European Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans was in Romania on Thursday, where he engaged in a marathon of meetings and visits at the main institutions of the state, holding talks with the Romanian President, the Speakers of the two Chambers of Parliament, the Premier, but also with Laura Codruta Kovesi and Justice Minister Tudorel Toader, and with the leaders of the main political parties.
The European official encouraged Romania to follow the progress it registered in what concerns the independence of the judiciary and compared this overture with a marathon. “Keep running, but not in the wrong direction,” Timmermans asked.
“Romania achieved much over the past 20 years in terms of reinforcing its judiciary”
European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans said in Bucharest on Thursday that much has been achieved over the past 20 years in terms of reinforcing the judiciary.
“So much was achieved over the last 20 years in terms of reinforcing the judiciary, creating a really independent judiciary in Romania. So many things were also achieved in the last 11 years since Romania joined the European Union and with the CVM [Co-operation and Verification Mechanism] in force. It is like running a marathon and we are now in the final stretch of that marathon. My message today was: keep running; you’re not in the wrong direction! Keep running towards the end of this marathon; we are almost there. There is only a few [European] Commission recommendations that still need to be fulfilled. But don’t stop, don’t stand still, and, for Heaven’s sake, certainly don’t run in the other direction!,” Timmermans said at a news conference.
He pointed out that the ambition of the European Commission is to finalise the CVM by the end of 2019, adding that there are still a few things to be done.
The European official emphasised in Bucharest that there is no connection between the MCV and Article 7 of the EU Treaty, since there is no systemic threat to the rule of law.
“There is no relationship between the MCV and Article 7. There is no systemic threat to the rule of law. You have a strong and independent judicial system. What we are doing is to cooperate and verify whether the necessary measures are taken and thus try to make it so that all these stages would be completed properly. (…) We are not here in the rule of law sector, but in the sector of verifying whether all the necessary measures are being taken in the field of fighting corruption, so that this fight would not be turned back, would not be stopped and it would not take an unwanted direction. So, basically, we are trying to support in our turn too, alongside you, the fight against corruption and the consolidation of the judicial system,” Timmermans said when asked whether if the activation of Article 7 can be considered, as is in the case of Poland, if Romania does not observe the indications of European officials.
“Policing of magistrates should be done by magistrates, not by ministers or politicians”
First Vice-President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans, considers that policing the magistrates in Romania should be done by the judiciary itself.
On a visit to Romania on Thursday, Timmermans gave a news conference, where he was asked about a recent report by Romania’s Justice Minister Tudorel Toader arguing for the removal from office of the chief prosecutor of the National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA) Laura Codruta Kovesi.
“As I’ve also said to the presidents in Parliament, as I’ve also said to the prime minister, the minister of Justice today, it is my firm conviction that policing of magistrates should be done by magistrates. And so, if there is a problem with a magistrate, there are instances in the judiciary that will look into that problem. Human beings, we are all sinners; sometime we do a good job, sometimes we do a less good job. And also in the judiciary there will people to do a bad job, and if they do a bad job, there should be instances that should look into that and correct that. But those instances should not be politicians, and should not be people in the Executive; it should be people in the judiciary. That is, I think, a very important principle to safeguard the separation of powers. But is also puts a big responsibility on the judiciary itself. If there are doubts about policing the judiciary by the judiciary, then you will get all sorts of discussions we would rather avoid. As a matter of principle, I believe correcting mistakes in the judiciary is a task of the judiciary itself,” Timmermans told the news conference.
He said he saw the report drawn up by the justice minister in Kovesi’s case.
“I have been informed, and I’ve seen the report, but I am not a judge in this case. I am not going to be the one who says whether there are right or wrong assertions against Mrs Kovesi. That’s not my role. What I’m saying is a matter of principle that if there are allegations against the magistrates, then there should be instances within the judiciary who look in to that and then take that role. I don’t think, frankly, that should be the role of a minister of justice, nor of any other politician; that is matter of separation of powers, in my view, and that is, I think, the practice in most parts of the world. (…) We are here to make improvements and we hope our advice will lead to improvements,” Timmermans said.
Meetings with the Justice Minister and the Chief Prosecutors
The EC First Vice President met in Bucharest on Thursday both Justice Minister Tudorel Toader and the Chief Prosecutors, including Laura Codruta Kovesi.
The talks, which took place at the European Commission’s Representation, involved DNA Chief Prosecutors Laura Codruta Kovesi, Prosecutor General Augustin Lazar, DIICOT Chief Prosecutor Daniel Horodniceanu, ICCJ President Cristina Tarcea, Supreme Magistracy Council President Simona Marcu, and Supreme Magistracy Council Vice President Codrut Olaru.
