Romanian president urges govt climbdown on justice reforms

Bucharest (AFP) –


Romanian president Klaus Iohannis on Wednesday called on the ruling left-wing government to back down over controversial judicial reforms that had triggered strong criticism and threats of sanctions from Brussels.

Iohannis's call came after the government was defeated at the ballot box on the issue.

The president, who hails from the centre-right and has frequently clashed with the government, called a referendum in May in which voters decisively rejected the reforms which had been pushed by the ruling Social Democrats (PSD) since they came to power in 2016.

Critics -- including the EU -- have said the reforms would weaken the rule of law and the fight against corruption.

On Wednesday Iohannis urged the government to "respect the recommendations of the Venice Commission and those of the European Union", which would involve a significant watering down of the plans.

The Venice Commission is a group of legal experts which advises the pan-European Council of Europe rights body.

Iohannis said he wanted the revision of the reforms to form part of a "national pact" between Romania's political parties in order to ensure the results of May's referendum are enacted.

The PSD said that it was committed to upholding the result of the referendum but that it wanted to attach several other measures to Iohannis's pact to curb alleged abuses on the part of prosecutors.

The PSD is still reeling from a drubbing in May's European elections, where it slumped to just 22.5 percent of the vote, less than half the combined opposition tally.

Compounding the disarray for the party, that result was followed by its leader Liviu Dragnea being jailed for a corruption conviction after losing an appeal.

On Tuesday the European Commission welcomed signs that the government is moving towards dropping the reforms.

The row with Brussels had overshadowed Romania's first ever rotating presidency of the EU.