Friday

21st Jul 2017

EU warns Romania on rule of law

The EU commission on Friday (6 July) warned the Romanian government not to undermine rule of law amid political infighting in Bucharest.

"The commission is concerned about current developments in Romania, especially regarding actions that appear to reduce the effective powers of independent institutions like the Constitutional Court," EU commission spokesman Olivier Bailly told press in Brussels on Friday (6 July).

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He said the situation puts "at risk all the progress made over the past five years in having more respect for the rule of law and democratic checks and balances and independence of the judiciary in this country."

He added that commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso has personally called Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta to "express his concerns" and that Ponta will visit the EU capital next week to explain what is going on.

In the past few weeks, the Ponta government has moved swiftly on several fronts in a bid to impeach the country's president, Traian Basescu.

It has ignored Constitutional Court rulings, threatened its judges, changed the ombudsman changed and changed referendum rules to make it easier to remove a president from office.

In a sideshow to the main events, Ponta also dismissed an official committee which authorises university diplomas after it accused him of "copy-paste style" plagiarism on his PhD thesis.

The Romanian parliament will vote later on Friday whether to trigger an impeachment procedure for Basescu's alleged abuse of power back when his party was in government.

Ponta might get his way because his Social-Liberal government has a small majority in the assembly.

Back in Brussels, the commission's Bailly said no one move in particular rang the alarm bell, but rather the "sequencing" and "quick way in which [measures] were adopted."

He noted that the mess will be reflected in a regular commission report on Romanian corruption due in late July.

Voting rights

EU Council chief Herman Van Rompuy and the German government have also expressed their "serious concern" about the political crisis.

Van Rompuy tweeted on Friday he will contact both Ponta and Basescu "to discuss this issue."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman on Friday said the independence of the judiciary should not be questioned.

Meanwhile, leading MEPs from the centre-right EPP group - Germany's Markus Ferber and Elmar Brok and France's Alain Lamassoure - have floated the possibility of suspending Romania's voting rights in the EU Council.

Under article 7 of the EU treaty, the rights of a state can be suspended due to "a serious and persistent breach by a member state of the values of the EU, such as respect for freedom, democracy and respect for human rights."

This was used only once, in 2000, against Austria, when a far-right party came to power in Vienna.

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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 warned Wednesday.

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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.

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