Irish Times view on Romania-Brussels standoff: Rights and responsibilities

Bucharest has disgracefully been doing what it can to hamper the nomination of one of its own citizens as the first-ever EU chief prosecutor

Laura Codruta Kovesi, Romania’s former chief anti-corruption prosecutor and thorn in the side of the government, was forced out of her job last year by the justice minister. Photograph: Daniel Mihailesdu/AFP/Getty Images

Laura Codruta Kovesi, Romania’s former chief anti-corruption prosecutor and thorn in the side of the government, was forced out of her job last year by the justice minister. Photograph: Daniel Mihailesdu/AFP/Getty Images

 

When EU leaders met this month in Sibiu, Romania, to cast the future of a post-Brexit EU in as positive light as possible, there was a subtext to the agenda for not a few of them about a union of responsibilities as well as of rights.

The Dutch in particular articulated the need to strengthen collective budgetary surveillance and to toughen rule-of-law supervision, a clear warning to some wayward states that a commitment to a political union has consequent obligations for those who want to be part of the club.

A day later, no doubt to spare its blushes, the Romanian presidency received a stiff letter warning that the European Commission is ready to invoke the EU’s article 7 rule-of-law procedure against it. The article provides that a member’s rights may be suspended by its partners over “systemic threats” to basic EU values. Currently both Hungary and Poland are already in the process.

Vice-President Frans Timmermans’ letter warns that Romania’s new disciplinary procedures for judges are a serious threat to judicial independence, while newly relaxed sentencing rules are in danger of creating a climate of impunity for some serious offences, most notably political corruption.

He asks the government to discuss how it intends to remedy such deficiencies ahead of a decision by the commission on article 7. It has yet to respond.

Alarmingly, as if to vindicate the commission’s criticism, Bucharest has disgracefully been doing what it can to hamper the nomination of one of its own citizens as the first-ever EU chief prosecutor.

The new EU prosecutor’s office will investigate the annual theft of hundreds of millions of euro in EU funds and major cross-border tax fraud, which could lead to clashes with governments and ruling parties – like Romania’s – which have poor records on fighting corruption. (Ireland is one of six EU states that have not signed up to the initiative, which is due to start work by 2021.)

Laura Codruta Kovesi, Romania’s former chief anti-corruption prosecutor and thorn in the side of the government, was forced out of her job last year by the justice minister. During her five-year tenure at the helm, conviction rates for high-level graft jumped across the political spectrum, drawing EU praise. Kovesi is fighting the dismissal in the European Court of Human Rights but has also faced bribery and abuse of office charges and travel restrictions at home.

Although member states have backed French candidate Jean-François Bohnert for the EU job, Kovesi has been endorsed by the co-legislator, the European Parliament. The appointment of this outstanding, highly qualified candidate would be an important, welcome affirmation of the EU’s commitment to the rule of law in all its member states.

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