21st Mar 2018

Brussels accepts Ponta's promises but warns on implementation

The European Commission has said it will take into account pledges by Prime Minister Victor Ponta to bolster the rule of law in Romania when it releases a report later today, but warned it will keep a a close eye on whether the promises are kept.

"If implemented as announced, all the requirements outlined by President Barroso in his meeting on the 12th July have been met, or will be met," the commission said in a statement Tuesday (17 July).

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The apparent climbdown by Ponta in the face of EU pressure and criticism by countries such as Germany has diffused a mounting political row in which Bucharest had been accused of undermining democracy.

The dispute was set to culminate in a scathing report, part of regular monitoring for both Romania and Bulgaria in order to reduce corruption in the two youngest EU members.

Leaked on Tuesday, the draft version, obtained by Euractiv website, referred to "serious doubts about the commitment to the respect of the rule of law or the understanding of the meaning of the rule of law in a pluralist democratic system."

It singles out for criticism a series of moves by made by Ponta in recent weeks including ignoring the constitutional court and threatening judges.

But the commission said it would update the report "accordingly" after the Social Democrat premier pledged first in a phone-call and then in writing to meet 11 demands set out by commission president Jose Manuel Barroso.

One important step may be taken on Wednesday when the parliament votes on whether to change a series of laws, including one limiting the jurisdiction of the constitutional court so it cannot overrule parliament decisions.

Ponta, elected in May, came to Brussels' notice when he refused to adhere to rulings by the constitutional court, fired the ombudsman and set about impeaching the president, centre-right Traian Basescu.

A simmering plagiarism row also highlights the turmoil in Romania. Last month a committee in charge of certifying university diplomas found that Ponta had plagiarized his doctoral thesis.

A new ethics committee has since ruled it was not plagiarism and that the prime minister respected the rules that were in place at the time. The university itself is due to rule today (18 July) on the matter. However, the education minister threatened to shut down the institution if its authorities accuse the prime minister of plagiarism.

Ponta's political manuoeuvrings have longer term consequences for Romania.

The country had been hoping to be freed of the special monitoring it has been under - known as the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism - since 2007.

But the Brussels oversight - seen as humiliating and increasingly being linked with Bucharest's efforts to join the borderless Schengen area - is now set to be continued.

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