CVM report: Challenges to Romania’s judicial independence, serious source of concern

The European Commission noted progress on a number of recommendations made in the January report but said the overall reform momentum in the course of 2017 has stalled, according to the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) report, published on November 15, 2017. The Commission also expressed concern over challenges to judicial independence.

“The overall reform momentum in the course of 2017 has stalled, slowing down the fulfilment of the remaining recommendations, and with a risk of re-opening issues which the January 2017 report had considered as closed. Challenges to judicial independence are a serious source of concern,” the EC said.

“We have seen progress in some areas but there is still more work to be done. Romania has met some of our recommendations, but there is not enough progress yet on others. I count on the Romanian Government to pursue the necessary reforms, and to avoid backtracking, so that we can work together towards the goal of ending the CVM under this Commission’s mandate,” First Vice-President Frans Timmermans said.

The report published today looks at the progress made to meet the 12 recommendations issued by the EC in its January 2017 CVM Report.

It notes that the recommendation to set up a system for checks on conflicts of interest in public procurement (PREVENT) has been satisfactorily implemented. “The Commission also notes progress on other recommendations, subject to practical implementation,” the EC said.

However, the Commission said it “cannot yet conclude that any of the CVM benchmarks are at this stage satisfactorily fulfilled, though progress has brought some benchmarks closer to this point.”

The Commission argued that Romania will be able to fulfil the outstanding recommendations with “the loyal cooperation between state institutions, a political steer holding firm to past achievements and the respect for judicial independence.” With this, the country could satisfactorily meet the CVM benchmarks, in the near future.

The EC will assess progress again towards the end of 2018.

The November report is available here.

The CVM reports in 2014, 2015, and 2016 showed Romania’s positive results in the judicial reform and fight against corruption. The tendency was also confirmed in the January 2017 CVM report. The latter identified 12 specific recommendations which would help Romania move towards fulfillment of all CVM benchmarks. Most of them focused on the responsibility and accountability required from the Romanian authorities and the internal safeguards needed to ensure the irreversibility of the results.

The November CVM report comes as Romania has discussed several changes to its justice laws throughout the year. On several occasions, the planned changes resulted in large street protests, more recently at the beginning of November.

A draft project sent to the Parliament by justice minister Tudorel Toader aims to remove the President from the appointment of the country’s top prosecutors and to bring the Judicial Inspection, which investigates local magistrates’ misconduct, under the justice minister’s authority.

The abuse of office offense has also been under debate. The Parliament special committee for justice is analyzing two options for abuse of office, namely setting a limit under which abuse of office is not considered a criminal offense or redefining it all together.

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