Wednesday

18th Oct 2017

Analysis

Romania: Will strong words be enough?

  • Romanian protesters in front of the EU commission last week asked for democracy to be restored (Photo: EUobserver)

European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso has condemned the Romanian government for undermining trust in the rule of law but the strong words belie the fact that Brussels has few enforcing powers in this area.

"In every member state of the European Union we need a well-functioning judicial system and respect for democratic institutions and the rule of law. Events in Romania have shaken our trust," Barroso said Wednesday (18 July).

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

One commissioner has admitted to being "shocked" by the cavalier attitude of Romanian politicians when explaining to EU officials the role of the country's highest court.

In recent weeks, Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta, a social democrat, has ignored the rulings of the constitutional court, fired the ombudsman and moved to impeach the president.

Brussels responded by demanding Ponta implement an 11-point to-do list to restore proper rule of law to the country.

Ponta acquiesced in a letter but the commission is now waiting to see if he follows through on his promises.

The commission has few weapons in its armoury, however.

Romania, like Bulgaria, has been under extra political surveillance since it joined the EU five years ago. Progress in the two countries' fight against corruption is summarised in an annual report.

Each year the EU grumbles about the number of reforms that still need to be carried out. But while the reports always make the headlines in the countries, EU officials admit they have little leverage over countries once they are member states.

Compliance with the so-called Cooperation and Verification Mechanism is a political exercise. The commission cannot bring Romania to court for ignoring it.

Similarly, Ponta's compliance with the commission's wishes will be set out in a detailed, but political, report at the end of the year.

At the other end of the scale is the possibility to suspend Romania's voting rights. Usually referred to as the 'nuclear option', Article 7 remains an untested part of the Lisbon Treaty. There is reluctance to use it because it is such as powerful sanction.

Justice commissioner Viviane Reding mentioned the possibility to her colleagues during Wednesday's discussion on Romania noting that if the report fails to bring about concrete changes, Article 7 is the only option left.

This is the second time the EU finds itself discussing a member states' apparent abuse of democracy this year. Hungary was strongly criticised in Spring for introducing laws that undermined the judiciary.

Possible use of article 7 was raised then too. But one member state diplomat remarked at the time: "This is not a weapon to use too early, otherwise what is left?"

The same diplomat also noted the difficulty in getting consensus on the issue. National politicians are conscious that opening scrutiny of one country could lead to unwanted scrutiny of their own domestic foibles.

The commission tends to muddle through.

During the height of Brussels' spat with Hungary, Reding and her digital agenda colleague Neelie Kroes complained publicly about media law and the organisation of the judiciary in Hungary. These are both areas where the EU has no powers.

In Romania's case it is hoping that ordinary citizens' fatigue with corruption and a wish to join the EU's passport-free zone - technically not linked but now politically entwined - will be enough to persuade Ponta's government to move in the direction the commission wants.

Romanian government downplays EU to-do list

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.

EU commission still 'very worried' about Romanian democracy

EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding on Wednesday said she remains "very much worried" about the state of democracy in Romania. Meanwhile, there is intense political infighting in Romania ahead of Sunday's impeachment referendum.

Romanians prepare for divisive referendum

The Romanian government's campaign ahead of a referendum on Sunday on removing the president from office resembles a personal vendetta, amid EU worries about democracy eroding rapidly in the country.

Catalonia to declare independence in a few days

Spain's king, Felipe VI, said Catalonia's leaders were breaking up the country's unity as hundreds of thousands of Catalans rallied against police violence at Sunday's referendum.

EU Commission's credibility eroding, says Catalonia

A former commission official who now represents the Catalan government says some European commissioners do not agree with the EU commission's official statement on Catalonia's bid for independence from Spain.

Austrian voters reject liberal status quo

Counting continues, but conservative leader Sebastian Kurz is likely to form a coalition with the far-right and could become one of the EU's most vocal critics.

Brexit 'deadlock' prevents move to trade negotiations

EU negotiator Barnier also said after the latest round of Brexit talks that with political will, progress can be achieved in the next two months - in time for the December EU summit to give the green light.

News in Brief

  1. Spanish Court declares Catalan referendum law void
  2. EU to keep 'Dieselgate' letter secret
  3. No deal yet on Mediterranean alliance for EU agencies
  4. EU Commission condemns Maltese journalist's murder
  5. Poland denies wrongdoing over forest logging
  6. Risk to asylum kids in EU increasing, says charity
  7. Schroeder warns of Turkey and Russia drifting towards China
  8. EU parliament wants equal pay for posted workers

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU2017EENorth Korea Leaves Europe No Choice, Says Estonian Foreign Minister Sven Mikser
  2. Mission of China to the EUZhang Ming Appointed New Ambassador of the Mission of China to the EU
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU Should Seek Concrete Commitments From Azerbaijan at Human Rights Dialogue
  4. European Jewish CongressEJC Calls for New Austrian Government to Exclude Extremist Freedom Party
  5. CES - Silicones EuropeIn Healthcare, Silicones Are the Frontrunner. And That's a Good Thing!
  6. EU2017EEEuropean Space Week 2017 in Tallinn from November 3-9. Register Now!
  7. European Entrepreneurs CEA-PMEMobiliseSME Exchange Programme Open Doors for 400 Companies Across Europe
  8. CECEE-Privacy Regulation – Hands off M2M Communication!
  9. ILGA-EuropeHealth4LGBTI: Reducing Health Inequalities Experienced by LGBTI People
  10. EU2017EEEHealth: A Tool for More Equal Health
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism a Key Driver for Job Creation and Enhanced Competitiveness
  12. CECENon-Harmonised Homologation of Mobile Machinery Costs € 90 Million per Year

Latest News

  1. EU rejects UK claim it's slowing Brexit talks
  2. Nepal troops arrive in Libya to guard UN refugee agency
  3. Is Banking Authority HQ the Brexit 'booby prize'?
  4. EU-Russia trade bouncing back - despite sanctions
  5. No sign of Brexit speed-up after May-Juncker dinner
  6. EU defence strategy 'outsourced' to arms industry
  7. EU privacy rules tilt to industry, NGO says
  8. Malta in shock after car bomb kills crusading journalist