Thousands of Romanians protest judicial changes after decree pares independence of prosecutors

Thousands of Romanians protested across the country on Sunday after the government passed an emergency decree that critics said chipped away at prosecutors’ independence in one of the European Union’s most corrupt states.

The decree, approved without public debate, is the latest in a slew of legislative and personnel changes by the ruling Social Democrats since they took power more than two years ago that have raised concerns over rule of law.

The European Commission, U.S. State Department and thousands of magistrates have warned the changes threaten judicial independence.

In an unprecedented protest, prosecutors have said they will only work on emergency cases from Monday for three to seven days. Many judges will follow suit.

Magistrates declined an invitation to meet Prime Minister Viorica Dancila on Monday to discuss the decree.

“The independence of the judiciary is non-negotiable,” a statement signed by magistrates’ associations said.

“Any dialogue regarding the approval of the … decree should have been initiated before it was approved, not after. The only solution left now is to revoke the decree in its entirety.”

In the capital Bucharest, an estimated 7,000 people protested outside government headquarters, blocking traffic and chanting “Justice, not corruption,” “Magistrates, don’t give up,” and “Shame!” Thousands more rallied in cities across the country.

The decree changes the way chief prosecutors are appointed and removes most oversight of a prosecuting unit that investigates magistrates, something critics say was created to intimidate.

 

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2019/02/25/world/politics-diplomacy-world/thousands-romanians-protest-judicial-changes-decree-pares-independence-prosecutors/#.XHMZz-hKhPZ

Romanian magistrates stage unprecedented protest against judicial changes

BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Magistrates protested outside courthouses across Romania on Friday and many prosecutors will stop work next week, in an unprecedented protest against changes in judicial legislation that have raised alarm bells over the rule of law.

Romania’s government used an emergency decree to alter the legislation on Tuesday, mostly stripping prosecutors of more of their powers. It was the latest in a series of changes the ruling Social Democrats have made in the past two years that have triggered massive street protests.

The European Commission, U.S. State Department and thousands of Romanian magistrates have said the changes threaten the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law.

 

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-romania-judiciary-protests/romanian-magistrates-stage-unprecedented-protest-against-judicial-changes-idUSKCN1QB1UG

Romanian news station sanctioned with 10 min. broadcast suspension

Romanian news channel Realitatea TV will have to suspend its broadcast for 10 minutes on Thursday, January 17, starting 19:00, the audiovisual watchdog CNA decided on Tuesday.

The news station was thus sanctioned for the way it reflected the August 10, 2018 events in Bucharest’s Victoriei Square, during which the riot police clashed with the protesters and several hundred people were reportedly hurt following the gendarmes’ intervention. The CNA board members decided with a majority of votes that Realitatea TV incited the public to violence, local Paginademedia.ro reported.

The news station reacted and said that this sanction was a form of repression by the ruling party PSD and its leader Liviu Dragnea against the honest media in Romania. Realitatea TV has positioned itself firmly against the current ruling coalition.

Romania TV, a news channel favorable to the ruling party, was also sanctioned with a RON 15,000 (EUR 3,200) fine for the way it reflected the incidents on August 10.

 

https://www.romania-insider.com/romanian-news-station-broadcast-suspension/

Romania’s government gives up centralised textbook policy in schools

 

https://www.romania-insider.com/romania-gives-up-centralised-textbook-schools/

Romania’s Ministry of Education gave up the idea of textbooks made by a unique, centralised publishing house, G4media.roinformed, quoting minister of education Ecaterina Andronescu.

Teachers will be again able to choose between several textbooks made by different publishers.

Andronescu launched into public debate an order which stipulates the return to the procedure of purchasing textbooks by auction through the electronic public procurement system SEAP. There will be a maximum of 3 school textbooks for each subject and winner contracts will be signed for 4 years.

The return to competition on the textbooks market comes one year after former minister Liviu Pop imposed the state monopoly on textbook editing. Last year, the ministry extended without any legal basis the textbook purchase contract to the Didactic and Pedagogical Publishing House, subordinated to the Ministry of Education.

Romania’s Education Ministry asks state publisher to reprint textbook due to many errors

Romania’s competition body slaps heavy fine on local online retailer

Romania’s Competition Council issued a RON 1.6 million (EUR 0.34 mln) fine against local firm Corsar Online, the operator of cel.ro online shop, for having operated three other online shops (www.marketonline.ro, http://www.mediadot.ro and http://www.azerty.ro) before receiving formal approval for their takeover.

