The European Parliament is “deeply concerned” about the reform of the Romanian judicial and criminal laws, which it says risks undermining separation of powers and the fight against corruption, writes Martin Banks.
In a resolution wrapping up the plenary debate held with the Romanian PM Viorica Dancila the Chamber called on the Romanian authorities to put in place safeguards to avoid circumventing the system of checks and balances and to counter any measures which would decriminalise corruption in office.
The text, passed this week with 473 votes to 151 and 40 abstentions, points to the new legislation on the status of judges and prosecutors, on judicial organisation and on the Superior Council of the Magistracy.
In line with the warnings from the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) and the Venice Commission, MEPs caution that the new legislation could have an impact on the independence of the judiciary, its efficiency and its quality, including negative consequences in the fight against corruption.
The changes to the Criminal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code – many of which the Romanian Constitutional Court considers unconstitutional- are another source of concern, with additional effects on the capacity to combat corruption, violent crimes and organised criminality.
The role of the Romanian Intelligence Service and its alleged interference in the activities of the Romanian judiciary lead the EP to suggest reinforcing Romania’s parliamentary oversight of the intelligence services.
The Parliament condemns the “violent and disproportionate intervention” by the police during the mass protests in Bucharest in August 2018 and calls on the Romanian authorities to ensure a transparent, impartial and effective investigation into the actions of the riot police.
MEPs also warned that the legislation on the financing, organisation and functioning of NGOs could potentially intimidate civil society and note that it may be against the principle of freedom of association and the right to privacy.
The Parliament urges the European Commission to resume its annual anti-corruption monitoring in all EU member states and proposes a system of strict indicators to measure the level of corruption in each country and evaluate their anti-corruption policies.
A regular, systematic and objective process to assess respect of democracy, fundamental rights and the rule of law is also necessary, according to the Parliament.
Plenary will vote on a separate resolution on Wednesday, reiterating its calls for a mechanism to be established to assess the EU’s founding values in all member states every year.
With a broad majority of pro-European parties, Parliament criticised the weakening of the independence of courts and anti-corruption institutions.
It also recently became claimed that journalists who evaluate leaked documents on alleged corruption linked to Liviu Dragnea (chairman of the ruling Social Democrats) are being threatened.
The Romanian government’s data protection authority is said to be pressuring journalists with a daily fine of €644 after the passing of a 10 days deadline to force them to publish their sources.
In doing so, the government is said to have invoked the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). However, the GDPR contains an exception for journalists.
MEP Sven Giegold, financial and economic policy spokesperson of the Greens/EFA group commented:“The rule of law and freedom of the press are massively threatened in Romania. We will not stand idly by and watch the dangerous decline of European fundamental values in Romania.”
“The Romanian government is abusing European data protection law to put investigative journalists under pressure. The threat to journalists shows that the government appears to have something to hide.”
“The European Commission must strongly condemn the Romanian Government’s attack on the freedom of the press.”
“As Spitzenkandidat of the European Social Democrats, Frans Timmermans should put pressure on his party colleagues in Romania. The European Social Democrats must not duck away when Europe’s fundamental values are attacked from within their own ranks.”
The Author, Martin Banks, is the News Editor of EU Political Report