Romania must do more to deliver on respect for rule of law and judicial independence, having implemented some but not all the recommendations made in the annual Co-operation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) report from July 2012, the European Commission said on January 30 in a new CVM progress report.
When Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU in January 2007, their inadequacies in fighting organised crime and corruption and in reforming the judiciary led to the two newcomer countries being subjected to the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism to bring them up to the bloc’s standards in this area. In recent years, continued CVM monitoring has become an obstacle in the way of the two countries joining the Schengen visa-free travel area.
The new report presented the Commission’s on the steps Romania has taken in the past six months and shows where further steps are needed, the EC said in a statement.
The period covered all but two months of the government headed by prime minister Victor Ponta, who took office in May 2012. Early on, the efforts of Ponta’s coalition to unseat president Traian Basescu in an impeachment referendum has drawn harsh criticism from EU institutions, which said that such actions were a threat to the rule of law in the country.
Since then, Brussels and Bucharest have mended fences somewhat, with the progress report noting that “respect for the Constitution and the decisions of the Constitutional Court has been restored”, but also pointed out that “the lack of respect for the independence of the judiciary and the instability faced by judicial institutions remain a source of concern.”
In a technical briefing on the progress report, European Commission spokesperson Mark Gray said that “the Commission has received numerous reports of intimidation or harassment of individuals in court institutions.”
The role of the media was also addressed, with the report recommending a review of existing rules “to safeguard a free and pluralistic media, while ensuring that this is accompanied by a proper protection of institutions and individuals’ fundamental rights,” he said.
The Commission said that it was important that Romania appoints a new prosecutor-general and head of the anti-corruption directorate that “would enjoy public confidence and demonstrate the independence, integrity and professionalism needed to deliver effective results in fighting corruption.”
Romanian president Basescu has rejected nominees put forth by the government and a new round of nominations wais expected in the near future. The new selection process should feature a “sufficient number of high-quality candidates […] in an open and transparent process,” Gray said.
Cabinet ministers and members of parliament should “set an example in terms of respect for integrity”, by offering to step down or have their immunity from prosecution lifted when facing integrity or corruption allegations.
“The report sets out the key developments over the past six months in reform of the judicial system and steps against corruption, noting the resilience of the courts and the anti-corruption institutions in difficult circumstances,” the Commission statement said.
Speaking on January 29 after having seen a draft version, Romanian prime minister Ponta said that the progress report was “better than expected”.
He said that his government had delivered on the 11 commitments made after meeting European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso in the wake of last summer’s row. Any criticism by the European Commission would be taken on board and the cabinet would work to address it – “I have no intention of starting a fight with the European Commission,” Ponta said.
(European Commission headquarters’ Berlaymont building. Photo: JLogan)