Corsar Online has displayed on products and operated the sales related to the said internet domains, previously operated by other companies, the competition body explained.

Corsar Online requested the Competition Council’s approval nearly three years ago, Ziarul Financiar daily disclosed. In fact, the newspaper announced in August 2016 that the takeover was completed technically.

“According to the relevant legislation, any economic concentration (done by merger, acquisition, takeover), where the cumulated turnover of the companies involved exceeds EUR 10 million and at least two of the companies involved have reported in Romania turnovers higher than EUR 4 million, must be notified to the competition authority before being implemented,” the Competition Council’s press release announced.

 

https://www.romania-insider.com/romanias-competition-body-heavy-fine-online-retailer/

Romania gov’t survives censure vote over judicial overhaul

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romania’s Social Democrat government on Thursday easily survived a no-confidence vote over a contentious judicial overhaul that opposition politicians say has harmed the rule of law and democracy in this European Union member nation.

Lawmakers voted 161-3 to dismiss the left-wing government, far less than the 233 needed. Before the vote, Premier Viorica Dancila told lawmakers she wouldn’t comment on the overhaul as the laws were “adopted by Parliament.” She rebuked the EU for criticizing it.

“I will never be accountable abroad for things which belong to the country’s sovereignty and dignity,” she said.

But Dan Barna, who leads the opposition Save Romania Union, said the government’s top priority was to “get the criminals out of prison.”

Social Democrat leader Liviu Dragnea is pressing the government to give amnesty to “thousands of people” he claims were wrongly imprisoned by anti-corruption prosecutors.

http://www.14news.com/2018/12/20/romania-govt-survives-censure-vote-over-judicial-overhaul/

Romania’s Govt. pays incentives for the replacement of old white goods

Romania’s Environment Ministry is launching a programme under which households can scrap their old white goods (refrigerators, washing machine and air conditioning units more specifically) and replace them with new, energy-efficient ones.

The new equipment has to meet energy efficiency requirements, namely be two stars or three stars under international classifications, local Mediafax reported. For the specified equipment, about half of the models on the market meet the requirements.

The ministry earmarked RON 20 million (EUR 4.3 mln) for funding the programme, while the value of a voucher received by those scrapping old equipment is RON 200 to RON 400, depending on the energy efficiency of the new equipment. Thus, the program will have some 60,000 beneficiaries.

Those interested can register starting December 19 on the dedicated website (www.afm.ro). Notably, beneficiaries will get more vouchers if they scrap several items, and can use them all for buying one piece of equipment.

 

https://www.romania-insider.com/romania-incentives-replacement-old-white-goods/

Romania rejects request by Turkey to extradite journalist

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — A Romanian court on Friday rejected a request by Turkey to extradite a Turkish journalist it accuses of terrorism, after prosecutors said the case was political.

Turkey wants to try Kamil Demirkaya for links to Fethullah Gulen, the U.S.-based cleric blamed by Turkey for orchestrating a failed coup in 2016.

The Court of Appeal delivered its ruling after 15 minutes’ deliberation and later said there was no legal basis to extradite him.

https://www.bgdailynews.com/news/international/romania-rejects-request-by-turkey-to-extradite-journalist/article_5414cd8e-827a-5f52-8bcd-822a83f83ed5.html

Educated Romania, a strategic project initiated by the Presidency

The evolution of the Romanian education system has been rather unstable in the past 30 years. With 27 different ministers at helm and an education law that has been adjusted about  200 times in the last seven years alone, the Romanian education system has been dealing with many other problems. Under these circumstances, the Presidential Administration has launched the project “Educated Romania”, which is in fact a strategy to be put into practice by 2030.

 

According to President Klaus Iohannis, the project is aimed to recreate a value-based society and develop a success culture based on performance, work, talent, honesty and integrity. After being open to public debate for three months, the project will be negotiated by President Iohannis and political parties so that it is introduced into the government policies. According to President Iohannis, the “Educated Romania” project is also meant to contribute to the development of an education system for the 21st Century, a stable, sustainable and performing system.

 

Klaus Iohannis: “Educated Romania is a strategic project that wants to create the foundation of the education system for Romania of the 21st Century. Educated Romania  is not a draft law. Educated Romania is not a simple recipe and is not my electoral programme. Educated Romania is our Romania, the Romania of all, for the generations to come.”

