Western states warn Romania reforms threaten co-operation

Women shout slogans and hold a Romanian flag (L) and a banner reading 'All for Justice' during a protest in front of Victoria palace, government headquarters, in Bucharest, Romania, 21 June 2018. [EPA/EFE]

Twelve Western countries issued a joint statement yesterday (28 June) warning that controversial judicial reforms proposed by Romanian lawmakers could “impede international law enforcement cooperation”.

The statement, published by the US embassy in Bucharest and backed by states including France and Germany, called on Romania “to avoid changes that would weaken the rule of law or Romania’s ability to fight crime or corruption”.

The unprecedented intervention comes after Romania’s parliament last week approved changes to the criminal procedure code, limiting the length of certain criminal investigations and — according to critics — hobbling the powers of the judiciary.

On Thursday a parliamentary commission began considering further changes which may help ruling party chief Liviu Dragnea avoid prison despite a three-and-a-half year sentence he received last week over a fake jobs scandal.

Even though his Social Democratic Party (PSD) won elections in 2016, Dragnea was barred from becoming prime minister thanks to a previous conviction for vote-rigging.

Romanian ruling party leader sentenced, thousands rally against his government

The head of Romania’s ruling Social Democrat party, Liviu Dragnea, was sentenced to three and a half years in prison by the Supreme Court yesterday (21 June) for inciting others to abuse of office, prompting thousands to rally against his government.

The US and signatories said in their statement: “We are following closely the changes to the criminal codes and remain concerned that several are likely to impede international law enforcement cooperation and negatively impact the fight against violent crime, transnational organised crime, financial crimes, and drug and human trafficking.”

The countries also urged Romania’s parliament to amend its proposals to take account of the views of bodies such as the Venice Commission, an advisory body of the Council of Europe made up of independent experts.

“Romania has shown considerable progress in combatting corruption and building effective rule of law,” the statement says, urging the country to “continue on this path” and to “safeguard the independence of judges and prosecutors”.

Anti-corruption prosecutors have had some success in fighting the problem in what is still the EU’s second-most graft-ridden country, but the PSD accuses them of abusing their power.

After winning elections in late 2016, the PSD-led government attempted to water down anti-corruption legislation but abandoned the plans after they sparked the biggest wave of protests since the collapse of communism in 1989.

Romanians stage biggest protests since the fall of communism

Hundreds of thousands of people hit the streets across Romania on Wednesday (1 February) to protest the government’s decriminalising of a string of corruption offences, the largest demonstrations since the fall of communism in 1989.

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