Romania has made little progress in adopting measures to prevent corruption among lawmakers, judges and prosecutors and to address concerns about its controversial reform of the judiciary, draws attention the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption body GRECO, in two reports released on Tuesday, expressing deep concern, especially as regards the fact that the Romanian authorities completely ignored the recommendation to renounce the creation of the Section for investigating crimes in Justice.
Therefore, GRECO appeals to the Romanian authorities to take decisive steps to achieve tangible progress as quickly as possible, a press release from the Council of Europe shows. In this context, GRECO welcomes the announcement made by Premier Viorica Dancila on 4 June on the intention to abandon the controversial reforms in the Justice field.
In a report assessing progress in implementing the measures recommended in 2015 to prevent corruption among lawmakers, judges and prosecutors, GRECO states that Romania has fully respected only four of the 13 recommendations. The Romanian authorities partially implemented three recommendations and did not implement six.
In addition, the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) has expressed concern about judicial system reforms, particularly about Bucharest’s refusal to dissolve the Special Section for the Investigation of Magistrates.
The reports are published simultaneously in Romanian and English on the Web pages of the Minister of Justice (ww.just.ro) and GRECO (www.coe.int/greco).
Birchall: When you are in a club you need to observe rules
Minister of Justice Ana Birchall on Tuesday stated, while referring to the recommendations of the GRECO reports in Romania, that “one needs to observe the rules when joining a club.”
When asked by the journalists if the recommendations of the GRECO reports should become mandatory, Birchall said: “You know that when, as a general rule, you are in a club, to say so, you need to observe the rules. But for the recommendations in the GRECO report allow me to give you my opinion after they are published.”
“Each institution must conduct its own analysis, take adequate action”
Justice Minister Ana Birchall also said on Tuesday that each institution mentioned in the GRECO reports needs to proceed to an analysis of the recommendations made and take the necessary action.
“As far as the recommendations are concerned (…) we, at the Ministry of Justice will conduct our own analysis, just as each institution mentioned in the GRECO report must perform its own analysis, draw the conclusions and take the measures they deem necessary. When we have completed this analysis, by consulting all those who have a say in the proper functioning of justice, I will certainly come before you, showing the same transparency. Each recommendation will be analyzed individually,” Birchall said in a brief statement at the Justice Ministry.
Tariceanu: Same experts had nothing to say on secret protocols
Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) experts have had nothing to comment on recent revelations, including secret protocols or court files on order, Chairman of the Romanian Senate and national leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE) Calin Popescu-Tariceanu said on Tuesday.
“The GRECO Report on Romania was published on http://www.just.ro/ or, more precisely, the opinion of foreign experts on justice in Romania was published. The same experts who had nothing to say on the revelations of late (see secret protocols, court files on order, unsubstantiated sentencing, illegal prosecutorial bodies, etc.),” Tariceanu wrote in a Facebook post.
The recommendations in the GRECO report should be analyzed both by the Ministry of Justice and the Supreme Council of Magistrates
Chairman of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE) Calin Popescu-Tariceanu considers that both the Ministry of Justice and the Superior Council of Magistrates should proceed to an analysis of the recommendations made in the GRECO report, for an “appropriate response” to be prepared.
“I was reading a few days ago that France too is subject to a GRECO report. I was recently in France and I didn’t notice any public debate, the subject is of minor concern. I wouldn’t say this should be necessarily of minor interest in Romania too, but each judicial system has its specifics and France will probably not give up on certain elements that pertain to the tradition of the French judiciary just for the sake of strictly complying with the recommendations in the GRECO report. I believe that in Romania too, the recommendations in the GRECO report should be analyzed both by the Ministry of Justice and the Supreme Council of Magistrates, followed by an appropriate response and a discussion with those who prepare the report because, as you know, this process of integrating and analyzing the recommendations isn’t done at a snap of fingers, it requires a discussion on certain subjects listed in the report and on others that are not entered in this document,” Tariceanu said on Tuesday after the meetings of ALDE’s Standing Executive Bureau and Central Political Bureau.
