European Commission asks Romania to rethink judiciary laws

Rule of law an issue as legal changes raise fears about Bucharest’s stance on corruption

 Protesters in front of parliament in Bucharest. Thousands gathered to protest against the changes to the judiciary system pushed in parliament by the leftist ruling party Social Democracy Party. Photograph: Robert Ghement

Protesters in front of parliament in Bucharest. Thousands gathered to protest against the changes to the judiciary system pushed in parliament by the leftist ruling party Social Democracy Party. Photograph: Robert Ghement

 

Romania has joined the ranks of EU member states at loggerheads with the European Commission over its adherence to the rule of law.

President Jean Claude Juncker and first vice-president Franz Timmermans on Wednesday fired a shot across the bows of the government in Bucharest in a move reminiscent of early warnings to Poland and Hungary also over the rule of law. Poland currently faces a so-called article seven motion in front of ministers which could see it deprived of its vote in the council.

The commission asked the Romanian parliament to rethink changes to laws governing the judiciary, which have raised concerns about the country’s fight against corruption.

“The independence of Romania’s judicial system and its capacity to fight corruption effectively are essential cornerstones of a strong Romania in the European Union, ” commissioners Junker and Timmermans said.

“The commission calls on the Romanian parliament to rethink the course of action proposed, to open up the debate in line with the commission’s recommendations and to build a broad consensus on the way forward. The commission reiterates its readiness to co-operate with and support the Romanian authorities in this process . . .

Conflict of interest

“The commission warns again against backtracking and will look thoroughly at the final amendments to the justice law, the criminal codes and laws on conflict of interest and corruption to determine the impact on efforts to safeguard the independence of the judiciary and combat corruption.”

Tens of thousands of Romanians protested on Saturday in Bucharest against the changes, passed by the parliament in December, which include new sanctions against judges and prosecutors thought to have acted in bad faith. However, many believe they will allow political corruption to go unpunished.

The commission criticised the Romanian authorities for not doing anything to address its concerns about the changes, as set out in a November 2017 report as part of the EU’s anti-corruption monitoring procedures for Romania and Bulgaria.