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JUSTICE POLITICS

European Commission issues report on Romania’s progress under the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism: Challenges to judicial independence are a serious source of concern. EC’s First Vice-President Timmermans: We have seen progress in some areas but there is still more work to be done. JusMin Toader: Report concludes Romania can fulfill its objective of lifting CVM under incumbent EC

The European Commission issued on Wednesday its latest report on steps taken by Romania to meet its commitments on judicial reform and the fight against corruption, in the context of the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) set up when the country joined the European Union in 2007, informs a release of the Community Executive.

Wednesday’s report looks concretely at the progress made to meet the 12 recommendations issued by the Commission in its January 2017 CVM Report.

“We have seen progress in some areas but there is still more work to be done. Romania has met some of our recommendations, but there is not enough progress yet on others. I count on the Romanian Government to pursue the necessary reforms, and to avoid backtracking, so that we can work together towards the goal of ending the CVM under this Commission’s mandate,” First Vice-President Frans Timmermans said.

The Commission’s last report in January 2017 took stock of overall progress in the past ten years and identified 12 specific recommendations which would help Romania move towards fulfillment of all CVM benchmarks.

Wednesday’s report notes that progress has been achieved on a number of these recommendations, in particular the recommendation to set up a system for checks on conflicts of interest in public procurement (PREVENT) has been satisfactorily implemented.

The Commission also notes progress on other recommendations, subject to practical implementation. At the same time, the Commission notes that the overall reform momentum in the course of 2017 has stalled, slowing down the fulfillment of the remaining recommendations, and with a risk of re-opening issues which the January 2017 report had considered as closed.

Challenges to judicial independence are a serious source of concern, according to the release.

“The Commission cannot yet conclude that any of the CVM benchmarks are at this stage satisfactorily fulfilled, though progress has brought some benchmarks closer to this point. The Commission remains of the opinion that with loyal cooperation between State institutions, a political steer holding firm to past achievements and with respect for judicial independence, Romania will be able to fulfill the outstanding recommendations, and therefore satisfactorily meet the CVM benchmarks, in the near future. The Commission will assess progress again towards the end of 2018,” says the release.

 

JusMin Toader: Report concludes Romania can fulfill its objective of lifting CVM under incumbent EC

 

“The report published by the European Commission on Romania’s progress with judicial reform concludes that Romania can fulfill its objective of having the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) lifted before the tenure of the incumbent European Commission ends in 2018”, Justice Minister Tudorel Toader said Wednesday.

“I have presented the conclusion of the report, which is positive, that Romania can fulfill its objective of having the CVM lifted before the tenure of the incumbent European Commission ends (…) I have taken note of the commission’s assessment of the progress made by Romania with meeting the recommendations made in January 2017. It is a milestone report, which is very important to underline, is a progress report, a report tracing progress from the previous similar report of January 2017. The report highlights many of Romania’s progress from January 2017, providing a basis for the Commission’s conclusion on Romania meeting all the CVM recommendations in the near future, with 2018 being a possible time horizon. It is also the commitment that we have made that when taking over the presidency of the Council of the European Unions in early 2019, Romania will no longer be under the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism,” Toader said at a news conference.

He added that the developments are in line with this commitment.

“The report notes the progress made with regard to most of the recommendations. For example, the progress with recommendation 8 – ensure the entry into operation of the PREVENT, and the fact that recommendation 2 on the adoption of a code of conduct for MPs and a code of conduct for ministers, recommendation 7 on transparency and accountability of the Supreme Council of Magistrates (CSM), recommendation 12 on the National Agency for the Management of Seized Assets (ANABI) are almost fully met. In our opinion, recommendations 2, 7 and 18 could have been considered met. As you know, the codes of conduct for both MPs and ministers have been adopted, and ANABI is fully operational,” said Toader.

 

“It mentions legislative solutions still under debate, no regression”

 

“The EC report on progress in Romania with judicial reform under the CVM  also mentions projects still under debate, and those on amending justice legislation, but it is important that no regression has been found”,  Justice Minister added  on Wednesday.

“With regard to the first recommendation on the appointment of top prosecutors, the commission mentions the bill amending justice legislation, which has undergone the first stage of the legislative, parliamentary procedure. Therefore, the report mentions legislative solutions that are still under consideration, even in the early stage of parliamentary debates, meaning in a non-final form and, consequently, not applicable legislative solutions (…) Only the final form of the law produces legal effects; only the final form of the law that is published in the Official Journal will allow us to assess the effects of the provisions in the bill amending justice legislation on judicial independence. At the current stage, the mention only does a positioning, concern, and does not regard the merits, because once again we are talking about bills that have not passed even the first reading,” Toader said at a news conference.

