24th Oct 2016

Romanian government downplays EU to-do list

  • The Romanian parliament is to reconvene this week (Photo: Wikipedia)

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.

Back from a trip to Brussels where he sought to allay concerns of top EU officials over the latest moves of his government, Prime Minister Victor Ponta said the commission had formulated "some questions", to which he would reply in writing.

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The 11-point list, obtained by Gandul newspaper, demands "immediate compliance" with rulings of the constitutional court and the abrogation of governmental decrees limiting its powers.

Interim president Crin Antonescu - Ponta's political ally who was appointed chairman of the Senate during the ongoing impeachment procedure of President Traian Basescu - said there were no "ten commandments" from the EU commission because Romania is a sovereign country.

"The president of Romania, even the interim president, doesn't take orders... from anyone except parliament and the Romanian people," Antonescu said.

And yet sanctions are being considered, including the 'nuclear option' of suspending Romania's voting rights. Court cases at the European Court of Justice and the suspension of EU funds are also on the table.

But the most likely outcome is a continued monitoring of Romania's justice system and the indefinite postponement of its membership to the border-free Schengen area.

Romania and Bulgaria had hoped to be rid of the extra monitoring of their judicial systems and join the passport free zone this year.

But a report to be published on Wednesday by the EU commission is unlikely to recommend either move. In addition, the political infighting in Bucharest has raised concerns in Brussels and Germany that institutions such as the constitutional court as well as the ombudsman and the official journal are being politicised as they were during the Communist regime.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel last week summoned the Romanian ambassador in Berlin and told him her "great concern about the political developments in Romania," a press statement of the chancellery reads.

Merkel considers that the emergency decree issued by the Ponta government to limit the competences of the Constitutional Court "seriously threatens the principle of separation of powers."

She also insisted that the court's ruling be respected when it comes to a minimum turnout for a referendum on the impeachment of the president to be valid.

But Ponta replied that it is up the parliament to change the referendum-organising law to bring it in line with the court ruling, even though it was the government that issued the decree - saying that a majority of those that turn out to vote is enough to remove the president - in the first place. The parliament is to reconvene from summer recess on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Meanwhile, human rights bodies are also monitoring the situation. Jean-Claude Mignon, the president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, is due in Bucharest later this week.

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