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Justice in Romania: Will the country remain under EU control?

Since joining the EU in 2007, Romania has been under increased scrutiny by the European Commission. This is done with the so-called Cooperation and Verification Mechanism. Bulgaria was also subject to this until 2019, until the Commission thought enough was enough. Neighbouring Romania was on the right track, then took an odd turn, but now seems to be back on a better track. This is evident from two recent signals.

European judge: stop putting pressure on magistrates

On 18 May, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Justice handed down ruling ruled in a case submitted by a number of Romanian judges. These judges wanted to know whether the special division of the Romanian prosecution service, created in 2018 specifically for the criminal prosecution of judges and prosecutors, actually complied with EU law.

The European Court formally left the question open and from its own jurisprudence gave some criteria that such an institution would have to meet. From these criteria, it is clear that the current section cannot pass muster. The reason is that it seems to put pressure on judges who dare to express their opinions, that the existence of a special department is disproportionate to the issues, and that the functioning of the department delays a number of important anti-corruption cases.

Romanian courts must now draw the consequences of this ruling. The government has already proposed to abolish the special department again.

New report from the European Commission

Under the said mechanism, the Commission on 8 June issued a new report released. It measures progress on a number of issues agreed with Romania prior to EU accession. These points include the fight against corruption and reorganisation of the judiciary.

The new report is more positive than the 2018/2019 reports (there was no report in 2020). There were elections in December 2020, and the new government seems more intent on reversing unwanted changes. The government is slower with other desired changes, such as reducing the power of its own justice minister. Furthermore, the special anti-corruption unit of the public prosecutor's office is still understaffed and MPs still have too much immunity, which means that they are always prosecuted. Finally, the new anti-corruption strategy is also still pending. The Commission report is cautiously optimistic, but concludes by promising that the rule of law will remain in the picture for Romania even after the mechanism is finalised, through the new, EU-wide rule of law mechanism.

By: Johan Bouman

Photo: Marco Verch Professional Photographer| Original PhotoFlickr