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News 31 Jan 13

Brussels Doubts Pace of Romanian Judicial Reform

Romanian leader Victor Ponta has downplayed the concerns about judicial independence voiced in a European Commission report, saying most of its points have been addressed.

Romania
Bucharest

Prime Minister Victor Ponta defended Romania's record on judicial reform on Wednesday, saying Brussels had failed to credit its progress.

“Sorry to say this, but some of the problems presented in the latest European Commission report have been already solved," he said. 

"We should have been consulted before the report was made public. Anyway, in the end the document says there is progress in Romania,” he added.

Ponta made the comments after the European Commission presented a report from the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism, an update about Romania’s post-accession progress towards reforming the judiciary and respecting the rule of law.

The report said Romania had implemented several - but not all - the Commission's recommendations. In particular, the Commission said it remained concerned about persistent pressure on judicial institutions and lack of respect for their independence.

“The Commission received numerous reports of intimidation or harassment against individuals working in key judicial and anti-corruption institutions, including personal threats against judges and their families, and media campaigns amounting to harassment,” it said.

The Commission also warned of public campaigns orchestrated by media owners who use their outlets to wage personal wars or who pay lip service to the government to win advantages.

Brussels also highlighted another major setback. A report by the National Integrity Agency, ANI, on ministers and senior officials under criminal investigation, was published in November 2012 but did not lead to any resignations.

The ANI deemed three ministers incompatible with their jobs. None resigned, though following the general elections in December, they were not re-appointed.

Meanwhile two other serving ministers - transport minister Relu Fenechiu and administration minister Liviu Dragnea - are under investigation for corruption.

Parliamentarians who are under similar investigations have also stayed on and are benefiting from a recent law expanding MPs' immunity.

Twenty MPs elected in December to the new parliament have ongoing corruption cases.

"For the credibility of both the government and the parliament, it is important that ministers with integrity issues step down and for the parliament to have clearer rules concerning the immunity of its MPs," the report said.

Ponta did not address those specific issues, but stressed that he had addressed all of the Commission's concerns, and denied there was any lack of transparency in selecting prosecutors.

"All points agreed with the European Commission have been fully fulfilled. The government has been and remains deeply committed to ensuring the independence of the judiciary and strengthening the rule of law," he added.

The 12-page report is a follow-up to a set of recommendations issued last summer to the Romanian government and parliament following a constitutional crisis linked to the Prime Minister's attempt to remove the President from office.

That time, Ponta’s government challenged judicial decisions, undermined the Constitutional Court and overturned established procedures.

In the meantime, the government has eased the Commission's worries but Brussels says it will "monitor progress closely" in Romania ahead of a further report before the end of this year.

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