Tuesday

22nd May 2018

Romania's ruling party wants to soften corruption rules

  • PSD leader Liviu Dragnea. Critics say he would be one of the main beneficiaries of the justice reforms (Photo: Partidul Social Democrat)

MPs from Romania's ruling party have tabled changes to anti-corruption legislation, in a move than could deepen concerns over the rule of law in the country.

A group of deputies from the Social-Democratic Party (PSD) proposed, on Tuesday (26 December), to decriminalise cases of abuse of office when the damage was under €200,000, and to lower sentences, according to the Reuters press agency.

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They also proposed to decriminalise influence peddling and abuse of power to obtain sexual favours.

Their draft bill also included a six-month validity period for reports of corruption cases to authorities, and the possibility for some people to serve their prison sentence at home.

The proposal bears similarities to a special decree adopted by the government in January that aimed at decriminalising corruption cases under around €40,000.

The government was at the time forced to remove the decree by mass protests that lasted several weeks.

The latest move also comes less than a week after the Romanian parliament adopted a controversial reform of the justice system, which critics say puts it under political control.

Under the bill, prosecutors would have to inform people who are suspected of corruption that they are going to be investigated, and the suspects will be allowed to be present when witnesses are heard.


The bill also allows a body of politically appointed people to close down investigations if they think they are illegal or unfounded.

"These amendments basically don't let us investigate corruption offences, we will never get our cases to court," said Laura Codruta Kovesi, the head of the National Anti-corruption Directorate (DNA).

Many critics point to the fact that the PSD leader, Liviu Dragnea, would be one of the main beneficiaries of the various measures.



Dragnea, who is the speaker of the Chamber of Deputies but could not be appointed prime minister because of a suspended sentence for electoral cheating, was charged in November for fraud with EU funds.

In a meeting with journalists, including EUobserver, earlier this month, Romanian foreign minister Teodor Melescanu said that the reform was necessary to solve "difficulties" in how justice was being implemented.

The PSD also said that it wanted to fight a "deep state" within Romanian institutions.

Seven EU countries expressed their concerns over the reforms last week.

In a joint statement, the embassies of Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Netherlands, and Sweden in Romania called on "all the parties involved in the justice reform project to avoid any action that may weaken the judiciary's independence and the fight against corruption."

They asked the government to consult "without delay" the Venice Commission, the rule of law body of the Council of Europe, a pan-European human rights watchdog in Strasbourg, France.

The head of the Council of Europe, Thorbjorn Jagland, himself wrote to Romanian president Klaus Iohannis to insist on the need to ask the Venice Commission to "provide clarity on the compatibility of these texts with fundamental rule of law standards."

Iohannis, a centre-right opponent to the government, has not said whether he will sign the bill into law, but has warned against its consequences.

He said last week that there was "an obvious risk" that the EU could activate an article 7 rule of law procedure against Romania," if current proposals become law."

He insisted that "these attempts to control the judicial system don't make it better, but make it worse."

The European Commission did not react to the justice reform when it was adopted by parliament.

 But in a report published in November, it pointed out that "challenges to judicial independence are a serious source of concern."

It also triggered the article 7 process against Poland last week, for the first time in EU history, over the Polish government's controversial judicial reforms.

Romania searching for EU respectability

Ten years after its accession and a year before holding the EU presidency, the fastest-growing EU economy wants to "engage" more with its partners. But concerns over the rule of law continue to give the country a bad image.

Romania wants EU signal on Schengen membership

Bucharest expects other member states to decide on its accession to the passport-free area before it takes the rotating EU presidency on 1 January 2019 - amid criticism of a controversial new justice reform.

New Romanian PM tries to reassure EU

"Let’s not repeat the mistakes of the past," said the new Romanian prime minister, Mihai Tudose, in Brussels amid EU Commission warning on corruption.

Opinion

Linking EU funds to 'rule of law' is innovative - but vague

Defining what constitutes 'rule of law' violations may be more difficult than the EU Commission proposes, as it tries to link cohesion funds in east Europe to judicial independence. A key question will be who is to 'judge' those judges?

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