On Wednesday, the European Commission warned Romania to get back on the right track with the judicial reform process and abstain from taking any measures that would represent regress in the rule of law.
“Likewise, I have informed the college of commissioners about the developments in Romania. Romania must urgently return to a fair reform process. This means steps forward, not backward, and refraining from any measure that could lead to the regress of all things accomplished in recent years,” EC First Vice President Frans Timmermans stated at a press conference in Brussels, following the weekly meeting of the college of commissioners.
“I warn the Romanian Government not to take any action that affects the judiciary and creates impunity for high-level officials who have been convicted for corruption. I have had several talks and meetings with Prime Minister Dancila in the last two months, regarding this topic, we have resumed the technical talks on the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM), and I have demanded results as urgent as possible. We have clearly told them that discussing for the sake of discussing is not enough, that we need concrete actions on the part of Romania, and that these must be seen as soon as possible. The technical talks cover all topics – the CVM recommendations, the emergency ordinances, the transposing of the PIF directive, the transposing of the directive on the rights of victims, of the directive on the presumption of innocence, on the freezing and confiscation of assets, on the special section for investigating magistrates, so judges and prosecutors,” the EC representative said.
According to Timmermans, the dialogue between Romania and the Commission, a “constructive” dialogue, has so far not allowed the EC to conclude that “Romania is once again on the right track.” “If these problems aren’t solved, then the Commission will have to do something concretely, with the means it has at its disposal,” the EC official underscored.
Answering a question regarding the timing and type of the concrete measures to be taken by the European Commission in case Romania disregards its concerns, against the backdrop of European Parliament elections, Frans Timmermans said: “I didn’t say by chance that we are talking about an issue of great urgency, because, if I’m well informed, decisions could be taken very, very soon, decisions in line with what I was saying earlier, which would lead to a risk of impunity, that would create impunity or would change the judicial system so that it would backtrack in the fight against corruption, instead of moving forward, and I can tell you that the Commission would then react immediately, in a matter of days, in order to make sure our position is very clearly understood. So, the time is not lost. If there is a reason for us to react immediately, we would do so in a matter of days,” the EC First Vice President explained.
Lately, the European Commission has repeatedly stated that it follows with concern the latest developments regarding the rule of law in Romania. According to the European Commission, both the content and the procedure of the latest changes in the rule of law area, brought about via the use of emergency ordinances, without consultations with the judiciary and with those directly interested, seem to be in direct contradiction with the CVM recommendations.
PM announces she will talk with Frans Timmermans after the warning addressed to the Government
Prime Minister Viorica Dancila announced on Wednesday that she will talk with the First Vice-President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, declaring herself surprised by his statements by which he warned the Romanian Government not to take any measure that might affect the judiciary.
“Since we’re talking about the EU, the European institutions, I was surprised today by the statements of the First Vice-President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, considering that there was and still is a total opening regarding the steps to be made. We formed a group of experts, both the European Commission and we have worked at the level of experts. Each time, we mentioned we will consult each other and there will be transparency.
For this reason, Timmermans’ statement of today caused uncertainties and I didn’t understand its sense, since it is not folded on the existing realities. I will talk with the First Vice-President of the European Commission on these issues. I know there was a discussion at the College of Commissioners and I hope the Romanian Commissioner supported Romania this time”, Viorica Dancila stated at the beginning of the Government’s meeting.
“ No factor, even the President of the EP, can ask for a criminal investigation to be started or stopped”
Dancila also criticized on Wednesday the statements of the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, mentioning that no factor, even the President of the EP, can ask for a criminal investigation to be started or stopped.
“I was equally surprised by the statements of the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani. I believe no factor or political decision-maker, even the President of the European Parliament, can ask for a criminal investigation to be started or stopped. We are asked not to interfere the act of justice. It seems a fair thing to me, but the European officials are asking us to stop criminal investigations. I tell them clearly that the Romanian Prime Minister did not interfere and will never interfere in the act of justice”.
PM’s reaction comes after the EP President Antonio Tajani made on Wednesday a statement to support Laura Codruta Kovesi, saying that he will send a letter to the Romanian authorities in which he will ask them not to hinder her participation in all the phases of the selection procedure for the position of the European Chief-Prosecutor.
