For days now, hundreds of thousands of Romanians have taken to the streets to protest against measures taken by the new Government.
Hundreds of thousands of Romanians took to the streets for several consecutive evenings to protest against some measures taken by the new government in Bucharest shortly after taking office. On Tuesday, late at night, the government amended, by an emergency ordinance, the Criminal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code and drawn up a draft law on pardon, initiatives which, according to their opponents, are pushing the country towards Europe's periphery. "At night time, like thieves!", "Dragnea, the country's sexton", "We'll be here every day"- are only some of the slogans chanted by protesters in front of the Government offices in Bucharest and in many other cities and towns across Romania and abroad. In London, Paris, Brussels and Rome, Romanians expressed their solidarity with protesters at home. These have been the biggest rallies in Romania since the 1989 Anti-Communist Revolution.
The new emergency ordinance decriminalises the abuse of office if the damage caused falls below 200,000 lei, the equivalent of 45,000 Euros. It also decriminalises the offence of aiding and abetting. Aiding an offender, including by passing legislation, has also been decriminalised. The act of aiding an offender is also not considered a crime if the act in question is committed by a member of the offender's family and second-degree relatives. The government argues that their latest decisions are aimed at harmonising the legislation with the rulings issued by the Constitutional Court, but their opponents say their real goal is to clean the record of politicians, local officials and some business people. The emergency allegedly benefits, among others, the leader of the Social Democratic Party, Liviu Dragnea, who received a two-year suspended sentence for voter rigging, in the 2012 referendum on the impeachment of the then president, Traian Basescu, Liviu Dragnea is now on trial for incitement to abuse of office and forgery, with the damage in this case being below the newly-imposed threshold of 45,000 euros.
"It is inadmissible and an act of contempt for the government to adopt, at night and without it being on the agenda for the day, an emergency ordinance in such a sensitive area. This cannot be tolerated," said President Klaus Iohannis, who challenged the emergency at the Constitutional Court, evoking a possible legal conflict between the government, the judicial system and Parliament. The Higher Council of Magistracy, the General Prosecutor's Office and the Ombudsman have also taken a similar stand in the mater. In a letter sent to the Speakers of the two chambers of the Romanian Parliament, President Iohannis has asked them to present their message in Parliament as to the changes that the Government brings to the criminal law and to the events these changes have generated. In turn, the right-wing opposition made up of the Save Romania Union and the National Liberal Party has filed a censure motion. The opposition's initiative, however, stands slim chances of triggering the fall of the Grindeanu cabinet, given the comfortable majority that the parties in power - the Social Democratic Party and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats - have in Parliament. And this is in spite of the fact that not all Social Democratic MPs agree to the government's decisions.
The American Chamber of Commerce in Romania has expressed its deep disappointment, saying the adopted legislation undermines the rule of law, derails from the fundamental principles of transparency, stability and predictability and strays Romania from the European values and standards. The embassies of France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada and the United States voiced concern about the events in recent days, saying the government's actions risk affecting partnerships with Romania, based on common values inherent to the guiding principles of the EU and NATO. In a joint statement, the six embassies said the changes made by the government undermine the progress made by Romania with respect to the rule of law and the fight against corruption, as well as Romania's reputation in the international community.
The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, and the Commission's First Vice-President, Frans Timmermans, also expressed concern about the recent developments in Romania. The European officials recalled that the elimination of the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism, monitoring Romania for the past ten years, depended on the irreversibility of the progress achieved in the fight against corruption. A debate on democracy and justice in Romania was held in the European Parliament on Thursday, occasion on which Frans Timmermans warned that Romania might lose its share of European funds. The Commission's First Vice-President urged the Romanian government to withdraw the emergency ordinances. In a letter to Brussels, prime minister Sorin Grindeanu replied that the fight against corruption remains a priority of the Romanian government. At the end of a meeting with the leaders of the Social Democratic Party's local branches, who reconfirmed their support for the government's measures, PM Sorin Grindeanu and party leader Liviu Dragnea held a joint news conference in which they denied the accusations levelled at them. In spite of protests, criticism and warnings, the government in Bucharest seems unwilling to reconsider its decisions.