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MEPs urge Romania to respect judicial independence and keep fighting corruption


MEPs called on the Romanian government to reverse course in the reform of the judiciary and avoid measures that would weaken the fight against corruption.

Plenary held a discussion on Wednesday with European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, the Austrian Presidency of the Council and the Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dancila on the situation of rule of law in the country. MEPs will vote on a resolution on the matter during the November I plenary session, EP informs on the website..

Frans TIMMERMANS, First Vice-President of the EC in charge of Better Regulation, Inter-Institutional Relations, the Rule of Law and the Charter of Fundamental Rights:

We last discussed the state of the rule of law in Romania in February and today today's a useful opportunity to take stock of the developments which have taken place in the months since. I'll try and be as concise as I can. We're all aware that the initiatives taken by the Romanian authorities since 2017 as concerns the reform of the justice laws, the criminal procedure and criminal codes and the processes regarding the judiciary have led to concerns from a wide range of stakeholders both inside and outside of Romania and the EU.

Many Romanians are worried that the proposed changes to these laws may undermine the long standing efforts in the fight against corruption and the independence of the judiciary. These are concerns the commission very much shares. As guardian of the treaties which comes with the application of EU law and the respect of the EU fundamental values, the commission intervenes on the basis of accurate and thorough legal analysis. It focuses on concrete national measures and it engages in a dialogue with the authorities and in these matters the commission is politically colorblind and clinical in our approach.

That is the case for Romania just as much as any other member state. So with your permission I will set out the main developments in Romania. First the justice laws, the three justice laws dating back to 2004 define the status of magistrates and organise the judicial system and the Superior Council of Magistracy. At the end of last year the laws were amended by the Romanian parliament. These amendments have been challenged several times before the Constitutional Court. These laws have attracted criticism from institutions inside Romania and from outside.

The Council of Europe anti-corruption watchdog Greco adopted a very critical report in March the Venice Commission's preliminary opinion issued in July was equally critical with serious concerns about the independence of the judiciary, its efficiency, and its quality. It made a series of recommendations. The final opinions is expected to be adopted later this month. I know this house will play pay as close attention to that opinion as we will at the commission but unfortunately the fact is that the Romanian Parliament so far so far has not shown signs of responding to the opinions and recommendations.

The Council of Europe anti-corruption watchdog Greco adopted a very critical report in March the Venice Commission's preliminary opinion issued in July was equally critical with serious concerns about the independence of the judiciary, its efficiency, and its quality. It made a series of recommendations. The final opinions is expected to be adopted later this month. I know this house will play pay as close attention to that opinion as we will at the commission but unfortunately the fact is that the Romanian Parliament so far so far has not shown signs of responding to the opinions and recommendations.

I Call on the Romanian authorities to conduct full and impartial investigations of this issue. Romanians deserve a law enforcement order with all authorities properly supervised and full judicial independence. The reform to the judicial laws and criminal codes are interlinked and it must be avoided that they have a negative impact on the independence of the judiciary and their effectiveness to combat corruption. That is why the commission has discussed this issue regularly with the Romanian government at the highest level and has made its concerns public. We have examined the text passed by the Romanian Parliament to fully assess their impact. We are seeking further clarification on how specific elements of these laws should be interpreted.

Thirdly as concerns the procedure to dismiss the chief anti-corruption prosecutor and evaluation of the general prosecutor I would like to recall that the track record of the anti-corruption prosecution the so-called DNA was a central reason for the more positive assessment of Romania that the commission made back in our cooperation and verification mechanism report in January 2017. Moreover.

Moreover robust and independent procedures for dismissal and appointment of top prosecutors have always been a key element in our recommendations. The commission has also recommended that the Romanian authorities seek the help of the Venice Commission in this matter. This remains one of the outstanding recommendations under the cooperation and verification mechanism.

Honourable members. We are following the latest developments in Romania with concern the independence of Romania's judicial system and its capacity to fight corruption effectively are essential cornerstones of a strong Romania in the European Union. We have seen substantial progress in the past but things are now moving backwards in a way that would be damaging for the place that Romania has built as an EU member state in recent years the commission has repeatedly called on the Romanian authorities to rethink their course of action and to build a broad consensus on the way forward.

]I want to reiterate that call today I would stress once again that the commission is always ready to cooperate with and support the Romanian authorities in this process. I trust this dialogue will continue and we will be meticulous and precise in all the elements in the proposals that we would like to discuss with the Romanian authorities. The latest developments are a source of growing concern for the commission if adopted without changes. The combined effect of the amended justice laws and the criminal codes would affect the capacity of the justice system including the prosecution service to effectively fight against corruption and other crimes. This means backtracking from the situation that led the commission to make a positive assessment in our report of January 2017. We Will report on the same situation in our next Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) report next month. You can see what our CVM progress report stated in January 2017 and what it did in the last report in November 2017.

