By Ana Maria Luca
Romania’s President Klaus Iohannis said on Wednesday that he will not approve a set of justice bills passed by the Social Democrat-led parliament last week because they threaten the rule of law.
Iohannis said that he would send the bills to Romania’s Constitutional Court and will also notify the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission.
“The bills … fail to meet European standards,” Iohannis said, adding that they threaten the judiciary’s independence by putting undue pressure on magistrates.
Romania’s ruling Social Democratic Party has come under severe criticism from both Romanian civil society and European institutions since it won the December 2016 elections because of a push to adopt justice reforms that have been deemed damaging to the fight against corruption.
However, despite warnings from the European Commission and the Council of Europe, ruling party politicians have pushed ahead with the controversial bills, leading to the country’s largest protests since the fall of communism.
Activists have announced another large protest on May 12.
Romania’s centre-right President has been one of the harshest critics of the ruling party’s policies. He recently denied a government request to fire anti-graft chief prosecutor Laura Codruta Kovesi. On Friday, he described Social Democrat Prime Minister Viorica Dancila as unfit for her post and urged her to resign.
Iohannis’ rejection of the justice bills comes as the European Union on Wednesday announced that it will cut funds for member states that it considers are undermining the rule of law and are in danger of compromising the spending of EU taxpayers’ money.
The European Commission included the provision in its joint budget proposal for 2021-27.
The new EU measure has made waves in Romania, although the decision was taken as a warning mainly for Poland and Hungary, whose governments have put pressure on critical media and non-governmental groups and introduced changes to the judiciary that critics say go against the rule of law.