25th Oct 2016

Romanian court under 'shocking' political pressure

  • Romania's judges sought international protection twice in just a few weeks (Photo: Scott*)

A European advisory panel of constitutional judges on Tuesday (7 August) said it is "shocked" by the political being pressure put on Romania's top court, pending a decision on a referendum aimed at impeaching the president.

"It is for me surprising, and even shocking, that for the second time in a short period of time the constitutional court of a member state of the Council of Europe and the European Union feels obliged to appeal to the Venice Commission in order to protect its independence," said Gianni Buquicchio, chairman of the so-called Venice Commission, formed of 58 academics and constitutional judges from European states ranging from Russia to Norway and Turkey.

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After having expressed concern in July about pressure put on Romania's Constitutional Court and "attempts to undermine its independence," Buquicchio said he received new information "about continuing pressure and threats against individual judges."

"I appeal to all state authorities and political parties of Romania to fully respect the independence of the Constitutional Court and to refrain from exercising pressure," he said, urging authorities to protect the judges and their families and bring those who utter threats to justice.

His statement, published on the website of the Council of Europe - the overarching inter-governmental body safeguarding the rule of law and human rights in Europe - was endorsed by EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding, who in recent weeks has strongly criticised the erosion of democracy and rule of law in Romania.

"I agree," she wrote on her personal Twitter page.

Romania's Constitutional Court last week postponed until 31 August a verdict on whether a 29 July referendum aimed at ousting President Traian Basescu from office was valid or not and asked for more data on registered voters.

A large majority of 87 percent said Yes to ousting Basescu, but the minimum turnout of 50 percent was missed by four points, making the result invalid.

A few days after the referendum, the government, led by Social-Democrat Victor Ponta, claimed voters lists are out of date because many people have left the country or died and that the turnout was, in reality, more than the 50 percent cut-off.

One judge on the constitutional panel after the two-day long meeting last week said that the referendum was "based on false data" and that in her view, it should be annulled.

Aspazia Cojocaru was also the judge who last month made public that she received death threats ahead of another ruling before the referendum, which said that the minimum turnout had to be upheld.

Meanwhile, the interior minister responsible for putting together the voters lists used in the referendum and one of his deputies resigned on Monday also accusing "unacceptable" political pressure from both the interim president - Crin Antonescu - and the suspended president.

Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Prime Minister Ponta said he was "the first to have launched an appeal to politicians to refrain from any such pressure."

"It is one of the few times Ms Reding and I agree. But unlike Ms Reding, I live in Romania and know what's going on here," he quipped.

Bad for economy

Meanwhile, the head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission in Romania, Erik de Vrijer, on Tuesday voiced concern over the political turmoil.

"To be frank, we are a little bit worried about the political situation and [its] impact on the economy," he said during a meeting with interim president Antonescu.

The IMF official noted that the political crisis had undermined investor confidence and Romania's standing in financial markets.

The Romanian currency, the leu, has plummeted in recent weeks against the dollar and the euro.

"It is important for the government to focus on macroeconomic priorities, which means pushing ahead with sound budgetary policies and with reforms that will enable the economy to grow faster than at the moment," he said.

A similar warning came on Monday from the country's central bank governor, Mugur Isarescu.

In an unusually blunt statement, the banker told politicians to "have a dialogue or else go home" and warned that the country is in a too weak position to afford any more political quarrels.

Spain's Socialists ease Rajoy's path to power

The Socialists agree to abstain in a confidence vote later this week, meaning conservative leader Mariano Rajoy should be able to form a minority government after 10 months of deadlock.

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