Is Romania the new ‘sick man’ of the European Union?

By Stefania-Felicia Pavel, …

Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) anamnesis

At first sight, in the European Union, there seems to be a contagious democratic enfeeblement, a relapse of corruption to which Romania is not immune either. The dawn of 2007 ‒ Romania saw its bid to European Union accession coming to fruition. Simultaneously, it was established the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism, a newly-minted tool meant to assist and assess the progress of both Romania and Bulgaria regarding judicial reforms and their mitigation of endemic corruption [1]. Back then, the CVM was seen as a panacea for the genetically-embedded democratic shortages Romania displayed. However, a decade later, and the CVM report of November 2017 [2] testifies that the effects of the corruption fight are either lax or lacking. In other words, Romania’s corruption is relapsing, engulfing the state and sickening the rule of law.

Stages of illiberal ailment

In the aftermath of the last CVM report, there was observed not only a stalemate in curbing corruption, but a worrying backslide. The independence of the judiciary and the anticorruption policies went down a slippery slope. The very push from the brink where Romania was perched comes from the Social Democrat Party, whose majority ruling in the Parliament since December 2016 generated the propitious conditions for the illiberal democracy ‘virus’ to take roots.

First sign of illness came with the Romanian government’s plan to amend laws that secure the independence of the judicial system. By large, these alterations affect the statute of judges and prosecutors, the structure of the judiciary, and the Superior Council of Magistracy. The amendments unduly empower the Ministry of Justice to oversee the entire judiciary, locking political control over the branches that ought to have unfettered independence. A prime example of the illiberal disease spreading was a night-time meeting on 22nd November 2017, when a special legal commission voted favourably on the amendment of Article 9 of Law 303/2004 [3].

They hereby decided that judges and prosecutors are required to refrain from making any public statement or taking any public action that denounces members of the legislative or executive branches. [4] Ergo, enhanced power was granted to the Government dominated by the Social Democrats. So, now they can excessively influence the judiciary. Unfortunately, this can result in an irreversible decay of judicial independence and, ultimately, the undermining of the separation of powers within the Romanian state.

Another scourge of the constitutional state was the ‘parliamentary coup’ against the judiciary.  This implied changes to be operated in the penal code and, respectively, the code of criminal procedure. All these modifications would render void corruption investigations of various members of the parliament. In the same vein, another potentially-lethal shot to the internal fight against corruption is the limitation of reporting on corruption cases. Other actions meant to weaken the anticorruption battle are the control on investigative journalism in general [5] coupled with the proposed decriminalization of some corruption offences. [6]

Experimental treatment from abroad

The internal derelictions of duty that impinged on the status quo of Romania raised mounting concern Europe-wide. The Romanian democratic malaise was also scrutinized by the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption monitoring body, the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO). GRECO sounded the alarm towards the snail-pace progress Romania registered with respects to preventing and countering corruption within the political echelons. From the initial prescription of a set of thirteen recommendations [7], Romania only partly enacted them via a too lenient conduct code for parliamentarians [8]. Moreover, it failed to overhaul the performance of the National Integrity Agency. Seriously concerned by the undemocratic tendencies, GRECO resolved to request reporting on behalf of the Romanian authorities on the progress to be registered by the end of 2018 [9].

A concurring vision was expressed in the Joint Statement of European Commission President Juncker and First Vice-President Timmermans. They too stressed that the resilience and irreversibility of the advancements attained through the CVM are the very prerequisite for the abolition of the Mechanism. They see the contentious justice laws as the litmus test of the Romania’s healing of corruption. Avowing its support to safeguard the independence of the judiciary and combat corruption [10], the European Commission it is not by any means promising a new lease of life to Romania’s democracy. However, it is willing to continue treating another ‘sick man’ of the European Union. Let’s all hope for a speedy recovery rather than a clinical death of democracy in Romania.

Please note that the views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Munich European Forum e.V.


[1] European Commission. “Commission Reports on Progress in Romania under the Co-Operation and Verification Mechanism.” Press Release Database, 15 Nov. 2017,

[2] European Commission. “Report from The Commission to The European Parliament and The Council. On Progress in Romania under the Co-Operation and Verification Mechanism”. 15 Nov. 2017,

[3] Law 303/ 2004 on the Status of Judges and Prosecutors, published in the Official Journal no. 826, 13 Sep. 2005, Bucharest,

[4] Lacatus, Corina. “Is Romania at Risk of Backsliding over Corruption and the Rule of Law?”. EUROPP – European Politics and Policy or the London School of Economics, 27 Nov. 2017,

[5] Deutsche Welle. “Romanian Judicial Reform: Critics Decry ‘Parliamentary Coup’, Threat to Democracy.” DW.COM, 24 Dec. 2017,

[6] Rankin, Jennifer. “Romania Braced for Huge Protests over ‘Big Step Backwards’ on Rule of Law.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 19 Jan. 2018,

[7] Council of Europe. Group of States against Corruption. “Fourth Evaluation Round. Corruption Prevention in Respect of Members of Parliament”. Adoption: 8 December 2017, 78th plenary meeting, Strasbourg. Publication: 18 Jan. 2017.

