European Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans has sent a letter to Romanian authorities, warning that a mechanism that is harsher than the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) will be adopted if the amendments to the Criminal Codes come into force.
In his letter to Romanian authorities, Frans Timmermans points out that European Commission representatives were forced to go back, at frequent intervals in recent months, to the issue of rule of law developments in Romania.
“On each of these occasions, the Commission underscored that the cancellation of the progress registered in recent years has continued. The problems we identified, and the recommendations issued to allay these concerns, are not being tackled. (…) Unfortunately, the recent developments in Romania have worsened even more the existing problems concerning the observance of the rule of law. (…) The amendments to the Criminal Code, Criminal Procedure Code and the special law on corruption, adopted by the Romanian Parliament on 24 April 2019, compound these concerns. These provisions risk creating a situation of de facto impunity for crimes, including corruption crimes, while, as emphasised by the Venice Commission, just like all the other states, Romania has the positive obligation to make sure that its criminal system is efficient in the fight against serious crimes,” reads the letter sent by European Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans.
The letter is addressed to President Klaus Iohannis, Senate Speaker Calin Popescu Tariceanu, House Speaker Liviu Dragnea, and Premier Viorica Dancila.
According to the mentioned source, the European Commission will trigger the “Rule of Law Framework,” a process that will replace the CVM for a while, if our country takes further negative steps in the field of the judiciary, such as promulgating the latest amendments to the Criminal Codes.
“In view of these major concerns, and if the necessary improvements are not made shortly, or if further negative steps are taken, such as promulgation of the latest amendments to the criminal codes, the Commission will trigger the Rule of Law Framework without delay. This process – which foresees a dialogue to correct the concerns and avoid triggering Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union – would then for the time being replace the ongoing processes of the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism. The relevant benchmarks and recommendations under the Mechanism would be looked at under the Framework. Romania of course remains bound by its commitments taken at the time of accession and the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism benchmarks remain open until they are fully and satisfactorily met,” reads Timmermans’s letter.
Reproaches levelled by Frans Timmermans
In his letter, Frans Timmermans points out that, despite the efforts made, many concerns were ignored in the adopted documents and remain standing, such as:
– Reducing prescription periods: for crimes subject to a penalty of between 10 to 20 years and of between 5 to 10 years, the period to come to a final conviction would in principle be reduced by two years. This amendment can result in many cases reaching prescription period before the last instance court has the opportunity to judge. This means that many crimes can end unpunished, including crimes which according to EU law should be punishable by effective, proportionate and dissuasive criminal sanctions (such as counterfeiting currency, market abuse or child pornography)
Reducing the punishment for certain offenses in public position, such as abuse of office : The amendment provides that in cases, in which the suspect pays back the material benefit received in context of certain corruption crimes before the judgment, the period for the prison sentence will be reduced by half.
“This will have an impact on the duration of prison sentences in such cases and ultimately on the deterrent effect of the underlying criminal provisions ”, Timmermans says in his letter.
Introducing high threshold for direct intention of certain crimes: The required direct intention “must be evident beyond all doubt”. The introduction of such a strict degree of intent might affect the fight against serious crimes and can lead to impunity.
Changing rules for reporting bribery crimes : the adopted rules would limit possibilities to provide evidence of bribery crimes, as well as would have a dissuasive effect for inciting reporting by someone involved in a bribery if after 1 year lapse a reduction of punishment is no longer available.
“The impact of these changes would be aggravated further by any legislation to allow extraordinary appeals in cases affected by the Constitutional Court ruling on panels of the High Court of Cassation and Justice, which in itself amounts to an interference in the independence of the judiciary and could affect the effective protection of the financial interests of the EU,” warns the letter of the EC’s First Vice-President.
European Commission after Timmermans warns Romania: We won’t hesitate to rapidly trigger EU law infringement procedures
European Commission Spokesperson Margaritis Schinas confirmed on Monday the letter that First Vice President Frans Timmermans has sent to Romanian leaders and stated that European officials will not hesitate to rapidly trigger procedures on the infringement of EU law, where necessary.
