Friday

24th Feb 2017

Romania's political turmoil may hit Schengen bid

Romania's current constitutional turmoil may ultimately result in its longed-for entry into the EU's passport-free zone being delayed still further, the European Commission has warned.

"I am seriously concerned about the rapidly evolving situation," EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding said Wednesday (10 July) in Brussels.

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She said she “would not exclude that pressure will increase on the European Commission to continue its special judicial and anti-corruption monitoring of Romania “for several years.”

The commissioner then referred to “all the consequences member states could draw from this for the development of the Schengen area, for instance, or for the mutual recognition of judgements from courts in Romania.”

The commission has been watching with alarm as the social democrat Romanian prime minister, Victor Ponta, and the centre-right President, Traian Basescu, have been engaging in an increasingly bitter turf war.

The fight came to Brussels' attention at the end of June following a dispute about who was eligible to attend an EU summit. The outcome saw Ponta ignore a ruling of the constitutional court and attend the meeting anyway.

Last week the parliament voted to suspend Basescu for exceeding his powers - a move then upheld by the court and to be decided on in a referendum on 29 July.

Since Ponta came to office in May, he has replaced the speakers of both houses of parliament and the ombudsman with loyalists. Since the summit attendance dispute, he has launched a full attack on the constitutional court.

The political machinations have raised eyebrows in other capitals too.

“Serious violations of the letter and spirit of EU values may raise question about the last steps to Romania's full integration in the EU," Germany's foreign minister Guido Westerwelle said.

Romania and Bulgaria have been kept under special monitoring – known as the cooperation and verification mechanism – since they joined the EU in 2007 in a bid to keep anti-corruption reforms on track. The two were hoping to see the monitoring ended this summer.

The monitoring has become entangled with Romania's hopes to join Schengen, the EU’s borderless area.

The Netherlands alone had blocked Bucharest's bid, causing anger in the commission and other countries for its non-yielding stance.

But the commissioner's words indicate The Hague may now no longer be isolated.

Reding, for her part, was due to discuss the issue with the Romanian justice minister on Wednesday afternoon. Meanwhile Ponta himself travelled to Brussels on Wednesday for meetings with fellow Socialists from the European Parliament. The next day, he is due to meet the heads of the EU commission and European Council.

"I will restate my unswerving commitment to democracy and the rule of law. I will leave them in no doubt as to my determination to uphold the Romanian constitution and European values," he said in a statement ahead of the Brussels trip.

EU commissioners will discuss the Romania situation next week and then "take conclusions."

EU warns Romania on rule of law

The EU commission has warned the Romanian government not to undermine rule of law amid political infighting in Bucharest.

Romanian PM ignores court, heads to EU summit

EU leaders may be at odds over what to say at today's key summit, but Romanian politicians cannot even decide who should attend. A court ruling has not put an end to the squabbling.

Romanian government downplays EU to-do list

The Romanian government has downplayed the urgency of list of measures demanded by the EU commission as it seeks to restore confidence in the country's rule of law and avoid political sanctions.

Germany to veto Schengen enlargement

Germany says it will veto Romania and Bulgaria's bid to join the border-free Schengen area at a meeting in Brussels later this week.

Analysis

Why Romania erupted in protest

Current anger over corruption laws can be traced back to a night-club fire in 2015, when many died because of lax safety standards. Romanians then realised that corruption can kill.

French police raid Le Pen's party office

Officers raid the National Front headquarters near Paris over allegations that leader Marine Le Pen used fake EU parliament contracts to pay her personal staff.

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