European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and First Vice President Frans Timmermans on Wednesday asked the Romanian Parliament to rethink changes to laws governing the judiciary, which have raised concerns about the fight against corruption.
“We are following the latest developments in Romania with concern. The independence of Romania’s judicial system and its capacity to fight corruption effectively are essential cornerstones of a strong Romania in the European Union. The irreversibility of the progress achieved so far under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism is an essential condition to phase out the Mechanism,” the two European officials underline in their joint statement.
“In its latest Report under the Mechanism in November 2017, the Commission highlighted that the Government and Parliament should ensure full transparency and take proper account of consultations in the legislative process on the justice laws. The Commission also made clear that a process in which judicial independence and the opinion of the judiciary is valued and given due account, also drawing on the opinion of the Venice Commission, is a prerequisite for sustainability of the reforms and an important element in fulfilling the CVM benchmarks. The Commission’s assessment was supported by Member States in Council Conclusions adopted in December 2017.
“The latest CVM Report identified the judicial laws as an important test of the extent to which the legitimate interests of judicial and other stakeholders are given an opportunity to be voiced, and are taken sufficiently into account in the final decisions. Events since then have done nothing to address these concerns,” Juncker and Timmermans show in their joint statement.
According to the quoted document, the Commission calls on the Romanian Parliament to rethink the course of action proposed, to open the debate in line with the Commission’s recommendations and to build a broad consensus on the way forward.
“The Commission reiterates its readiness to cooperate with and support the Romanian authorities in this process. The Commission again warns against backtracking and will look thoroughly at the final amendments to the justice law, the criminal codes and laws on conflict of interest and corruption to determine the impact on efforts to safeguard the independence of the judiciary and combat corruption,” the joint statement concludes.
Dragnea and Tariceanu: Concerns voiced by the EC are surprising to say the least
Lower Chamber Speaker and President of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) Liviu Dragnea and Senate Speaker and President of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE) Calin Popescu-Tariceanu said in a joint letter addressed to officials of the European Commission (EC) that the voiced concerns regarding the lack of transparency and broader consensus in the debate on the Justice Laws, but also regarding the amendment to Criminal Codes, “are at least surprising.”
In the quoted document, the two Romanian political leaders bring to mind that the previous Government led by Dacian Ciolos amended the Criminal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code through emergency ordinance.
“In this context, the concerns expressed by the Commission are surprising to say the least, especially given the fact that the Commission didn’t show its concern for transparency and consensus when the previous government, led by Mr Dacian Ciolos amended, on 18 May 2016, 13 articles of the Criminal Code and 101 articles of the Criminal Procedure Code, through emergency ordinance, without any public debate and the agreement or, at least, consultation of the Superior Council of Magistrates [CSM] and professional associations in this field. For this reason, the diametrically opposed difference in the attitude of the Commission’s representatives in two essential moments regarding the debates on the topic of Justice can only be attributed to the way in which the Commission was informed by various sources of the Romanian environment,” the letter reveals.
The quoted document mentions that Romania has the obligation, until the end of March, to transpose the EU Directive regarding the strengthening of the presumption of innocence.
“Just as surprising are, from our point of view, the Commission’s concerns regarding the discussions carried out in Romania’s Parliament over the amendment of the Criminal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code, taking into account that Romania, as member state of the European Union is bound, until the end of March, to transpose into the national legislation the provisions of EU Directive No.2016/343 [of the European Parliament and of the Council of 9 March 2016] on the strengthening of certain aspects of the presumption of innocence and of the right to be present at the trial in criminal proceedings,” the document argues.
The speakers of the two Chambers of Parliament also argue the necessity to amend the Criminal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code considering that these include provisions which “gave rise to abuses censured by the ECHR (European Court of Human Rights).”
“Moreover, the ECHR jurisprudence binds us to carry out a responsible review of those criminal provisions which gave rise to the abuses censured by the ECHR,” the letter points out.
Furthermore, Dragnea and Tariceanu mentioned that the debate is in early stages and amendments refer to the principles of the European Directive.
“Although the debate is in an early stage, we inform you that all the amendments proposed so far have emanated from the principles laid down in the Directive. The following parliamentary debates will enjoy the same transparency and openness to dialogue just as in the case of laws regarding the judicial system,” the two Romanian officials underscored.