“First Vice President Timmermans has sent a letter to the Romanian President, the Speakers of the House and Senate, and the Prime Minister, presenting the issues of interest for the European Commission in what regards the rule of law in Romania. The main preoccupations concern the developments that interfere with the independence of the judiciary and the actual fight against corruption, including the protection of the EU’s financial interests, and particularly the recently adopted amendments to the Criminal Code, which risk creating a situation of de facto impunity for crimes. The potential legislation that would allow extraordinary appeals would worsen the rule of law situation. In case the necessary improvements are not made shortly, or if supplementary negative measures are adopted, such as the promulgation of the most recent amendments to the Criminal Codes, the Commission will trigger the Rule of Law Framework, without delay, and will suspend the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism,” European Commission Spokesperson Margaritis Schinas stated.
He added that, likewise, the Commission “reserves its prerogatives as guardian of the treaties and will not hesitate to rapidly trigger EU law infringement procedures, where necessary.”
“The objective of the Commission remains to help Romanian authorities find solutions to the rule of law problems. The Commission is prepared to enter an active and constructive dialogue with Romanian authorities and to work together for a stronger Romania in the European Union,” Margaritis Schinas added.
PNL’s Orban: There is a major risk for Romania that the procedure provided by Article 7 of the Treaty, namely the suspension of the right to vote, will be activated. Any vote for the PSD or ALDE candidates is a vote that harms Romania
National Liberal Party (PNL) Chairman Ludovic Orban stated on Monday that Frans Timmermans’ letter clearly shows “where PSD has brought Romania”, and if “the systematic aggression against the independence of justice” will continue, there is a major risk for Romania that the procedure provided by Article 7 of the Treaty, namely the suspension of the right to vote within the Council, will be activated. “Any vote for the PSD or ALDE candidates is a vote that harms Romania”, Orban says.
“Frans Timmermans shows where PSD has brought Romania, sounding a clear alarm bell in case that Dragnea’s PSD and Tariceanu’s PSD will continue the systematic aggression against the independence of justice, by amending the Criminal Code, the Criminal Procedure Code, the Laws on Justice in order to help criminals, to decriminalize deeds considered crimes. There is a major risk for Romania that the procedure provided by Article 7 of the Treaty, namely the suspension of Romania’s right to vote within the Council of the European Union, will be actually activated”, Ludovic Orban stated on Monday.
According to him, the attacks against justice “marginalize Romania, and they even question Romania’s membership to the European Union”.
“Any vote for the PSD or ALDE candidates is a vote that harms Romania, because today, both PSD and ALDE are marginalized parties, these parties are not accepted at European level, they are parties that harm Romania. (…) Although Frans Timmermans is Socialist, he sounds a clear alarm bell to every Romanian citizen, right during the electoral campaign, according to which if they wish Romanian to have benefits, if they wish Romania to maintain its position at European level, PSD must receive no votes”, Orban added.
PSD’s Dragnea on letter from Timmermans: None of the articles in bill adopted by Parliament are unconstitutional
Speaker of the Deputies’ Chamber Liviu Dragnea has stated that none of the articles recently adopted by Parliament in the justice laws violates “such principles or existing articles of the Criminal Codes” in the EU states.
When he was asked on Monday evening in an interview with Antena 3 television station about the letter sent by Frans Timmermans regarding the rule of law in Romania, Dragnea stated: “We received it at the Deputies’ Chamber today and I asked my colleagues to look, Mr Iordache and the other colleagues in the Legal Committee. And I was right with what I said a few days ago that the main topic approached by Iohannis with his masters was to release something again soon against Romania, to help him in the electoral campaign.”
While mention was made that Timmermans belongs to the PES (Party of European Socialists), the political family of PSD (Social Democratic Party), the Social Democratic leader said: “When did Frans Timmermas ever help PSD? Let’s be serious.”
“None of the articles in the law adopted by Parliament is unconstitutional, there is no coma that is different from the principles of the respective countries [EU states – editor’s note],” he added.
Dragnea also said “everything that Iohannis does not like (regarding the justice laws – editor’s note) becomes inopportune,” when asked if Timmermans found some of the articles in the law on justice modified by the majority in the Bucharest Parliament is inopportune.
“Everything that I saw Iohannis screaming about I also saw coming from Brussels. Not once, not twice, but numerous times. This is the main problem. None of the articles, I repeat this, in the law adopted by Parliament violate the principles or articles existing in the criminal codes of the respective countries, perfect rule of law. And I saw no reaction in The Netherlands, the home of Mr Timmermans, related to the billions of dollars coming from Russia to be washed in the Dutch banks. What did the prosecutors do there in the end? They made a deal with the banks. How is the rule of law observed? I mean, the billions from Russia being washed in their banks don’t matter there,” said Dragnea.