He added that that during the CVM monitoring there were also moments of stagnation, but also irreversible developments, but the most important thing is that there was no regression.

“This CVM has been in place for ten years. It is a lasting process with recommendations that have been changed in time. Clearly, in a decade of monitoring, the commission has seen irreversible developments in all its reports. If you mean moments of stagnation, there have been some in the course of this decade and obvious ones. What’s important is that there have been no regressions, that the irreversible nature has been preserved, and there is progress toward meeting all of the 12 recommendations,” said Toader.

 

“We are asking all parties involved for loyal constitutional cooperation”

 

He  asked all the parties involved for loyal constitutional cooperation, as well as real debates that are grounded in the needs of the judiciary.

“We are asking all the parties involved (…) for loyal constitutional cooperation, as well as real debates that are grounded in the needs of the judiciary, as we will be intensifying the institutional dialogue to ensure the full effectiveness of the co-operation component in the European Commission’s

Co-operation and Verification Mechanism (CVM),” Toader said at a press conference, following the release of a report on Romania’s progress with judiciary reform under the CVM.

He said that deadlines would be set for the institutional partners involved in Romania meeting the CVM recommendations to boost their implementation.

“We are affirming Romania’s deep commitment to implement all the recommendations, while at the same time supporting the Commission’s constant support for achieving the objective of lifting the CVM,” said Toader.

 

Reactions

 

President Iohannis: CVM report, a serious alarm signal the ruling coalition must take into account

 

President Klaus Iohannis says that European Commission’s report on progress in Romania with judiciary reform under the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) is a serious alarm signal that the ruling coalition must take into account, according to a statement from the Presidential Administration.

“If the actions of Romania’s Government and Parliament in the process of amending justice legislation continue in the same direction as before, Romania will take steps back in the operation of its judiciary and the fight against corruption,” says Iohannis.

The Presidential Administration shows that Iohannis shares the European Commission’s view that the process of amending this legislation must be as transparent as possible and take into account the position of all players in the judiciary.

He points out that after the January 2017 report, which noted a significant progress made in 2016, in the report one published on Wednesday, the European Commission shows that only one of the 12 recommendations is implemented satisfactorily and real progress has been made only with three other recommendations. The head of state says the European Commission warns in its latest report that the reform momentum in course of 2017 was lost overall, slowing down the fulfillment of the remaining recommendations, and with the risk of re-opening issues which the January 2017 report had considered as fulfilled.

“In the ten years since its accession to the European Union, Romania has made important progress with judicial reform, which is constantly mentioned in the last CVM reports to date. At the same time, lifting Romania’s monitoring under this mechanism depends directly on the sustained and irreversible nature of these reforms,” Iohannis says.

He adds that “all the efforts made by Romania to strengthen judicial reforms and the fight against corruption may be jeopardised by the actions of politicians who refuse to accept that their duty is to work in the service of citizens rather than partisan or group interests.”

“Affecting judicial independence and, in general, any pressure or attempt to politically control justice, does nothing but turn Romania back to the past,” he points out.

Iohannis also reiterates that he will use all his constitutional powers to secure judicial independence and a functional rule of law, underlining that this is the vision of a strong European Romania backed by the vote of millions of citizens.

 

Public Ministry: CVM Report’s conclusions on judiciary’s independence, similar to position we constantly expressed

 

The leadership of the Public Ministry says it took note of the conclusions and recommendations of the CVM Report, pointing out that the European Commission’s point of view on the fundamental issues concerning the independence of the judiciary and the career of magistrates is similar to the position constantly expressed by the High Court’s Prosecutor’s Office, namely that the proposed amendments to the judiciary laws have had a negative impact in relation to the progress already registered. In its turn, the DNA reiterates the conclusions of the CVM Report and reminds, in a press release, that this year it forwarded to Parliament three requests to lift the immunity of ministers and ex-ministers who are also MPs, for it to start probing alleged corruption offences, and all requests were rejected.

