EU commission concerned over Romanian judicial overhaul

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - The European Commission has asked the Romanian government for more detail of a proposed overhaul of the judiciary, expressing concern it may be a step back in the fight against corruption.

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis gestures while answering a question from the media during a joint news conference with his French counterpart, on the French president's three-day tour of central and eastern Europe, in Bucharest, Romania August 24, 2017. Inquam Photos/Octav Ganea via REUTERS

Romania is seen as one of the EU’s most corrupt states and Brussels keeps its justice system under special monitoring.

French President Emmanuel Macron mirrored the concerns during an official visit to capital Bucharest on Thursday.

“I have talked with the president and prime minister over the justice system reform project that is not coherent with a will to fight against corruption. Both have guaranteed their commitment to continue what they started, to reduce corruption,” local news agency Mediafax quoted Macron as saying at a reception at the French embassy.

The planned overhaul, presented by Justice Minister Tudorel Toader on Wednesday, included giving him control over the judicial inspection unit, currently managed by the Superior Magistrates’ Council (CSM), the country’s judicial watchdog.

Other changes included the way in which chief prosecutors are appointed and setting up a special prosecuting unit for crimes committed by magistrates.

President Klaus Iohannis said that if the measures are approved they will set reform efforts back by a decade.

The proposals triggered a small street protest outside government headquarter late on Wednesday and drew criticism from magistrates, opposition politicians and analysts.

In a statement on Thursday, the Commission said: “We are asking the Romanian authorities for the draft laws and additional explanations.”

“The irreversibility of the progress achieved by Romania in the fight against corruption in the last ten years is essential for the Commission,” it said.

The measures come half a year after attempts by the ruling coalition of Social Democrats and junior partner ALDE to weaken a crackdown on high-level corruption triggered Romania’s largest street protests in decades.

Social Democrat Party leader Liviu Dragnea said on Thursday the announced measures were merely principles and that critics were too quick to draw judgment.

“It is only the beginning of a process that will not be simple,” Dragnea told reporters. He said it would be reviewed by the Superior Magistrates’ Council, the top judicial watchdog, before going to parliament.

Toader has yet to publish the draft of the proposals.

Reporting by Luiza Ilie and Robert Jan Bartunek; Editing by Richard Balmforth