The situation has deteriorated. Rest assured all developments will be thoroughly assessed and reflected in our upcoming report. President Juncker and I issued a joint statement already in January this year setting out our concerns on the direction of travel. We stated clearly at that point that the irreversibility of the progress achieved so far under the CVM is an essential precondition to phase out the mechanism. Without that we cannot phase out the mechanism. So while we will continue pursuing our objective objective of a sustainably positive situation in a dialogue with the Romanian authorities I wish also to be clear today. The commission will draw the appropriate conclusions if the amendments to the Justice Law Criminal codes and laws and conflict of interest and corruption are promulgated without taking account of the concerns.

Concretely this means following up our recommendations from January 2017 CVM report the recommendations expressed by the Venice Commission and by Greco as a gardener of the treaties we will not hesitate to take action where necessary to ensure compatibility with the treaties. Indeed the commission will use all the means at its disposal be it under CVM or otherwise the commission urges Romania to put the reform process back on track immediately. This means going forwards not backwards and obtaining from any and abstaining from any steps which reversed the progress accomplished over the past year.

I honestly think there is still an opportunity to turn things around the laws are not yet promulgated and therefore it is not yet too late for the Romanian institutions to act to turn the situation around. As always we stand ready to help but the responsibility and the power to deliver change lies firmly with the Romanian institutions and I call again on them to take the right steps. Now thank you very much.

Viorica DANCILA, Romanian Prime Minister:

Mr President, Mr. Vice President of the commission distinguished members of the European Parliament on behalf of Romania I would like to thank you for having invited me here and I am not here in order to give a count. I am here because I respect you but I request the same respect for the Romanian nation whom I represent here. Let me start with the essential question. For whom are we trying to build a functional justice system in Romania for the CVM, for the European institutions, for the magistrates, for the politicians? Of course not.

We must have fair justice for the sake of the citizens because they are the beneficiaries of the measures taken either in the European Parliament or in the national parliaments. And the discussion should start from the citizens. The justice system should offer guarantees that the citizens rights and the laws are respected and whoever breaks the laws shall be punished. It is quite honest to put the question how did this CVM defend Romanian citizens from losing their rights.

A lot has been said in those reports about institutions, about the procedure to appoint magistrates, about the fight against corruption. This is all very well but I never saw in those report any mention of human rights being trampled of secret protocols signed between the intelligence services and the judicial institutions. Based on those protocols secret protocols Millions of Romanians have been tapped by the Secret Services on behalf of the fight against corruption. There are court decisions that show how evidence was forged how the transcripts of phone taps have been altered in order to create false guilty people or how witnesses were blackmailed into giving false testimony. None of those were mentioned in the CVM reports. This means that this mechanism has missed the goal for which it was created and I officially request to be told who wrote this CVM report, who provided the data and who omitted out of negligence or out of any will omitted to mention these facts which I mentioned then which are unacceptable in the European Union.

If we want to be honest we should start from these serious cases of abuse that have happened on the territory of the European Union. The Venice committee said that in the Venice Commission said that in the Soviet system the attorney's office was a means to control the judicial power. In the past four years over 3,000 magistrates have been prosecuted by the DNA by the anti-corruption section. Basically half of the magistrates of Romania have had criminal files hanging over their heads which were used in order to influence those judges to give rulings that were decided outside of the courts of law. And it's not just me who is saying that listen to the magistrates associations of Romania because they say the same thing. Through these forged cases were used in order to remove a judge from the Constitutional Court to remove a vice president of the Supreme Council of Magistracy for judges from the High Court of Cassation several judges from higher courts.

One general prosecutor and one head of senior attorneys office. In the end all these people were acquitted or their files were dismissed. However they had lost their job. The new laws on justice give back independence to the justices. There will be no politician making decisions about the appointment or the dismissal of judges. Independence is total. It's not at all restricted and I assure you that we have all the good faith and we will take into account the recommendation of the Venice Commission. However there is a good part of this day. I have a chance here today to inform you all about the cases of abuse that have been perpetrated in Romania from now on. Nobody will be able to ignore those situations. Nobody will be able to talk about the situation of the justice system in Romania without talking about these cases of abuse unless of course it's all just a political game about the justice system. But ask yourselves why were these things kept from you. Why didn't they tell you anything about these cases if they were also legal and legitimate. Ask yourselves these questions before throwing the stone to Romania. As far as the 10th of August protest meeting I will only say a few words.

