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Romania Read the Riot Act

European Commission makes clear that time is running out before severe consequences, including suspension of voting rights.

17 April 2019

The spotlight is back on Romania’s justice system, after the European Commission renewed its warnings to Bucharest, which currently holds the six-month rotating EU council presidency, POLITICO writes. This Monday in Strasbourg, European Commissioner for Justice Vera Jourova spoke about a new set of changes planned for the country’s justice code that could threaten judicial independence. "The risk of massive disruption to the Romanian justice system, including to corruption cases, cannot be ignored," she said.

 

"If our concerns are not met, the [European] Commission will have to act and use all the instruments at its disposal," Jourova added, as quoted by EUobserver. That includes invoking Article 7 in the Treaty on the European Union, which could lead to the suspension of certain member state rights, such as voting in the EU Council.

 

Among the controversial legislative proposals is a reduction to the statute of limitations for multiple offenses, which could prove beneficial to ruling Social Democrat (PSD) party leader Liviu Dragnea. On Monday, the Romanian Supreme Court postponed the final verdict in a criminal case against Dragnea for 20 May, according to Adevarul. The PSD leader had initially been sentenced to three and a half years in prison for abuse of office in 2009 and 2010, when he was a county official. He has continued to maintain his innocence, along with charging that the trial is politically motivated.

 

Liviu Dragnea, left, and Tudorel Toader, right. Image via Dragnea's Facebook page.

 

The relationship between the EU and Romania has been strained by the actions taken at the end of March against Laura Codruta Kovesi. Romania’s former chief prosecutor and a leading candidate to become the European Union’s top prosecutor, Kovesi was indicted on corruption charges and slapped with a travel ban, a move her supporters saw as an attempt to hinder her candidacy. The decision was revoked on 3 April after international outrage, G4media.ro writes.

 

Still, Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dancila said about the case that European officials “cannot ask us to stop criminal investigations,” and that he, as the prime minister, cannot intervene in the course of justice, according to G4media.ro.

 

Jourova also mentioned the Kovesi case in the debate, leading some Romanian members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to accuse Brussels of double standards because of its own alleged interference in the Romanian judicial system. 

 

"Do you know how many times the Romanian Constitutional Court labeled the actions of Kovesi as violating the Romanian Constitution?" MEP Victor Bostinaru asked without elaborating, POLITICO reports.

 

PSD’s woes on the international scene were amplified when the Party of European Socialists (PES), whose group in the European Parliament includes PSD, announced that it would freeze relations with the Romanian Social Democrats, according to another POLITICO article. The PSD says such moves are occurring now because of the upcoming elections for the European Parliament and are just part of the campaign strategy of some of those running.

 

 

  • The Executive Committee (CEx) of PSD is scheduled to meet today to discuss withdrawing their support of Minister of Justice Tudorel Toader, due to his refusal to adopt the emergency ordinances related to the criminal codes, B1.ro reports. If approved, the move could force Prime Minister Dancila to dismiss Toader from the government. Another possible discussion topic at the CEx could be a governmental reorganization that has a high chance of being approved by the PSD-majority parliament, the Romanian daily says.

 

  • This morning, the parliament greenlighted a referendum proposed by Iohannis over judicial issues, Ziare.com reports. The vote is set to take place on 26 May, at the same time as the elections for the European Parliament. In a letter sent to parliament at the beginning of April, the Romanian president said that the referendum should have two themes: banning amnesties and pardons for corruption-related charges, and a ban on emergency ordinances adopted by the government in judicial-related matters, according to Ziare.com.

 

  • Iohannis had initially asked for a judicial-related referendum in January 2017, and received the parliamentary approval a month after, but the issue hadn’t been discussed publicly since then.
Compiled by Ioana Caloianu
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