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Seven EU member states urge Romania to persist in anti-graft fight

Seven EU member states urge Romania to persist in anti-graft fight "We see you!" - projected on a building in Piata Victoriri square - a message from protesters to the Romanian government/ Source: Initiativa Romania

BUCHAREST (Romania), December 22 (SeeNews) - Seven EU member states called on Romania's ruling leftist coalition to refrain from any action resulting in weakening of the independence of the judiciary and of the fight against corruption.

"We recognize that Romania has made significant progress in building a track record and implementing credible judicial reforms over the last decade. Yet, it is our belief that the recently passed laws on justice reform in their current form, as well as the latest draft amendments to the Criminal and Criminal Procedure Codes, risk jeopardizing this progress," the embassies of Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden in Romania said in a joint statement late on Thursday.

The representatives of the seven EU member states reminded Romania that the Council's conclusions on the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM), which address judicial reform and the fight against corruption in Romania, underlined the need for predictability, full transparency and inclusive consultations.

"Furthermore, the Council calls on Romania to avoid taking any step backwards in this matter," the statement reads.

In this context, the embassies called on Romania's government and other authorities involved in the judicial reform project to refrain from any action resulting in a weakening of the independence of the judiciary and of the fight against corruption, and to seek "without delay the necessary advice of the Venice Commission in order to ensure that the independence of the judiciary is preserved and the reform process in general remains intact."

"We trust that all political actors involved will give due consideration to these legitimate concerns consistent with our joint European commitment, and we continue to stand ready to support Romania in her efforts to reaffirm this commitment," the embassies said.

Romanians have been protesting for seven Sundays in a row against planned changes to the Criminal Code that they see as an attempt to weaken the fight against corruption. People protest against plans by the Social Democrat-led government coalition to appoint Romania's chief prosecutor without the consent of the president.

This is not the first warning for Romania since the beginning of protests. On Wednesday, the Foreign Investors Council (FIC) said that the country's political agenda could lead to weakening of the rule of law and undermine the regulatory framework necessary for a modern economy. The member companies of FIC generate around 25% of Romania’s GDP.

At the end of November, the U.S. State Department urged Romania's parliament to reject legislation that could weaken the anti-graft effort. "The United States notes with concern that the Parliament of Romania is considering legislation that could undermine the fight against corruption and weaken judicial independence in Romania," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said at the time.

Romania received similar warnings from EU bodies, the U.S. and investors in February, when the Social Democrat-led government coalition's plans to include some corruption offences in a draft bill on prison pardons sparked the biggest nationwide protests since the fall of Communism. An estimated record 500,000 people gathered at the time in Bucharest and other Romanian cities seeking the government's resignation.

(1 euro=4.6363 lei)