A CVM (Co-operation and Verification Mechanism) report released by the European Commission at the end of January told us that Romania is “getting results” in its campaign against corruption.
But one woman’s story illustrates the very high cost of these results in terms of human rights violations. Alina Bica (pictured), the then Chief Prosecutor for organised crime, was herself seized by Romania’s DNA (National Anti-Corruption Directorate) in a dramatic arrest on 20 November 2014.
“It was like a movie”, recalls Bica, “I was traveling in my official car. Three cars blocked mine. They asked me if I had a lawyer. I explained I was not a suspect. They said: 'Not yet. But you soon will be.' I was sure then that bad things were about to happen.”
Bica was right. Bad things were indeed about to happen. In Romania, if you wish to arrest a Prosecutor, you must seek permission from the Supreme Council of Magistrates. They refused in Bica’s case. So within 24 hours, Bica says Laura Codruta Kovesi, the head of the DNA, made a personal visit to the Supreme Council to persuade them. None of the charges faced by Alina Bica, 42, has yet come to trial, let alone reached a conviction, but she has already spent over eight months inside jail. She was not detained at the usual place for pre-trial detention in Bucharest.
Instead she was transferred to a more unpleasant jail where Bica says about 50% of prisoners were there because of her prosecutions. The rationale for this detention is the country’s use of ‘preventive arrest’ to imprison certain high-level suspects accused of white-collar crimes on grounds of stopping them from committing similar alleged offenses in future. Patrick Basham of the Democracy Institute in London and Washington describes this kind of preventive arrest as “particularly Orwellian”. Basham also points to that fact that in Romania it is routine for family members to face accusations as additional leverage for prosecutors.
This happened to Alina Bica. Her husband, who works in agriculture, was accused of €16,000 worth of tax evasion. The accusations came to nothing. Neither the fiscal authorities nor anyone else ever filed a complaint against Bica’s husband for this. But Bica says prosecutors deliberately misled the media into thinking that the accusations were about seven million worth of tax evasion and predictable headlines ensued. The accusations may have led nowhere but the reputational damage was done.
Bica’s lawyer, Laura Vicol, was also arrested and they believe that was because of her television appearances supporting her client. Bica says: “It feels like the 1950s when the communists came. You get called an enemy of the state, you get put in the truck… they damage your family.”
The charges against Bica include ‘abuse of power’, an offence that does not really exist in other countries. Bica says she was conducting a routine review of cases. In the specific case the charges referred to, the allegations against a suspect were over eight years old. Bica told her Prosecutor to either start proceedings or throw the case out. She explains this was a normal position for her to take, as in her view that is long enough for a case to be hanging over someone without proceedings being brought. The accusation against her is that she received 17,000 Euros in return for closing the file.
This is an accusation Bica finds both astonishing and insulting: “My career has been my life. For 18 years I worked without blemish or suspicion. How do they claim that overnight an honorable person turned corrupt? I am so proud of my achievements in my work and the great effort that took. From my studies at the Sorbonne and training in the US – all to be good at my job. I had dreams to make my country better.
"I did things like go to the Oracle Convention to get the first private server. I got us the same one the fiscal authorities have in Texas. I tried to get our unit more resources. It was unfair that although we were tackling major issues like human trafficking, drugs and even nuclear smuggling, we got less money than the DNA who just deal with lobbying and bribery. I was always striving to do the best job I could. Do they really think I would throw all of that away for €16,000 Euros? And if I was going to tarnish my very clean record, don’t they think I might have gone for a bigger fish? I am not corrupt and I never will be. But if I had wanted to be corrupt, surely I could have gone for something bigger. These accusations are not logical.”
So where does Bica believe this attack came from? When we met, she was still puzzling it out. She remembered requests from Lieutenant General Florian Coldea, the head of Romanian intelligence services. “He used to call me and make demands that I always refused. For example he would make a demand that a specific person be arrested in the coming August. When I would refuse, telling him there was not enough evidence, he would respond by saying: “You are not right for the position you are in. You should change or you will not end well.” She also wondered if the DNA and intelligence services felt she was a threat to them while she was in her position as Prosecutor at her anti-mafia unit: “Maybe they wanted to weaken my unit, leave the troops without a General? Also, I was starting some interesting cases – maybe that was it.”
