CHISINAU Moldova's parliament gave itself powers to sack constitutional judges and change election rules, moves Brussels said would harm the country's bid for closer ties with the European Union.
Politicians passed the new laws late on Friday in the latest round of maneuvering in a political crisis that has paralyzed legislation in the impoverished former Soviet republic for months.
Moldova's last government, led by Prime Minister Vlad Filat, resigned in March after losing a confidence vote amid feuding among leaders of a dominant pro-European coalition.
Filat set out to get his job back, but Moldova's Constitutional Court wrecked his plans last month by barring him from running for prime minister or even heading a caretaker government.
On Friday, Filat's Liberal Democratic party and the country's opposition communists joined forces to pass a law giving parliament the power to sack the previously untouchable Constitutional Court judges.
Another new bill said political parties had to get at least six percent of the vote to get into parliament - up from the previous four percent - a change that could hurt the smaller Liberal party in the next election, scheduled for 2014.
Parliament also voted to boost the powers of the interim government and its head, Filat's former deputy Iurie Leanca, allowing him to sack ministers and other senior officials, some of whom were appointed by Filat's erstwhile allies, the Liberal and Democratic parties.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Stefan Fuele, EU Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, issued a joint statement late on Friday saying the new legislation was undemocratic.
"This law (on Constitutional Court judges), as well as a number of other important laws, touching upon fundamental issues for the functioning of Moldova's democracy, have been adopted with extreme haste, and without proper consultation with Moldovan society, or appropriate regard to European standards on constitutional reform," they said.
The laws were part of "a worrying new pattern of decision-making in Moldova ... where the institutions of the state have been used in the interest of a few", Ashton and Fuele said.
The decisions could have a long-term impact on "Moldova's aspirations", they added.
Until its breakdown this year, Moldova's ruling coalition had focused on securing agreements on free trade and political association with the EU, tentatively scheduled for November this year.
But with the crisis likely to trigger an early election the fate of the deals has become unclear.
President Nicolae Timofti has yet to sign the laws passed by parliament - which some deputies said were illegitimate because of the absence of the chamber's speaker Marian Lupu, sacked in a round of political wrangling last week.
Moldova is one of Europe's poorest countries with an average monthly salary of about $230. Heavily reliant on Russian energy supplies, its economy is kept afloat by remittances from several hundred thousand Moldovans working in Russia and EU countries.
(Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Andrew Heavens)