Countries like Romania and Bulgaria shouldn’t have joined the EU in the first place, so, Rory Broomfield asks: why do we have legal reciprocity with them?
On September 12th 2016, the European Court of Auditors (ECA) lifted the veil on a little-known page of European history: that the Court had initially opposed the accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the EU. Despite the ECA’s opinion, the two countries were still allowed to join.
Ten years on from that opinion, why does this matter? Of course, given the court’s remit the opinion was based on financial matters; however, the accession of the two countries meant that they were seen as equal under EU law to all other member states – despite their significant problems – in matters both economic and legal.
The steamrolling of the applications for Romania and Bulgaria to become EU member states has had huge implications for people living across the EU as, with arrangements such as the European Arrest Warrant (EAW), it has exposed individuals living across Europe to the questionable legal standards employed by these countries.
Since its accession, Romania in particular has been very keen on using the EAW. Indeed, according to a report authored by Conor Burns MP and produced by Big Brother Watch, in 2009 the country was the third most prolific user of the extradition warrant across the EU with 1,900 warrants issued. People living within the UK have also not escaped: from 2009 – 2013, 143 individuals within the UK were “surrendered” to Romania.
Why does this matter? It matters because of the legal standards within these countries do not fit with the UK’s standards of justice. Indeed, they may not even meet other more basic standards. This has been revealed by many fine reports by Fair Trials International, including one highlighting concerns over Romania’s pre-trial detention arrangements.
Concerns surrounding the influence that political structures have over the judicial system within Romania have also been raised in a new publication produced by The Hampden Trust in association with The Freedom Association and Economic Policy Centre. The research examines a number of cases that illustrate the problems and excesses of Romania’s anti-corruption fight – yet to be answered by the Romanian authorities. It also comes at a time when the former Prime Minister of Romania is accused of corruption in relation to a visit by Tony Blair. In doing so, the question has to be asked: why were these countries allowed into the EU and why should the UK – about to leave the EU, and with legal principles such as Habeas Corpus that are not shared with other EU nations besides – be prepared to continue legal reciprocity with them?
Romania and Bulgaria should not have legal reciprocity with the UK in the first place – it was granted due to their EU membership. That was a mistake. For the good of the UK, its people and its legal principles, we need to break this relationship with Romania and Bulgaria as soon as we can. Unless the European Arrest Warrant – and other mechanisms of legal reciprocity – can be radically reformed then we should scrap them and start again.