Despite a recent Commission report on Romania’s progress in judicial reform and the fight against corruption its government decided a week later to adopt an emergency decree to decriminalize corruption offences under a certain threshold (about $ 47 000). The decree would have benefited high-ranking politicians in the governing social democratic party.
Following the surprising decree, adopted on Tuesday night last week (31 January), Commission President Juncker and first vice president Timmermans issued a joint statement saying that “The fight against corruption needs to be advanced, not undone. We are following the latest developments in Romania with great concern.”
The statement warned against backtracking and measures that would undermine the irreversibility of the progress achieved until now in the fight against corruption.
Hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets in Romania last week and denounced the government as “thieves”. In a statement on Sunday (5 January) the government announced that it would cancel the decree.
What happened in Romania shows that the Commission loses leverage on a country once it joins EU. When Romania and Bulgaria became EU member states in 2007, following the enlargement of EU in 2004 with 10 more members, warnings were heard that they were not yet ready.
To keep the two countries on the right track in completing judicial reforms and fighting corruption a so-called Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) was established. Two benchmarks which Romania needs to meet relate to investigations of high-level corruption and prevention of corruption on all levels.
After publishing the latest monitoring reports the Commission announced that its intention was to phase out and abolish the CVM towards the end of its present mandate period. There is still time do to it but the latest events in Romania demonstrate that the CVM is still needed.
According to the Commission, Romania has overall made major progress towards the CVM benchmarks since 2007. But apparently it was wrong in believing that there exist “a number of internal safeguards” – besides demonstrations in the streets – against abrupt reversals of the progress.
A special issue in the Commission’s report which is linked to the prosecution of corruption is the immunity of members of parliament and former ministers. This issue has apparently not been solved although 10 years have passed since Romania became a member state.
The criteria for lifting immunity remain unclear and are not communicated to the public or the prosecution.The Commission is recommending that objective criteria should adopted for deciding on and motivating lifting of immunity.
Transparency International and Transparency International Romania stated yesterday (6 February) that the Romanian government must reconfirm that it will not introduce laws that would grant immunity to public officials but rather commit to strengthening its efforts to prevent corruption.
“The world is watching. Hundreds of thousands of Romanians are protesting. Transparency International is watching. The government must not weaken its fight against corruption. No new laws should try to introduce anti-corruption loopholes,” the statement said.
The Brussels Times