The Brief: Commission’s socialists shun Bucharest after corruption scandal

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter.

COMMISSION’S SOCIALISTS SHUN BUCHAREST AFTER CORRUPTION SCANDAL

Bucharest thumbed its nose at the European Commission last night. It bypassed its parliament to issue an emergency decree sparing politicians prosecution for illegally pocketing cash, just a week after the executive praised the country’s fight against corruption.

Last week’s broadly positive report from the executive had briefly raised hopes of Schengen membership. Those looked dashed after the “legalised theft” of the decree, which means anyone trousering less than €44,000 will escape jail.

Today the leading socialists in the Commission told their political stablemates in the Partidul Social Democrat (PSD) government not to expect any favours from them. They are on their own on this one.

A stinging rebuke was issued by Jean-Claude Juncker. It was co-signed by his First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, the most senior socialist in the Berlaymont.

Vice-President Maros Sefcovic, another socialist, was wheeled out to read the damning statement to the Brussels press.

As for Romania’s Commissioner Corina Cretu, a PSD member, we’re told that she spoke up in today’s college meeting in Brussels but has been gagged by the executive.

The shunning contrasts to the treatment meted out to errant governments belonging to the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), whose members dominate the Juncker Commission.

Hungary’s strongman leader and EPP stalwart Viktor Orban, for example, seems to have escaped a similar slap on the wrist despite his numerous shenanigans.

Hats off to Romania’s President Klaus Iohannis, a liberal elected on an anti-corruption platform. He initially blocked the emergency decree in mid-January and has joined thousands on the streets of the capital to protest the changes.

Iohannis also scuppered the appointment of PSD leader Liviu Dragnea as prime minister. Now Dragnea looks to be one of the highest profile politicians to benefit from the decree with charges against him set to be dropped.

Dragnea has already been convicted of electoral fraud and was the right-hand man of former PM Victor Ponta.

Ponta resigned in disgrace in 2015 after a  nightclub fire cost 64 people their lives. Permits and licences were granted because of bribes and fire safety was ignored.

He is also accused of giving a noted businessman a seat in parliament and using the resulting bribe to finance a visit by former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair in 2012. That businessman, Sebastian Ghita, was included this week on Europol’s Most Wanted list.

Mass protests brought down the Ponta government. The current cabinet has been in place for less than a month. As we went to press, Romania’s opposition party filed a motion of no confidence in the new government.

THE ROUNDUP

Marine Le Pen is still refusing to pay back €300,000 in misused EU funds, while François Fillon is still reeling from ‘Penelope-gate’ and allegations of nepotism. At least he employed his son and daughter in the time-honoured traditional way…by paying his son more.

Nigel Farage today told MEPs debating Trump’s travel ban that if they were “real democrats” they would invite the US president to address the European Parliament. Almost everyone else criticised the ban.

Meanwhile, Trump’s climate change advisor was in Brussels and was roundly heckled by protestors at the Blue-Green Summit. MEP Dan Hannan had some catty comments about the protestors’ dress sense, while Myron Ebell branded environmentalists “urban imperialists”.

If you want to make a few euros, maybe get your money on Trump resigning or being impeached before the odds shorten too much

EU promises to be “number one in renewables” are looking  a little shaky as investment has dropped by half since 2011. There will be more coverage on today’s State of the Energy Union report to come later on EURACTIV.

Gonzalo de Mendoza, one of Climate Commissioner Cañete’s cabinet members, has been poached by new European Parliament President Antonio Tajani.

Brussels has been told to introduce fairer social rules for road transport by the EU’s western members and lobbying remains as problematic as ever.

Former Brussels-man Martin Schulz has launched a scathing attack on US President Donald Trump, labelling the billionaire “un-American”.

Germany’s elections are looming closer and immigration is set to be a divisive issue. EURACTIV’s partner Der Tagesspiegel reveals how German lawmakers have used their immigrant background to their advantage.

One Commission official says that Moscow’s attempts to destabilise the EU are going to focus on attacking Angela Merkel.

South Africa has accused the EU of ruining its poultry industry by dumping cheap chicken on its market.

Bild’s Dirk Hoeren tweets that MEPs are after brand new furniture. But how much will it cost?

UK PM Theresa May has come out in favour of kebabs, adding the late-night drunken treat to her list of post-Brexit staples, which already includes “innovative jams“.

LOOK OUT FOR…

The European Parliament is holding its Brussels plenary session tomorrow. The full agenda is here.

Views are the authors’. 

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