He argued that the GRECO report does not approach the existence of secret protocols, which he considers to be a subject of major concern in any democratic country, with a strengthened judiciary.
“There is no mention of the broad-scale phone tappings, there is no mention about the existence of a magistrates investigation section that worked within the National Anti-corruption Directorate, and many such things which I think should be the subject of this discussion with the authors of the report,” said Tariceanu.
He also remarked that the GRECO report does not state that the Section for the investigation of offences in the judiciary (SIIJ) should be dismantled, but expresses concerns that this section might have a certain political approach.
Tariceanu further said that so far SIIJ has proved to be “completely cut off from politics” and should stay like that.
He emphasized that the fundamental element that needs to be taken into consideration is ensuring the independence of the magistrates and said he would further advocate this as the “core point” of the discussion on the reform of the judiciary.
Tariceanu didn’t venture to say what elements of the GRECO report will be taken into account by the ruling coalition, stating only that an analysis will be conducted together with the judiciary, and that the Senate and Lower House Law Committees too will look at the report and put down a set of proposals based on the respective analysis.
PNL demands dissolution of Special Section following GRECO report
National Liberal Party (PNL) leader Ludovic Orban is asking the Dancila Government to commit to supporting the dissolution of the Special Section, following the publication of the GRECO report, and the Superior Council of the Magistracy to abandon the procedure to appoint the new head of the Special Section.
“International experts confirm, once more, in the same approach as the one shown by the Venice Commission and the European Commission, that the decisions taken by PSD and ALDE had no other purpose than to compromise the fight against corruption, the independence of the judiciary and the functioning of the rule of law. This proves the fairness of the National Liberal Party’s arguments in parliamentary debates and of all actions subsequently undertaken, as well as the validity of the accusations levelled by the PNL as regards the anti-European agenda of the ruling parties,” reads the PNL press release remitted to MEDIAFAX.
“Compared to the present situation, we recall that the National Liberal Party has tabled a bill on the dissolution of the Special Section for the Investigation of Magistrates, a bill tacitly adopted by the House and currently being debated in the Senate. (…) We ask the Romanian Government to take, before European institutions, the commitment to back this bill on the dissolution of the Special Section and to effectively support the full and complete implementation of the recommendations made by the European Commission, Venice Commission and GRECO. Our country’s objective must be to obtain the lifting of the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism, and this is possible only through the fulfilment of the standards included in European Commission reports,” reads the press release.
The PNL leader also asks the representatives of the Superior Council of the Magistracy to abandon the procedure to appoint the new head of the Special Section.
USR’s Barna: Bucharest authorities receive grade 2 from GRECO
The authorities in Bucharest have just received grade 2 from GRECO, Save Romania Union (USR) leader Dan Barna stated on Tuesday, a context in which he again called on the Social Democratic Party (PSD), the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE) and the Hungarian Democratic Union of Romania (UDMR) to accept the disbanding of the Special Section for Magistrates’ Investigation.
“The authorities in Bucharest have just received grade 2 from GRECO after Romania has implemented only one recommendation from the five formulated by GRECO experts in last year’s ad-hoc report. Following the publication of the GRECO report – under public pressure, not because the current Government would care about transparency – the entire Romania could see once again what the European experts think about the so-called reform of the judiciary made by the PSD and the ALDE, which was aimed only at blocking the fight against corruption and destroying the system as a whole. The special section set up by Liviu Dragnea [former PSD leader, ed.n.] to intimidate and blackmail magistrates is described as an anomaly of the system and it has to be urgently disbanded,” wrote Dan Barna on Facebook.
He reminded that USR tabled a new bill two weeks ago for the disbanding of the Special Section, after the previously submitted draft law was rejected by Parliament, through the vote of the majority in power, in March.
