Wednesday

20th Mar 2019

Barroso to Ponta: Stop fighting, protect judges

  • Barroso (l) and Ponta in Bucharest in June (Photo: ec.euroa.eu)

The head of the EU commission on Friday (10 August) sent a harsh letter to Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta, urging him to stop political infighting and ensure that top judges can do their work without threats.

"I am deeply concerned about recent developments relating to the Constitutional Court's validation of the referendum, despite the assurances you have personally given me in our contacts," Jose Manuel Barroso wrote.

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In recent days, the EU justice commissioner and a panel of top European jurists have appealed to Romanian authorities to protect the country's top judges after some of them received death threats.

The court is to rule on 31 August on the validity of a referendum which took place last month and which was aimed at ousting President Traian Basescu from office for alleged abuse of power.

A large majority of voters were in favour of his removal, but the turnout was below the required 50 percent.

The government appealed to the court to recalculate the turnout figure, saying the voters' lists contained names of deceased people. It also tried to organise a mini-census, which the court said was not necessary.

Meanwhile, Ponta has reshuffled his government after the interior minister and one of his deputies resigned, citing political pressure and their unwillingness to participate in unlawful practices.

Leaked transcripts of alleged discussions between the sacked minister, Ioan Rus, and other party colleagues on Friday caused a stir in Romanian media as it portrayed an administration struggling to "fix" the voters lists so that the minimum turnout is met.

Barroso's letter went on to say: "It is now crucial that the Romanian government responds without undue delay to the requests of the Constitutional Court as regards the transmission of the relevant electoral lists."

He added: "In this context it is of paramount importance that it is left to the Constitutional Court itself to clarify its position should it consider that to be necessary, and all other parties should refrain from making their own interpretation."

The EU official also urged Romanian authorities to investigate any threats made against the judges "so that any attempt to put pressure on the court is struck down."

"I trust that you and your government will take, in the interest of Romania and of its citizens, the decisions required to implement the commitments you have undertaken."

Earlier, on 18 July, the EU commission issued a report in which it questioned whether the Romanian government has the "understanding of the meaning of the rule of law in a pluralist democratic system."

The report contained an 11-point-long to do list, including independence of the judiciary.

Barroso said implementing the list "is essential for Romania's credibility and economic and financial stability."

He also called on the Ponta and Basescu camps to cease hostilities.

"I am deeply worried about the intensification of the divisions between the various political actors in Romania and the tone of political discourse across the party spectrum. Through you I would therefore appeal to all political forces in Romania, in government and in opposition, to act with responsibility and restraint and to set their focus very firmly on the urgent need to restore stability."

Another special report on the Romanian situation will be drafted before the end of the year.

Romanian parliamentary elections are due in November.

They could coincide with new presidential elections if the referendum is validated. If not, the spat is likely to continue for another two years, when Basescu's mandate ends.

Romanian judges report death threats

The European Commission has expressed concerns that threats against judges in Romania's constitutional court could undermine its independence.

Romanian social democrats set for return to power

The party, which was forced out only a year ago amid widespread claims of corruption, emerged as the winner in Sunday's general election after campaigning to reduce taxes and increase social spending.

EU countries push for new rule of law surveillance

Germany and Belgium have put forward a proposal for a "peer review" of EU countries' legal systems as member states and EU institutions struggle with disciplining member states that break EU rules.

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