Romanian government defends judicial reforms


Bucharest (AFP)

Romania's government defended on Friday planned judicial reforms after seven European embassies in Bucharest added their voices to concerns that the EU country risked backtracking on tackling corruption.

The foreign ministry stressed the left-wing government's "strong attachment to EU values" and said Bucharest was "open to a real and concrete dialogue" to assuage concerns.

"Reforming the rule of law and the fight against corruption are among the government?s priorities," the ministry said in a statement.

On Thursday the upper house of parliament approved a third and final part of a package of judicial reforms that have already sparked street protests in the capital and worries in Brussels and Washington.

Once promulgated they will curb both the powers of the DNA, the anti-corruption investigative body, and the right of the president to block the appointment of senior prosecutors nominated by the government.

On Thursday the embassies of France, Germany, Belgium and four others said that the reforms "risk endangering progress" made in recent years and could harm the independence of the judiciary.

The head of the ruling Social Democrats (PSD) said Friday that translated versions of the reforms will be provided to ambassadors and to the European Commission to help boost understanding.

The Council of Europe's secretary general meanwhile said that Bucharest should seek the opinion of the Venice Commission to "provide clarity on the compatibility (of the reforms) with fundamental rule of law standards".

The Venice Commission is the Council of Europe's advisory body.

Centre-right President Klaus Iohannis now has to sign the legislation into law. He has called the changes "a backward step in the functioning of the justice system and the fight against corruption".

Opponents of the reforms hope the Constitutional Court will veto the legislation, following an appeal Thursday by the Supreme Court's judges.

The Liberals and the small opposition Union Save Romania (USR) said they would contest it too.

In February the Romanian government backed down on altering anti-corruption laws after the biggest protests since the fall of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989.