 

The project proposes two scenarios of education system restructuring. The first scenario is similar to the present one in terms of the number of years spent in every pre-university cycle. It introduces, alongside the baccalaureate exam, an “applied” exam, that includes a limited number of subject matters as well as practical tests, in keeping with the specificity of each vocational training option.

 

It gives access to the non-university tertiary education, that is two-year colleges, and then to a one-year or two-year vocational training cycle. The second scenario brings in a change in the structure of pre-university cycles. Thus, the primary education cycle is extended to six years from five at present while the secondary education cycle is reduced to three years instead of four.

 

The same thing is proposed for the high-school cycle. The baccalaureate covers the basic subject matters – Romanian, Math and a foreign language – and students get to pick three optional subject matters for the exam, including practical tests conducted within a company or another relevant institution.

 

In  keeping with the Educated Romania project, the current school inspectorates, operational in every county and the capital Bucharest, should be closed down. Educated Romania is the most comprehensive and longest public consultation held so far in the field of public policies in education, that enjoyed the contribution of more than 10 thousand people and dozens of public institutions, NGOs and representatives of decision-makers in the field.

 

http://www.rri.ro/en_gb/educated_romania_a_strategic_project_initiated_by_the_presidency-2590671

Romania’s main ruling party wants to raise taxes on domestic gas production favoring imports from Russia

Romania’s main ruling party, PSD, proposed in the parliament an amendment that will increase the taxes paid by local gas producers, a move that favors imports from Russia, according to experts.

According to this proposal, the supplementary tax paid by domestic producers for the natural gas extracted in Romania will be calculated according to the trading prices of the hub from CEGH Vienna.

The amendment was already voted in the Industry and Services committee of the lower chamber of Romanian parliament, according to Economica.net.

The two major gas producers in Romania, Romgaz and OMV Petrom, are paying since 2013 the tax on supplementary revenues based on the real price of gas in Romania.

This new measure will increase the tax burden on the local gas producers and will favor the imports from Russia, experts say.

“Linking the taxes of the oil and gas sector to the Vienna Stock Exchange is a big mistake! Such a decision generates price increases and falls in domestic production – and import growth from Russia. No other country in the world does that,” said Razvan Nicolescu, a former Energy minister.

 

http://business-review.eu/energy/romanian-main-ruling-party-want-to-raise-taxes-on-domestic-gas-production-favoring-imports-from-russia-192169

Romania leader rejects government’s anti-graft prosecutor nominee

BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Romania’s president on Wednesday rejected the government’s nominee for chief anti-corruption prosecutor amid concerns among magistrates and diplomats that she might be soft on high-level graft in one of the European Union’s most corrupt states.

 

The proposal of Adina Florea, a little-known prosecutor in the port town of Constanta, is part of a series of legal and personnel changes made by the ruling Social Democrats that are seen as threats to judicial independence and could further heighten European Union concerns about democratic values in some of its eastern member states.

Florea was not immediately available for comment on the decision by President Klaus Iohannis.

Earlier this month, the European Commission said that proposed changes to the judicial system and criminal code signaled a reversal of a decade of democratic and market reforms.

The European Parliament also passed a non-binding resolution urging a greater fight against corruption, condemning police brutality during anti-graft protests and demanding an end to what it called the erosion of the rule of law.

The government’s decision in February to remove Florea’s predecessor, Laura Codruta Kovesi, brought thousands of protesters onto the streets. Kovesi had drawn praise at home and abroad for her efforts to convict high-level politicians, but the justice minister accused her of exceeding her authority.

In October, the minister requested the dismissal of Prosecutor General Augustin Lazar on similar grounds.

Speaking before a judicial advisory panel in October, part of her nomination process, Florea said anti-corruption prosecutors should not investigate abuse of office cases, raising concerns among government critics. About a third of all cases handled by the elite unit deal with abuse of office.

Anti-corruption prosecutors have convicted thousands of public officials, including lawmakers and ministers.

Among them is Social Democrat leader Liviu Dragnea who was sentenced to a two-year suspended jail sentence in a vote-rigging case. He was also sentenced to three and a half years in jail in a separate abuse of office case. He denies all charges and has appealed.

Transparency International ranks Romania as one of the EU’s most corrupt states and Brussels has kept its justice system under special monitoring since it joined the bloc in 2007.

Under Romanian law, the president must sign off on petitions to dismiss chief prosecutors, which are requested by the justice minister and also need approval from a judicial watchdog. A Constitutional Court decision limits Iohannis’ powers to assess the legality of the procedure.