The European official’s talks with the representatives of the judicial system took place against the backdrop in which Justice Minister Tudorel Toader has requested that the DNA Chief Prosecutor be dismissed from office.
The European official said that the institution he represents is very well informed, and the excuse that allegedly there isn’t good information will no longer exist in the future because there will be direct contact.
“I want to avoid any kind of disagreement and that is why we established that we’ll have direct contacts with the institutions involved, and precisely because great intense efforts are being made, we are well informed, we can be better informed but I didn’t have the impression we were not informed. (…) The reason we are in direct contact, so that the Speakers of the Chambers would call me when they have the impression I didn’t understand. Let them go to the press if they want to, but they should call me because it works better if we talk directly,” Frans Timmermans said.
He added the European Commission has a good team in Bucharest and it will always provide accurate information.
The statement came against the backdrop in which Liviu Dragnea accused the European Commission’s Representation in Bucharest of misinformation in what regards the statements that Viorica Dancila made during the period in which she took office.
EC’s Timmermans tells Presidents of Parliament Chambers to call him directly to avoid misunderstanding
European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans stated on Thursday that the EC is very well informed regarding what is happening in Romania and conveyed to President of the Deputies’ Chamber Liviu Dragnea and President of the Senate Calin Popescu-Tariceanu to call him directly if under the impression that “we get it wrong.”
“But I want to assure you that because we have such intense work also by the Commission here in Bucharest, we are pretty well informed about what is happening. So no worries, we are well informed. We can always be better informed, that’s why I’m here. But I don’t have the impression that we were misinformed, we might not had all the information, but the information we had was pretty correct. (…) I said to both Presidents [ of the Senate and Deputies’ Chamber], next time you have the feeling that we get it wrong, call me, directly,” Timmermans told a news conference.
He stated that European Commission Representation head Angela Cristea informed him correctly all the time.
President Iohannis welcomes EC’s Timmermans to discuss amending justice legislation in Romania, says the efficiency of the National Anti-Corruption Directorate’s activity in the fight against corruption is unquestionable
Amendments to Romania’s justice legislation were the main topic discussed at the Cotroceni Presidential Palace by President Klaus Iohannis and First Vice-President of the European Commission and European Commissioner for Better Regulation, Interinstitutional Relations, the Rule of Law and the Charter of Fundamental Rights Frans Timmermans.
According to a press statement released by the Presidential Administration, Timmermans mentioned that the Romanian society is increasingly more supporting the values of the rule of law, demonstrating that citizens want a modern, European Romania, fair justice and a balanced society. He also mentioned that there is no doubt that justice in Romania is independent, but recent public attacks on justice have created a negative image for Romania. At the same time, the European official praised Romania for its very good results in recent years in the fight against corruption.
“The main topic at the meeting was amending Romania’s justice legislation, along with the continuation of the fight against corruption. The President of Romania stressed that he remains committed to observing the rule of law, guaranteeing the independence of the judiciary and supporting the fight against corruption. Regarding the justice legislation, President Klaus Iohannis mentioned that he wants to improve them, as Romanian citizens need good laws that strengthen the independence of the judiciary and guarantee the functioning of the rule of law.”
Iohannis is further quoted as saying that the efficiency of the National Anti-Corruption Directorate’s activity in the fight against corruption is unquestionable.
He said that democracy in recent years has significantly strengthened in Romania, and the civic spirit of Romanian society is becoming increasingly more active, which shows its maturity. He underscored that the judiciary is fully independent and operates efficiently in this context, noting that it will make every effort, within the limits of its constitutional prerogatives, to ensure the functioning of an independent judiciary system in Romania and to consolidate the rule of law.
Timmermans said in his turn that he is visiting Romania as part of the assessment by the European Commission of Romania’s progress with judicial reform and the fight against corruption under the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism (CVM). In his opinion, Romania has reached important milestones in recent years. However, Timmermans pointed out that even if there is firm commitment to lift the CVM supervision before the term in office of the incumbent European Commission expires, but that goal will only be achieved once all the related conditions have been met.
Romanian politicians’ statements after meeting Timmermans
Tariceanu tells Timmermans EC’s open approach to tackle sensitive issues with Romanian authorities recommended
Senate’s President Calin Popescu-Tariceanu on Thursday said during his meeting with the European Commission’s First Vice President, Frans Timmermans, at the Parliament’s seat, that the amendment of the criminal codes (Criminal Code and Criminal Procedure Code, ed. n.) has been finalised at the Justice Ministry in accordance with the Constitutional Court’s decisions, a release by the Romanian Senate informs.
