Commission report on justice system under fire from #Romania

| February 14, 2019
A potentially damaging war of words has broken out between the European Commission and Romania, current holder of the EU presidency.  
Following criticisms by Romanian judges of a European Commission report on Romania’s justice system, Justice Minister Tudorel Toader has told Commission vice president Frans Timmermans that the report’s recommendations could be seen as disrespectful of the Romanian Constitutional Court.
The disagreement has emerged following the commission’s publication of a report under the so-called Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) on judicial reform and the fight against corruption in Romania.
The simmering row has now escalated in an exchange of letters between Commission vice president Frans Timmermans and Romania’s justice minister.
In his reply to Timmermans, Tudorel Toader, the minister for justice, says he was “surprised by the tone of the report” and said the recommendations it makes are “disproportionate.”
Prof Toader goes on to say that at the current time “Europe should be united more than ever and avoid further polarization of member states.”
 The CVM report from last November covers the preceding 12 months and notes that “recent developments have reversed the course of progress”. It also calls into question the “positive” assessment made in January 2017.
This applies, it says, notably to judicial independence, judicial reform and in tackling high-level corruption. The report makes a number of recommendations for “immediate follow up.”
Following publication of the CVM, Timmermans wrote to Romanian PM Viorica Dancila speaking of the need to “ensure effective functioning of the (Romanian) judicial system.”
The letter, dated 24 January, says its intelligent services need to be “under proper supervision” where the public “can have confidence that judicial independence is secure.”
In his letter, the Dutch official raises one issue in particular, that of the possible reopening of “final” criminal court decisions.
“Steps which could lead to the blanket reopening of final criminal court decisions, notably in the area of high level corruption, are of particular concern,” says Timmermans.
He asks the Romanian authorities for “clarification” and the four-page response from Prof. Toader is,in parts, critical  of both the CVM report and the commission.
Prof Toader’s letter, dated 7 February and, seen by this website, points out that Romania is currently still finalising reform of its judicial laws and criminal legislation “having always in mind the rights and liberties of citizens.”
It says that “important progress” has been made in fulfilling the Commission’s initial recommendations but that the CVM report last November only “acknowledges some of them but not to the full extent.”
It goes on,”We were surprised by the general tone of the report, of its content as a whole and the eight recommendations and also the fact that the (Romanian) observations were not taken into consideration by the commission.”
“We were surprised also by the incongruence of the CVM evaluation in relation to other CVM reports, for example the 2012 report when different aspects that were evaluated positively in 2012 were considered negative in 2018.”
The CVM says Romania’s justice laws are “weakening” judicial independence but Toader says, “In our opinion, none of these measures are affecting the independence of the judiciary.”
“The legislative solutions considered constitutional by the Constitutional Court cannot affect in a negative manner the independence of the judiciary.”
The “imperative tone” of the CVM’s recommendations could, he states, “be interpreted as going beyond the  EU treaties and a disproportionate interference.”
The recommendations could also be seen as a “disrespect” to Romania’s Constitutional Court.
Toader, in the letter, says the CVM “contradicts” the Commission’s previous advice for the Romanian authorities to have an “equailibrated and gradual approach on analyses, evaluations and consultations.”
He points out that Romania’s justice reforms are currently subject to an ongoing legislative process that primarily involves the country’s parliament.
He concludes by describing the CVM’s latest set of recommendation, in addition to the 12 existing ones, are “disproportionate” and “go beyond European law.”
Rather, the minister says a better approach is via “solid cooperation, based on constructive dialogue.”
He says, “We need to identify together  new common actions, new grounds,compatible with Romanian constitutional traditions but also with primary EU legislation.”
He ends the letter saying “we remain committed to fruitful and loyal cooperation, dialogue and also to close the CVM by fulfilling all the recommendations.
“But,” he added “it is important that these recommendations remain stable.”

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