The FINANCIAL -- Brussels demanded further
proof of Romania's commitment to democratic values and the rule of law
Wednesday, saying recent actions by its new centre-left government "have
shaken our trust."
Releasing a much-anticipated report summing up five years of efforts by the ex communist state to reform its judiciary and fight corruption, European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said: "the European Union is based on respect for the rule of law and democratic values."
"Recent events in Romania have shaken our trust."
The commission and Romania's Prime Minister Victor Ponta have been involved in days of tense exchange over the government's controversial bid earlier this month to impeach conservative President Traian Basescu and change by decree the powers of the constitutional court.
The row over the fate of Basescu -- who has been suspended pending a referendum on his impeachment -- has triggered Romania's worst crisis since it emerged from communist dictatorship just over two decades ago.
In its 22-page report, the EU commission praised Romania for reforms made since joining the European Union in 2007 but said recent developments "raise serious concerns" about its respect for Europe's fundamental values.
Barroso said Brussels "will continue to monitor the situation closely," with a new report on Romania issued at the end of the year to "see if our concerns have been addressed."
In the run-up to joining the EU, both Romania and Bulgaria were placed on a special EU programme to speed judicial reform and end corruption, known as the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) and involving experts to advise and to police reforms in the two nations.
As EUbusiness reported, both had hoped to see the report call for the lifting of the CVM, enabling them to line up to join Europe's travel-free Schengen area.
In a tough appraisal of Bulgaria, the commission recommended pushing a decision back until late 2013, however.
Delivering a harsh verdict on events in Romania, the report said: "A well functioning, independent judicial system, and respect for democratic institutions are indispensable for mutual trust within the European Union."
Ponta went to Brussels last week for talks with EU officials, who handed the young premier a "to-do" list, setting out 11 areas in which Romania must fall in line with the bloc's basic values.
There were several exchanges of letters and a flow of telephone calls in the aftermath to reach a compromise.
In a statement Tuesday, the commission said Ponta had offered further written commitments on the points of concern.
"Prime Minister Ponta responded to my request and has acted immediately," Barroso said. "I want to pay tribute to the Romanian prime minister."
"Romania has stepped back from the edge," he said. "But I cannot say we have reached the end of the process."