The left-wing majority in the Romanian parliament voted on Wednesday to relax anti-corruption legislation in move condemned by Brussels as evidence of the country’s weakening resolve to combat graft.
The new amendments reduce the time-limits for bribery and repeal a provision on abuse of power, which the opposition believes will directly benefit the leader of the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD), Liviu Dragnea, who is the target of several procedures.
The opposition immediately announced that it was going to appeal the suspension of the provisions in the Constitutional Court.
According to a European Commission statement in April, the amendments will create “systemic impunity for politicians convicted of corruption”.
Brussels has threatened to activate use “every means at its disposal” against Bucharest if this reform came into effect. The new legislation “will relegate Romania to the periphery of Europe,” said Liberal MP (opposition) Raluca Turcan before the Parliament.
In mid-April, the PSD fired Justice Minister Tudorel Toader because of his refusal to use emergency decrees to pass the new text. The overhaul of the judicial system and the relaxation of the anti-corruption legislation provoked massive demonstrations two years ago and gave rise to a long standoff between Bucharest and Brussels.
According to critics of these measures, they are intended to benefit politicians including Liviu Dragnea, sentenced in 2016 to a two-year suspended sentence for electoral fraud, a sentence that prevented him from taking up the post of Prime Minister. The PSD say that the judicial reform and the relaxation of the penal code are simply intended to correct the “abuses” of the judges who they accuse of forming a “parallel state”.
Romania, like neighboring Bulgaria, has been the subject to a strengthened monitoring mechanism regarding compliance with EU rule of law standards joining the bloc in 2007 of EU accession.