Romania making little progress fighting corruption, European agency says

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania has made little progress against corruption in state institutions in 2017 and concern persists about lack of transparency in the legal process, a report by the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption agency, GRECO, said on Thursday.

Transparency International ranks Romania as one of the European Union’s most corrupt states and Brussels keeps its justice system under special monitoring, although it has praised magistrates for their efforts to root out high-level graft.

The report found that Romania had fully met only two of the 13 recommendations GRECO made the year before. They included making the legal process more transparent, introducing stricter criteria for lawmakers to prevent conflict of interest and clarifying the conditions of their immunity from prosecution.

“The legislative process remains an area of particular concern for GRECO given the persisting controversies and allegations of improper consultation, the excessive use of expedited procedure, and the lack of transparency,” it said.

In December, lawmakers from the ruling Social Democrat party and its junior coalition partner, ALDE, used their absolute majority to approve a judicial overhaul that critics said would limit the independence of the judiciary.

The overhaul was criticized by the European Commission, the U.S. State Department, diplomats and the country’s centrist president, and it triggered massive street protests.

The Social Democrats also filed various new changes to the criminal code that would decriminalize several graft offences, their second attempt in a year to weaken a crackdown on corruption. Debates on the changes will start when parliament reconvenes in February.

Romania’s anti-corruption prosecution unit has sent 72 members of parliament to trial since 2006. The speakers of parliament’s lower house and senate are both currently on trial in separate cases.

GRECO will discuss Romania’s judicial overhaul bills - currently awaiting a ruling in the Constitutional Court - in March.

Reporting by Luiza Ilie