The European Commission, which has been monitoring the reform of the judicial system and the fight against corruption in Romania for the last ten years, has decided to maintain the CVM while acknowledging in its report the major progress made by Bucharest
The EC report published on January 25 says the political factor in particular must make efforts to ensure an efficient legal system and recommends the implementation of a robust and independent system for the appointment of top-level prosecutors and clear provisions with regard to the creation of a code of ethics for parliamentarians and the mutual respect between institutions, while also noting that parliamentarians must respect the independence of the legal system.
What would that report look like if issued now? This is an appropriate question considering that now, less than a week since the document was made public, the new Grindeanu government adopted a controversial emergency ordinance amending the Criminal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code, in spite of massive street protests, attended by tens of thousands of people. The new emergency ordinance stipulates the decriminalisation of the abuse of office if the damage caused falls below 200,000 lei. It also decriminalises the offence of aiding the offender. The ordinance stipulates that the offence of aiding the offender is also decriminalised if the act is made by a family member, up to a second-degree kin. The Grindeanu government has also drafted a pardon bill, which will be sent to Parliament, in an emergency procedure, says the justice minister. Florin Iordache says the decisions have been made due to overcrowding in prisons, denounced by the European Court of Human Rights and in an effort to harmonise the legislation with some rulings issued by the Constitutional Court.
The pardon and amnesty do not apply to rapists, to those accused of corruption and violent acts as well as to repeat offenders. In an interview on Radio Romania, the Expert Forum chair, Laura Stefan, has warned, shortly after the MCV report was published, that the measures, only circulated at that time, would become extremely dangerous if adopted. And that’s exactly what happened.
Laura Stefan: “We can see a re-evaluation of Romania’s progress in the past 10 years. If you release all the offenders who have been sent to jail in the past 10 years, it’s only natural that the positive evaluations in this respect turn into negative ones. Besides the criticism attracted by this type of enactment, I believe the worst thing is that the European Commission has seen that Romania’s old bad habits, such as the overnight adoption of extremely dangerous laws with a heavy impact on the anti-corruption policies are still a political instrument these days. Actually, the members of the European Commission have already seen this modus operandi in Romania, on what we call the Black Tuesday, or on other occasions when politicians tried to bring overnight amendments to criminal legislation. This is why the European Commission insists on taking mature political actions and we can be confident that Romania becomes a mature country, only after politicians in this country prove they can act accordingly. Unfortunately, we see this problem persists in 2017 as well.”
But how much can civil society, every Romanian citizen, contribute to the progress of the judicial system? Laura Stefan: ”I believe Romania will become a mature country and the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism will be eliminated only when civil society and the political class learn the ropes of how to talk to each other. Unfortunately, these days the political class does not seem to have an appetite for discussion. I believe this is a mistake and I think that if we approach such a sensitive issue as overcrowding in prisons, there is a real need for this country’s minds to work together to find a solution to the problem. This is necessary because the problem is not easy to solve, it is a multi-faceted issue that can’t be solved overnight. It’s not going to be solved overnight, not even through these emergency ordinances whose collateral effect is sadly undoing any progress that has been made in the fight against corruption in our country. I believe we all should address such issues more wisely”.
Opposition parties, civil society and the magistrates’ associations think the aforementioned amendments have been made to benefit influential people in the political class and the administration. Romania’s President Klaus Iohannis has described the day the emergency ordinance was passed as a mourning day for the rule of law in Romania, deeming the situation as unacceptable.