Just one week ago, Bica found her answer. It turns out that in the autumn of 2012 she opened a case against Sergiu Lascu of Transgaz. At the time, there was nothing unusual about that. But Mr Lascu is the brother of Laura Codruta Kovesi, the head of the DNA and the woman behind Bica’s own 2014 arrest. Back in 2012, Bica did not know of the link between Mr Lascu and her opposite number over at the DNA. She did not know she had opened a case against Kovesi’s brother. It is hard not to see revenge as a motive for the DNA’s pursuit of Bica.
How has this news affected Bica? “Well, I suppose I now at least have an explanation about why I have been attacked in this way. But it doesn’t help me much,” she adds, ruefully. Would she have acted differently if she had known she was opening a case against Kovesi’s brother? “No. I was doing my job. I would still have had to open that case. But maybe I could have informed the General Prosecutor of the Republic about this situation or prepared a report showing that the attitude of Ms Kovesi on this was not correct procedurally speaking.” How does Bica feel about her chances when the case comes to trial? “I know the DNA does not have evidence against me. I want and need a fair trial. But I do not have faith that I will get that. The intelligence services have infiltrated the courts so I cannot rely on getting a Judge who will give me a fair hearing and judge my case independently.”
It seems Bica’s fears that she cannot get a fair trial are not unfounded. Judge Dana Girbovan of the National Judges Association in Romania wrote to President Juncker of the European Commission to express serious concern that there are undercover Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) agents among the magistrates, which is of course prohibited by Romanian law. Judge Girbovan also drew President Juncker’s attention to the fact that the head of the SRI Legal Directorate, General Dumitru Dumbrava, stated the courts of law were a “tactical field” for the SRI and that “currently we keep our interest/attention until a final decision is made in each case”.
This certainly echoes General Lieutenant Coldea’s alleged threats to Bica that she “will not end well”. Patrick Basham believes that Romania’s anti-corruption campaign “has rapidly metastasized into an illiberal crusade.”
It is certainly to be hoped that the next CVM report from the European Commission will assess Romania’s progress not only the sheer volume of cases the DNA can bring, but also whether Romania is honoring the human rights guaranteed by the European Convention and the international treaties that Romania has signed.
Further reading - Romania's Anti-corruption Mania by Patrick Basham in the New York Times.
Big business seeks unified, market-based approaches ahead of climate summit
Corporate executives and investors say they want world leaders at next week’s climate summit to embrace a unified and market-based approach to slashing their carbon emissions, write Ross Kerber and Simon Jessop.
The request reflects the business world’s growing acceptance that the world needs to sharply reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, as well as its fear that doing so too quickly could lead governments to set heavy-handed or fragmented rules that choke international trade and hurt profits.
The United States is hoping to reclaim its leadership in combating climate change when it hosts the 22-23 April Leaders Summit on Climate.
Key to that effort will be pledging to cut US emissions by at least half by 2030, as well as securing agreements from allies to do the same.
“Climate change is a global problem, and what companies are looking to avoid is a fragmented approach where the US, China and the EU each does its own thing, and you wind up with a myriad of different methodologies,” said Tim Adams, chief executive of the Institute of International Finance, a Washington-based trade association.
He said he hopes U.S. President Joe Biden and the 40 other world leaders invited to the virtual summit will move toward adopting common, private-sector solutions to reaching their climate goals, such as setting up new carbon markets, or funding technologies like carbon-capture systems.
Private investors have increasingly been supportive of ambitious climate action, pouring record amounts of cash into funds that pick investments using environmental and social criteria.
That in turn has helped shift the rhetoric of industries that once minimized the risks of climate change.
The American Petroleum Institute, which represents oil companies, for example, said last month it supported steps to reduce emissions such as putting a price on carbon and accelerating the development of carbon capture and other technologies.
API Senior Vice President Frank Macchiarola said that in developing a new U.S. carbon cutting target, the United States should balance environmental goals with maintaining U.S. competitiveness.
“Over the long-term, the world is going to demand more energy, not less, and any target should reflect that reality and account for the significant technological advancements that will be required to accelerate the pace of emissions reductions,” Macchiarola said.
