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January 21, 2022

Romania urged to do more for judicial independence, rule of law

Reacting to the conclusions of the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) report released yesterday, PM Victor Ponta said Romania meets the Schengen accession requirements. Minutes after he landed in Bucharest, on his return from Lima, president Basescu declined to comment on the report, saying he has to study the document first. Barroso and Ponta will discuss the report next week in Brussels.

European Commission (EC) Spokesperson Mark Gray presented yesterday the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) report on the progress made by Romania, as part of an “on the record” technical briefing.Before the EC report was presented, the Romanian government issued a communiqué in which it states that all points agreed last summer with the European Commission President were completely fulfilled and assured that it will remain “profoundly committed” to ensuring the independence of the judiciary and strengthening the rule of law.The European Commission’s 10-page special report, much shorter than regular reports published on Romania since its 2007 accession, says the country could soon be back on track, if it continues to fulfil the European Commission’s recommendations.President Barroso said this time that “this report comes just after the election of a new government in Romania. It contains clear recommendations on the rule of law and judicial independence which I hope will be taken up as part of ongoing reform in Romania. Steps have been taken to address the serious concerns we raised in July and our report explains clearly where further progress is needed.”

More remains to do on the judiciary

The new report says that Romania has implemented several – but not all – of the Commission’s recommendations aimed at restoring the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary.

The message appears to be that the new Romanian authorities have done part of the job but not implemented the most difficult parts, especially those related to the independence of the judiciary and the integrity issues remain largely questionable.In particular, the Commission says it continues to be concerned with the persistent ‘pressure on judicial institutions’ and lack of respect for their independence. Gray also stated that the EC received from the representatives of the Constitutional Court (CC), the Superior Magistracy Council (CSM) and the High Court of Justice (ICCJ) reports of intimidation and harassment conducted through the media. “The Commission received numerous reports of intimidation or harassment against individuals working in key judicial and anti-corruption institutions, including personal threats against judges and their families, and media campaigns amounting to harassment,” Gray said. “It’s not a new problem, I believe you know that President Barosso discussed this issue with the Romanian Premier in August. Fears on this issue were also analyzed within the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission. Reports from bodies such as the Constitutional Court, the Superior Magistracy Council, the High Court of Justice, were sent to the Commission. That is why we tackled this problem that has to be analyzed. I believe there is also a political campaign in one way or another, a campaign that is part of the normal political process, but the line was crossed in several cases, not just one or two,” the European Commission’s spokesperson stated. He added that although some progress was made, Romania should do more for the functioning of the rule of law. The European Commission is also asking for incompatible MPs to resign and the immunity of those under criminal investigation to be lifted. Likewise, the European Commission recommends that the candidates for the offices of attorney general and head of the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) should be green-lighted by the Superior Magistracy Council (CSM).At the same time, Gray stated that respect for the Constitution and the CC has been restored, and that the National Integrity Agency (ANI), CSM and DNA were positively assessed. Last but not least, Romania meets the specific criteria for Schengen accession, according to Gray. The European Commission will release another MCV report on Romania’s progress on the judiciary by the end of the year.  Mark Gray announced yesterday that Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Romanian Premier Victor Ponta will meet next week, at Ponta’s request, the meeting set to touch upon the MCV report too.

Premier Victor Ponta considers that the EC report contains certain errors, such as the fact that nothing allegedly happened in the case of the ministers verified by ANI or that there are ministers investigated for corruption, and these could have been set straight if “the mechanism had been one of cooperation too, not just of verification.” The Premier also stated that he agrees with the European Commission’s observation concerning the existence of media pressure on judges, stating that he saw this kind of pressures too and he will distance himself from all these practices. Ponta added that Romania is ready for Schengen but elections in certain countries could pose problems for the finalization of this process.

Speaker of the Senate Crin Antonescu said yesterday that he will state his opinion on the European Commission’s MCV report after he will read it in full and in original, pointing out that at first sight “the font is small.”

The CSM president Oana Schimdt Haineala said the report is objective and that the Council took note of the conclusions.Before the MCV report was published,

PDL President Vasile Blaga stated for RFI that the report will be “bad, all Romanians set to suffer because we will once again move away from the Schengen accession.” Vasile Blaga was of the opinion that the MCV report “will be one of the harshest, toughest reports of the last years, because unfortunately it also has reasons to be so.”

At the same time, former Justice Minister Catalin Predoiu stated on Digi24, also before the publication of the MCV report, that he is afraid that the report will turn out to be a bleak painting because the whole atmosphere interfered with a dynamic that had been established.

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