The second round of negotiations between the European Parliament and the EU Council for appointing the European Chief-Prosecutor took place on March 27; Laura Codruta Kovesi is also running for this position, but it hasn’t ended yet with a conclusion.
Two more rounds of negotiations will take place between the EP representatives and the Council, on April 4 and 10.
JusMin Toader replies to Timmermans: No one can ask for an investigation to be started or stopped. This interference is not allowed
Justice Minister Tudorel Toader stated, as a reply to the statements of the First Vice-President of the EC, Frans Timmermans, that no one, regardless of the internal or external nature, can ask for a criminal investigation to be started or stopped, mentioning that such an interference is not allowed.
“In Romania, CSM is the guarantor of the independence of justice towards both internal and external factors. I express my belief that CSM fulfils this constitutional obligation. Neither the political factor nor other factors, regardless of their internal or external nature, cannot ask for a criminal investigation to be started or stopped, and they cannot ask for a certain manner of solving the investigation in question. In the CVM recommendations, there is a principle stated according to which this interference is not allowed in the act of justice, but I personally express my belief that the recommendation is equally valid for its issuers. The Romanian Government observes this principle, it hasn’t interfered and will not interfere with the criminal prosecution activity, and it hasn’t interfered and will not interfere with the activity of the courts”, Tudorel Toader stated in a press conference held at the Justice Ministry.
“I have recently noticed, as you did, that there are European officials who express their concerns, and the concerns are expressed in a preventive manner but with a high electoral potential. As the Minister of Justice, I formulate a simple and respectful request which I repeated many times at the national level, namely let’s know, let’s respect our competences, even if they are shared, and let’s respect our dignity and national specificity”, Toader added.
Toader on CVM: At the European level, similar appointments are political
The Justice Minister suggested a double standard regarding the procedure for appointing high rank prosecutors, mentioning that the CVM Report establishes for Romania that the political factor must not interfere in this procedure, while at the European level, similar appointments are eminently political.
Tudorel Toader reminded that there is a selection process at the Justice Ministry for the candidates running for various positions of high rank prosecutors, and mentioned that under this procedure, there are criteria stated in the law, transparent criteria.
“We appreciate that it’s necessary to observe the existing procedures, and equally at the European level, namely summarizing in a more accessible formula, rules must not be changed during one of another legal procedure. The CVM Report also provides that the political factor must not interfere in the process of appointing the high rank prosecutors. In Romania, we know very well, the transparent procedure which you will have the opportunity to see tomorrow in a different phase, provides that the selection interview is held at the Justice Ministry, the Justice Ministry makes a grounded proposal and forwards it to the CSM Department for Prosecutors, the Department for Prosecutors organizes an interview, it issues a consultative opinion, and the President of the Republic issues an appointment decree. We receive these recommendations, while at the European level similar appointments are eminently political”, Tudorel Toader stated at the Justice Ministry.
The Minister also said that last days he attended the last round of technical discussions at the headquarter of the European Commission, with experts of the Justice Ministry, experts of the European Commission, but he mentioned he wasn’t there to ask for any approval for a normative act.
“We didn’t go there to ask for approval, we didn’t go there to ask for a positive opinion on the draft normative acts, since the law-making circuit and process doesn’t include the preliminary step of obtaining a positive opinion from the Commission. We went there to have a dialogue (…) I am talking about the Directive on the extended confiscation, the Directive on the protection of the victims of crimes, the Directive on strengthening the presumption of innocence, normative acts which will be transposed at the level of the national laws in a short time. Otherwise, the issues related to the opportuneness or one regulation or another are under the exclusive jurisdiction of the ordinary or delegate legislator, and the constitutional issues are not issues of appreciation, they are obligations coming from the Constitution, transposed by the considerations of the admission decisions by the Constitutional Court”, Toader also stated.
Other reactions to the warnings on the rule of law
USR welcomes EC’s decision to discuss, in a first, the rule of law situation in Romania
The Save Romania Union (USR) welcomes the European Commission’s decision to discuss, in a first, the rule of law situation in Romania, especially against the backdrop in which, according to some public discussions, the Government intends to adopt on Wednesday an emergency ordinance amending the Penal Codes.
