Romania has taken a number of welcome steps since the European Commission’s 2008 report to re-launch the reform process and a “new momentum” had been established which has resulted in a series of positive steps, the EC said in its July 22 report on the country’s performance under the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism (CVM).
The CVM was imposed in January 2007 when Romania, along with Bulgaria, joined the EU. The mechanism is intended as a monitoring and assistance device to get the countries up to EU standards in justice and home affairs.
“However, Romania is still struggling to overcome the fact that the Criminal and Civil Codes were never fully revised,” the EC said.
“This has led to a series of legislative amendments and numerous emergency ordinances. In this situation it is not surprising that the jurisprudence of the Romanian judiciary is contradictory, generating undue delays which, in turn, are addressed in a legislative patch work of emergency ordinances, implementing rules and practices.”
The ensuing complexity is the result of a politicised process and the broad-based political consensus behind reform and the unequivocal commitment across political parties to ensuring real progress in the interest of the Romanian people was “not yet there,” the EC said. “There is a risk that an ever growing web of legislation, implementing rules and practices resulting from permanent political party in-fighting may cause all concerned to lose sight of the main objective, i.e. to establish an independent, stable judiciary which is able to detect and sanction conflicts of interests, and combat corruption effectively,” according to the Commission.
The Commission’s concerns about political in-fighting are unlikely to be eased by the immediate reactions to the report from the two parties in the ruling coalition.
Roberta Anastase, the Liberal-Democrat speaker of the lower house of parliament, said that the report was a vote of confidence in the cabinet of prime minister Emil Boc, despite the criticism. “The criticism in the report has to be assumed by the entire political class. We are a full member of the EU and together with the EU we must solve the problems, rather than deny them,” Anastase said, as quoted by broadcaster Realitatea TV.
Mircea Geoana, the leader of Social-Democrat party, which is also in government, took the opposite view. “Unfortunately, the progress in the judiciary was not enough. The report is essentially a failure,” he told Romanian news agency NewsIn. Geoana and his party have criticised the choice of their coalition partner for justice minister, Catalin Predoiu, with local media speculating that the Social-Democrats would like to take over the portfolio.
Commenting on the report, the chairperson of Romania’s supreme judicial council Virgil Andreies said, as quoted by NewsIn, that for all the efforts of his institution, the high court of cassation and justice and the prosecution, the “incoherent and unstable” legislation made it difficult to enforce uniform rulings. “The legislative thicket is a real risk to an efficient, credible and independent judiciary,” he said.
The Commission recommended that a “thorough assessment” of the impact of four codes on the functioning of the judicial system and organisation of the courts and prosecutors’ offices be carried out, and to quantify the budgetary means needed to implement them, as well as adopting an implementing law that will render the legislative framework coherent.
On reform of the judiciary, the EC said that Romania should implement a “flexible, priority driven” approach to human resourcing, in the short term by taking emergency measures such as transferring vacant posts to where they are needed most (including transfers between different court levels).
There should be transfers of administrative tasks to auxiliary staff, introducing court managers, and in the medium and long term, development of a personnel scheme tailored to the needs of the judicial system by carrying out simulations and forecasts with regard to appointments, transfers of staff, secondments and retirements.
The Commission said that Romania should strengthen the transparency and accountability of the Superior Judiciary Council, including through the Council assuming its responsibility for a more proactive approach to recruitments, promotions, disciplinary measures, transfers of staff and secondments, and by publishing the Council’s reasoned decisions in a clear and accessible format.
As to steps against high-level corruption, the EC said that Romania should ensure that the procedure for allowing criminal investigations of MPs who are former and current members of the government “is applied in a uniform and swift manner by the Romanian parliament”.
Romania should also monitor the efficiency of the judiciary system in trials of high level corruption cases, ensure the stability of the legal framework for the fight against high level corruption including in the context of the new codes, and adopt a law removing the suspension of trials when exceptions of unconstitutionality are raised.
As to local-level corruption, the EC recommended that the country improve the co-ordination of the National Anticorruption Strategy in order to allow better identification of vulnerable spots and risk areas so as to develop “prioritised mitigation strategies” at all levels.
Romania should continue the implementation of local strategies developed by the prosecution, adapted to local needs and increase their effectiveness, and step up preventive measures against corruption in vulnerable sectors in coordination with local and central bodies.
“The Commission calls on Romania to move on with its reform process and to implement the recommendations it has made,” the EC said.
The EC said that it would “support and monitor” progress on this basis next year, inviting other EU member states to continue assisting Romania and help delivering progress.
“The Commission will continue to support Romania’s efforts through political and technical dialogue and the provision of appropriate expertise, where necessary,” the EC said, adding that it would reassess further progress in summer 2010.