The European Commission said on January 28 that Romania has made continued progress since last year’s Co-operation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) report was issued, praising the “impressive momentum” in fighting high-level corruption, but warned that the recent progress “needs to be consolidated and to be further secured”.
Romania’s previous CVM report recorded a number of positive developments compared to the one issued in July 2012, which came out amid political upheaval and an attempt by Romania’s ruling coalition at the time to oust then-president Traian Basescu from office.
The upward trend continued in 2014, the EC said, resulting in “increased confidence amongst Romanians about the judiciary in general, and the anti-corruption prosecution in particular” and “an increased professionalism in the judicial system as a whole, including a willingness to defend the independence of the judiciary in a more consistent way”.
“In particular, the action taken by the key judicial and integrity institutions to address high-level corruption has maintained an impressive momentum,” the CVM report said. Anti-corruption prosecutors pursued investigations against a number of high-profile officials, including serving and former ministers, MPs, mayors, judges and senior prosecutors.
Several important cases reached final-instance convictions, including lawsuits against a former prime minister, former ministers, members of parliament, mayors and magistrates, while other cases were concluded at court of appeal level, the report said.
Despite steps taken to improve prosecution of corruption lawsuits, the number of court decisions on corruption cases has decreased in 2014, while “the fact that 80 per cent of convicted persons receive a suspended sentence remains a high proportion,” the CVM report said.
There were no highest-level appointments in the Romanian judiciary in 2014, but the upcoming nomination of a new chief prosecutor for the organised crime office, DIICOT, would provide a test for sustainability of the recent progress made by the Romanian judicial system, the EC said. (The vacancy opened after the incumbent chief prosecutor resigned last year after being indicted on corruption charges for deeds preceding her nomination in 2013.)
For all the progress recorded by Romania in judiciary reform and fighting corruption, some areas still needed improving, such as reducing inconsistencies in some court decisions, finalising “necessary adjustments to the criminal codes”, as well as improving collection of asset recovery in corruption cases.
While broadly positive of the key institutions in the judicial system, the CVM report noted the “apparent tendency in Parliament not to consider court rulings as automatically binding”.
“It is also the case that there are no provisions in parliament to exclude parliamentarians who have been convicted of criminal offence – so that a parliamentarian convicted of corruption, but with a suspended sentence, can continue to sit in parliament as before,” the report said.
Going forward, Romania should make more efforts to pursue reforms in four key areas – judicial independence (including a transparent procedure to appoint the new DIICOT chief prosecutor and a global review of appointment processes for senior positions in the magistracy), continued judicial reform (including an operational action plan to implement the judicial reform strategy, with clear deadlines), politicians’ integrity (ensuring that court decisions requiring the suspension from office of parliamentarians are automatically applied by parliament) and the fight against corruption (stepping up both preventive and repressive actions against conflict of interests, favouritism, fraud and corruption in public procurement, as well as improving effective asset recovery).
(Romania Parliament. Photo: George M. Groutas/flickr.com)