Nica, who heads Romania’s Socialist delegation in Parliament, was in Brussels this week with three other leading candidates for the Romanian PSD party for next week’s European elections.
Speaking at a briefing entitled “Dual standards: are some more equal than others?” Nica acknowledged that the reforms had been subject to a lot of recent media attention.
He told this website, “If there have been any misunderstandings these must addressed through further dialogue between the two sides. But two things, as far as we are concerned, are non-negotiable: first, the continued independence of the judiciary and, second, the importance of constitutional court decisions.”
His comments come after the Commission warned Romania that it will take legal action unless the country removes recent judicial measures, saying that the laws undermine the independence of courts.
Commission Chief spokesperson Margaritis Schinas said, “The main concerns relate to developments interfering with judicial independence and the effective fight against corruption, including the protection of financial interests of the EU and particularly to the recently-adopted amendments to the criminal code that create a de facto impunity for crimes.”
The Commission has repeatedly warned that measures adopted by the ruling Social Democrats (PSD) - including moves to reduce statutes of limitation that would close some ongoing corruption trials - are reversing years of anti-corruption reforms and weakening the rule of law.
Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans has sent a warning letter to Romania's government.
“Two things, as far as we are concerned, are non-negotiable: first, the continued independence of the judiciary and, second, the importance of constitutional court decisions” Dan Nica MEP
Nica refrained from outright criticism of Timmermans but said the reforms were needed and would guarantee independence of the judiciary in Romania.
He said, “I do not think there has been any breach of the rule of law but I am not in a position to give advice to Mr Timmermans.”
Nica, a member of the industry committee in the last Parliament, told the briefing at Brussels press club, “When it comes to the rule of law we are in favour of the same rules and standards as other Member States.”
“A set of criteria constituting the rule of law should be compulsory for all Member States, EU citizens should be able to see whether the rule of law is upheld in Member States, without having to have a Ph.D. in jurisprudence,” he added.
Another speaker, Cristian Terhes, a Romanian-American priest who has been at the forefront of the fight for justice reform, was asked why Timmermans would send the letter.
Terhes replied, "The letter from Timmermans is full of errors. Part of the rule of law concerns implied transparency. How can he assert that the country has been ruled by law with transparency and access to justice whilst refusing to acknowledge the existence of secret protocols between the secret services and the judiciary?”
“The problem has been raised by many parties, both internal and external, including the magistrates association. There is no threat greater to the independence of the judiciary than a secret agency tampering with evidence, blackmailing magistrates and being involved in the judicial process.”
“The main concerns [with Romania] relate to developments interfering with judicial independence and the effective fight against corruption” Chief Commission spokesperson Margaritis Schinas
“Yet he [Timmermans] says not one word about this.”
The Commission has already put Hungary and Poland under a special "rule of law" framework over steps to tighten state control over the courts, media, academic institutions and advocacy groups.
This could theoretically lead to the eventual activation of the EU's Article 7 - the so-called "nuclear option" - resulting in a suspension of their voting rights in the EU.
Schinas said similar action would be taken against Romania unless it addressed the EU's concerns.
Concerns about the independence of the Romanian justice system have existed since the country’s 2007 EU accession.
The reforms will be put to a national referendum in Romania on 26 May, the same day as the EU-wide elections.