Commission expresses concern over the Romanian government decriminalising corruption

Kari ReynoldsFeb 04, 2017

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, who last month joined protesters on the streets to oppose the law, but who wields significantly less power than the Prime Minister, described Wednesday as "a day of mourning for the rule of law".

The huge, popular mobilization against corruption and incompetent politicians has reached unprecedented proportions in the last 27 years since the fall of communism.

European Commission vice president Frank Timmermans urged the government to "urgently reconsider" the decree, warning it could affect the EU funds Romania receives if it adopted.

The past week has been a chaotic one for Romania as the government has made a decision to adopt two major changes in the Penal Code of the country - one which calls for the legal pardoning of prison sentences of up to five years for various crimes, including the abuse of power, and another that decreases forthcoming sentences for abuse of office to as little as a mere six months, or even exclusively fines. But the drive proved unpopular with politicians.

Leaders of the centre-left Social Democratic Party and the junior Alliance of Democratic Liberals, which form the current coalition government, both face corruption charges that bar them from serving as ministers.

Social Democrat chairman Liviu Dragnea was unable to become prime minister because in April 2016 he received a two-year suspended jail sentence for vote rigging. His abuse-of-power trial, which began on Tuesday, concerns 24,000 euros.

Justice Minister Florin Iordache said the emergency ordinance will decriminalise cases of official misconduct in which the damages are valued at less than 200,000 leu - the equivalent of £37,000.

The government insists that the measure was introduced to combat overcrowding in prisons.

President Klaus Iohannis took part in an emergency meeting of the CSM, telling reporters afterwards: "The problem is that one can not act the way the government did in a country with the rule of law, which Romania is and wants to remain".

Prisoners interviewed by The Associated Press scoffed at the idea, saying the changes were likely to benefit senior officials rather than ordinary convicts. Hundreds of thousands of Romanians say the measure undermines a decade of anti-corruption reforms. "The Social Democrats are testing how far they can go", anti-corruption legal expert Laura Stefan said.

"There has only ever been one single strategy for fighting corruption and we have learned and developed with that".

Grindeanu showed no sign of giving ground, sending a letter on Wednesday to European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker detailing the reasons why his cabinet chose to pass the decree and a draft bill granting prison pardons for several offences.

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