BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Romanian judges and prosecutors on Tuesday criticised proposed changes to judicial legislation they said would weaken the fight against graft in one of the European Union’s most corrupt states.
As part of commitments made to qualify for post-pandemic EU recovery funds, the government promised the European Commission that it would amend three laws on judicial organisation to address concerns about threats to the rule of law and the independence of judges and prosecutors.
The laws are remnants of a judicial overhaul enforced by a previous leftist government that alarmed Brussels and Washington and triggered Romania’s largest street protests since the 1989 collapse of Communist rule.
But three associations of magistrates said on Tuesday that the amendments, which the justice ministry finalised earlier this month, did little to address concerns.
“Despite commitments made to the European Commission, almost all of the harmful changes criticised by international bodies over the last few years remain in place,” the three associations said in a statement.
The revised draft bills keep appointments of key judges and prosecutors under political control, prohibit magistrates from publicly expressing opposing views to other state branches, and segregate the country’s judicial watchdog, they said.
They also give the prosecutor general, who is politically appointed, the right to throw out – with arguments – prosecutors’ case proposals, including those working in the top-tier anti-corruption and anti-organized crime agencies.
“The draft bills compromise all progress Romania has made in the fight against corruption and organised crime, and attempt to control the two specialised prosecuting units,” the statement said.
Justice Minister Catalin Predoiu said in a statement he believed the draft bills were a “happy expression of dialogue” between the ministry and the judiciary, adding that the proposed amendments were made after considerable public consultations.
Experts have said that other attempts by Romania’s ruling coalition to address EU judicial concerns also fell short.
The Venice Commission, the Council of Europe’s advisory body, said changes made to a controversial special prosecuting unit set up to investigate alleged crimes by magistrates did not safeguard judicial independence.
Transparency International ranks Romania as one of the EU’s most corrupt states. Brussels has kept the Romanian judiciary under special monitoring since the country joined the EU in 2007.
(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Mark Heinrich)