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Romanian power plays have 'shaken EU trust', Barroso says

EU Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said Wednesday that recent power plays in Romanian politics "have shaken our trust" as he released a report on the country's efforts to reform the judiciary and combat corruption.

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AFP - 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 has been involved in a tense exchange with Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta over his government's controversial bid this month to impeach conservative President Traian Basescu, and change by decree the powers of the constitutional court.

The row over 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 a 22-page report, the EU commission praised Romania for reforms made since joining the European Union in 2007 but said recent developments "raise serious doubts about ... the understanding of the meaning of the rule of law in a pluralist democratic system."

In Bucharest, Ponta said the report "is balanced" and pledged to continue efforts to build an independent and efficient justice system.

"I am ready to make all necessary political sacrifices because I care about Romania's image and I think we have to do more against this war of lies launched from Romania against Romania", he said.

A separate EU appraisal of Bulgaria also called for more work to fight corruption and to ensure the independence of its judges.

The two reports put paid to hopes by the two nations of quickly joining Europe's Schengen travel-free area.

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.

Both had hoped to see the report call for the lifting of the CVM.

But Barroso said Brussels "will continue to monitor the situation closely" in Romania with a new report to be issued at the end of the year to "see if our concerns have been addressed."

Bulgaria will have to wait until late 2013 for a new progress report.

Romania's 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.

"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."
 

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