Romania’s president today (18 January) blocked a series of controversial legal changes that would have protected corrupt politicians from prosecution.
The move came as Social Democrat leader Liviu Dragnea, whose PSD party won last month’s parliamentary elections, prepares to go on trial for alleged abuse of power.
Observers say the proposed legal amendment may have enabled Dragnea to escape the charges.
“Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu has committed himself to not rush the project through… but submit it for public consultation, as is the law,” President Klaus Iohannis told ministers.
“I am sure that we all want to reinforce the rule of law, which means respecting the rules.”
The bill sought to decriminalise certain offences and redefine what constitutes an abuse of power, as well as also including a new pardon law to help ease pressure on Romania’s overcrowded prisons.
The justice minister had hoped to pass the proposals by emergency decree in today’s cabinet meeting, which would have seen them enter into effect immediately.
A previous attempt in 2013 to pass the legal amendments was dropped after protests from non-governmental organisations.
Romania’s anti-corruption agency has repeatedly cautioned against passing the proposals without public consultation.
The agency has spearheaded a major anti-corruption drive welcomed by Brussels as long overdue in the European Union’s second-poorest country.
Keeping close tabs on Bucharest’s justice reform, the European Commission is due to release its annual report into Romanian corruption at the end of January.
In its 2015 report, Brussels warned Romania against approving laws that could help to “whitewash individuals found guilty of corruption offences”.