Romania CVM report full of red ink ahead of EU presidency
The European Commission delivered a scathing assessment of Romania’s efforts under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism in a report on November 13, delivered just weeks before the country takes its turn to host the six-months rotating presidency of the EU.
After a glowing report card in January 2017, which “confirmed the growing irreversibility” of reform efforts, followed by a more tempered report in November 2017 (issued several months after mass protests forced the government to backtrack on proposed legislation that would have decriminalised low-level government corruption), the latest assessment said that “recent developments have reversed the course of progress and called into question the positive assessment made back in January 2017.”
Noting that Romania took “some steps to implement the final 12 recommendations issued by the Commission in January 2017,” it said that those recommendations were no longer “sufficient to meet the orientation given by [EC] president Jean-Claude Juncker to conclude the CVM process before the end of this Commission’s mandate.”
This was in stark contrast to the report on Bulgaria – the mechanism was put in place in Bulgaria and in Romania when the two countries joined the European Union in January 2007, to bring them up to standard in the judiciary and in the fight against organised crime and corruption – which offered Sofia the prospect of exiting CVM monitoring if it held the “positive trend” in reaching the benchmarks set for the country.
“The entry into force of the amended Justice laws, the pressure on judicial independence in general and on the National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA) in particular, and other steps undermining the fight against corruption have reversed or called into question the irreversibility of progress,” the EC said.
As a result, the Commission made additional recommendations “to put the reform process back on track”, which would “require the key institutions of Romania to demonstrate a strong commitment to judicial independence and the fight against corruption as indispensable cornerstones, and to restore the capacity of national checks and balances to act when there is a risk of a backwards step.”
Specifically, those were to suspend immediately the implementation of Romania’s new justice laws and subsequent government decrees, suspending immediately all ongoing appointments and dismissal procedures for senior prosecutors and freeze the entry into force of the changes to the country’s criminal and criminal procedure codes (the full progress report is available here).
As it did in Bulgaria’s report, the Commission said that it would make a further assessment on the progress made before the end of its mandate, but gave no time frame for when its next CVM report could be published.
On the same day that the Commission issued its report, the European Parliament passed a resolution in which MEPs said that they were “deeply concerned” about the reform of the Romanian judicial and criminal laws, which risks undermining separation of powers and the fight against corruption.
Passed with 473 votes to 151 and 40 abstentions, the resolution pointed to the same issues highlighted by the Commission – new legislation on the status of judges and prosecutors, on judicial organisation and on the Superior Council of the Magistracy – and cautiond that these new laws could have an impact on the independence of the judiciary, its efficiency and its quality, including negative consequences in the fight against corruption.
MEPs also condemned the “violent and disproportionate intervention” by the police during the mass protests in Bucharest in August 2018 and called on the Romanian authorities to ensure a transparent, impartial and effective investigation into the actions of the riot police.
(Romania Parliament. Photo: George M. Groutas/flickr.com)