Popescu-Tariceanu specified that “it is intended for the institutions guaranteed by Constitution and laws to be granted a democratic functioning, beyond any interference from the force bodies or intelligence services.”
The Senate’s head stressed that “the open approach of the European Commission to dialogue on the sensitive issues with the Romanian authorities is recommended and appreciated, thus being avoided the partial, distorted information.”
“The working visit of the Commission’s First Vice President in Bucharest is therefore considered as a necessary element of the normal relation with the European bodies, enhancing the messages sent by both sides for a direct dialogue. The efficient coordination with the European bodies is, according to Mr. Calin Popescu-Tariceanu, useful particularly in this period when Romania is preparing to taking over the rotational Presidency of the Council of the European Union, and the Commission is about to close the legislative agenda it took upon at the beginning of its mandate,” the source adds.
The Senate’s President appreciated the attention on the European Commission’s behalf to the institutional aspects, in the preparation of the changes to intervene as of the next European elections, saluting the EC’s preoccupation for a better regulation at European level so that the institutions run more efficiently and more focused for the member states’ citizens.
Referring to the CVM (Cooperation and Verification Mechanism, ed. n.) the Senate’s head reminded the importance of the European Commission’s support and cooperation in “closing without delay this stage that acts like a lien on Romania’s status as full member of the EU,” the release says.
“The decision of the Commission to lift the CVM is awaited to put an end to the current situation in which Romania is assessed in parallel through several same goals tools,” Popescu-Tariceanu said.
He also specified that “the Commission’s reports issued in the last years have confirmed that most of the CVM’s objectives were appropriately internalised in the national policies and strategies, a situation also confirmed by the conclusions of the Research on the evaluation of the 10 years of CVM in BG and RO (Bulgaria and Romania, ed. n.) carried out by the Committee for budget control (CONT) with the European Parliament, presented on 29 January 2018.”
Calin Popescu-Tariceanu told Frans Timmermans the wish to continue the dialogue, in Bucharest and Brussels, and expressed confidence that through a tight coordination with the EC, the Romanian authorities will be able to successfully fulfill their role at European level through exercising the Presidency of the Council of the EU in the first half of 2019, the release concludes.
Alina Gorghiu: Regarding the CVM, there is strict oversight from the EC – everyone underscored Romania’s progress in Justice, his recommendation being not to stumble on the threshold
PNL Senator Alina Gorghiu stated on Thursday, after European Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans’s visit to Parliament, that his advice was for Romania not to avoid asking the Venice Commission for a point of view on the three judicial laws, stating that the European official wants our country to draft laws that “would not intimidate the judicial system.” The Senator explained that, in what concerns the CVM, there is strict oversight on the part of the Commission, and everyone mentioned the progress that Romania made, however “he recommended we shouldn’t stumble on the threshold.”
“It was a meeting in the parameters you know, a natural meeting, of information between the members of the special committee regulating the judicial laws and the EC officials. Each group expressed its point of view, there was an information that the chairman of this committee made, and our group expressed its opinion on the judicial laws, about the need to collaborate with the judicial system, about this obsession with the judiciary that PSD has had since the start of last year, since it formed the government,” Alina Gorghiu stated.
She claims that Frans Timmermans wants Romania to draft laws that “would not intimidate the judicial system,” stating that “there seems to be a war between Parliament and the judicial system.”
“The position you will find out later today from the Vice President of the Commission is one that encourages us to draft laws that would not intimidate the judicial system, I can’t recall exactly the term he used – but I surely remember an expression, that there seems to be a war between Parliament and the judicial system and it’s recommended to fix this problem (…) PSD-ALDE shouldn’t wage this war with the judicial system through the press,” the Senator added.
Gorghiu states that the First Vice President of the European Commission also stated that the Europeans are keeping a close eye “on the situation in Romania” and his advice is that we should not avoid asking the Venice Commission for a point of view.
“Another remark I consider relevant is the one concerning the way Europeans see us at this moment and the EC Vice President said that after a long time the eyes of the European states are fixed on the situation in Romania, however of course the recommendations are that we should cooperate with the judicial system, we should cooperate and communicate as constantly and as often as possible with the EC, the Commission shows great openness to help. The advice is not to avoid the Venice Commission. (…) In what concerns the CVM, obviously there is strict oversight on the part of the Commission – everyone mentioned and emphasised the progress that Romania has made in recent years on the topic of justice, however he recommended we should not stumble on the threshold,” she went on to say.
