Monday

29th Nov 2021

'Crucial moment' for Romania as MEPs debate judiciary

  • Commissioner Jourova said the EU executive is open for dialogue with the Romanian government (Photo: European Parliament)

EU justice commissioner Vera Jourova told MEPs on Wednesday (7 February) it was a "crucial moment" for Romania, as the country's parliament is deciding on two controversial laws concerning the judiciary which have been deemed unconstitutional.

"The European Commission considers it is still is possible for the laws to be improved, become good laws and strengthen the independence and professionalisation of the judicial system," Jourova told MEPs in the evening debate.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • Tens of thousands of protestors demonstrated against the laws in Romania (Photo: Reuters)

"This is a crucial moment now that the first two draft laws are back in the parliament following the rulings of the constitutional court," she added.

Romania was the latest country whose controversial reforms of the judiciary were discussed by MEPs after the commission last month rang alarm bells over laws that critics say weaken the country's anti-corruption drive, risks putting the judiciary under political control and keeps ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) politicians shielded from prosecution.

The new amendments were passed last December and are under review by the country's top court which ruled parts of the controversial reforms unconstitutional.

Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker warned that if Romania does not amend these laws, it could risk losing its chance to become a member of the passport-free Schengen zone.

Juncker has previously said he wanted both Romania and Bulgaria – which joined the EU in 2007, but was not allowed to join the Schengen zone due to concerns over corruption and the judiciary – to become Schengen members by 2019.

The EU has been monitoring judicial reform in Romania, as well as Bulgaria, since they joined the bloc in 2007.

Jourova urged Romania's government to "rethink the course of action proposed, to open up the debate, to build a consensus on the way forward and safeguard the independence of the judiciary and step up the fight against corruption".

The commissioner praised Romania's earlier judicial reforms and anti-corruption drive.

"Romania has been running a marathon. The finish line is in sight ... to step backwards would be a major disappointment for the many friends of Romania and Romanian citizens," she said.

Family affair

Maltese MEP Roberta Metsola of the European People's Party (EPP), herself an anti-corruption campaigner, said Romanians deserve a country where rule of law is respected.

"We have seen attempts by the government to suppress the judiciary, to water down anticorruption legislation, and to use its electoral majority as an excuse to do it pleases," she said.

"The EU cannot look away, the EPP will not," she said, prompting shouts and laughter in the plenary chamber, as the EPP is a staunch defender of Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orban, who has cracked down on the media and the judiciary in his own country.

Metsola recalled that the issue is not only about Romania, as what happens in one member state effects all EU countries.

The Socialists & Democrats group, where the Romanian ruling party is a member, tip-toed around the issue and defended their political family.

MEP Josef Weidenholzer said: "We have been assured by the fact that the ongoing reforms are fully in line with the rule of law and European values. The political stability of eastern Europe is crucial."

Poland's nationalist ruling party – whose own judicial reforms have been deemed a systematic threat to the rule of law – stepped up to defend Romania's socialists.

"Commissioner Jourova should not appearing here as a professor, dishing out lessons to a democratically-elected government in Romania, that is not how the EU should work" MEP Kosma Zlotowski of Poland's Law and Justice party said.

"If society is not happy with what is happening, they will be able to hold the government accountable at the next elections," he added.

MEP Victor Bostinaru of Romania's ruling party argued that Jourova is not pointing out any specific paragraph in her criticism, and claimed that there have been abuses carried out by Romania's anti-corruption directorate.

PM 'missing' row

MEP Dan Nica from Romania's ruling party argued at the beginning of the debate that while the new prime minister, ex-MEP Viorica Dancila could not be in Strasbourg, the country's justice minister should be able to address MEPs.

Dutch MEP Sophie in 't Veld recalled that the leaders of the parliament's political parties along with the parliament president decided to invite the Romanian PM for the debate, and listen to the minister in the civil liberties committee.

"In this kind of debate we invite prime minister, but the PM could not be here today. We should not change the rules and the traditions on the spot," she said.

EU adds new 'dark red' zone to travel-restrictions map

The European Commission has proposed additional measures to limit non-essential travel within and to the European Union - amid fears over more transmissible mutations triggering a new surge in cases across the bloc.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew report reveals bad environmental habits
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersImproving the integration of young refugees
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNATO Secretary General guest at the Session of the Nordic Council
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCan you love whoever you want in care homes?
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals

Latest News

  1. Consultancies pocketing EU millions prompts MEP grilling
  2. Russian mercenaries using EU-trained soldiers in Africa
  3. EUobserver wins right to keep VIP-jet story online
  4. New Covid-19 variant fears shake EU This WEEK
  5. Researchers slam EU safety review of glyphosate
  6. What EU political ads regulation will - and will not - deliver
  7. Dialogue and action – Nordic cooperation and view on COP26
  8. Belgium goes into three-week 'lockdown light'

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us