 

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-romania-corruption-prosecutor/romania-leader-rejects-governments-anti-graft-prosecutor-nominee-idUSKCN1NQ1JW

Romania’s economy accelerates in the third quarter

Romania’s gross domestic product (GDP) increased by 4.3%, as a gross series, in the third quarter of 2018 compared to the same period of 2017, according to the flash estimate published on Wednesday, November 14, by the National Institute of Statistics (INS). In seasonally adjusted terms, the increase was of 4.1%.

Compared to the previous quarter, the GDP grew in real terms by 1.9%, according to INS.

In January-September, the economy increased by 4.2% both as a gross series and in seasonally adjusted terms, compared to the same period last year.

The National Strategy and Prognosis Commission – CNSP reduced in its autumn forecast the estimation on Romania’s real economic growth this year, from 5.5% to 4.5%. The forecasts provided by CNSP are used by the government in its budgeting process.

Meanwhile, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund (IMF)have also significantly cut their economic growth estimates for Romania recently.

In 2017, Romania’s economy increased by 6.9%, the highest economic growth rate in Europe. Industry had a share of 24.2% in the GDP, followed by the trade sector (18.6%) and the public sector (11.8%).

EBRD cuts economic growth forecast for Romania

 

https://www.romania-insider.com/romania-economc-growth-q3-2018/

Romania’s Senate president targeted in bribery investigation

Prosecutors of Romania’s National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) are investigating Senate president Călin Popescu Tăriceanu for allegedly receiving a EUR 800,000 bribe while he was a prime minister, G4media.ro reported.

The sum was given in exchange for Tăriceanu’s helping an Austrian company close several additional agreements to a contract with the Romanian state, according to a DNA press release quoted by G4media.ro. The sum stood for 10% of the value of the additional agreements. It was transferred to the former PM’s accounts through fictitious contracts with several offshore companies.

The case concerning the Senate president gathers three other cases, one of which was taken over by the DNA at the request of the Austrian judicial authorities.

On November 7, after some local news channels speculated that the prosecutors’ investigation may be linked to the Microsoft case, the Senate president said he hadn’t been notified about this investigation. In a Facebook post, he suggested that the latest developments, including the Teleorman leaks, could be related to an attempt to save general prosecutor Augustin Lazăr from being dismissed.

The DNA prosecuted him in the past for lying under oath in a case related to illegal retrocessions. However, Tariceanu was acquitted in first court.

editor@romania-insider.com

https://www.romania-insider.com/tariceanu-bribery-investigation/

Romanian justice minister demands prosecutor general’s dismissal

BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Romania’s justice minister on Wednesday demanded the prosecutor general’s dismissal, accusing him of exceeding his authority in a move that could heighten concerns in Brussels about democratic values in some eastern EU member states.

 

Other recent steps by Romania’s ruling Social Democrats to change the justice system and replace senior judicial officials have triggered massive street protests, and sparked worries about the rule of law at the European Commission and among diplomats.

Justice Minister Tudorel Toader read a summary of a 20-point report that he had compiled, calling for Prosecutor General Augustin Lazar to be fired on the grounds that he was responsible for “acts and facts intolerable to the rule of law.”

Lazar is the last major figure in an anti-corruption drive that has won praise from Brussels for exposing high-level corruption, including the theft of EU funds.

He condemned Toader’s bid to oust him. “(This) is the way that the executive, by way of the justice minister, demonstrates its understanding about respect for prosecutors’ independence,” he told reporters.

Lazar oversees thousands of prosecutors, including anti-organised crime unit DIICOT and anti-corruption unit DNA.

The DIICOT leader’s mandate has expired, and the head of the DNA, Laura Codruta Kovesi, was fired in July after a performance review similar to Lazar’s. Critics say their potential replacements might be soft on crime.

Under Romanian law, the president must sign off on petitions to dismiss chief prosecutors, which are requested by the justice minister and also need approval from a judicial watchdog.

However, the Constitutional Court ruled earlier this year that the president does not have the right to oppose such a request from the justice minister. As a result, President Klaus Iohannis had to sack the DNA’s Kovesi in July.

Iohannis will be limited to assessing the legality of the procedure. Analysts have said the constitutional court’s ruling increased the government’s power over prosecutors.

Transparency International ranks Romania as one of the EU’s most corrupt states and Brussels has kept its justice system under special monitoring since it joined the bloc in 2007.