Labor groups like the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of U.S. labor unions, meanwhile, back steps to protect U.S. jobs like taxing goods made in countries that have less onerous emissions regulations.
AFL-CIO spokesman Tim Schlittner said the group hopes the summit will produce “a clear signal that carbon border adjustments are on the table to protect energy-intensive sectors”.
Industry wish lists
Automakers, whose vehicles make up a big chunk of global emissions, are under pressure to phase out petroleum-fueled internal combustion engines. Industry leaders General Motors Co and Volkswagen have already declared ambitious plans to move toward selling only electric vehicles.
But to ease the transition to electric vehicles, US and European automakers say they want subsidies to expand charging infrastructure and encourage sales.
The National Mining Association, the US industry trade group for miners, said it supports carbon capture technology to reduce the industry’s climate footprint. It also wants leaders to understand that lithium, copper and other metals are needed to manufacture electric vehicles.
“We hope that the summit brings new attention to the mineral supply chains that underpin the deployment of advanced energy technologies, such as electric vehicles,” said Ashley Burke, the NMA’s spokeswoman.
The agriculture industry, meanwhile, is looking for market-based programs to help it cut its emissions, which stack up to around 25% of the global total.
Industry giants such as Bayer AG and Cargill Inc have launched programs encouraging farming techniques that keep carbon in the soil.
Biden’s Department of Agriculture is looking to expand such programs, and has suggested creating a “carbon bank” that could pay farmers for carbon capture on their farms.
For their part, money managers and banks want policymakers to help standardize accounting rules for how companies report environmental and other sustainability-related risks, something that could help them avoid laggards on climate change.
“Our industry has an important role to play in supporting companies’ transition to a more sustainable future, but to do so it is vital we have clear and consistent data on the climate-related risks faced by companies,” said Chris Cummings, CEO of the Investment Association in London.
UK asks for more time to respond to EU Brexit legal action: RTE TV
Britain has asked for more time to respond to legal action taken by the European Union over its unilateral decision to ease requirements of the Northern Ireland Protocol, Ireland’s RTE television reported on Wednesday (14 April), writes Conor Humphries.
“The request came in two letters from the UK’s chief Brexit minister David Frost,” RTE correspondent Tony Connelly said in a Twitter post.
Team Europe increased Official Development Assistance to €66.8 billion as the world's leading donor in 2020
The EU and its 27 member states have significantly increased their Official Development Assistance (ODA) for partner countries to €66.8 billion in 2020. This is a 15% increase in nominal terms and equivalent to 0.50% of collective Gross National Income (GNI), up from 0.41% in 2019, according to preliminary figures published today by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development's Development Assistance Committee (OECD-DAC). The EU and its member states thereby confirm their position as the world's leading donor, providing 46% of global assistance from the EU and other DAC donors, and have taken a major leap forward towards meeting the commitment to provide at least 0.7% of collective GNI as ODA by 2030.
International Partnerships Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen said: “Team Europe has significantly increased its contribution of Official Development Assistance compared to last year. This is crucial at a time when so many people in our partner countries face significant health, economic and social challenges linked to the COVID-19 crisis. The latest figures show that 10 years ahead of the due date to deliver on our commitment to provide 0.7% of our collective GNI as ODA, we are more determined than ever to achieve this target.”
Overall, 17 Member States increased their ODA in nominal terms in 2020 compared to 2019, with the strongest nominal increases coming from Germany (+€3.310bn), France (+€1.499bn) and Sweden (+€921 million), and further increases coming from Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Latvia, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. The EU institutions' ODA (meaning the European Commission and the EIB) increased by €3.7bn (27%) overall in 2020 in nominal terms. 15 member states improved their ODA relative to their GNI by at least 0.01 percentage points: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Malta, Romania, Slovakia, Spain and Sweden. In Cyprus and Greece, ODA as a share of GNI decreased by at least 0.01 percentage points.
