EU says Romania's gov't undermines rule of law

July 18, 2012 - 2:38 PM
Belgium EU Romania

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso adjusts his glasses during a news conference at the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Wednesday, July 18, 2012. The European Union sharply criticized Romania on Wednesday, saying its government's actions have undermined the rule of law and independence of the judiciary in one of the bloc's newest members. (AP Photo/Yves Logghe)

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union sharply criticized Romania's government on Wednesday, saying it has undermined the rule of law and independence of the judiciary as it tried to remove the president.

President Traian Basescu was impeached by Parliament last month on grounds he overstepped his authority by meddling in government business and the judicial system. Critics accuse Prime Minister Victor Ponta of orchestrating the move as part of a power grab, and the political turmoil has dented Romania's credibility, with the United States and the EU expressing doubts about the left-leaning government's respect for the independence of the judiciary.

A referendum will be held on July 29 to determine whether Basescu should be removed from office.

The EU said in a report Wednesday that recent steps by the government raise concerns about its respect of fundamental democratic principles and it urged Bucharest to take urgent action to demonstrate its commitment.

EU officials have been particularly concerned about the speed of the impeachment process and that the government tried to pass emergency decrees to change the referendum law to make it easier to remove Basescu.

The EU allowed Romania and Bulgaria to join the bloc in 2007 despite delays in reforming their judicial systems and combating corruption and organized crime. Since then, it has been issuing regular annual reports on their progress.

Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, said "exceptional events" in Romania had been a source of major concern.

"Politicians must not try to intimidate judges ahead of decisions or attack judges after decisions they don't like," Barroso told reporters Wednesday. He said an additional report would be prepared on Romania before the end of 2012.

"In this report we will look whether our concerns have been addressed," Barroso said.

Romania's interim President Crin Antonescu said in a televised address later Wednesday that the government "categorically agreed" with the principles of "an independent justice system, respect for the constitution, laws and constitutional court."

He said that he had some reservations about the report, but did not specify. "Romania is not isolated" he said. It will become "more and more European, and more connected to European standards."

The EU has no provision to expel members, yet continued negative reports could contribute to a cutting of EU funds. The EU could also sanction Romania by refusing to give it passport-free travel within the EU anytime soon.

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Mutler reported from Bucharest, Romania.