The European Commission has warned Romania not to backtrack on fighting corruption after its government issued a decree decriminalising some offences.
The EU executive body’s President Jean-Claude Juncker and Vice-President Frans Timmermans reminded Bucharest in a statement: “The fight against corruption needs to be advanced, not undone. We are following the latest developments in Romania with great concern.”
The European Commission is already monitoring Romania’s justice system – and has hinted that could continue rather than be phased out.
Juncker and Timmermans said its report had acknowledged progress made by prosecutors and judges in Romania in tackling corruption, but warned against “steps which undermine this process” or “have the effect of weakening or shrinking the scope of corruption as an offence”.
The matter also came up in a briefing in Brussels on Wednesday.
“We see this is a great matter and that we think that the backtracking on the fight against corruption is not a good thing to do and it sends a very wrong signal,” said Maros Sefcovic, the European Commission’s Vice-President in charge of energy.
The decree was unveiled by the leftist Social Democrat-led government of Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu after it took power in Romania earlier this month.
The country’s top judicial watchdog has announced it will challenge the decree in the courts.
Two opposition parties, the Liberals (PNL) and the Save Romania Union (USR) said they would file a no-confidence motion on Wednesday against the government, which has a comfortable majority in parliament.
The country’s president has taken a stand against his own government: “The problem is that one cannot act the way the government has done in a country with the rule of law, which Romania is and wants to remain,” Klaus Iohannis said.
If enforced, the decree would decriminalise abuse-of-power offences where the sum involved is less than 200,000 lei (44,000 euros).
Dozens of lawmakers and mayors across all parties stand to benefit.
It could get politicians out of jail and stop existing cases in their tracks, including the trial of the ruling Social Democrat party leader Liviu Dragnea, accused of using his political influence to secure state salaries for two people working at his party headquarters between 2006 and 2013.
Grindeanu and Dragnea failed to turn up for scheduled events on Wednesday, according to Romania-Insider.com.
There have been more demonstrations in Bucharest against the government. On Tuesday an estimated 12-15,000 people protested outside government headquarters, tens of thousands more turning out in cities across the country.
More and more people gathered again in the capital throughout the day on Wednesday to demonstrate.