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16th Nov 2019

Romania warned of EU wrath over corruption

Romania could face a barrage of EU sanctions if it created "de facto impunity" for corrupt officials, the European Commission has warned.

The moves could include triggering a sanctions procedure, EU court action, denial of entry to the EU's passport-free Schengen travel zone, and cuts in EU funding.

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  • Amendment to criminal code could see disgraced PSD leader Liviu Dragnea enter office (Photo: Partidul Social Democrat)

The threat of the sanctions procedure was spelled out in a letter to Bucharest by commission vice-president Frans Timmermans last Friday (10 May).

"Unfortunately, the recent developments in Romania have further exacerbated the existing problems regarding the respect for the rule of law," he said, according to a copy of the text seen by British newspaper the Financial Times.

Recent amendments to the criminal code "risk creating a situation of de facto impunity for crimes, including corruption crimes", he noted.

And the commission was prepared to trigger the sanctions procedure "without delay" if the "backtracking" went on, he said.

A commission spokesman added on Monday that: "The main concerns relate to developments interfering with judicial independence and the effective fight against corruption, including the protection of financial interests of the EU and particularly to the recently adopted amendments to the criminal code".

"Possible legislation to allow extraordinary appeals would further aggravate the rule of law situation," he said.

The letter represented a third front in Brussels' pushback against unruly EU states after the commission and the European Parliament recently triggered sanctions procedures against Hungary and Poland, as well as a court case against Poland.

The sanctions procedure includes monitoring by EU officials and could lead to suspension of voting rights in the EU Council if all the other 27 member states agreed.

Romania is under a spotlight because it currently holds the rotating EU presidency.

It is vulnerable to EU action because it has tried to woo the bloc on entry to the Schengen system.

It is also the second-poorest EU country amid talks on cutting subsidies to badly behaved capitals in the bloc's next long-term budget.

"If Bucharest continues on this dangerous path, taking part in the Schengen travel free area will remain a pipe dream," an EU diplomat told the Reuters news agency on Monday.

"Infringement of the rule of law will endanger the distribution of more than €30bn in cohesion funds earmarked for Romania in the draft EU budget for the years following 2021," the diplomat said.

Hungary and Poland have so far rejected calls for change, while accusing Timmermans of grandstanding in order to help his bid to be the next EU commission president.

Romania's ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) also rejected his complaints on Monday.

The changes to the penal code could see PSD chairman Liviu Dragnea become prime minister if he is cleared of former corruption convictions.

But a PSD spokeswoman told the Financial Times that the reforms were "intended to enhance human rights and restore balance in Romania's justice system".

Meanwhile, a group of PSD MEPs planned to tell media in the EU capital on Tuesday that the EU was guilty of "dual standards" in its criticism.

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