European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker expressed the EU Executive’s growing concerns over rollbacks in the rule-of-law and breakdowns in the fight against corruption in Romania just over two months ahead of Bucharest taking over the six-month presidency of the European Union.
“I hope that Romania joins the Schengen zone, but it must not mortgage that by turning away from the (European) principles on rule of law,” said Junckerduring a debate on the Future of Europe with Romanian president Klaus Iohannis present, before adding, “You always have to respect the principles of the rule of law.”
Juncker later added that he hoped that the majority of Romanians were still committed to the fight against corruption, “otherwise the European Commission will have a lot of trouble in its recommendations,” in reference to the process of becoming a member of the Schengen zone. Romania requires a recommendation from the Commission and unanimous support from the other 27 EU members to officially join the 26 member zone that has officially abolished passport and all other types of border controls.
The candidacies of EU-members Romania and Bulgaria have been blocked since 2007 due to concerns over rampant corruption and organised crime in the two Eastern European states.
Romania’s president, Iohannis, has been warned by EU representatives that he needs to take more decisive actions aimed at preventing the further deterioration of the rule-of-law due following controversial reforms to the judicial system by Prime Minister Viorica Dancila.
Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans has repeatedly expressed his “concern” about Romania’s judicial changes and asked clarification from Dancila in a letter sent earlier this month.
Dancila government has attempted to severely water down anti-corruption legislation since coming into office in 2016, but later abandoned the plans in face of the biggest wave of protests since the collapse of Communism and the violent overthrow of Romania’s former dictator, Nicolae Ceaușescu, in December 1989.
Romania remains one of the EU’s most graft-ridden member states, but in recent years several anti-corruption prosecutors had successfully clamped down on some of the country’s worst racketeers, including members of the government. Dancila, as well as members of Romania’s security services, have repeatedly accused the anti-corruption crusaders of overstepping their power.
Chief anti-corruption prosecutor Laura Codruța Kövesi successfully convicted several government officials, including the party leader of the ruling Social Democrats, Liviu Dragnea, after exposing their conflicts of interest, abuses of power, and fraud cases that included the awarding of state contracts in exchange for bribes.
Codruța Kövesi was fired in July by Justice Minister Tudorel Toader for ‘exceeding her authority’.