The European Commission has issued the strongest ever warning to a member state of the European Union that it is putting in doubt the rule of law and democratic values.
The college of European commissioners approved yesterday (18 July) a report on Romania's fight against corruption and the reform of justice that had been hastily updated to take account of Prime Minister Victor Ponta's recent bid to unseat President Traian Basescu, which has thrown Romania into its worst political crisis since shaking off Communist rule two decades ago.
The stark language of the Commission's report makes clear that Romania's relations with the European Union are at their lowest ebb since its admission to the Union in 2007.
The Commission said that it was “extremely concerned” by manipulations and pressure on political institutions and the judiciary and it instructed Ponta to repeal emergency decrees adopted earlier this month.
José Manuel Barroso, the president of the Commission, said: “The European Union is based on the principle of respect for the rule of law and democratic values. Events in Romania have shaken our trust.”
“Party political strife cannot justify overriding core democratic principles,” Barroso added. “Politicians must not try to intimidate judges ahead of decisions or attack judges when they take decisions they do not like. The competences of a constitutional court cannot be changed overnight.”
The irreversibility of reform in Romania had been put in doubt, the Commission's report said. “The current controversies pose a serious threat to the progress achieved so far and raise serious questions as to the future of the reforms already launched,” it said.
The Commission's verdict was backed even by Ponta's fellow Socialists in the European Parliament. Hannes Swoboda, the leader of the Socialists andDemocrats group, said the Commission's report offered Romania “a blueprint for reform and a historic chance to establish a viable and independent judiciary”. The Liberals in the European Parliament, which are allied with the junior party in Ponta's coalition, also welcomed the report.
Joseph Daul, the leader of the group of the centre-right European People's Party, called on the Commission to “intervene immediately if the situation does not improve rapidly”. In response to the crisis, the Commission said that it would make another report on Romania's progress by the end of the year.
Ponta had been summoned to Brussels last week to receive a list of demands from Barroso. On the eve of the Commission's meeting, he pledged to meet all those demands. The Commission's most pressing concern was over the rules that will apply to a referendum on Basescu's removal, scheduled for 29 July. Ponta's government, through emergency decrees, had curbed the powers of the constitutional court, whose certification of the vote is required, and lowered the threshold for the referendum to be valid.
Crin Antonescu, Romania's interim president, a political ally of Ponta's, agreed earlier this week to revoke the two emergency decrees. The lower house of Romania's parliament, which has a centre-left majority, followed suit yesterday morning (18 July); the upper house, the Senate, was expected to vote on the repeal of the emergency legislation as European Voice went to press.
Barroso welcomed Ponta's promises. “Romania has stepped back from the edge,” he said, “but we cannot yet say that we have reached the end of the process. These commitments now need to be effectively observed and implemented.”