Romania risks following Poland down ‘nuclear’ option path

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis warned that changes to the country's legal system could have ramifications similar to those being felt by Poland [Shutterstock]

Romania could face penalties from the European Union similar to the procedure launched against Poland this week if it presses ahead with the changes to its judiciary system, the country’s president has warned. EURACTIV Romania reports.

Asked if Romania risks the same sanctions as Poland, which could eventually lead to Warsaw losing its voting rights in the EU Council, President Klaus Iohannis said: “That risk exists”.

“If you believe changes to the judiciary laws won’t have effects, you must have fallen down from the moon,” Iohannis told reporters, adding that the magnitude of consequences will depend on the final form of the laws.

For the first time in history, the European Commission triggered part of the so-called Article 7 procedure against Poland over concerns about the rule of law. If Warsaw stays the course, it could ultimately lead to a suspension of its voting rights in the EU.

Brussels triggers unprecedented action against Poland

European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans announced with a 04:13am tweet that the EU executive had activated Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty against Poland, due to “a risk of serious breach of of the rule of law”.

Romania’s senate also approved on Wednesday (20 December) a second bill that is part of a widely-condemned judicial overhaul, which is also considered to be an attempt by politicians to take control of the justice system.

Romania’s plan to change the judiciary laws has been criticised by the European Commission, the United States and the local magistrates’ associations, while President Iohannis has spoken against it on several occasions as well.

Leaders of the Social Democratic Party (PSD), which is in a government coalition with junior partner ALDE (not the European Parliament group of the same name), have repeatedly called for an overhaul of the three laws that govern the judiciary system.

Romanian street protests continue as MPs press on with justice law change

Romanians took to streets to vent their anger with the parliament’s rush to change laws that govern the justice system, against the recommendation of both the local magistrates’ associations and foreign partners, including diplomats and the European Commission.

Those bills were quickly amended over the last few weeks, despite opposition from thousands of magistrates. Two of the bills are already on the table of President Iohannis and a final vote on the third one is expected on Thursday.

The proposed changes have triggered street protests across the country, which is still ranked as one of the most corrupt in the European Union, due to fears that they will limit the independence of judges and prosecutors.

Opposition parties have said they plan to challenge the bills at the Constitutional Court, and the president can veto them once, so it could take a while until the new laws take effect.

Bulgaria, Romania have made progress but still more needed – EU report

Bulgaria and Romania have made some progress in implementing judicial reforms and the fight against corruption but “there is still more work to be done,” the Commission said in its regular report on the two countries that remain blocked from joining the borderless Schengen area despite becoming EU members in 2007.

Magistrates up in arms

Another worry, which triggered an unprecedented reaction in Romania, is a separate proposal to amend the Penal Code, which critics say will derail law and order and make the fight against corruption much more difficult.

Hundreds of magistrates joined in silent protests this week, lining the steps of courthouses across the country.

While the politicians say the reforms are required by decisions of the Constitutional Court and EU regulations for more rule of law, many of the planned regulations are seen going way beyond mere adjustments and minor corrections.

Prosecutors said the proposed changes will make criminal inquiries considerably more difficult, while some probes might even be impossible. Debates on the changes to the code will continue next year.

Romanian EU-funded project accused of data protection violations

The Romanian government has been accused of bias in its awarding of EU funding to the country’s intelligence services. The e-Governance project is also facing serious allegations that it violates European and domestic laws on personal data protection.

Positions

Joseph Daul, President of the European People’s Party (EPP):
“Today is a sad day for Romania and for all the Romanian citizens who demonstrated in the streets to defend the independence of justice. The separation of powers is a pillar of democracy. The justice system shall never be put under political control in an EU member state. The actions of the socialist-led coalition undermine the rule of law in Romania. These are signs of a sick democracy.

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