Tag Archives: EU

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, http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-17-4611_en.htm.

[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, https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/comm-2017-751_en.pdf.

[3] Law 303/ 2004 on the Status of Judges and Prosecutors, published in the Official Journal no. 826, 13 Sep. 2005, Bucharest, http://legislatie.just.ro/Public/DetaliiDocument/53074

[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, http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2017/11/27/is-romania-at-risk-of-backsliding-over-corruption-and-the-rule-of-law/.

[5] Deutsche Welle. “Romanian Judicial Reform: Critics Decry ‘Parliamentary Coup’, Threat to Democracy.” DW.COM, 24 Dec. 2017, www.dw.com/en/romanian-judicial-reform-critics-decry-parliamentary-coup-threat-to-democracy/a-41923648.

[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, www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/19/romania-braced-for-huge-protests-amid-big-step-backwards-on-rule-of-law.

[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. https://rm.coe.int/fourth-evaluation-round-corruption-prevention-in-respect-of-members-of/168077e159.

[8] Code of Conduct of Deputies and Senators. Adopted by the Romanian Parliament on 11 Oct. 2017. https://www.juridice.ro/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Codul-de-conduit%C4%83.pdf

[9] Council of Europe. Group of States against Corruption. “Decisions”. 78th GRECO Plenary Meeting, Strasbourg, 8 Dec. 2017. https://rm.coe.int/78th-greco-plenary-meeting-strasbourg-4-8-december-2017-decisions/168076f486

[10] European Commission. “Joint Statement of European Commission President Juncker and First Vice-President Timmermans on the Latest Developments in Romania.” 24 Jan. 2018. http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_STATEMENT-18-423_en.htm

Macron’s Eurozone Reform

By Shad Joynal-Abedin, Participant in the G-20 at BEF 2016.

As the European Union experiences a robust economic recovery, with the unemployment rate at a 10-year low and job creation at a 10-year high, the election of Emmanuel Macron as President of the second largest economy of the Eurozone creates a de facto window of opportunities for a comprehensive institutional reform.

Mr. Macron delivered a speech at Sorbonne University on September 26, 2017 laying out his vision for “a sovereign, united and democratic Europe”. In his vision the Eurozone encapsulates the heart of Europe’s global economic power.

Why does the Eurozone need to be reformed?

The Eurozone is the monetary Union under which 19 out of the 28 member states of the EU agreed to adopt a common currency. The euro, nowadays used by 338 million consumers daily, is part of the European identity for many EU citizens. However, the 2009 sovereign debt crisis highlighted that the Eurozone was incomplete. The call for a strong fiscal Union to support the existing monetary Union could not be ignored any longer. Especially member states with the poorest fiscal discipline had to deal with an asymmetric economic shock. Even if steps have been taken to strengthen the governance of the Eurozone in terms of prudential regulation and banking union, the need to build stronger institutions to foster growth and to fund common investments has not disappeared.

What is currently being discussed?

To reshape a Eurozone seen as the backbone of a strong Europe, the French President advanced several proposals:

1. A common Eurozone budget.

Mr. Macron is pushing for more economic integration with the creation of a common Eurozone budget. It would have one main objective: financing investments and emergency assistance in case of economic shocks as well as responding to financial crisis. Access to this budget would be conditioned with respect to common fiscal and social standards.

2. A Eurozone Finance Minister.

The French President also called for more political integration through the creation of a Eurozone finance minister. This minister would permanently chair the Eurogroup and would oversee the common budget. This position would merge the existing jobs of president of the Eurogroup with the different EU commissioners in charge of the economy.

3. A Eurozone Parliament.

Additionally, Macron is in favour of creating a Eurozone Parliament (or a Eurozone subcommittee inside the European Parliament) to politically control the finance minister. He would also serve as vice-president in the European commission.

What are the challenges ahead?

In March 2017 the European Commission presented its White Paper on the future of Europe. It gives an overview of different scenarios to describe the possible state of the Union by 2025. Considering his manifesto, President Macron’s Eurozone proposals would undoubtedly enter into the most ambitious scenario drafted by the Commission. In this option, called “doing much more together”, member states are expected to “share more power, resources and decision-making across the board”.

However, Macron’s political willingness may be tested both at the national and European level. In France, he may enter a period of uncertainty as his government implements its reform agenda. The political cost of some of the upcoming structural changes, such as the housing or the fiscal reforms, is still unpredictable. At the same time the labour market overhaul is expected to be fruitful only on the long run. In a country that remains divided on the EU, following an election in which 33,90% of the voters supported Marine Le Pen and 25% did not cast any ballot, the question is whether the president will enjoy enough popular support on his European agenda.

In the EU, President Macron will have to convince his European partners. While France’s relationship has deteriorated with Poland on the issue of posted workers, countries such as Belgium, Luxembourg, Spain or Portugal have already welcomed the latest announcements. Moreover, by choosing as senior diplomatic advisor the former French Ambassador to Germany who also served as Ambassador to the EU, the French President expressed his eagerness to reengage with Germany on European affairs. The current political crisis in Germany is therefore closely followed by Paris as any unbalanced outcome could undermine the consequential German support that Macron is seeking for a successful Eurozone reform.

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.