In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the EU, its member states, and the European financial institutions, together with the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, have combined their financial resources as Team Europe, mobilising over €40bn in support to partner countries in 2020. 65% of this amount was already disbursed in 2020 in support of the immediate humanitarian needs; health, water, sanitation and nutrition systems, as well as tackling the social and economic consequences of the pandemic. The unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 crisis has put a huge stress on public finances and debt sustainability of many developing countries, affecting their ability to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. This is why, in May 2020, President von der Leyen called for a Global Recovery Initiative, linking debt relief and investment to the SDGs to promote a green, digital, just and resilient recovery. The Global Recovery Initiative is about shifting to policy choices supporting green and digital transitions, social inclusiveness and human development while enhancing debt sustainability in partner countries.
ODA is one of the sources of financing to deliver on the SDGs, although more transparency is needed on all sources of finance for sustainable development. As an important step in that direction, data on Total Official Support for Sustainable Development (TOSSD) has been collected and published for the first time, increasing transparency on all officially-supported resources for the SDGs, including South-South co-operation, support to global public goods such as vaccine research and climate mitigation as well as private finance mobilized by official interventions.
The data published today is based on preliminary information reported by the EU Member States to the OECD pending detailed final data to be published by OECD by early 2022. EU collective ODA consists of the total ODA spending of EU member states and the ODA of the EU institutions not attributed to individual member states or the UK (notably own resources of the European Investment Bank and, for the first time in 2020, special macro-financial assistance loans on a grant equivalent basis).
Despite its withdrawal from the European Union taking effect on 1 February 2020, the United Kingdom still contributed funding in the form of ODA to the EU budget and the European Development Fund in 2020. This is included in the EU institutions' ODA. However, in order to avoid double-counting between the ODA reported as EU collective ODA and the ODA reported by the United Kingdom itself, the United Kingdom's contribution to EU institutions is not included in what is reported as EU collective ODA.
Four EU member states already exceeded the 0.7% target of ODA as a share of GNI in 2020: Sweden (1.14%), Luxembourg (1.02%), Denmark (0.73%) and Germany (0.73%).
When highlighting the member states which increased or decreased their ODA as a share of GNI, only cases where the change amounts to at least 0.01 percentage points (based on exact rather than rounded values) are taken into account, while member states for which the change is smaller than 0.01 percentage points in either direction are considered to have kept their ODA as a share of GNI stable.
The EU and its member states thereby perform significantly above the average of non-EU DAC donors in terms of their ODA as a share of GNI, standing at 0.50% compared to 0.26% by the aggregate of all non-EU DAC donors.
In May 2015, the European Council reaffirmed its commitment to increase collective ODA to 0.7% of EU collective GNI by 2030. Since 2015, on a flow basis, ODA by the EU and its current 27 member states has grown by 37% (€18.7bn) in nominal terms while the ODA/GNI ratio has increased by 0.1 percentage points. The year 2020 marks a turn in the previous trend of declining ODA since the 2016 climax when the EU and its then 28 member states' ODA reached 0.52% of GNI. This turn is due partly to an absolute increase in collective ODA in nominal terms, and partly to an absolute decrease in collective GNI in nominal terms. The EU is also committed to give collectively between 0.15% and 0.20% of the EU GNI in the short term to Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and 0.20% by 2030. Since 2015, on a flow basis, ODA by the EU and its current 27 member states to LDCs has grown by 34% (€3.5bn) in nominal terms to reach €13.8bn (0.10% of GNI) in 2019, and the ODA to LDCs/GNI ratio has increased by 0.01 percentage points. Moreover, compared to 2018, the EU and its then 28 member states increased their aggregate ODA to Africa by 3.6% in nominal terms to €25.9bn in 2019. Data on ODA to LDCs, Africa and other specific recipients for 2020 are expected by early 2022.
Scaling up sustainable finance and private sector engagement in partner countries is essential, coupled with reforms to enhance business climates, as meeting the challenges of the Global Recovery Initiative cannot be achieved by ODA alone. The EU has been instrumental in bringing together aid, investment, trade, domestic resource mobilisation and policies designed to unlock the full potential of all financial flows. The European Fund for Sustainable Development guarantee in particular has played a key role in unlocking additional finance for partner countries. Over the last year alone, the EU signed €1.55bn worth of financial guarantees with our partner financial institutions, leveraging over €17bn of investments – also helping to ensure that recovery from the pandemic is green, digital, just and resilient.
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