Sunday

20th Jan 2019

EU and Romanian leaders quarrel at presidency launch

EU and Romanian leaders exchanged political warnings at the official launch ceremony of Romania's six-month EU presidency in Bucharest on Thursday (11 January).

The barbed exchange arose amid concerns over the Romanian government's plan to overhaul the judiciary.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Bucharest's Athenaeum hosted EU and Romanian officials for the ceremony (Photo: European Commission)

EU Council president Donald Tusk warned his hosts not to diverge from EU rules.

"To those in the European Union who might think that playing outside the agreed rules and cutting corners means strength, I say: 'You are wrong'," Tusk told Romanian leaders and EU commissioners in Bucharest's Athenaeum concert hall.

"It means weakness. To those working hard to defend European values, our freedoms and rights, I say: keep fighting," Tusk said.

The stakes for the Romanian presidency were "nothing less than the way we envisage our European future together", he added.

The EU council chief delivered his speech in Romanian, earning a standing ovation.

He also warned the against infighting in the Romanian political class.

"It depends only on you, whether, for Europe, Romanian politics will be a good example or a dire warning," Tusk told his audience.

For his part, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said there cannot be any compromises on rule of law, human rights, and the fight against corruption.

He spoke came as Romania takes over the EU's rotating presidency for the first time since it joined the bloc in 2007.

Its chairmanship comes at a sensitive time, amid Brexit, EU budget haggling, and the European Parliament elections in May.

The EU has voiced concern after Bucharest fired its top anti-corruption prosecutor and pushed through a judicial overhaul, including plans to grant amnesty to politicians who had been sentenced for graft.

The Romanian government says it is tackling official abuses, but critics say the changes serve to protect corrupt politicians, such as Liviu Dragnea, the powerful head of the ruling PSD party, who is barred from holding office due to a past conviction for electoral fraud.

Thursday's prickly meeting highlighted thinking that Romania could join Hungary and Poland in an EU monitoring system on rule of law, which includes potential sanctions.

It also spotlighted the infighting between the Romanian government, fronted by prime minister Viorica Dancila, and the Romanian president, Klaus Iohannis, from the opposition National Liberal party.

Dragnea, Romania's de facto leader, did not make a speech at Thursday's EU ceremony.

But the head of the senate, Calin Popescu-Tariceanu told the EU audience that Romania's judicial reforms were needed to purge old communist elements in the judiciary, echoing Hungary and Poland's line.

"As a remnant of the communist past, some institutions and decision makers are still holding on to the unchecked power they have previously indulged in," Popescu-Tariceanu said.

These "actors" have kept their old "habits" and claimed "the same unaccountability they collectively enjoyed before 1989," he added, referring to the bloody revolution which brought down Nicolae Ceausescu, the country's late communist dictator.

Popescu-Tariceanu said the EU had "misconceptions about Romanian public life".

He also claimed the EU's founding fathers had wanted a bloc "free from any form of dictate politics" and "bureaucratic arrogance" by EU institutions.

As he spoke, hundreds of people gathered outside the majestic Athenaeum hall to protest against government corruption.

They waved EU and Romanian flags in the cold and snowy Romanian capital, while inside an orchestra, composed of musicians from each of the EU's 28 countries played Beethoven's Ode to Joy - the EU anthem.

Romania mired in corruption woes as presidency begins

With the country's de facto leader filing a lawsuit at the EU's top court over report accusing him of corruption, and concerns of the country's rule of law, Romania's EU presidency kicked off in Bucharest to a rocky start.

EU warns Romania not to abuse GDPR against press

Romania's data protection authority has threatened a €20m fine against reporters investigating high-level corruption. The European Commission has since issued a warning, telling Romanian authorities to give press exemptions when it comes to privacy rights.

EU warns Romania over corruption amnesty

Juncker warned Romania's government not to move ahead with plans to grant amnesty for corruption, as more than 200 EU laws await decisions during Bucharest's presidency.

News in Brief

  1. EU trade commissioner asks for green light for US talks
  2. Slovakia's commissioner takes unpaid leave to run for presidency
  3. Minority elects Lofven as prime minister of Sweden
  4. Putin opposes EU prospects of Serbia and Kosovo
  5. Tsipras launches campaign to ratify Macedonia deal
  6. US-EU meeting in doubt after Trump cancels plane
  7. Germany and China to sign pact on finance cooperation
  8. Labour divided on second Brexit vote plan

Opinion

EU parliament vote strengthens whistleblower protection

We must not undervalue what a massive step the European Parliament vote represents. The hard work has paid off. We can take a moment to celebrate, but the hard work begins again for finalising strong protection for European whistleblowers.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General

Latest News

  1. Aachen treaty and Brexit endgame This WEEK
  2. Germany led way on EU rights protection
  3. How to troll the European Parliament elections
  4. MEPs in Strasbourg: everywhere but the plenary
  5. Brexit delay 'reasonable', as May tries cross-party talks
  6. MEPs allow Draghi's membership of secretive bank group
  7. EU parliament backs Morocco deal despite row
  8. Barnier open to 'future relations' talks if UK red lines shift

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  2. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  3. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  5. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  6. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  8. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  10. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us