The speakers of the two Chambers of Parliament also mentioned that many articles of these laws have been declared unconstitutional and Parliament is bound to amend the legislation.
“At the same time, we believe that those who informed the Commission regarding the amendments to the two criminal codes, the criminal proceedings, respectively, should also present the Constitutional Court decisions under which several articles of these laws were declared unconstitutional, a fact that binds Parliament to amend the legislation in accordance with the Court decisions, which are final and mandatory. It would be unnatural and against European principles to argue that the same legal provisions regulating the justice activity are in accordance with the European principles in a multitude of members states of the European Union, but that they violate the independence of justice in Romania,” the two Romanian officials also stressed in the quoted letter.
“European Commission was misinformed on transparency of debates on Justice”
Speakers of the two Chambers of the Romanian Parliament say in the joint letter addressed to the European Commission officials, that they are concerned about the “inaccurate manner” in which it was informed “in regard to the transparency of the debate on the Justice topic in Romania.”
In the document addressed to President of the European Commission Jean Claude Juncker and First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, Dragnea and Tariceanu maintain that the draw-up and examination of the law texts was done with the observance of the constitutional exigencies, and that the recommendations of the European Commission under the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) concerning the independence and reform of the judicial system were taken into account.
“At the same time, however, we voice our concern about the inaccurate manner in which the European Union was informed in regard to the transparency of the debates on the Justice topic in Romania. To clarify these aspects, we hereby inform you that the debate on this topic began long before the laws in question were discussed and adopted in Parliament. The dialogue was coordinated, in a first stage, by Romania’s Government, through the Ministry of Justice, with the participation and consultation of all relevant organisations: the Superior Council of Magistrates, the associations of judges, prosecutors and lawyers, representatives of the civil society and the academic environment,” the two Romanian officials underscore.
They point out that, subsequently, the bills entered Parliament’s debate, with the participation of the organisations in question.
“At the same time, we stress that parliamentary debates took up 4 months and were broadcast live, on the Lower Chamber’s website, the entire period, thus providing the possibility to those interested to closely watch the arguments and voting on each amendment,” the signatories of the letter maintain.
The cited document also mentions, “referring to the concerns voiced by the Commission in respect to the consensus achieved regarding these laws,” that “out of the 316 adopted amendments to the three laws regarding the judicial system of Romania, 229 were proposed by the Superior Council of Magistrates, and almost all the others came from or were supported by the professional associations of judges and prosecutors.”
“A great part of them were also supported by the opposition parties, and tens of amendments were unanimously adopted by those attending the debates,” the cited documents also points out.
Moreover, the speakers of the two Chambers of Parliament mentioned that the Constitutional Court is going to give an opinion on the justice laws.
“We would have expected, of course, that the Commission’s analysis on the debates in Romania would have taken place after the Constitutional Court voiced an opinion on all the three laws concerning the judicial system, so that the description be related to a comprehensive and objective image of the justice reform in Romania. In this respect, we underscore that the constitutional control mechanisms on the modifications of the three laws on the judicial system are in full swing, and the Constitutional Court is going to issue an opinion,” the letter underscores.
The two Romanian officials voiced their hope that Romania will successfully conclude the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism, during the current mandate of the European Commission.
They appreciated that “the Commission’s interest in respect to the debates in Romania’ Parliament on the justice topic represents an opportunity to develop a constant dialogue between the two institutions for the clarification of all problems under debate.”
“Consequently, we are voicing all openness for a closer collaboration, but based on truth and accurate mutual information, meant to thus ensure a solid ground for the consolidation of the rule of law in Romania, at the same time with the observance of the fundamental rights and freedoms of the citizen,” the letter also mentions.
PNL: EC position’s cost for Romania is serious damage to the country’s image at European, int’l level
The cost for Romania of the official stance of the European Commission’s President Jean Claude Juncker and First Vice President Frans Timmermans, regarding the amendment of the laws of justice is “serious damage of our country’s image at European and international level,” the National Liberal Party (PNL) said in a release on Wednesday.