“We are again calling on the PSD, the ALDE and the UDMR to accept the disbanding of theSpecial Section for Magistrates’ Investigation,” added Dan Barna.
George Dirca (USR): Dissolution of SIIJ must take place as soon as possible
Senator George Edward Dirca (USR) has written on Facebook that, as a result of GRECO’s response to DNA’s notification regarding Government Emergency Ordinance no.7, the Section for the Investigation of Criminal Offences in the Judiciary (SIIJ) must be dissolved because its role is in the interest of the PSD, not of the judicial system.
“We demanded the publication of the two GRECO reports and, after a delay of a few weeks, the Government has decided to present them in both Romanian and English. However, the publication of these documents is not an objective in itself, and the reason we asked that the GRECO documents be made accessible to anyone was precisely the removal of any doubts or questions regarding the recommendations made. GRECO’s response to the National Anticorruption Directorate’s notification regarding GEO no.7 and, more precisely, the setting up of the Section for the Investigation of Criminal Offences in the Judiciary confirms the Save Romania Union’s point of view: the Special Section must be dissolved because its role was in the interest of the Social Democratic Party, not of the judicial system,” the Senator wrote on Facebook on Tuesday.
He also pointed out that, by publishing the GRECO report, the Justice Ministry recognises the mandatory character of the recommendations made by the Group of States against Corruption.
“The USR has nevertheless tabled a bill on the dissolution of the SIIJ; however, by publishing these two reports today, the Justice Ministry admits the mandatory character of the GRECO recommendations and, regardless of the pressure exerted by the PSD, it must implement them. Thus, unless the Dancila Government plans to withdraw Romania from the Group of States against Corruption, then the dissolution of the Section for the Investigation of Criminal Offences in the Judiciary must take place as soon as possible, and Justice Minister Ana Birchall must offer guarantees in this regard and announce the timetable of the implementation of the recommendations included in the reports,” Dirca wrote.
National Integrity Agency: The two recommendations that concern ANI’s sphere of competence, raised from ‘implemented partially’ to ‘implemented satisfactorily’
The National Integrity Agency (ANI) notes, following the publication of the GRECO report, that the two recommendations that concern ANI’s sphere of competence have been lifted from “implemented partially” to “implemented satisfactorily.”
“The two recommendations that concern the National Integrity Agency’s sphere of competence have been lifted from the ‘implemented partially’ to the ‘implemented satisfactorily’ status, according to the interim compliance report authored by GRECO and published today by the international body,” ANI points out.
Thus, in what concerns Recommendation V, the GRECO report points out that ANI “continues following up the implementation of its finalised cases pending before Parliament and keeps requesting enforcement of any sanctions issued in respect of MPs.”
According to GRECO, the evaluation of the stage of implementation has also considered the “LINC” project implemented by ANI in partnership with Transparency International Romania, whose general purpose consists of increasing the capacity of the central public administration and Parliament to identify, censure and prevent cases of conflict of interest, incompatibilities and unjustified assets and supporting the implementation of measures contained in the National Anticorruption Strategy.
As a follow-up to GRECO’s recommendations, the expected results of this project also include clarifying Parliament’s role regarding conflicts of interest and incompatibilities. The final analysis is expected to be disseminated in 2019 and should serve as the basis for a public policy proposal regarding the integrity framework and regulations applicable to MPs.
In what concerns Recommendation VII, “GRECO notes with satisfaction the increasing number of files processed through the PREVENT system, which has become possible due to a rising amount of data collected electronically.” At the same time, the European Union’s anti-corruption body “notes the efforts by the ANI to improve the monitoring of declarations of assets and disclosures of interest in a more proactive way, without being prompted on possible violations by other actors.”
On the other hand, GRECO experts express their concern about the fact that a high percentage of persons who are obliged to declare their assets and interests continue to submit declarations in a handwritten format, and “this factor remains a major obstacle to efficient processing of data emanating from asset declarations and interest disclosures.”
