Anti-corruption legislation came into force in Romania in 2014, and since then there have been multiple amendments made by the Romanian Government. Concerns over the rule of law in the country have been a concern for the EU for some time; now it’s feared that new proposed changes to the policies could compromise efforts the anti-corruption laws. The latest proposals only shortly follow news the Romanian government have implemented a controversial reform of its justice system, which has been heavily criticised.
MP’s from Romania’s ruling party, the Social-Democratic Party (PSD), have proposed changes to the legislation that will decriminalise cases of abuse when the damage amounts to less than €200,000. There are also plans to possibly lower sentences for corruption charges, as well as to decriminalise abuse of power to obtain sexual favours. The draft bill also includes the possibility for some individuals to serve their prison sentence at home.
Under the new legislation, those suspected of corruption would need to be informed by prosecutors before investigations begin, and would be allowed to be present for the hearing. There are also suggestions that there would be an independent body of political appointees who would have the power to shut down investigations if they believe they are incorrect or illegal.
The PSD claims that new bill was part of its fight against a “deep state” within institutions in Romania. However, critics have argued that the party’s leader Liviu Dragnea is only looking to implement these laws for his own personal gain, following corruption charges last year which prevented him from becoming Prime Minister. Laura Codruta Kovesi, the head of the National Anti-corruption Directorate (DNA) commented that “These amendments basically don’t let us investigate corruption offences, we will never get our cases to court.”
Other EU states have openly expressed their concerns over the proposed reforms. In a statement from the embassies of Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Netherlands, and Sweden called for “all the parties involved in the justice reform project to avoid any action that may weaken the judiciary’s independence and the fight against corruption.” They have also requested that the government should consult the Venice Commission and the rule of law body of the Council of Europe.
The head of the Council of Europe, Thorbjorn Jagland, wrote to Romanian president Klaus Iohannis urging them to take the matter to the Venice Commission, in order to “provide clarity on the compatibility of these texts with fundamental rule of law standards.” Iohannis has not confirmed whether the bill will be signed, but has warned of the “obvious risk” of the EU invoking article 7 against Romania “if the current proposals become law” He then insisted that “these attempts to control the judicial system don’t make it better, but make it worse.”
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