Europe’s corruption watchdog is urging Romania to abandon moves that critics say will bring its judges under political control.
Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO) has also criticised moves to decriminalise some graft offences and called for more safeguards around government influence over the hiring and firing of prosecutors.
In a report published on Wednesday (April 11) GRECO — the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption body — says it is deeply concerned about Romania’s recent reforms.
It comes after more than a year of regular anti-government demonstrations in Bucharest and other Romanian cities.
Protesters say moves by the ruling Social Democrats (PSD) weaken the country’s fight against corruption.
Romania’s justice overhaul
Senators in Romania approved a controversial overhaul of the justice system in December last year, sparking more protests.
The legislation changes the process of appointing chief prosecutors and sets up a special unit to probe crimes committed by magistrates.
GRECO has called for Romania to abandon the magistrates’ investigation unit and said it has not seen convincing evidence to support its existence.
Its report added: “There are also fears that this section could easily be misused to remove cases handled by the specialised prosecution offices or interfere in sensitive high-profile cases.”
Hiring and firing of prosecutors
Romania’s justice minister, Tudorel Toader, sparked controversy in February when he called for the resignation of Romania’s chief prosecutor, Laura Kovesi.
Kovesi heads up the DNA — the country’s anti-corruption agency — that has been praised for its progress in tackling graft in one of the EU’s most corrupt countries.
But Toader said at a news conference that Kovesi had acted against parliament’s authority and constitutional court rulings.
“Our report also takes note of the controversial process to dismiss the head of the specialised anti-corruption prosecutor’s office (DNA), initiated in February 2018, and it reiterates its call for additional safeguards in relation to appointments and dismissal procedures for senior prosecutors by the executive branch of power,” said GRECO in a press statement.
There are also draft laws being discussed in Romania that critics say could decriminalise some corruption offences, including abuse of office, which is defined as officials not doing their jobs properly and causing damage.
The proposed legislation is similar to an emergency decree issued by the government in January 2017 that sparked huge protests in Bucharest.
GRECO said: “The report criticises a series of draft laws initiated in the Senate on 21 December 2017 which would considerably weaken the incrimination of various corruption-related offences.
“For example bribery and trading in influence would not anymore apply to elected officials and with regard to the abuse of office offence the amendments would completely decriminalise all acts committed in relation to damages up to 200,000 euros.”
What does Romania say?
Euronews asked Romania’s government to comment on the criticism in GRECO’s report but it had not responded at the time of publication.