Bulgaria and Romania, the EU’s newest members and subject to continued monitoring by the Union, both came up for criticism on Wednesday as the European Commission issued two damning reports on their progress towards EU standards. But if the Commission noted Bulgaria’s need to step up efforts to root out high-level corruption and organised crime, it is Romania that got the most flak amid ongoing domestic political turmoil that has caused concern across Europe.
In unusually strong language, the Commission spoke of “serious concerns about the respect of fundamental principles”, noting that important questions are being raised over the country’s respect for rule of law and the independence of the judiciary.
The report comes as the country prepares for a referendum on 29 July to decide whether to uphold Parliament’s 6 July vote to impeach President Traian Basescu. Prime Minister Victor Ponta’s bid to unseat Basescu has been accompanied by a number of institutional changes including an attempt to limit the powers of the Romanian Constitutional Court, and amendments to the referendum law that would have removed requirements for minimum turnout but were struck down by the Constitutional Court.
The moves drew condemnation from the EU and European capitals, prompting fears that Romania is following an anti-democratic path. Ponta, repeating his commitment to democracy made during a placatory visit to Brussels last Thursday, said following the release of the report that “as Prime Minister, I am ready to make any personal and political sacrifice for Romania to be considered a viable partner abroad – a serious partner and a country that respects all democratic rules”.
He was issued with an 11-point “to-do” list after last Thursday’s meeting, including the reinstatement of the powers of the Constitutional Court, “immediate compliance” with its rulings, commitment to respect the independence of the judiciary, and avoiding the “selective use of the publication in the Official Journal, to pursue political objectives, and in particular to avoid application of judicial decisions”.
Ponta’s commitment to adhere to the requests has been overshadowed by interim president and close ally Crin Antonescu’s comments that Romania is a sovereign country whose president does not take orders “from anyone except Parliament and the Romanian people”.