“If they issue an emergency ordinance, the PSD-ALDE Government will blow up the rule of law in Romania. The consequence of that could be the activation of Article 7 of the EU Treaty, the so-called “nuclear option,” as well as the suspension of European grants. We warn Viorica Dancila not to sign the GEO that helps Dragnea avoid jail. She will remain in history as the Premier who endorsed Romania’s removal from the EU! The Social-Democrats’ sole preoccupation is getting rid of their criminal dossiers, they do not care about Romania. But Romanians can stop them on May 26,” USR President Dan Barna has stated.
USR underscores, in a communique, that the amendments to the Penal Codes, thought-out by Tudorel Toader, would sabotage the judiciary. On the one hand by introducing the possibility to revise final court sentences issued in corruption dossiers and, on the other hand, by decriminalising some offences and lowering some statutes of limitations.
The proposed amendments ignore the recommendations of the Venice Commission, of the European Commission and of GRECO, the requests of our European and international partners, according to which the transposition of Constitutional Court decisions into criminal legislation must be made without giving up on the fight against corruption and while respecting the independence of the Romanian judicial system, on the basis of a thorough and efficient consultation with the parties involved. Just like the magistrate members of the CSM, the USR demands that any amendment to the Penal Codes be brought transparently and passed through Parliament, the communique adds.
USR’s Barna: Mister Timmermans is actually asking this Government to stop fanning these scarecrow ordinances
USR Chairman Dan Barna stated on Wednesday, after the statement of the First Vice-President Frans Timmermans on the rule of law in Romania, that this is the harshest reaction of the European Commission in the last two years, showing that “this hopping cannot continue anymore”. “Mister Timmermans is actually asking this Government to stop fanning these scarecrow ordinances”, Barna said.
“It is the harshest reaction of the European Commission in the last two years. It shows that this hopping cannot continue anymore. The idea that Brussels and Romania are looking terrified to the Government’s meeting every week, being concerned on a possible appearance of those ordinances regarding the amnesty and pardon, this situation cannot continue anymore. The European Commission’s position as very clear and it was expressed unequivocally and explicitly this time, the First Vice-President Timmermans saying very clear, and telling Bucharest that if ordinances that whiten certain public servants of the state will be issued, the European Commission will react, which fact was constantly stated by USR, namely PSD and Liviu Dragnea are pulling us out from Europe”, the USR leader stated on Wednesday, being asked about Frans Timmermans’ statement on the rule of law in Romania.
Barna said that this is “a very clear, a very explicit message”.
“I hope this Government still has the slightest responsibility in a corner, somewhere, regarding Romania’s status of a Member State of the European Union. (…) Mister Timmermans is actually asking this Government to stop fanning these scarecrow ordinances”, Barna also said, adding that “the reform in justice must be made properly”.
Senate’s Tariceanu: European officials’ statements fall under the campaign for elections to the EP
Senate President Calin Popescu-Tariceanu stated on Wednesday evening, when referring to the statements of some European officials on the justice issue, that they fall under the electoral campaign for the elections to the European Parliament and they cannot provide any concrete evidence regarding what the government has done wrong.
“The European officials are not in the position, are not able, in this regard, to provide a single concrete element, on what the government did wrong. They are talking about some intentions to approve some ordinances which would have certain consequences. I haven’t seen the draft ordinance, I don’t know if they are able to define the government’s intentions. Now, I very well know that this is not about granting impunity for anybody. But it is a serious situation, which was debated with the CCR [the Constitutional Court of Romania] that established that those five-judge panels that ruled different sentences in Romania were illegally established. (…) The second thing I want to point out about these statements is that they all fall under the electoral campaign for the elections to the European Parliament. Therefore, our colleagues of the EP [the European Parliament] found a topic to brag about in front of their own audience, look how vigilant we are and how we take action regarding the independence of justice in Romania,” Calin Popescu-Tariceanu told Romania TV private television station.
In his view, the double standard is enforced when European officials express their concern regarding Romania’s justice and the messages are addressed in view of influencing the decisions in justice.