“Despite efforts of PSD-ALDE leaders Liviu Dragnea and Calin Popescu-Tariceanu, to cosmeticize in various ways the legislative actions targeting the independence of Justice in Romania, the European Commission took position at its highest level proving it was not misled by the manipulation campaigns in the country. The cost for Romania of this official stance of the European Commission’s President Jean Claude Juncker and First Vice President Frans Timmermans, is serious damage to the country’s image at European and international level. But this is the position they were forced to adopt by the Dragnea – Tariceanu group,” the PNL release reads.
The Liberals add that in fact Romania “was cornered by the European Union because of the irresponsible Bucharest-based politicians who unscrupulously insist to pursue a personal agenda with the goal to solve their criminal issues on a different path than the one of the courts of justice.”
“Moreover, Romania is risking financial sanctions, by losing EU funds, and sanctions of a political nature too, by having its right to vote in the European Council suspended if the parliamentary majority keeps on with these toxic steps that are denying the principle of equality before the law,” the source adds.
The PNL makes an appeal to the PSD, ALDE and UDMR (Hungarian Democrat Union of Romania, ed. n.) MPs to reconsider their position “at the eleventh hour.”
“Nobody in the EU will accept a country’s whole judiciary’s compromising for the sake of some leaders who have legal problems,” the release shows.
In its communique, the PNL quotes Premier-designate and MEP Viorica Dancila, who stated, on 23 August 2017: “since we are talking about the European side, let’s see the position that European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans has, who says that he fully agrees with these modifications (to the judicial laws – editor’s note) and that they fall under what is stipulated for the elimination of the CVM.”
“Not only European Commission First Vice President did not express such a position, but thanks to today’s statement we can see that Viorica Dancila lied and misled the Romanian public opinion! This disqualifies her for the office of Prime Minister and it is imperative that she renounces her mandate before Parliament’s confirmation vote,” PNL deems.
Dacian Ciolos and Raluca Pruna to Dragnea and Tariceanu: In the technocratic Gov’t nobody had the interest to modify the laws to protect their own skin
On Wednesday evening, former Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos and former Justice Minister Raluca Pruna issued a reply to the speakers of the two Chambers of Parliament, stating that the modifications that the technocratic Government brought to the judicial laws and the Criminal Code were carried out in line with the procedures, that all the necessary endorsements existed, and a public debate took place. Moreover, they state that “in the technocratic Government nobody had an interest in modifying the laws to protect their own skin,” and the modifications targeted non-controversial aspects and did not result in hundreds of thousands of citizens taking to the streets.
On Wednesday evening, a message signed by ex-Premier Dacian Ciolos and former Justice Minister Raluca Pruna was posted on the ‘Romania 100’ Platform’s Facebook page, combating the statements that the speakers of the two Chambers of Parliament – Calin Popescu Tariceanu and Liviu Dragnea – made in their letter to the leaders of the European Commission.
The same message was posted on the ex-Premier’s Facebook page, bearing the title “The ‘technocrats are to blame’ saga continues today with a new chapter on the judiciary.”
“Mr Liviu Dragnea and Mr Calin Popescu Tariceanu dare to compare the modifications they are carrying out in the field of the judiciary with those carried out by the technocratic Government. The bosses of PSD-ALDE are ignoring the CSM endorsements that can be found on the Lower Chamber’s website,” reads the message.
They attach to their message the official Lower Chamber website links to the Supreme Magistracy Council endorsements, but also the links to the Justice Ministry’s public consultations on the said modifications.
“In the technocratic Government there was no conflict of personal interests, in the sense that no Government member had an interest in modifying the laws to protect their own skin before the judiciary. The modifications carried out by the technocratic Government concerned non-controversial aspects of the Criminal Code and Criminal Procedure Code that were previously discussed within Parliament’s judiciary committees, many of them being already adopted by the Senate, and that were setting the legislation in line with Constitutional Court decisions. This after considerable delays, some even up to two years, caused exclusively by parliamentary inaction,” the message reads.
Moreover, Dacian Ciolos and Raluca Pruna state that the modifications brought at the time were the result of the magistrates’ requests, had all the legal endorsements, including the Supreme Magistracy Council’s endorsement, and did not stir controversy within the magistracy.
