The European Commission asked the Romanian government on Thursday (24 August) for more details about a proposed overhaul of the judiciary, expressing concern it may be a step back in the fight against corruption.
Romania’s centre-right president and state prosecutor denounced reforms to the justice system unveiled by the centre-left government on Wecnesday (23 August) as an attack on the rule of law.
The planned overhaul, presented by Justice Minister Tudorel Toader, included giving Toader control over the judicial inspection unit, currently managed by the Superior Magistrates’ Council (CSM), the country’s judicial watchdog. They would mean the president could no longer name senior prosecutors – including those attached to the anti-corruption directorate (DNA).
They would also reduce the powers of the DNA itself, preventing it from investigating magistrates.
French President Emmanuel Macron mirrored the concerns during an official visit to capital Bucharest yesterday.
“I have talked with the president [Klaus Iohannis] and prime minister [Mihai Tudose] over the justice system reform project that is not coherent with a will to fight against corruption. Both have guaranteed their commitment to continue what they started, to reduce corruption,” local news agency Mediafax quoted Macron as saying at a reception at the French embassy.
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Other changes included the way in which chief prosecutors are appointed and setting up a special prosecuting unit for crimes committed by magistrates.
President Iohannis said that if the measures are approved, they will set reform efforts back by a decade.
The proposals triggered a small street protest outside government headquarters late on Wednesday and drew criticism from magistrates, opposition politicians and analysts.
In a statement yesterday, the Commission said: “We are asking the Romanian authorities for the draft laws and additional explanations.”
“The irreversibility of the progress achieved by Romania in the fight against corruption in the last ten years is essential for the Commission,” it said.
The measures come half a year after attempts by the ruling coalition of Social Democrats and junior partner ALDE to weaken a crackdown on high-level corruption triggered Romania’s largest street protests in decades.
Social Democrat Party leader Liviu Dragnea said on Thursday that the announced measures were merely principles and that critics were too quick to draw judgement.
“It is only the beginning of a process that will not be simple,” Dragnea told reporters. He said it would be reviewed by the Superior Magistrates’ Council, the top judicial watchdog, before going to parliament.
Toader has yet to publish the draft of the proposals.
The Romanian centre-left takes the view that the anti-corruption services put in place under former centre-right President Traian Băsescu are politically motivated, and that the high conviction rate of indicted politicians echoes the communist era.