but this would require €10 million and for the DNA to hire 130 more police officers. [16].

Perhaps in an effort to cut down on the number of DNA indictments and in an alleged effort to cut down on prison crowding and to align certain laws with constitution, the government passed a decree on January 31, 2017 that would have gone into effect in early February of this year. [17]. The decree decriminalized acts of corruption where the sums were less than €44,000 ($47,500). [18]. The head of the governing Social Democrats (PSD), Liviu Dragnea, would have directly benefitted from this decree as he faces charges of defrauding the state of €24,000. [19]. This decree sparked a wave of protests across Romania, the largest since anti-communism protests in 1989. [20]. The government did throw out the decree and the justice minister Florin Iordache submitted his resignation shortly after, but Romanians are not confident in the government’s ability to fight corruption, especially after a decree that would have severely hampered those efforts. [21].


Garlic and Crucifixes: Legal Mechanisms to Repel Corruption

Herein lies the problem; if the government continues trying to pass legislation that would undermine Romania’s efforts and progress in fighting corruption, it risks violating Romania’s obligations under international law. Namely, the government would violate the United Nations Convention against Corruption, to which Romania is a signatory,[22] and the Stockholm Programme directed by the European Council,[23] in addition to the CVM. The Convention against Corruption (CAC) covers five areas in which party States must implement measures. [24]. It is also far reaching as it covers several forms of corruption. [25]. The CAC mandates that party States must “implement or maintain effective, coordinated anti-corruption policies.” [26]. Parties must also establish “[p]reventive anti-corruption . . . bodies” in order to implement policies mandated by Article 5 and to disseminate information about these policies to the public. [27]. The CAC emphasizes the necessity of an independent enforcement body. [28]. Additionally, the CAC states that party States should “endeavor to apply . . . codes or standards of conduct” for public officials. [29]. Moreover, Article 9 mandates that party States “promote transparency and accountability in the management of public finances,” [30] and Article 11 emphasize the importance of an independent judiciary in the efforts to combat corruption. [31].

The European Commission had made a continual effort to fight corruption within the EU; one of the mechanisms to fight corruption is the Stockholm Programme. [32]. While less strongly worded than the CAC, the EU specific Stockholm Programme calls for Member States to  “improve the prosecution of tax evasion and corruption in the private sector.” [33]. The Programme mandates that the European Commission “measure efforts in the fight against corruption and to develop a comprehensive EU anti-corruption policy.” [34]. Hence the implementation of mechanisms like the CVM.


How to Drive the Stake into the Heart of Corruption: What’s left to be done

Citizen action was the main catalyst for the government to throw out the decree, but it is still problematic that officials wanted to enact such a decree. Even though Romania is legally bound to the CAC as a signatory who ratified the convention, in addition to the CVM and other EU mechanisms, officials still risked Romania’s legitimacy in the EU. In order for the CVM to be lifted by 2019 or before, Romania must show that policies or laws enacted and steps taken to curb corruption are irreversible. [35]. Another key to fighting corruption is the independence of the judiciary. [36]. While the European Commission and officials have given positive feedback, the requirements of the CVM will still keep Romania under scrutiny till at least 2019. [37]. These efforts may get curtailed by a March 2016 ruling by Romania’s Constitutional Court that forbade the DNA from using evidence obtained by the SRI. [38]. This may be a blessing in disguise as the government can focus on changing the culture or attitude of Romania towards corruption in addition to deterrence. Romania has all the stakes in place to drive corruption out of the coiffeurs of society, but it will take more citizen action and attitudinal shift from officials to fully nail the changes in place.


[1] Palko Karasz, In Romania, Corruption’s Tentacles Grip Daily Life, The New York Times, Feb. 9, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/09/world/europe/romania-corruption-coruptie-guvern-justitie.html.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Press Release, European Commission, Commission Outlines Conditions for Ending Cooperation and Verification Mechanism for Romania on Judicial Reform and Corruption (Jan. 25, 2017) available at http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-17-130_en.htm (hereinafter “1/25/17 Press Release”); Carmen Paun, Romania ready to exit EU corruption monitoring, POLITICO, Feb. 15, 2016, http://www.politico.eu/article/romania-ready-to-exit-eu-corruption-monitoring-cooperation-verification-mechanism-timmermans/.

[5] Paun, supra note 4; Romania government scraps corruption decree after protests, BBC, Feb. 5, 2017, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-38871667 (hereinafter “BBC”).

[6] Andrew MacDowall, DNA of Romania’s anti-corruption success, POLITICO, Apr. 18, 2016, 5:55am CT, http://www.politico.eu/article/the-dna-of-romanias-anti-corruption-success-eu-transparency-international/.

[7] 1/25/17 Press Release, supra note 4.

[8] Id.

[9] Report from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on Progress in Romania under the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism, at 2, COM (2017) 44 final (Jan. 25, 2017), available at https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/com-2017-44_en_1.pdf (hereinafter “CVM Report”).

[10] Id.

[11] Id. at 4-8.

[12] MacDowall, supra note 6.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] BBC, supra note 5.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Vlad Odobescu, In Romania, what’s a little corruption?, USA Today, Feb. 2, 2017, 4:53am, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2017/02/01/romania-anti-corruption-protests/97328852/.

[21] Karasz, supra note 1.

[22] United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Signature and Ratification Status, https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/corruption/ratification-status.html, last visited March 24, 2017.

[23] Council Notice 115/01, The Stockholm Programme – An Open and Secure Europe Serving and Protecting Citizens, 2010 O.J., available at http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:C:2010:115:0001:0038:EN:PDF (hereinafter “Stockholm Programme”).

[24] United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, United nations Convention against Corruption, https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/treaties/CAC/, last visited March 24, 2017.

[25] Id.

[26] Convention against Corruption, art. 5(1), Dec. 14, 2005, 2349 U.N.T.S. 41, available at https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/corruption/tools_and_publications/UN-convention-against-corruption.html (hereinafter “CAC”).

[27] Id. at art. 6(1).

[28] Id. at art. 6(2).

[29] Id. at art. 8(2).

[30] Id. at art. 9(2).

[31] Id. at art. 11(1).

[32] European Commission: Migration and Home Affairs, Corruption, http://ec.europa.eu/home-affairs/what-we-do/policies/organized-crime-and-human-trafficking/corruption_en, last visited March 24, 2017.

[33] Stockholm Programme, supra note 23 at 4.4.5.

[34] European Commission: Migration and Home Affairs, supra note 32.

[35] CVM Report, supra note 9 at 2.

[36] CAC, supra note 26 at art. 11(1).

[37] Paun, supra note 4.

[38] MacDowall, supra note 6.