EC: DNA praised, Parliament cried down.
The European Commission on Wednesday issued its latest report on steps taken by Romania on judicial reform and the fight against corruption, in the context of the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM). The report shows continued progress towards the goals of the CVM and indicates where further steps are needed.
“Over the last year Romania and Romanians have shown their willingness to fight corruption and to protect the independence of the judiciary. The mass demonstrations against corruption have shown how these issues matter to Romanian citizens. Over the last year we have seen the professionalism, commitment and good track record of the judiciary and the anti-corruption prosecution and reforms being internalised. I am encouraged to see that Romania continues to make reforms and the positive trend continued in 2015. These efforts must be stepped up in 2016, in particular to prevent corruption and ensure that judges can continue to do their job properly,” First Vice-President Frans Timmermans said.
The report shows that the Romanian judicial system as a whole has continued to demonstrate professionalism, including a capacity to adapt to significant changes in the civil and criminal codes, efforts to unify jurisprudence and a willingness to defend the independence of the judiciary. The track record of the key judicial and integrity institutions in addressing high-level corruption has remained impressive. This continued trend is a sign that Romania is developing sustainability in progressing towards the CVM objectives.
The CVM report praises the activity of the National Anti-corruption Directorate (DNA). The track record of the institutions involved in fighting high-level corruption remains strong, with regular indictments and conclusion of cases concerning senior politicians and civil servants. The National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA) reported an increased number of signals from the public: this seems to reflect a public confidence in the institution which is also reflected in opinion polls.
The report quoted important events of last year related to corruption: the Colectiv fire case that prompted mass protests which led to Ponta Gov’t resignation or the arrest of Bucharest Mayor, Sorin Oprescu.
Public support for action against corruption was recognized to be a strong factor in the demonstrations leading to the Prime Minister’s resignation in November 2015. DNA indicted over 1250 defendants in the course of 2015, and this included the Prime Minister, former Ministers, Members of Parliament, mayors, presidents of county councils, judges, prosecutors and a wide variety of senior officials. It has also increased its interim asset freezing measures relating to these cases, to reach a figure of €452 million.
A particular trend has been the identification of corruption at local level. Since 2013, the total numbers of local officials sent to trial for corruption amount to almost 100 mayors, over 20 county council presidents and dozens of other local officials. The arrest of the Mayor of Bucharest in 2015 was the strongest illustration of this problem.
The tragic fire in Bucharest in October was seen by many as revealing the consequences of local corruption, and the evidence of the problem is widespread, the EC officials note.
Risk areas identified include education, health and local public procurement, involving decisions with direct financial consequences. Cases have included rigging exams, fraud against health insurance, and rigged procurement procedures, sometimes involving large numbers of officials.
At the same time, the fact that several recommendations of the 2015 CVM report remain valid shows that reform does not enjoy the full consensus necessary to assure sustainable progress. Judicial independence and respect for court decisions continue to be challenged. The Criminal Codes reform is put into question in Parliament. and decisions in Parliament on whether to allow the anti-corruption prosecution to treat parliamentarians like other citizens still lack objective criteria. There have been improved steps to tackle general corruption, but not on the scale and with the political will required to address it as a systemic problem.
Judicial reform and the fight against corruption remain important issues for Romanian society, able to inspire large-scale public demonstrations. Further support to the consolidation of reform is needed to ensure the irreversibility of progress. The Commission welcomes the government’s political commitment to pursue reform and fight corruption.
2016 will be a test year in many respects. The extent to which integrity issues prevail in appointments to senior positions in the judiciary and the scrutiny of candidates for forthcoming elections will be key signs of the extent to which reform is taking root. The continuation of a positive trend of reform and track record will also be a signal of sustainability.
The Commission believes that the monitoring process of the CVM, the opportunities provided by EU funds and the constructive engagement of the Commission and many Member States continue to provide valuable support for consolidation of reforms in Romania.
President, PM’s statements
President Klaus Iohannis said the European Commission report confirms Romania’s progress in judiciary reforms and fight against corruption for the third year in a row.
“Romania is on an upward trend of meeting CVM objectives; our country’s commitment to the consolidation of the rule of law and of the judiciary independence is irreversible,” says the Presidential Administration press release.
The Presidency’s office also notes that the President of Romania is further determined in his support to the judiciary and anti-corruption approaches, and he voices his certainty that the progress registered will be consolidated in 2016.
The Government also pointed out that the CVM report is acknowledging the sustainable character of the judicial reform and of the anti-corruption fight, so there are premises the CVM process will end.
The Government notes that the reforms, including the anti-corruption fight, must be carried on for the Romanian society in the first place, beside the benchmarks set through this cooperation and verification mechanism.
In the end, the Romanian Executive pledged to ‘strongly and patently’ achieve the goals encompassed by the report ‘for the benefit of the Romanian society and of the Romanian citizens’.