16 November 2018

Romania takes over the presidency of the European Union on 1 January 2019 – with a responsibility for leadership which the Romanian Government seems steadfastly resisting at home. It has been accused of backsliding by the EU, and undoing improvements required of it when it joined the EU in 2007. This week the EU made eight demands to reverse new laws which would damage prosecutorial independence and decriminalise some forms of corruption. Like Poland and Hungary, Romania having been admitted to the EU in the belief that its population aspired to a Western European respect for democratic principles and the rule of law,  now seems to be reverting to the corrupt practices of its days as a communist regime.

Romania faces a credibility issue with its image in the EU suffering from “constant attempts to undermine justice reform and anti-corruption”. “Judging by the reactions of the ruling coalition leaders, there is little desire to reverse the back-tracking,” an Expert Forum spokesperson reported.

  • Romania’s chief anti-corruption prosecutor was removed from office in July, after achieving dozens of convictions against officials, including ministers, former ministers and MPs. A process to appoint a replacement has stalled.
  • The Justice Minister is in the process of dismissing the general prosecutor who is investigating violence during anti-government demonstrations when more than 450 people were injured.
  • Supporters of the Social Democrat leader (barred from serving as prime minister because of an electoral fraud) are disrupting corruption probes against him.

EU Vice-President Frans Timmermans said: “I regret that Romania has not only stalled its reform process, but also re-opened and backtracked on issues where progress was made over the past 10 years. It is essential that Romania gets back on track immediately in the fight against corruption and also ensures an independent judiciary. …. in the interest of its citizens, its country, and the EU as a whole.”

Romania sits along with middle ranked nations in a range of governance indices. Transparency International rates its government services as 59th of the 180 countries on the Corruption Perceptions Index ( NZ is 1st ).  The Sustainable Governance Indicators for Romania are at 5.10 ( from 10 ) for Governance ( NZ is 7.5 ) and 4.64 for Democracy ( NZ is 8.43 ). The World Justice Program rates it 51st  of  102 surveyed countries for Open Government ( NZ is 2nd ).