The Romanian police are accused of being violent against protesters who were violent in their turn and who are trying to invade the government building. I haven't seen the same attitude towards what happened last week in Brussels or to what happened in France in Spain and other countries where the riot police have intervened in the same way with the same means and following the same procedures as the Romanian riot police did this autumn. I cannot accept that the Romanian riot police should be accused of using procedures that are being used everywhere in Europe. In conclusion let me ask you one thing. Do not deny Romania things that are permitted to other member states of the Union and do not allow that in Romania should happen things should happen that are unacceptable in other member states. We want to be partners but we want to be equal partners. No one never will be able to turn Romania back from its European. Thank you.

The leader of ALDE group in the European Parliament, Guy Verhofstadt, has told the plenary sitting of the EP that is debating the situation of rule of law in Romania, that the weakening of the prosecutors is in the Orban-Kaczy?ski style.

Romania has two problems, corruption and intelligence service, Verhofstadt said, adding that Romania must counter the old intelligence mentality.

ALDE leader stated that PM Dancila had an inappropriate reaction to this situation and advised Romania not to take the wrong path and follow Hungary’s and Poland’s way, but to follow the Venice Commission’s recommendations, for „the anti-corruption fight must be strengthened”.

In his turn, Josef Weidenholzer, vice-president of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, voiced concern about the reports they are getting about Romania. „We are not against the country. We also expect Romania’s President to tell us more things. We want to collaborate in order to draft the resolution in the LIBE Committee,” he pointed out.

Esteban González Pons, from the European People’s Party Group had a harsh stance against PM Dancila in the EP plenary session: „Mrs. Prime Minister, who don’t you listen to your people? To what is swarming behind your Government? What are you hiding? Listen to the people’s voice for all it wants is transparency. You can listen to the European Commission, the Romanian Parliament, the people or you can ignore all democratic forms. We have no other options. You must understand that,” Pons said.

Romanian MEP, slammed the leaders of the Romanian ruling coalition in her speech, arguing the mass media is threatened and people are leaving Romania, while the judiciary is the first enemy of PSD-ALDE coalition. „Dragnea and Tariceanu are attacking Europe now, for their lie has been discovered. Romania is not a group of corrupt politicians, Romania is a place of people, and many have left the country, but they want back home. The press is threatened by a man who has been criminally convicted. Dragnea decided to bury the mass media. The justice is the first enemy of PSD-ALDE, they have amended the justice laws to get rid of charges. PSD and ALDE are just taking advantage of the protocols. Romanians are protesting. They are not inert. Romania is a people that is alive and will always fight back to defend its democracy,” Macovei stated.

Another Romanian MEP, Laurentiu Rebega, who ran on the PSD lists for the EP elections in 2014 and who later on joined former PM Victor Ponta’s camp, also criticised PSD chair Liviu Dragnea in his speech. “There are decisions taken by Dragnea to solve his personal problems. I will not agree that Romanians should be punished for what politicians are doing in their country and the Romanian must not be sanctioned for not endorsing the strings pulled by Dragnea. I invite my Social Democrat fellows to take attitude and to sanction the guilty politicians, and not the Romanians and the entire country,” Rebega stated.

In retort, ALDE MEP Norica Nicolai, has accused her MEP fellows that they had not made an assessment on the corruption in all EU member states, saying they have a double meaning language.

As a pro-European people, we are very constructive. Mr. Timmermans, one doesn’t need any permit to protest in Europe. This is the standard you are imposing in Bucharest (…) The double standard is becoming a reality within this debate. This does not bring more unity to Europe, it’s a lack of cohesion and objectivity. I would like to ask why haven’t we had an assessment on the corruption in all EU member states? Or, do you like only those three countries?” Nicolai stated.

A cross talk took place between Krzysztof Hetman, member of the EPP group and Romanian Social Democrat MEP Dan Nica, after Hetman said it is concerning that the Romanian Government is fighting the ones who fight corruption. Nica replied that it is just a fake news campaign.

I noticed that Social Democrat Group is defending the extremists… Are you not concerned that you have a Government that is fighting those who fight corruption?“, Krzysztof Hetman asked.

This is part of a fake new campaign. Did anyone tell you that all those sent to court in the past 5 years had been acquitted? Did anyone tell you that there are over 200 acquittals? Justice for one means Justice for all,” Nica retorted.

A resolution will be put to a vote in the November I session (12-15 November). The EP already discussed the rule of law in Romania last February, following massive street protests after the Romanian Parliament approved an overhaul of how the judicial system is organised and changes to rules about conflicts of interest. The Constitutional Court is currently reviewing additional changes to the criminal code and the criminal procedure code.

Ahead of the discussion in plenary, Frans Timmermans, first Vice-President of the European Commission, met on Monday with Civil Liberties MEPs to discuss the situation in the country.

EP sources say that, during the second week of October, President Klaus Iohannis will deliver a speech in the EP plenary in Strasbourg, focused on the future of European Union. Reportedly, this is the reason for postponing a resolution on Romania until November.