“The Public Ministry’s leadership has taken note of the conclusions and recommendations included in the CVM Report. (…) We note that the point of view expressed by the European Commission on the fundamental issues concerning the independence of the judiciary and the career of magistrates is similar to the position constantly expressed by the Public Ministry, namely the Report points out that the proposals concerning the judiciary laws have had a negative impact in relation to the progress already registered. Raising doubt about the independence of the judicial system represents a reason of concern in the Report. Thus, although progress was registered in implementing some recommendations, the general trend of 2017 has been one of regress, something that could result in the return to some recommendations that the January 2017 Report considered fulfilled. The Commission points out that there is the need for real cooperation between state institutions, one that would take into account the observance of the independence of the judiciary and that would lead in the near future to the fulfilment of the Report’s recommendations. At the same time, the Report points out that the proposals formulated by the corps of magistrates should be taken into account when adopting the judiciary laws, and the legislative procedure should take place in conditions of total transparency,” the Public Ministry shows.

The National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) also released a point of view on the CVM Report, basically reiterating the European Commission’s conclusions concerning the DNA and the anticorruption fight.

Thus, the DNA refers to the CVM Report’s mention of the importance of maintaining the independence of the DNA, for it to be able to use all the instruments at its disposal to continue its activity, and insists on the fulfilment of the previous recommendations, namely the adoption of objective criteria when lifting the immunity of MPs, in order to eliminate any suspicions that immunity is used as a shield against the prosecutors’ action.

The DNA reminds that this year it forwarded to Parliament three requests for the lifting of the immunity of ministers and ex-ministers who are also MPs, for it to start probing alleged corruption offences, and all requests were rejected.

“However, the report insists that, in case pressures with a negative effect on the fight against corruption appear, the Commission could find itself forced to re-evaluate this conclusion,” the DNA emphasises, quoting the CVM Report.

The DNA also reiterates the EC’s conclusions that doubt about the positive progress and good results registered by judiciary institutions in the fight against corruption has been raised by certain events, such as: the emergency ordinance decriminalising certain corruption offences, including abuse of office (January 2017), which, albeit abrogated, left room for public doubts, and the proposed amendments to the judiciary laws, tabled at the end of August, which have generated controversies and a strong negative reaction from the judicial system and from some segments of the civil society, a reaction that focuses on the issue of the independence of the judiciary.

 

Prosecutor General: CVM Report points to regress mainly because of proposals on judiciary laws

 

Prosecutor General Augustin Lazar stated on Wednesday that the European Commission’s CVM Report points to a situation of regress, mainly because of the proposed amendments to the judiciary laws.

“The conclusions of the report obviously point to a situation of regress compared to the January 2017 report, mainly because of the proposals concerning the judiciary laws, which have had a negative impact and have sparked concern. The recommendation made in the report is to take into account the magistrates’ proposals, proposals that maintain the independence of the magistracy. We recall that some of these proposals concerned the appointment of chief prosecutors based on a transparent and robust system, a system that would be similar to the one used when appointing the President of the High Court. Next, the recommendation made is for state institutions to work jointly, to cooperate to solve this situation. I think it’s not very complicated. There can be no cooperation when some things are imposed from the outside and the magistracy’s say is not heeded. (…) Compared to the January 2017 report, it’s a regress that could prompt the reconsideration of some objectives that the January report considered already met,” the Prosecutor General stated at the headquarters of the Prosecutor’s Office attached to the High Court of Justice (PICCJ), in a press statement following the publishing of the CVM report, quoted by Agerpres.

Augustin Lazar claimed that the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism could be lifted in 2018.

“We all want the fulfilment of all conditions on this new deadline set for the end of 2018, the achievement of what all of us are waiting for, that in the end the oversight would end happily. It would be a shame for the work done for 10 years. We made progress step by step. It would be a shame to give up on this work of so many years when, in fact, the shore is so close. I think there are good conditions for the lifting of the oversight in 2018. I’m an optimist and I believe there are aspects that can be solved, and I believe a reasonable solution will be reached,” Lazar said.

According to him, the Romanian magistracy has reached maturity and can hold up high “the flame of juridical culture,” even though some are trying to test it.

“I’ve said it before that the CVM has been a kind of safety helmet for the Romanian magistracy, during the period in which we had a great modernisation worksite. This helmet will be lifted only if all conditions are met and we are thinking that, in 2018, Romania will hold the Presidency of the EU and all institutions will be interested in making an effort. If they tinker with the judiciary laws to modify them in a positive manner that would ensure a strengthening of the magistracy’s independence, and not in any other way, in these circumstances all institutions should work in the same direction. (…) Romanian magistracy has reached maturity and it can hold up high the flame of juridical culture, without anyone subjecting it to any restriction of authority. But I see some are still trying to test it, to see how strong the corps of magistrates is. The magistrates are mature and those who harbour different thoughts will not succeed,” the Prosecutor General explained.

