Romania needs to ensure respect for the rule of law and judicial independence to win back the trust of its partners in the EU, says the report adopted by the Commission yesterday under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM). The report covers a period of five years since Romania’s accession to the EU in 2007 and presents the Commission’s assessment of progress achieved in Romania during this period, focusing on judicial reform and the fight against corruption. Before the official presentation of the report, EC President Jose Barroso stated that “over the last three weeks exceptional events in Romania have been a major source of concern for the Commission and the European Union”. “Events in Romania have shaken our trust”, he said adding that “challenging judicial decisions and the undermining of Constitutional Court overturning established procedures and removing key-checks and balances have called into question the Government commitment to respect the rule of law”. But at the same time he admitted that “Romania has stepped back from the edge”. He emphasized nevertheless that “we can not yet say we have reached the end of the process”. He seemed satisfied that PM Ponta responded in a very reactive manner to EU concerns and requests in liaison with the internal political turmoil of the last few weeks which provoked so intense emotions at such high European level for what it means a functional and independent judicial system in Romania, for the respect of democratic institutions and the rule of law. “I want to pay tribute to the Romanian Prime minister who has confirmed in writing his agreement to implement all the measures addressing our concerns including revoking the key ordinances to restore the competences of the Constitutional Court and implementing its rulings over the forthcoming referendum”, said the EC President.
Let us remind briefly that the commitments took by PM Ponta include the repeal of emergency ordinances regarding the powers of the Constitutional Court and the eligibility rules for the referendum on the impeachment of President Basescu, the respect for decisions of the Constitutional Court and of the Romanian Constitution, and to the appointments procedure for key positions including the Ombudsman, the General Prosecutor of Romania and the Chief Prosecutor of the National Anti-Corruption Directorate. These commitments furthermore include refraining from Presidential pardons during the interim Presidency and from appointing ministers with negative integrity rulings. They also cover the adoption of procedures regarding the resignation of Members of Parliament with final decisions on incompatibility, conflict of interest and high-level corruption. In addition to these urgent recommendations made in light of recent events, the Commission also extends a number of other recommendations to Romania in the areas of judicial reform, accountability of the judicial system, transparency and consistency of the judicial process, effectiveness of judicial action, integrity and fight against corruption. “These commitments need to be effectively observed and implemented in the best interest of Romania and Romanian citizens”, he said. Therefore, “the Commission will continue to monitor closely the situation” and a further report will be prepared by the end of the year. On the contrary, the next report on Bulgaria (monitored under the same MCV from 2007) will be issued by the end of 2013. In his turn, after presenting details from the technical reports on Romania and Bulgaria, Mark Gray, Spokesperson of the European Commission, emphasized that “we expect that all the 11 commitments (taken by the Romanian PM) will now be implemented”. He refused the make any speculations on what could happen if Romania does not respect its promises. He only said “what happens next (from the EC point of view and action- our note) depends on what happens on the field”.
Good news, bad news
As for the Report, Mark Grays said that “taking a five-year perspective, the report shows progress. Many of the building blocks in the legislative framework are now in place. The focus is shifting to implementation. And the ownership of the reforms remains variable ». “However, the objectives of the CVM have not yet been met and the benchmarks have not been satisfactorily fulfilled. Reform is not yet sustainable and irreversible” says the Commission. “Romania has created the basis for a substantial modernisation of the Romanian judicial system. Institutions like the National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA) and the National Integrity Agency (ANI) have demonstrated a convincing track record in the pursuit of high-level corruption. Recently, court decisions in high-level corruption cases have effectively handled the most sensitive cases, and the judiciary has shown its ability to affirm its independence. However, despite Romania’s progress, the report concludes that the objectives of the CVM have not yet been met. Implementation of laws has just started in some areas, whilst in other areas ownership falls short and overall the process is not yet sustainable and irreversible. The current controversies pose a serious threat to the progress achieved so far and raise serious questions as to the future of the reforms already launched,” he stated. EC Spokesperson reminded also that “shortcomings in judicial reform and the fight against corruption are matters of concern for a large majority of Romanians,” a Flash Eurobarometer poll also presented yesterday by the Commission showing that 72% of Romanians want the Commission to continue supporting reform in Romania until it achieves standards comparable to other Member States.