Expert Committee chairman Florin Iordache says Venice Commission’s opinion on Justice package to be sought if necessary
Chairman of the expert Committee on the justice package Florin Iordache said on Thursday, after meeting with EC First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, that if necessary, the Venice Commission’s opinion will be sought on the amendments to the judiciary laws.
“I think it was a good meeting. I made the following points: firstly, the Court’s decisions are generally binding, and as regards the laws of justice, we will bring them in line with the rulings of the Court. As far as the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism is concerned, we, all those involved beginning with Parliament, the government and other institutions, will make every effort to meet the observations that have been included in the latest report this year and for the CVM to be closed. (…) We did not get into details, we discussed general issues, and I believe that through this continuous dialogue that is a must between the Commission and the Parliament of Romania, all those queries will be settled,” Iordache said at the Palace of Parliament after the meeting with Timmermans.
Asked whether Timmermans recommended the parliamentary committee to also seek the Venice Commission’s point of view on the amendments to the laws of justice, Iordache said that if necessary, this will be done too.
“We have undoubtedly taken into account the opinions of the Venice Commission for now and for the future. We have not asked for an opinion so far, but we will discuss in the committee whether we should address such a request at the time we debate the amendments that have been ruled unconstitutional. We have not sought for the opinion of the Venice Commission until now because all the amendments we have made did not run counter to the decisions of the Venice Commission, and the Constitutional Court rulings clearly stipulate that our amendments do not contradict the decisions of the Venice Commission,” Iordache explained.
He added that through the amendments to the laws of justice, all premises are set in place for a real independence of the judiciary.
“In our addresses, me and my colleagues have made it very clear that since the most important amendments to all three laws have come from either the Supreme Council of Magistrates or from the professional associations, we don’t want in any case Parliament and the judiciary to be at war. At the same time, these amendments that came from the professional associations, are aimed at the real independence of justice and at preventing the interference of politics. It is precisely these amendments that make sure that there is no political interference and that create all the prerequisites for a real independence of the judiciary,” Iordache concluded.
Barna: Timmermans pointed an important thing concerning the rhetoric these days – that both he and the EC are very well informed about the situation in Romania
Save Romania Union (USR) President Dan Barna stated on Thursday, at the end of the meeting with EC First Vice President Frans Timmermans, that the MCV has no final deadline, supporting Timmermans’s point of view, according to which “the Venice Commission, GRECO or the European Commission mustn’t be seen as the Inquisition, as Iordache and the PSD are trying to convey.” Barna claims that Timmermans said that both he and the EC are very well informed in what concerns Romania’s situation.
“The messages are very clear and in line with what the USR has been saying for several weeks. The MCV has no deadline and this is an important thing. Timmermans has expressed very suggestively the idea that it is a desideratum, something we intended to try, lifting the CVM at the end of 2019, but it’s not a deadline for anyone. He conveyed a very political and polite message, trying to say that there is the need for more cooperation, more dialogue between the Government of Romania and European institutions, stating very suggestively that the Venice Commission, GRECO or the European Commission should not be seen as the Inquisition, as Iordache and the PSD are trying to convey, but are in fact institutions with specialists that really want to help out the states. From this standpoint, the recommendation was obviously a transparent one, that of consulting these institutions,” Dan Barna stated.
Likewise, Barna states that the EC First Vice President said that “pressure on the judiciary is not exerted solely through legislative amendment, which is a problem he is very concerned about, but also through the media’s constant pressure on the judiciary,” and gave as an example the public scandal regarding the DNA.
The USR leader explained that Timmermans’s perception that there is a conflict between Parliament and the judicial system is in fact “pure reality.”
“The perception Timmermans was talking about, that there is a conflict in Romania, (…) that from Europe one can see in Romania a conflict between Parliament and the judicial system, between the citizens who are in the street and the Government. It’s not just a perception, it’s pure reality and everything that has happened these months, since the end of last year and the start of this year, confirms this,” Dan Barna added.
He said Frans Timmermans pointed out that both he and the European Commission are very well informed in what concerns the situation in Romania.
“Timmermans also pointed out an important thing regarding the rhetoric of these days – that both he, personally, and the European Commission are very well informed. He even pointed out that, in general, they are very well informed in what concerns the situation in Romania. (…) He said that, in general, he is very well informed, and he said very suggestively that the perception is that ‘you’re in a marathon, you’re on the last stretch and you’ve stopped and somehow you start running back.’ From this standpoint, it’s very clear the CVM stays, we have no immediate outlook for its lifting, from any standpoint,” Dan Barna concluded.