Romania goes on anti-Brussels path over rule of law

Romania's S&D MP Florin Iordache gives the middle finger to the opposition as he exits the parliament in Bucharest on 13 November 2018. []

Romania’s government is not willing to follow EU recommendations on the rule of law and plans to challenge the Commission’s latest report in court. EURACTIV Romania reports.

The Romanian governing coalition, led by the Social Democrats, is planning to take the European Commission’s latest report under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) to the European Court of Justice.

The CVM report, presented Tuesday by the Commission’s first vice-president Frans Timmermans, is very critical of the latest developments in Romania’s legislation regarding the judiciary and the Criminal Codes.

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.

While Romania was hoping to have the CVM lifted by the time it takes over the rotating EU Presidency on January 1, 2019, the report introduces eight new recommendations to the existing 12.

Moreover, Romania has effectively been decoupled from Bulgaria, which could see the lifting of the CVM sooner.

And to add injury to insult, the European Parliament voted a resolution that expresses the MEPs’ deep concerns over the changes of the judicial and criminal legislation in Romania, which may undermine the fight against corruption. The resolution calls for the Romanian government and parliament to fully implement the recommendations of the Venice Commission and the Commission.

Members of the ruling PSD and its junior partners from ALDE reacted strongly to both documents.

They complained that the EU wants to transform Romania into a “second-hand member state” and that Bruxelles experts cannot obstruct Romania’s internal legislative process, a comment similar to those coming from Poland, another EU member in the Commission’s cross-hairs for its rule of law standards.

The attack method was suggested by Ioan Mircea Pașcu, a PSD member and vice-president of the European Parliament, who wrote on Facebook on Tuesday:

“I am curious what would the European Court of Justice say about the violation of Romania’s sovereign right to legislate domestically, considering the (European) Commission’s summons in the latest CVM report.”

Florin Iordache, a social democrat MP who served as chief of a special parliamentary committee that proposed the disputed legislative changes, said the Parliament will continue on the current road, regardless of what the Commission has to say.

“We want to be independent, we want to decide according to the Constitution and not according to what one or the other has to say,” Iordache said.

However, even the Constitution states that the authorities must follow the CVM recommendations, according to a six-year-old decision of the Constitutional Court.

But several other members of the governing coalition accused the Commission of discrimination and called some of the CVM report’s recommendations “absurd” or “unconstitutional”.

Justice Minister Tudorel Toader said that, while Romania remains dedicated to European values and standards, it must have “the dignity to legislate” according to its Constitution, the national specifics and the country’s interests.

“Recommendations have their role… but recommendations do not have judicial power on the national legislation,” said Toader, a former Constitutional Court judge and a member of the Venice Commission.

Toader’s actions are among the most criticized in the report, including his request to dismiss the country’s chief prosecutor, Augustin Lazar, and the highly regarded chief of the anti-corruption directorate, Laura Codruța Kövesi, whose replacement is yet to be confirmed by President Klaus Iohannis.

Romania's president removes chief anti-corruption prosecutor

Romania’s President Klaus Iohannis sacked chief anti-corruption prosecutor Laura Codruța Kövesi on Monday (9 July) to honour a constitutional court ruling which Kövesi said may leave prosecutors exposed to political interference.

Regarding the potential attack at the ECJ, Toader said he didn’t discuss the matter with any other members of the government but did not rule out a procedure, saying, however, that a thorough analysis is needed before taking such a step.

On the other side, the EU officials have a big supporter in President Iohannis, who had previously called for the government to resign. Iohannis said the CVM report is ”the result of this government: they have erased all the efforts and results in the past 11 years since we joined the EU.”

But Iohannis cannot do much to stop the government or the parliament, except to delay his signature on the laws or challenge them at the Constitutional Court.

And Iordache just signalled in Parliament how they plan to act in the coming period. “We’ll go on despite all the opposition from the European Commission,” he said during Wednesday’s parliamentary debate, before raising both middle fingers towards the opposition benches as he left the podium.

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