“I am concerned, too, that justice in Romania work independently. Meantime, the government doesn’t intervene in the functioning of justice in Romania, Parliament doesn’t intervene in the functioning of justice in Romania, but, instead, I see that we receive from the EC [the European Commission] or from the EP various messages and words which violate or we are told: you intervene in justice so that the judiciary control measures imposed on Mrs Kovesi be lifted. It is obviously a double standard that I do not even understand, but which probably has an explanation in (…) near the elections to the EP. Discussions are carried out in a double standard, depending on the interests. It seems that Mrs Kovesi is preferred by some of the MEPs who want to impose us this choice, too,” Tariceanu stated.
The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE) Chairman argued that he cares less who will be appointed European prosecutor, but he believes to be “an offense” that this office be held by a Romanian prosecutor who has been sanctioned two times.
Tariceanu believes that the “excesses” which occurred in Romania’s justice over the past years were made with the endorsement of the European Commission through the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism (CVM).
“One of the matters which I start to believe is that all the abuses taking place in Romania, all the excesses which happened in the justice over the past years, they were made, at least with the knowledge of the EC, through the CVM and their endorsement. And this thing is very serious. (…) I believe that the EC, through the CVM has either not realized or closed its eyes to this serious component of corruption that was the corruption of power when the state was basically seized. The state institutions were confiscated by a small group of people, including Mrs Kovesi,” Tariceanu said.
Secretary General of the Government, Toni Grebla, about Timmermans’ statements: One more proof of the double standard
The Secretary General of the Government, Toni Grebla, stated on Wednesday for MEDIAFAX that Frans Timmermans’ statements are “one more proof of the double standard applied by the European bodies” and asked the Superior Council of Magistracy (CSM) to react.
“This is one more proof of the double standard applied by the European bodies and an urge addressed to the Bucharest authorities to violate the Constitution and the laws of the country. In my opinion, the first institution that should react to such a statement is the Superior Council of Magistracy, which is the guarantor of the independence of Justice; it should tell the Brussels authorities that no administrative authority in Romania cannot interfere in a case that is subject to an ongoing investigation or trial”, Toni Grebla stated.
Cristian Preda: During the EPP group’s meeting this morning, Manfred Weber reminded that the entire European Parliament backs Kovesi
MEP Cristian Preda points out that, during the EPP group’s meeting this morning, Manfred Weber reminded that the entire European Parliament backs Laura Codruta Kovesi for Chief European Prosecutor.
“During the EPP group’s meeting this morning, Manfred Weber reminded that the entire EP backs LCK for Chief European Prosecutor. The leader of the EPP faction added that all Romanians should be proud of their fellow national,” Preda posted on his Facebook account.
Norica Nicolae’s message for Guy Verhofstadt and Manfred Weber: Enough! I’m fed up with your double standards!
MEP Norica Nicolae (ALDE) had a strong message for ALDE group leader Guy Verhofstadt and EPP group leader Manfred Weber, following their reactions to Laura Codruta Kovesi being placed under judicial control.
“I have a message for Guy Verhofstadt and Manfred Weber, politicians whom I thought I knew, who take the liberty to give orders to the Romanian judicial system and to demand the suspension of laws in our country only so that they would tick the political project of placing Laura Codruta Kovesi at the helm of the EPPO,” Norica Nicolai posted on Facebook.
“Enough! I’m fed up with your double standards, I’m fed up with the fact that you are permanently asking us to have an independent judiciary but you are giving us orders from Brussels so that those serving your interests would be exonerated of responsibility. This explains why some have chosen to leave the EU and others to challenge it. Such hegemonic behaviour that harms the entire European project has no place in a European Union presumed to respect the rule of law and its own citizens. I have clearly understood that you are those who want a different European Union, one that is only yours, the European Union of those who have made a life purpose out of humiliating others. This is not the European Union that we acceded to and that we were promised, that was a Union of respect, of solidarity, of equality between the citizens and the member states,” the ALDE MEP added.
Norica Nicolai expresses her hope that the next European Parliament would no longer find them in positions that would allow them to behave this way toward Europe because they are the ones who “do the greatest disservice to this project.”