March 26, 2009:
For the second time this year, Romania finds itself with a senior government official being removed for corrupt practices. This time it's Cornel Serban, the head of intelligence for the Interior Ministry. Serban was accused of selling secrets to gangsters and businessmen. Earlier, the head of the armed forces, and several other officers, were fired and prosecuted for blatant theft of military equipment (for sale on the international back market.)
Romania was forced to clean up its endemic corruption before joining NATO in 2004, and the European Union (EU) in 2007. Being in NATO afforded protection from Russia, which is still considered a threat by East European nations. But NATO would not allow a nation with rampant corruption to join, as that would mean many NATO secrets would be vulnerable to theft (via a few well placed bribes.) Similar deal with the European Union, which send in lots of financial aid to needy new members, and does not want to see all that cash stolen by corrupt officials.
But as soon as Romania was in the EU, the corruption started coming back. Apparently the crooked officials agreed to shape up just long enough to get into the EU. Then they could go back to plundering, this time with all that additional EU aid available. The EU was not amused, and has been putting pressure on, and issuing threats. This is having an impact, because the Grand Scam quickly became obvious to the EU, and there are threats of expulsion and withholding economic aid. This has given the honest politicians an opportunity to install clean government for the first time. But the dirty politicians are not giving up easily.
Most NATO members are EU nations, and have made it clear that if Romania cannot clean up its corruption, it can forget about NATO protection as well. The fact that Romania canned it armed forces commander, and several others, for plundering military equipment, indicates that the message was received. Recent history indicates that the corruption problem can be quickly addressed. Greece did an admiral job of cleaning up its problems, in order to gain admittance to the Euro zone (using the Euro as its currency and gaining financial and trading benefits). But, like Bulgaria and Romania, Greece found that after they got into the Euro Zone in 2001 (having failed to make the grade in 1999), the backsliding began. It's a struggle that will take a decade or more of politically hard anti-corruption work to change centuries old traditions.