The Brief – Raising the EU flag over Romania

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter

Romanians still raise the EU flag when they protest against the crackdown on the country’s independent judiciary, which has been capable of exposing high-level graft, including the theft of EU funds.

When Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007, Brussels was seen as the most powerful corrective to the old ways of running the countries, which had been by perpetuating corruption, cronyism and unlawfulness.

In the recent past, pressure from Brussels has worked. In January 2014, the Commission issued a positive report on Romania, under the so-called Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM), while in January 2016, Bucharest was praised in the Commission’s follow-up annual report.

Unlike Bulgaria, Romania was able to put in place independent and ambitious anti-corruption services. The country’s judicial system has been able to jail enough officials  to form a government, including a former prime minister. In February 2016, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Romania could see CVM lifted before Bulgaria.

The situation has deteriorated enormously since.

On 1 February 2017 Juncker and his First Vice-President Frans Timmermans issued a stern warning after the Romanian government issued an emergency decree reducing penalties for corruption, allowing several politicians to avoid criminal prosecution.

Then in July, the country’s iconic anti-corruption prosecutor Laura Codruța Kövesi was sacked.

Last month, a debate was held in the European Parliament where Timmermans warned against the initiatives of the Romanian authorities to revise the penal code and modify the structure of the justice system.

The Vice-President, who is running to lead the European socialist group at the European elections, did not mince his words, even though the socialists are in power in Romania.

Justice Minister Tudorel Toader said he will soon decide the future of the prosecutor general Augustin Lazar, the last major figure in an anti-corruption drive. If Toader decides to trigger Lazar’s dismissal, it will mark the end of an era for Romania’s prosecutors.

Asked to comment, Commission spokesperson Margaritis Schinas gave a rather undramatic reply, recalling Timmermans’ warning that the Commission will draw appropriate conclusions if the amendments to the justice laws, the criminal laws and the laws on conflict of interest and corruption do not take into account its concerns.

Schinas said the Commission would set out its analysis in detail in the upcoming CVM report to be adopted on 13 November, which could possibly be the last one during this Commission’s term.

But in Romania and in Bulgaria alike, nobody cares any longer about the CVM reports. In Bulgaria, people have already stopped waving the EU flag. My educated guess is that the same will happen in Romania.

The Roundup

By Alexandra Brzozowski

Italy’s populist government braces for EU budget rejection as the Commission for the first time ever is about to ask a member state to revise its draft budget.

The slowdown of Europe’s economic growth and the risk of a new recession if the ongoing trade war worsens could steer the political agenda in the run-up to next May’s European elections.

Alexander Stubb, one of the two candidates for EPP’s Spitzenkandidat position, urged Greek and Cypriot conservatives to remember how he handled the financial crisis and make an according choice at the congress next month.

A lack of clarity in the Brexit negotiations has left many Brexpats in Spain uncertain about just how the UK’s withdrawal will affect their lives in the future. This weekend, hundreds of thousands took to the streets in London demanding a second Brexit vote.

Nuclear deterrence is back in the talks in Europe: as US President Trump says Washington might exit a landmark nuclear arms pact, Russia threatens retaliation. Meanwhile the European Commission urged both sides to ‘preserve’ the treaty.

Poland’s governing nationalists came out on top in regional elections, but were losing to opposition centrists in mayoral races in large cities including the capital Warsaw.

While German companies already have a strong presence in France, more and more of them want to invest in the country, attracted by the French government’s digital policy.

Massive multinationals like Coca Cola want the Commission to legislate single-use plastics differently, by improving existing recycling systems not radically changing products.

Drawing inspiration from Armenia, Paris has started a school for digital creation which allows young people aged between 12 and 18 to learn about digital creation in an autonomous manner.

The European Commission Scoreboard 2014-2019 survey was launched today by EURACTIV and Burson Cohn & Wolfe. Have your say on Team Juncker’s performance and priorities for the next Commission. Access the survey here.

Caption contest corner

We asked you last week to tweet us what Matteo Salvini said to Marine Le Pen. This was a popular one but our favourite is Sam White’s reference to Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s bizarre tirade (which you can catch up on or simply rewatch here).

Look out for…

Strasbourg week with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis delivering his future of Europe speech in the morning in front of MEPs in the plenary session. Watch out for a grilling on Romanian rule of law headaches.

Views are the author’s

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