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20th Apr 2019

EU president Romania gets last warning on rule of law

  • "Concrete actions from the Romanian side will be needed sooner rather than later," Vera Jourova said (Photo: European Parliament)

Romania stands on the edge of an EU sanctions procedure, the European Commission has warned, amid concern that law and order is being dismantled in the interest of its ruling elite.

"Concrete actions from the Romanian side will be needed sooner rather than later," EU justice commissioner Vera Jourova told MEPs in Strasbourg on Monday (15 April).

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"If our concerns are not met, the [European] Commission will have to act and use all the instruments at its disposal," she added, referring to the so-called 'Article 7 procedure', already triggered on Hungary and Poland, which could lead to the suspension of Romania's voting rights in the EU Council.

Jourova reeled off a list of abuses which, she said, amounted to "massive interference in the independence of the judiciary" and might lead to "systemic, de facto impunity for high office holders who were suspected of corruption".

The European Parliament debate came after similar warnings by the commission earlier this month.

It also came after Romania tried to obstruct the appointment of a crusading prosecutor, Laura Codruta Kovesi, to a new EU post investigating abuse of EU funds.

Centre-right, anti-federalist, liberal, and Green MEPs echoed Jourova's concerns.

"We haven't had this downward spiral as far as rule of law is concerned in any other EU country," German centre-right MEP Ingeborg Graessle said.

The EU should "block funds" going to Bucharest as well as triggering Article 7, Graessle, who heads the EP's budgetary control committee, added.

"The moment has come for us to move forward on this front," she said.

Graessle, as well as Dutch MEP Judith Sargentini, bemoaned the fact that Romania, which currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, did not show up to Monday's talks.

"We've got a government that is seriously backsliding and that is chairing the European Council right now ... we need to be ashamed of this, six weeks before the European elections [in May] and we've got this as an example," Sargentini said, amid concern that Romania, and others like it, were giving eurosceptic parties ammunition in the EP vote.

"Romania is slipping into a criminal dictatorship," Monica Macovei, a former Romanian prosecutor who is now an MEP with the anti-federalist European Conservatives and Reformist (ECR) group, added.

Josef Weidenholzer, a German deputy from the centre-left Socialist & Democrats (S&D) group, which counts the Romanian ruling party, the Social Democratic Party (PSD), as one of its members, was less outspoken.

He said Romania had achieved a lot in its EU presidency role, but noted that support for rule of law was "in the interests of all of us".

The Party of European Socialists, the structure which underpins the S&D, has temporarily frozen relations with Romania's PSD over the concerns.

But it has stopped short of expelling them the same way that Graessle's centre-right European People's Party has stopped short of expelling Hungary's ruling party and that Macovei's ECR has done nothing to discipline its Polish ruling party members.

For her part, Sophie in 't Veld, a Dutch liberal politician, noted that her Alde group had taken a "firm stance" against its Romanian delegates and complained that EU politicking was standing in the way of real action.

A handful of Romanian MPs from the PSD accused the commission of interfering in the country's internal affairs - the same line taken in the past by Hungary and Poland.

Dan Nica, for one, took the floor to accuse the EU of "discrimination" against Romania because it was being "flooded" by counterfeit products and fake medicines from other EU states and because its citizens were not allowed to benefit from the EU's borderless-free Schengen travel zone.

"We do not interfere in individual cases, we are concerned about the systemic situation," Jourova countered.

She said dialogue with Romania was "ongoing" at a "technical" level, but that political-level discussions ought to take place soon.

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