Cristina Tarcea, after release of GRECO reports: Will we witness resignations or decent withdrawals from public
Top court President Cristina Tarcea stated on Tuesday, after the publication of the two GRECO reports, that the people who do not respect or cannot understand the European values do not get to pretend to be reformers and “should at least keep silent.”
In a statement for AGERPRES, Cristina Tarcea says that the two GRECO reports published on Tuesday express the same concerns and worries regarding the laws of Justice that were also reflected in the notifications that the High Court of Cassation and Justice submitted with the Constitutional Court.
“I must point out that the follow-up Report on the ad-hoc Report regarding Romania voices the same concerns and worries as regards the laws of Justice, which were also reflected in the notifications that the High Court of Cassation and Justice submitted with the Constitutional Court in the verification process of the constitutionality of the amendments proposed by Parliament and endorsed by a part of the Superior Council of Magistrates. I am referring here to: the lack of transparency and dialogue, the risk of resignations in the magistracy and of arbitrary promotions, the Section for investigating crimes in Justice (SIIJ), the weakening of the justices’ and magistrates’ independence. I remember that throughout the entire legislative process, and also later on, despite all the arguments, it was obsessively stated in the public space that no change in the laws of Justice is likely to affect the independence of magistrates,” Tarcea specifies .
The head of the Supreme Court states that through its published report, GRECO states in unequivocal terms that it is seriously concerned about the consequences of non-compliance with the recommendations regarding the SIIJ on the independence of the judiciary, and insists that this unit of prosecution be disbanded.
She also says that Romania’s Justice is part of the grand family of European Justice, and those who do not respect or cannot understand European values “do not get to pretend to be reformers” and “should at least keep silent.”
“GRECO also notes that the amendments to the laws of Justice and the Constitutional Court’s decisions pose a potential threat to the independence of magistrates, and that the way in which the magistrates’ liability is regulated represents a risk of pressure on judges and prosecutors. I cannot but ask myself now, after the release of the report, whether those who have unconditionally proposed and supported legislative changes that violate the independence of the judiciary will accept the responsibility for the outcome of their actions. Will we witness resignations or at least decent withdrawals from the public space? Romania’s Justice is part of the grand family of European Justice, and those who do not respect or cannot understand European values do not get to pretend to be reformers. They should at least keep silent!” affirms Tarcea.
CoE spokesperson replies to Tariceanu’s statement, says GRECO mentions classified protocols in its report on Romania
The Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) mentions the classified protocols concluded between the General Prosecutor’s Office and the Romanian Intelligence Service in the compliance report on Romania released on Tuesday, a CoE spokesperson told AGERPRES on Tuesday, in response to a statement by Chairman of the Romanian Senate Calin Popescu-Tariceanu who wrote on Facebook that GRECO experts “had nothing to say about revelations of the last years,” mentioning secret protocols or court cases built on order.
In the compliance report assessing progress in implementing measures recommended in 2015 to prevent corruption in respect of MPs, judges and prosecutors, released on Tuesday, GRECO is concerned over the continuing political tensions in Romania over the reforms in the justice system, with its potentially detrimental consequences to combating corruption.
In a footnote to this conclusion mentioned by the CoE spokesperson, GRECO notes with regret that the recent publication of classified protocols concluded between the National Prosecutor’s Office and the Romanian Intelligence Service raised questions as to the independence of the prosecution and the admissibility of evidence obtained in numerous anti-corruption cases, thus undermining the credibility of previously highly-praised anti-corruption efforts.
GRECO refers to the Constitutional Court decision No. 26/2019 of 16 January 2019, where it is noted that such practices infringe upon the legal security of citizens and ordered all prosecutors’ offices and courts of the land to verify in all pending trials if criminal procedural rules have been observed and ‘to take appropriate legal measures’.