“Last but not least, the technocratic Government adopted the modifications in line with the legal procedures in force, without avoiding responsibility by hiding behind some extraordinary parliamentary committee. In what concerns the proposed modifications to the judicial laws, the spirit in which work was done in 2016 was the spirit of transparency and wide consultations with all of society’s and judiciary’s interested parties. The text of the bill was discussed for more than 10 months, both at the headquarters of the Justice Ministry and in debates held in large university centres. An open style of work, completely contrary to the tempestuous, forceful style displayed by the current ruling coalition,” the document reads.
Moreover, Ciolos and Raluca Pruna state that “the technocratic Government’s modifications did not provoke street protests involving tens and hundreds of thousands of citizens, because the spirit in which the technocratic Government worked, a spirit of full respect for the citizen and the state’s legitimate institutions, is a spirit that the PSD/ALDE ruling coalition unfortunately lacks.”
Barna: European Commission’s message notes that the judicial reforms proposed by PSD are an abuse
Save Romania Union (USR) President Dan Barna told Mediafax on Wednesday that the European Commission’s stance on the modifications to the judicial laws serves only to note that PSD’s proposed judicial reforms “are an unequivocal abuse against the rule of law.”
“It is yet another European Commission warning, which in fact confirms the messages that Romanian society has transmitted to this Government and this ruling majority for the past year. Apart from the international messages that have come throughout the year from the transatlantic partner too, from the U.S., and from European partners, we see this is the third or fourth European Commission message which explicitly states that the rule of law is not an option but a value that must exist. The European Commission only notes that all these judicial “reforms” that the PSD proposes are an unequivocal abuse against the rule of law,” Barna stated for Mediafax.
The USR leader pointed out that the current Government exposes Romania to the risk of being kicked out of the European Union.
“The Commission’s message is that, as a consequence, we should respect the decisions of the Venice Commission, we should consult the Venice Commission. Likewise, the transparency that did not exist is being demanded. What happened within the Iordache Committee cannot be called a debate, from any point of view. The outlook consists of the maintaining of the CVM, the drifting away from European values and mechanisms, only a reiteration of the fact that for one year the Government has handled only Liviu Dragnea’s personal problems,” Dan Barna added.
Basescu on modifications to judicial laws, for which the European Commission expressed “concern”: Necessary and apparently correct. Let’s not be manipulated
Popular Movement Party (PMP) President Traian Basescu stated on Thursday that the modifications brought in Parliament to the judicial laws are necessary, and most of them are also “apparently correct,” the CCR being set to issue an opinion on them. He also stated that in order to avoid falling victim to manipulation one must read the bills.
“To avoid being the victims of manipulation, we must read! I’ve read! Laws 303, 304 and 317, all from 2004, they’ve been in force for almost 14 years. With their strong points and weak points, these have been the laws through which the judiciary gained independence in the rapports with politicians,” PMP President Traian Basescu wrote on Facebook.
Traian Basescu stated that the implementation of these three laws has shown, in time, that there are articles and concepts that must be modified to boost the quality of the act of justice.
“The practical long-term implementation of these three laws has shown articles, even concepts, that must be modified for the judiciary to undergo that qualitative jump we need for Romania to become a consolidated rule of law state. This is why some articles and concepts must be revised, adjusted, reformulated,” the PMP President said.
Basescu pointed out that the following elements must be “certainly” clarified: the accountability of magistrates; separating the careers of judges from the careers of prosecutors; equality of treatment in court between prosecutor and lawyer; protecting the judge from possible abuses on the part of prosecutors; boosting and consolidating the independence of the Judicial Inspection and separating the professional activity of the two sections of the CSM.
“The Constitutional Court, which is now analysing the three laws, will send some of the articles back to Parliament for corrections, bearing in mind the ambiguities, blunders and errors in formulating some articles,” Traian Basescu added.
“Certainly, most of the amendments made are necessary and apparently correct. The CCR will also give the constitutionality verdict by the end of the month,” the PMP leader said.
The PMP leader said that for a public and real debate on the judicial laws to take place the laws must be read.
“It’s essential to read them and to speak in knowledge of the facts. It would be good to debate while knowing exactly what articles are susceptible of harming the independence of the judiciary. Otherwise, we risk being easily manipulated by those who are interested in the judiciary not making progress. At any rate, I can no longer be manipulated. I’ve read,” Traian Basescu concluded.