Romania: Reforms Failure Threatens EU Bid

Brussels may delay entry to Europe if Bucharest stalls on laws ensuring independence for judges.

Romania: Reforms Failure Threatens EU Bid

Brussels may delay entry to Europe if Bucharest stalls on laws ensuring independence for judges.

Romania is facing difficulties in finalising the judicial reforms essential to its accession talks with the European Union, after failing to adopt legal reforms guaranteeing the independence of judges.

Brussels has told Bucharest that it must focus on justice reforms to combat the corruption that is deterring foreign investment and undermining public confidence in the law.

But when parliament last week opened a debate on the law on the Superior Council of Magistrates, CSM - the body charged with ensuring judicial independence - few deputies showed up. With only 40 out of 343 representatives present in the chamber, the bill failed to pass into law.

The fiasco was a setback for the government, which hoped to pass judicial reform laws this month and conclude the Justice and Home Affairs chapter of its EU negotiations by the end of the year. Bucharest must have the laws in place to secure its accession to the European Union by 2007.

Political analysts have blamed politicians’ preoccupation with upcoming elections on June 6 for the muddle. “Most deputies were more concerned about the local elections than the country’s future,” scoffed journalist Mircea Zamfir.

“It is hard to understand why they did not show up to vote on the legislation, as they are the ones responsible for implementing the road map that the European Commission and parliament have set out.”

The recently drafted legislation was intended to place judges outside the control of the justice ministry by putting an independent panel, the CSM, in charge of appointments, promotions and discipline.

Not all critics were satisfied with the plan. Some said the independence of the courts would be guaranteed only when their budgetary autonomy was more clearly defined. They are also calling for stricter curbs to prevent potential interference by justice ministers.

One judge told IWPR privately that a culture of political deference to the justice ministry remained strong in Romania – a consequence of decades of one-party communist rule.

“The mentality here is that the justice minister is also the head of the whole justice system, with the right to act as an administrator of the courts,” he said. “The new law still left judges at risk of facing political pressure.”

The failure to reform the judicial system is a running sore in Romania. Confidence remains low in a system almost universally perceived as inefficient, politically-biased and concerned mainly with the preservation of the status quo.

A report produced last year by the New York-based Open Society Institute, entitled Judicial Capacity in Romania, criticised the way the justice ministry “still exercises unnecessarily broad supervisory and regulatory authority over judicial administration”.

Bucharest’s failure to tackle such criticism could have severe consequences for the country’s accession bid. The BBC recently reported that accession date for Romania and Bulgaria could be delayed by years if they failed to deliver on promises they made during the EU entry talks.

It also said Brussels was planning to introduce a reinforced monitoring system, to keep a closer eye on the pace of reforms in both countries preceding accession.

This new monitoring system might serve as a precedent for other EU applicants, such as Croatia, which is moving towards formal recognition as a candidate, the BBC said.

Bucharest has dismissed talk of a tougher new monitoring system as speculation. “We remain determined to close EU talks by the end of this year,” it said in a statement.

Some analysts maintain Romania has nothing to fear from a stricter monitoring regime. Economics professor Daniel Daianu, a former finance minister, says the issue facing the country is not “delayed EU entry, but accelerating the pace of economic, judicial and administrative reform”.

Marian Chiriac is a regular IWPR contributor in Bucharest.

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