 

Iordache on CVM Report: We have a backlog, we’ll solve it; goal is to have CVM lifted in 2018

 

Lower House Deputy Speaker Florin Iordache (PSD) admitted on Wednesday that the European Commission’s Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) Report is outlining a backlog, pointing out that the backlog will be solved so that the CVM would be lifted in 2018.

“The words that stand out on a first reading are transparency, continuation of reforms, responsibility and continuation of discussions between authorities. Through greater collaboration between all authorities involved in this process, the CVM Report will undoubtedly show in 2018 that the cooperation and verification mechanism for Romania should be lifted,” Iordache said.

He pointed out that the CVM Report published on Wednesday outlines the fact that some of the benchmarks were not met, some are pending, while others referring to legislation and institutional collaboration between authorities are now being carried out.

“The European Commission will recognise the important steps taken and the fact that Romania no longer needs the CVM. I note the fact that very many things are fulfilled; we have a backlog too, but undoubtedly it will be solved in the upcoming period so that, I repeat, Romania’s goal at this moment is for the CVM to be lifted for Romania in 2018,” Iordache said.

He claimed that the drafting of the judiciary laws is a transparent process and that the points of view of all those interested are listened to, pointing out that a point of view will be requested from the Venice Commission too, if necessary.

“If it’s necessary or, as the Report recommends, if certain provisions are modified and we have to request a point of view from the Venice Commission in what concerns the appointment of chief prosecutors, we will undoubtedly do so. But if, as seen in all amendments, as well as in the bill, the method of appointing the chief prosecutors is not modified, requesting a point of view from the Venice Commission is not necessary. But, I repeat, if there are changes and requesting a point of view is called for, we will undoubtedly do so,” Iordache added.

 

Ex-JusMin Predoiu: CVM confirms to Minister Toader that he is heading in the wrong direction

 

The latest CVM report confirms to Justice Minister Tudorel Toader that “he is heading in the wrong direction” and that his ministry should “focus on the necessary adjustments to the system, but with a different spirit,” former Justice Minister Catalin Predoiu stated for Mediafax.

“The CVM Report confirms to Minister Toader that he is heading in the wrong direction. It’s a report with many negative notes, even though the minister promised us a positive one. The ministry must focus on the necessary adjustments to the system, but must do it with a different spirit. The CVM seems a simple, bureaucratic instrument but is in fact a complex technical mechanism with huge political load, essential for Romania’s full integration in the European Union. At least at this moment, we have no clear proof that the Justice Minister understands this stake or, if he does, that he is “rowing” in the direction indicated by our interests in the European Union,” former Justice Minister Catalin Predoiu stated for Mediafax.

Lawyer Catalin Predoiu was an independent Justice Minister in the Tariceanu, Boc and Ungureanu Governments.

 

Ciolos: EC’s intention to put an end to the mechanism only if the rule of law and independence of the judiciary are respected is clear

 

Ex-Premier Dacian Ciolos considers that the CVM Report very clearly expresses the European Commission’s intention to put an end to this mechanism, before Romania’s Presidency of the Council of the EU starts, “only if Romania demonstrates that the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary are respected.”

“Not to please someone in Brussels or in the capitals of the democratic states or elsewhere, but because these are part of the values we acceded to once we joined the EU, and which form the basis of fundamental human rights,” Ciolos went on to say in a Facebook posting.

The ex-Premier states that considerable progress was registered last year in this sense, because, at that time, both the Government and the civil society, alongside the judicial system’s institutions, proved that this is what they want for Romania.

“This year, the Government and the political majority in Parliament have once again set their sights on the judiciary. Early this year, with an attempted sucker punch. After people took to the streets, the punches resumed, but with more “finesse,” so that the bruises wouldn’t show. However, the objectives seem to remain the same: the political subordination of the judicial system (not the avoidance of abuses as we are being told) which seems to hinder some who still have the impression that temporary political power means the right to treat the state and public assets as one’s own property,” Dacian Ciolos added.

He points out that this kind of signals, such as the one issued by the European Commission, are useful, but can never replace the political will and honesty to accept that without an independent judiciary we will not get rid of the temptation of corruption at the top of society, nor at the bottom.

“And that without honesty we will not have consolidated well-being no matter how well the economy fares. Those politicians who still hesitate to do what they are saying when clamouring support for the independence of the judiciary must choose sincerity. And those who sit on the side lines, hoping things will change by themselves, should take on an active role in the next elections. Until the elections, we should give those who are now abusing the power conferred by a political majority in Parliament and in Government the clear signal that the legislative changes that go against the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law do not represent most of us,” Ciolos writes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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