The evolution of the judicial reform, anti-corruption fight in the first months of 2019 “was a source of great concern”, the EC underlines.
The European Commission adopted today its latest report on developments in Romania on judicial reform and the fight against corruption, in the context of its commitments under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM), reviewing the period since November 2018 until now.
EC reminds that its last report on Romania has had to raise a number of times rule of law-related concerns with the Romanian authorities in relation to developments on judicial reforms and the fight against corruption.
“On each of these occasions, the Commission has confirmed backtracking from the progress made in previous years and this evolution is a source of great concerns.
The Commission regrets that Romania did not engage with the additional recommendations made in November 2018, which were fully in line with the positions of the other institutions. These recommendations need to be followed if the reform process is to be put back on track and the path towards the conclusion of the CVM, as set out in the January 2017 report, resumed. The Commission is confident that Romania could give a new momentum to fulfilling the objectives of the CVM, and stands ready to help the Romanian authorities to this end. The Commission will continue to follow developments closely through the CVM.”
As for this year, the CVM report underlines that the evolution of the judicial progress and anti-corruption fight in the first months of 2019 was a source of great concern for the Commission. “As a result, the Commission had to inform the Romanian authorities in May 2019 that if the necessary improvements were not made, or if further negative steps were taken, the Commission would take steps under the rule of law framework, beyond the parameters of the CVM.”
However, the Commission welcomed the fact that in June the Romanian government expressed a wish to reset the approach. It notes that an effort has been made to invest in new consultation and dialogue with the judiciary. The Commission looks forward to the translation of this commitment into concrete legislation and other measures. Progress will require concrete steps – both legislative and administrative – to address the recommendations summarised in this report. The key institutions of Romania need to collectively demonstrate a strong commitment to judicial independence and the fight against corruption, and to ensure the effectiveness of national safeguards and checks and balances.
In the November 2018 Report, the European Commission concluded that developments in Romania had called into question the irreversibility of progress. As a result, the 12 recommendations set out in the January 2017 report were no longer sufficient to close the CVM and eight additional recommendations had to be made.
Both the European Parliament and the Council endorsed this view. The European Parliament issued a resolution calling for cooperation and citing the risk to the rule of law. The Council Conclusions of December 2018 specifically called on Romania to implement the additional recommendations.
Praises for Bulgaria
On the other side, the report on Bulgaria shows progress made over the past year to meet the final 17 recommendations issued by the Commission in its January 2017 report, with the EC “positively noting that Bulgaria has worked consistently on the implementation of these recommendations.”
“The Commission considers that the progress made by Bulgaria under the CVM is sufficient to meet Bulgaria’s commitments made at the time of its accession to the EU. Bulgaria will need to continue working consistently on translating the commitments reflected in this report into concrete legislation and on continued implementation. Bulgaria will need to monitor the continued implementation of the reform with a newly-established post-monitoring council, and that will feed into the future dialogue with the Commission in the framework of the comprehensive rule of law mechanism. Both the internal post-monitoring and the EU-wide mechanism should support sustainability and irreversibility of reforms, even after an end of the CVM for Bulgaria. Before taking a final decision, the Commission will also take duly into account the observations of the Council, as well as of the European Parliament.”
Asked how long will the CVM last for Romania and Bulgaria, the Commission’s reply was:
“The CVM will end when all of the six benchmarks applying to Bulgaria and all of the four benchmarks applying to Romania are satisfactorily met. The speed of the process will depend on how quickly Bulgaria and Romania will be able to fulfil these recommendations in an irreversible way, and on avoiding negative steps which call into question the progress made so far. In line with today’s report the Commission is confident that if the current positive trend is continued then Bulgaria will be able to fulfil all the remaining recommendations and therefore expects the CVM process to be concluded before the end of this Commission’s mandate. When it comes to Romania, the Commission is recommending immediate additional measures that are essential to put the reform process back on track and resume the path towards the conclusion of CVM as set out in January 2017 and therefore the Commission will continue to follow closely and will assess the situation before the end of this Commission’s mandate.”
CVM benchmarks for Romania
- Benchmark 1: Ensure a more transparent and efficient judicial process notably by enhancing the capacity and accountability of the Superior Council of Magistracy. Report and monitor the impact of the new civil and penal procedures codes.
- Benchmark 2: Establish, as foreseen, an integrity agency with responsibilities for verifying assets, incompatibilities and potential conflicts of interest, and for issuing mandatory decisions on the basis of which dissuasive sanctions can be taken.
- Benchmark 3: Building on progress already made, continue to conduct professional, non-partisan investigations into allegations of high-level corruption.
- Benchmark 4: Take further measures to prevent and fight against corruption, in particular within local government.
The Commissions argues that Romania must demonstrate a strong commitment to judicial independence and the fight against corruption as indispensable cornerstones, and restore the capacity of national checks and balances to act when there is a risk of a backwards step.
More precisely, the EC asked Romania one more time to “suspend immediately the implementation of the Justice laws and subsequent Emergency Ordinances and to revise the Justice laws taking fully into account the recommendations under the CVM and issued by the Venice Commission and the Council of Europe’s Group of States Against Corruption GRECO.”
Other must do
- Suspend immediately all ongoing appointments and dismissal procedures for senior prosecutors.
- Relaunch a process to appoint a Chief prosecutor of the DNA with proven experience in the prosecution of corruption crimes and with a clear mandate for the DNA to continue to conduct professional, independent and non-partisan investigations of corruption.
- The Superior Council of Magistracy to appoint immediately an interim team for the management of the Judicial Inspection and within three months to appoint through a competition a new management team in the Inspection.
- Respect negative opinions from the Superior Council on appointments or dismissals of prosecutors at managerial posts, until such time as a new legislative framework is in place in accordance with recommendation 1 from January 2017.
Romanian JusMin Birchall admits CVM report is critical
Romanian Justice Minister Ana Birchall has admitted in a press statement that the CVM report on Romania is critical, saying hat only two recommendations have been fulfilled out of the 12 included in the January 2017 Report.
“Certainly, we would have liked a better report. I took note of the assessment of the European Commission regarding the stage of fulfillment of the 12 recommendations in the January 2017 Report and the 8 additional recommendations in November 2018. It finds that only two recommendations have been fulfilled of the ones made in 2017, the one regarding the activity of the National Agency for the Management of Seized Assets – ANABI, an institution under the Justice Ministry, and the one regarding the implementation of the PREVENT system by the ANI [the National integrity Agency]. It is noted that further progress has been made within recommendations no. 3 and 5 in 2017. As you have noticed, the Report is critical in terms of the 8 recommendations occasioned by the CVM Report in November 2018,” interim Justice minister stated.
In his turn, PM-designate Ludovic Orban opined that the recommendations of the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) should be put into practice so that Romania “can get rid of being under the CVM” as soon as possible.