[8] Code of Conduct of Deputies and Senators. Adopted by the Romanian Parliament on 11 Oct. 2017.

[9] Council of Europe. Group of States against Corruption. “Decisions”. 78th GRECO Plenary Meeting, Strasbourg, 8 Dec. 2017.

[10] European Commission. “Joint Statement of European Commission President Juncker and First Vice-President Timmermans on the Latest Developments in Romania.” 24 Jan. 2018.


By Grifynn Clay, BEF Participant 2017

While many may be focused on the recent plunge of the U.S. Stock Market, the latest Brexit talks, or Angela Merkel’s attempts to form a coalition, the city of Cape Town, South Africa, is just weeks away from experiencing an extreme water shortage. The second largest city in South Africa, with a population of nearly 4 million, could move to controlling distribution of water as soon as April 6th as reserve supplies hit extreme lows [1]. While increases in water scarcity have required greater adoption of conservation strategy, in South Africa it may have been too little too late. Other governments who face water scarcity should take note.

If current patterns of water usage and climate change continue scarcity is set to increase. This resource uncertainty may place many regions at a greater risk of instability. Current examples of water related conflict can already be seen in war torn Yemen and Syria. Factors that led to Syria’s 2011 civil war were likely amplified by drought and water shortages that occurred as a result of mismanagement of already scarce resources. While not solely responsible, agricultural failures linked to a multi-seasonal drought, between 2006 and 2009, contributed to the internal migration of nearly 1.5 million Syrians from rural to urban areas [2]. This displacement, coupled with the reality that few opportunities were found in cities to those who migrated, likely increased tensions leading up to the current conflict in Syria. Palestine and Israel, set to be some of the most water stressed countries by 2040, will likely see their conflicts exacerbated as access to water dwindles [3].

NATO’s Parliamentary Assembly warns that food and water shortages in the Middle East and Northern Africa have the potential to spell trouble for the global community in the form of mass migrations and violent conflict [4]. As these regions fail to develop policies, or cease to have the capacity, to preserve resources needed to support life it will become a global strategic imperative to see that action is taken in order to prevent instability. Mass migrations, like the ones recently seen into Europe, may become more common as individuals seek locations with more opportunities and access to water.

Several significant steps that will be taken to combat reduction of resources are tied into the commitments laid out in the Paris Climate Agreement. Action taken to reduce climate change will assist in lowering future water stress in many regions. However, as the Agreement’s main focus is not water conservation, it is not certain that it will make a significant impact in reducing future scarcity. Water stress is more likely to be driven by increased demand from growing populations and economic activity than it is by climate change [5]. Even if the Climate Agreement’s commitments were met, a growing global population, increasing urbanization, and an inability to adjust agricultural and conservation policies spells trouble for the future of water security.

Countries familiar to water scarcity are not the only ones set to experience challenges in the near future. Several of the world’s top economies, including the U.S., China, India, Italy, Australia, Spain, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia are set to see high or extremely high water scarcity by 2040 if policies are not adjusted [3]. To add more concern, some leading experts on the economic impacts of climate change warn that average global incomes are set to decline roughly 23% by 2100 if the existing pattern of global warming continues [4]. This reduction of economic opportunity coupled with diminished resources will likely cause greater movements of people from the most affected regions. This migration may resemble the most recent migrant and refuge crisis seen in Europe, with countries struggling to cope with the influx of individuals from disturbed regions. In order to prevent future crises governments need to begin reevaluating their policies surrounding water conservation and resource management in order to head off water driven conflict. What is happening in Cape Town should be a warning not only to countries that are already water stressed, but to major economies as well. Failure to adjust global water policy and conservation strategy will spell trouble around the globe.

Please note that the views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Munich European Forum e.V.

[1] City of Cape Town. (2018). Day Zero. From

[2] Suter, M. (2017, September 12). Running Out of Water: Conflict and Water Scarcity in Yemen and Syria. From

[3] Maddocks, A., Young, R.S., & Reig, P. (2015, August 26). Ranking the World’s Most Water Stressed Countries in 2040. From

[4] NATO. (2017, May 22). Lawmakers from NATO allies warn on risks from Middle East water shortages, climate change. From

[5] Dwortzan, M. (2016, October 4). Even if the Paris Agreement is implemented, food and water supplies remain at risk. From

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