Romania: Still at Odds with the Rule of Law
With nearly 20 million inhabitants Romania joined the EU together with Bulgaria in 2007. While Romania is scheduled to hold the EU Council presidency in 2019, the country remains at the periphery of the Union in terms of its geography, economic performance and the level of its institutional integration. Romania fulfils neither the fiscal criteria for the adoption of the Euro currency, nor has it been allowed to join the Schengen Area. And, moreover, it is still under the so-called Cooperation and Verification Mechanism monitoring the country’s judicial reform and the fight against corruption. Although Romania has made considerable progress over the course of the past years, the question of its stability and the sustainability of any positive developments must be gauged according to its corrupt political.
The current constellation of the government – within a semi-presidential system – is conducive to positive changes. After the controversial presidency of Traian Băsescu, which marked the country’s accession to the EU (but was dogged by conflicts with Parliament), the (2014) rise of Klaus Iohannis – a member of Romania’s German minority – represents a strongly pro-Western foreign policy while the current Prime Minister, Dacian Cioloș, a former EU Commissioner, embodies the efforts to reform the judicial system and protect the principles of the rule of law. Mr Cioloș was appointed in November 2015 to lead a technocratic government after the resignation of Victor Ponta.
In more recent months, the EU Council has been following-up with the Romania file and while it welcomes the trend of progress in Romania’s judicial and integrity institutions the Annual Assessment by the European Commission under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism remains steadfast that Romania’s reform be targeted to addressing its shortcomings in four key areas. First, it needs to ensure a more transparent and efficient judicial process particularly by improving the capacity and accountability of the Superior Council of Magistracy. It should further report and monitor the impact of the new civil and penal procedures codes. This is an area that has been specifically worrisome for the Commission since it practices opaque judicial procedures. Second, Romania is meant to establish an “integrity agency” with responsibilities for verifying assets, incompatibilities and potential conflicts of interest, and for issuing mandatory decisions on the basis of which discouraging sanctions can be taken. Third, it should continue to conduct professional, non-partisan investigations into allegations of high-level political corruption. Finally, further measures should be taken to prevent and fight against corruption, specifically within local governments.
Behind the visible progress is the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA), which is responsible for the 1,250 public officials indicted for corruption in a single year, including former prime minister Victor Ponta, five other ministers, 21 members of the houses of parliament, and Bucharest Mayor Sorin Oprescu. The DNA ordered the confiscation of nearly half a billion euros. With this record, the Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is ready to take Romania off a corruption-monitoring scheme by 2019. But again, the question is about stability and sustainability of this—rather recent—trend. The DNA’s success apparently lies in its relationship to the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI), which lacks standard mechanisms of control and the Constitutional Court has already forbidden the DNA to use evidence obtained by the SRI. But the real reason for concern is yet to come.
The current governmental constellation favourable to smooth anti-corruption activities is based on exceptional conditions and the real test will come after the parliamentary elections in December 2016, when the political parties will recover full power. The fact that considerable part of the Romanian political elite is rotten by corruption and will do anything to prevent the judicial system to proceed with anti-corruption cases, can be illustrated by the local elections that took place in June 2016. Not only did many politicians (from across the political scene) who had been charged with corruption were so impudent as to stand in the election, but a number of them were actually elected.
Romania fulfils (since 2011) all the technical criteria for joining the Schengen Area, but for political reasons is denied access. The main opponents of Romania’s – and Bulgaria’s – accession are Germany, Austria and the Netherlands; but it is not the fear of a cheap labour force that acts as the main motivation: but the lack of confidence that the weak civil service, internal security and judicial system will be able to protect the EU’s external border. And it is, in the case of Romania, both long (second longest land border after Poland) and complicated (especially smuggling across border with Moldova). Until Romania proves that its adherence to the principles of the rule of law is both full and lasting, we should not accept that other member states will allow it to enter the Schengen Area and exit the corruption monitoring mechanism. Romania many have taken steps in the right direction but they are baby steps and there is much that needs to be done first.