Anti-corruption prosecutors have convicted thousands of public officials, including lawmakers and ministers.

Among them is Social Democrat leader Liviu Dragnea who has a two-year suspended jail sentence in a vote-rigging case. He was also sentenced to three and a half years in jail in a separate abuse of office case. He denies all charges and has appealed.

The European Commission, which is already seeking sanctions against Poland and Hungary for flouting democratic values, fears Romania is following suit. It is due to release its latest justice monitoring report on Romania in November.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-romania-politics-judiciary/romanian-justice-minister-demands-prosecutor-generals-dismissal-idUSKCN1MY2K8

Corrected: Romania’s tug of war over rule of law nears the line

BUCHAREST (Reuters) – A power struggle between Romania’s government and judiciary is reaching a tipping point that risks driving a new wedge between the European Union and its eastern members over democratic standards.

Justice Minister Tudorel Toader has said he will soon decide the future of the prosecutor general, the last major figure in an anti-corruption drive which has won praise from Brussels for exposing high-level graft, including the theft of EU funds.

Augustin Lazar oversees around 2,500 prosecutors, including anti-organised crime unit DIICOT and anti-corruption unit DNA.

If Toader decides to trigger Lazar’s dismissal, it will mark the end of an era for Romania’s prosecutors. The head of the DNA has already been fired and DIICOT leader’s mandate has expired.

The government says the units have ruined innocent lives.

Anti-corruption prosecutors have secured almost 5,000 convictions over the past five years, including 27 lawmakers and 83 mayors across parties, as well as ministers, county council heads, state firm managers and magistrates.

Among them is Liviu Dragnea, leader of the ruling Social Democrats, who was barred from becoming prime minister by a conviction in the first of three investigations against him. He denies all wrongdoing and says he is the victim of a political witch-hunt by the judiciary.

In recent months, his party has launched a slew of bills to overhaul criminal law and procedures to raise the burden of proof. It has also set up a unit to investigate judges and prosecutors for possible crimes and aims to reorganise judges panels.

European diplomats, who are seeking sanctions against fellow east European states Poland and Hungary for flouting democratic values, are concerned Romania is following suit.

 

https://in.reuters.com/article/romania-politics-law/corrected-romanias-tug-of-war-over-rule-of-law-nears-the-line-idINKCN1MT19E

Romanian president reluctantly signs legal reform in ‘setback for democracy’

BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Romania’s president on Friday reluctantly signed off a judicial reform, including a reduction in his own powers, that he called a “setback for Romanian democracy”.

 

Klaus Iohannis had, together with opposition parties, tried to block the measure which, among other things, removes his right to veto new chief prosecutor appointments, just as the government replaces a sacked anti-corruption prosecutor.

The Constitutional Court last month found the measure put forward by the ruling Social Democrats (PSD) to be in line with the constitution, leaving Iohannis, a centrist, no alternative but to sign it into law.

The law broadly gives more powers to the justice minister, a political appointee, to the detriment of the president and a magistrates’ regulatory body.

The European Union, which has kept Romania’s justice system under special monitoring since it joined the bloc a decade ago, fears the measure will reverse progress in fighting high-level graft by exposing judges to political interference.

 

“This change represents a setback for Romanian democracy, a danger signaled by our European partners,” Iohannis said in a statement.

Romania is one of Europe’s most corrupt countries, and tens of thousands of Romanians protesting against corruption have taken to the streets several times since the Social Democrats took power in early 2017 and tried to decriminalize several graft offences – most recently in August.

Before her sacking in July, chief anti-corruption prosecutor Laura Codruta-Kovesi had secured a spate of convictions against lawmakers, ministers and mayors, exposing conflicts of interest, abuse of power, fraud and the awarding of state contracts in exchange for bribes.

Justice Minister Tudorel Toader, who fired Codruta-Kovesi for exceeding her authority, has nominated little-known magistrate Adina Florea to replace her.

Speaking before a judicial advisory panel on Monday in her confirmation process, Florea said cases of abuse of office should be investigated by regular prosecutors, not the specialized unit, known as the DNA, that deals with graft.

Social Democrat party leader Liviu Dragnea was sentenced in June to three and a half years in prison for incitement to abuse of office, though an appeal is still pending.

 

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-romania-judiciary/romanian-president-reluctantly-signs-legal-reform-in-setback-for-democracy-idUSKCN1MM252