Court decision could ‘negatively affect’ Romania’s EU position

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Romania's Constitutional Court has declared as anti-constitutional the main prerogatives of a body established on Brussels' recommendation. But parliamentarians warned that this could have a negative impact on the country's access to EU funds and upset plans for Schengen accession. EURACTIV Romania reports.

Two chapters of the law on setting up the National Integrity Agency (ANI) were declared unconstitutional on 15 April, the Romanian press reported, warning of far-reaching consequences for relations between Bucharest and Brussels.

The Constitutional Court had been approached by a lawyer for Serban Bradisteanu, a former senator. The ANI had asked a Bucharest court to seize four million euros' worth of his property be seized, upon accusations of corruption and embezzlement. Bradisteanu is accused of taking a four million euro bribe to help a pharmaceutical company receive a public procurement contract.

According to the Constitutional Court, the ANI no longer has the right to seize the prosecution on signs or suspicion of corruption and cannot request the courts to seize properties. Moreover, the ANI can no longer investigate senators' income statements and declarations of interest, members of parliament or ministers.

The consequences of the court's decision will have an impact on the country's access to European funds and Romania's plans to accede to the Schengen space, ANI President Catalin Macovei and General Secretary Horia Georgescu warned in a press conference on Friday.

Catalin Macovei says he found out about the Constitutional Court's decision from "press sources". Meanwhile, the agency is continuing to perform its duties, as the court's decision has not yet been officially published. According to Macovei, the Constitutional Court has 30 days to publish the decision in the Official Gazette. ANI then has 45 days to revise the incriminated law articles.

"Everyone is waiting for the Romanian Constitutional Court's justification. Reactions will not be positive. Reactions [in Brussels] will not be positive," the ANI leadership warned.

Romanian daily Gandul reported that, according to ANI sources, seven out of nine constitutional judges have been investigated by the service.

"If there was a debate in parliament, the result would be very interesting to follow, knowing that 100 parliamentarians are under investigation by ANI," Macovei told Realitatea TV.

Asked to comment, European Commission spokesperson Mark Gray said:

"At this time, we are not aware that the decision of the Constitutional Court has been published. I do not want to speculate on the basis of press reports."

Gray added that the Romanian authorities were committed to ensuring that the integrity agency has the ability to verify assets, incompatibilities and potential conflicts of interest and is able to issue decisions on the basis of which dissuasive sanctions could be taken.

"The Commission is confident that this commitment will be honoured," he concluded.

Romania's National Integrity Agency (ANI) was "sentenced" to technical redundancy by the Constitutional Court, the Romanian press writes. This happened while seven out of nine Constitutional Court judges were being investigated for the last three weeks, ANI sources told the Gandul daily.

The investigated magistrates are Augustin Zegrean, Tudorel Toader, Petre L?z?roiu, Ion Predescu, Aspazia Cojocaru, Acsinte Ga?par and Puskas Valentin-Zoltan. Ioan Vida and Nicolae Cochinescu are off the hook.

Basically, the institution hired to investigate the wealth of statesmen and stateswomen is out, the daily Romania Libera stated. The Constitutional Court has dealt a blow to the fight against corruption. ANI President Catalin Macovei believes the Constitutional Court's decision will lead to "catastrophic" consequences for Romania's foreign affairs, including joining the EU Schengen space.

Adrian Severin, a leading MEP from the Romanian Social Democratic Party (PSD), issued a written statement, which appears to favour the position of the Constitutional court against the National Integrity Agency (ANI).

“The National Integrity Agency represents a commitment Romania undertook towards the European Union. But one must remark that the EU never requested Romania that ANI be constructed outside the constitutional framework,” Severin says.

He further advocates that ANI should be re-formatted in conformity with the country’s Constitution. Such a revision remains the task of specialists, not of politicians, and should take place after the publishing and the analysis of the reasoning of the Constitutional Court ruling, he explains.   

“I request EU institutions to abstain from asking the review/ revision or the ignoring of the Constitutional Court ruling since this would constitute an impermissible breach of the justice act and a violation of the principles of the rule of law," Severin concludes.

When Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU on 1 January 2007, shortcomings remained regarding judicial reform and the fight against corruption - and in the case of Bulgaria, the fight against organised crime. These shortcomings carried the risk that the two countries would not be able to correctly apply Community law and Bulgarians would not be able to fully enjoy their rights as EU citizens. 

A Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) was set up to assist both Bulgaria and Romania. Moreover, the European Commission retained the right to use special safeguards. If used, the process could lead the EU to refuse to recognise court decisions or even freeze payments of EU funds. Also, if applied, such an unprecedented decision could badly hurt both countries' reputations. 

But since 1 January 2010, three years after the countries joined the EU, the Commission lost the power to trigger the clause regarding the recognition of court decisions. The last monitoring report on Bulgaria and Romania, issued on 23 March (EURACTIV 24/03/10), was seen by many as a sign that "the Commission can bark, but it cannot bite" any longer.

Both Bulgaria and Romania have stated their aim to become members of the borderless Schengen space in 2011. Such a decision, however, may be linked to the countries' performance under the CVM.

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