Romania awaits EC opinion on justice law changes

Romania is awaiting a point of view from the European Commission on setting a threshold under which abuse office is not considered a crime, justice minister Tudorel Toader said after a meeting with the First Vice-President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans.

The two met on Tuesday, November 7 to discuss the country’s progress on fulfilling the 12 recommendations in the Corruption Verification Mechanism (CVM) report, which is due to be published.

According to Toader, because the meeting was a brief, one-hour one, the topics discussed focused on sensitive issues in the draft project to change the justice laws, namely the status of the Judicial Inspection, the magistrates’ responsibility and the appointment of top prosecutors.

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, among others.

Regarding the appointment of top prosecutors, Toader said the EC recommended that the country find a transparent procedure for the appointment of top prosecutors, including by consulting the Venice Commission.

The Venice Commission, an advisory body of the Council of Europe, could vet more of the draft changes Romania is planning to make to its justice laws, VP Timmermans suggested, Politico.eu reported.

On the topic of the threshold for the abuse of office crime, Toader said it should be “reasonable” and follow the requirements of the country’s Constitutional Court but also “relate to the European directive.”

Former justice minister Florin Iordache, who leads a special parliamentary committee for changing the justice legislation, said at the beginning of the month that he wanted a “modest” threshold under which abuse of office would not be considered a crime.

At the end of January, while he was justice minister, Iordache initiated an emergency ordinance that aimed to change the criminal code and set a RON 200,000 (EUR 44,000) limit under which abuse of office would not be incriminated. The ordinance, which was approved in a late cabinet meeting, triggered the biggest protests in Romania’s recent history. As a result of those protests, the Sorin Grindeanu Government repealed that ordinance and Iordache resigned.

This weekend, on November 5, large protests took place in Romania’s capital Bucharest and other big cities against the new changes to the justice laws.

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