Romania Changes Criminal Code Despite Fierce Criticism

640_CDEP_0888Romania’s Social Democrat-led parliament on July 4 adopted changes to the Criminal Code in an emergency meeting that took place a day earlier than scheduled – and despite criticism from the opposition, anti-corruption activists and foreign diplomats.

Opposition parties say the changes could seriously undermine the rule of law in Romania, a view shared by magistrates, many experts and international institutions.

The most contested change refers to the partial de-criminalisation of abuse of office – an offence that resulted in Social Democrat leader Liviu Dragnea receiving a three-and-a-half-year jail sentence on June 21.

The new code limits abuse of office to only when a public official obtains undue advantages for themselves or their family during working hours.

Abuse of office is also no longer applicable in cases of adoption of legislation or approval of government or parliamentary documents.

The ruling Social Democrats took only two days to pass 237 amendments through both chambers of parliament.

The Senate took a mere two hours on Tuesday to approve the bill while lawmakers in the Lower Chamber only received the key documents on Wednesday – one hour before the parliamentary session started.

Romania’s ruling party has received much criticism since parliament on June 18, at a late-night emergency plenary session, also adopted changes to the Criminal Procedure Code.

Among other things, the changes bar the courts from accepting as evidence recordings that do not relate strictly to the investigated cases in different probes.

Opposition MPs told journalists they would appeal about the changes to both codes to the Constitutional Court.

“Starting today, there is no longer rule of law in Romania,” the leader of opposition Save Romania Union, Dan Barna, said after Wednesday’s vote.

However, Social Democrat MP Florin Iordache told the debate that the changes reflected Constitutional Court rulings and European directives.

“If someone is guilty, they should be prosecuted based on real investigations, not based on some account-settling,” he added.

Romania’s centre-right President, Klaus Iohannis, criticized the ruling party for blocking the debate in the parliament and for the rushed adoption of both sets of changes.

“What has been happening in Romania is the dictatorship of the majority and it is deeply damaging for democracy,” Iohannis said.

“I will use all the constitutional instruments to contest both the Criminal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code [changes],” he added.

Since the Social Democrats won the last elections in December 2016, Romania has been shaken by street protests and political instability over the party’s push to adopt justice bills that appeared designed to relax the fight against corruption.

Besides changing the criminal codes, three other bills dealing with the justice system and the statute of magistrates adopted in December 2017 have been sent back and forth between the President, the Constitutional Court and the parliament several times due to technical problems in the drafts.

The United States and 11 European countries urged Romania’s lawmakers on June 28 not to adopt law changes that threaten the fight against corruption in the country.

Balkan Insight
July 4, 2018
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