Romanian Politics: Is Romania Worse Than Hungary?
DAMNING statements are not the European Commission’s forte, especially not when political events in a member state are at stake. And yet on July 7th the Commission broke with its tradition and issued a stark warning to the Romanian government, saying it was “concerned” about actions undermining the Constitutional Court.
The “sequence” of events in the last few weeks, a spokesman said, “put at risk all the progress made over the past five years in having more respect for the rule of law and democratic checks and balances and independence of the judiciary in the country”. Similar concerns over the rule of law were voiced in Berlin, with some German parliamentarians even floating the possibility of suspending Romania’s voting rights in the European Union (EU).
This ‘nuclear option’ was only triggered once in the late 1990s when the far-right Freedom Party came to power in Austria. Last year the European Parliament also considered this move for Hungary after its new government made controversial changes to the constitution that put judges, central bankers and media under party control. But things are even worse in Romania, an EU official told our blog writer in Brussels, because there “they are not changing the constitution. They are breaking it”.
Victor Ponta, the prime minister, ignored a ruling of the Constitutional Court on who should represent Romania at EU meetings. The court was stripped of its powers to overrule the parliament’s decisions, judges were threatened, and the ombudsman, Gheorghe Iancu, replaced with a party loyalist. The official journal, which publishes court rulings and laws, was moved under government control to delay inconvenient rulings by the Constitutional Court— such as the one about who represents Romania at EU meetings.