Relations with Romania have become ‘heavier’, Commission admits

File photo. European Commission President Jean-Claude Junker and Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dancila leave after holding a joint press conference at Victoria Palace in Bucharest, Romania, 11 January 2019. [Robert Ghement/EPA/EFE]

The European Commission admitted on Friday (29 March) that relations with Romania, the holder of the rotating EU presidency, had become “heavier” because of the case of Laura Codruța Kövesi, the top candidate for the post of the chief European prosecutor.

Commission chief spokesperson Margaritis Schinas was asked to comment on the news from Bucharest that Kövesi had been placed under “judicial control” by a special agency that investigates judges and prosecutors, essentially meaning she is banned from leaving the country.

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Reading from a prepared text, Schinas said the EU executive was following the developments around the ongoing selection of the European chief prosecutor very closely.

“It is crucial that all candidates put forward by an independent selection panel are treated fairly in the course of this process. Therefore, the Commission calls on the Romanian government and the Romanian authorities to fully respect the principle of sincere cooperation as enshrined in the Treaty, regarding the selection procedure of the European chief prosecutor.

“All candidates need to be able to participate in all steps of the selection procedure, unhindered.”

Commission lauds Bulgaria, castigates Romania on judicial reform

The European Commission published on Tuesday (13 November) reports on Bulgaria and Romania under the so-called Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM), commending Bulgaria for progress made and lambasting Romania for backtracking. Both countries, however, were warned to uphold media freedom.

Schinas responded to follow-up questions, saying that First Vice President Frans Timmermans and Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dăncilă had spoken on the phone on Thursday.

“We do more than just following the events,” he added.

Schinas admitted twice that the climate of relations between the EU executive and Romania had become heavier.

Asked by EURACTIV if this affected also the Romanian Presidency, he responded by praising the “remarkable” track record of agreements brokered during Bucharest’s watch.

“The work of the Presidency goes on successfully, but all these developments are making heavier the political climate, and require us to follow closely the situation”.

In another exchange, he said: “This is a situation which is not good. It’s affecting the overall political climate, and we are following very closely. And we have the instruments, and the settings, and the means, to address it, when the time comes, in the given context”.  He pronounced the last words in French: “le moment venu, dans le context donné”.

Schinas rejected suggestions by journalists that the so-called Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) for monitoring Romania’s rule of law has proven to be ineffective.

The mechanism was put in place in 2007 and is still going on. In the latest report from last November, the Commission highlighted some serious concerns about Romania.

Asked about the plans announced by Romania to take the Commission to court over the CVM report, Schinas said he was happy to announce that the Romanian prosecutor had decided to close the judicial proceedings due to lack of evidence.

Romania investigates Timmermans and Jourova, Commission says they have immunity

The relations between Bucharest and Brussels hit an all-time low on Thursday (21 February) as the Romanian press reported that the Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans and Justice Commissioner Věra Jourová are under investigation for “falsification” of the last Cooperation and Verification report (CVM).

But EURACTIV has learned from sources in the European Parliament that Romania could even be stripped of its Sibiu summit on the future of Europe on 9 May, if tensions with Brussels escalate. In that case, the landmark gathering could be held in Brussels instead.

Romania has had a bad experience with being denied the hosting high profile events because of its domestic tensions. In 2012, the Party of European Socialists decided to move its congress from Bucharest to Brussels, and EPP considered a similar move.

Bucharest to host EPP congress

The attraction of the Romanian capital was highlighted by a decision of the centre-right European Peoples’ Party (EPP) to hold of its congress in Bucharest on 17-18 October on the eve of an EU summit in Brussels. The centre-left Party of European Socialists was going to hold its 28-29 September congress in Bucharest, but decided last week to move it to Brussels. 

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic and Sam Morgan]

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