While August may traditionally be a quiet month, with the institutions, restaurants and streets of Brussels falling quiet as many escape the city for a summer break, in Romania it has been anything but tranquil.
Over the last few weeks and months, the roads and city squares of Bucharest have frequently been brought to gridlock, as tens of thousands of the country’s citizens take to the streets to make their voices heard in the face of a rapidly evolving political crisis.
The cause is well-known: the seemingly intractable battle against collusion and corruption within the very body supposedly responsible for ridding the country of graft, the National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA), in a country repeatedly listed by Transparency International as one of the European Union’s most corrupt states.
Recent anti-corruption efforts have driven huge chasms in Romania’s already fractured political landscape and state institutions.
As the country prepares to take up the Presidency of the Council of the EU, bold action is needed now more than ever to address this hugely damaging stand-off. One solution? A state-wide political amnesty, to reset from the divisions that have played out all too clearly in a summer of nationwide protests.
There is no sign of a solution being reached at domestic level, as legal and political gridlocks show no signs of abating.
Liviu Dragnea, the head of Romania’s Social Democratic party (PSD) and former President of the Chamber of Deputies, was this summer sentenced to three and a half years in prison for incitement to abuse of office, pending appeal.
In the meantime, the PSD has prepared moves to impeach the opposition-backed President Klaus Iohannis of the National Liberal Party, who earlier this year also sacked the head of the DNA Laura Kovesi, who had presided over a statistically improbable spike in conviction rates in recent years.
The DNA had come to evolve a toxic relationship with the Romanian Security Services (SRI) which desperately needs to be severed.
The two bodies, integral to the fight against corruption, developed a relationship that created the potential for abuse of the justice system. This self-serving alliance, cemented by a protocol of cooperation earlier this year, is concerningly reminiscent of communist-era justice, meted out by the dreaded Securitate.
"A country’s judicial standards cannot be so heavily diluted without impacting the human rights of its citizens"
This relationship has reportedly extended to manipulating judges, with the SRI accused by a Parliamentary Commission of seeking to influence the decision of judges in DNA cases, even by using Facebook.
Romania needs to repair not just its image, but the democratic accountability of these two very important for the country institutions.
A country’s judicial standards cannot be so heavily diluted without impacting the human rights of its citizens.
In March of this year, a report published by our organisation found that Romania cannot currently guarantee a fair trial or minimum prison conditions that meet international law.
Earlier this month, former Romanian judge Stan Mustata, who was serving a jail sentence of eight years and six months for bribery, suffered a heart attack and died. The magistrate, who was imprisoned for over two years, suffered from cancer and some kidney problems, according to local media reports.
Lawyers are filing an official complaint of medical negligence in light of the conditions in which he was confined in spite of existing knowledge of his health conditions.
This poor record does not only concern the citizens of Romania but of the EU and all member states. A number of Romanians living outside the country, as well as other EU citizens, have been indicted on spurious charges and wanted by Bucharest through the European Arrest Warrant(EAW).
"A state-wide political amnesty could be exactly what is needed to wipe the slate clean and enter into 2019 with fresh thinking and renewed focus"
Without significant change, that goes beyond a change in leadership, Romania cannot assure the minimum requirements of human rights standards.
Specific steps need to be taken. Our report recommended that the EAW should only be used for the most serious crimes, that "wanted person" alerts can only be circulated throughout the EU with its stamp of approval after examination of possible abuses, and that the EU member state requested to hand over a "wanted person" should keep sufficient margin of appreciation in its decision-making process.
We also suggested that victims of abuse should have access to redress mechanisms through a fair, open and impartial process.
As Romania’s political parties continue to point the finger at one another, the EU now has a golden opportunity to force the country’s hand by demonstrating that the judicial standards by which all member states are expected to abide cannot be so easily flouted.
If the EU waits any longer, it will be too late. Romania is due to assume the bloc’s rotating presidency from January to June 2019, effectively putting it in charge of directing the EU for six months.
This comes at one of the most critical moments in the EU’s history, with the UK due to exit the union at the end of March 2019. Moreover, between May 23-26, 2019, EU citizens will be called upon to elect a new European Parliament.
It could not be more obvious that it is untenable for Romania to lead the institutions of the EU at one of its most pivotal periods before sorting out its problems at home.
A state-wide political amnesty could be exactly what is needed to wipe the slate clean and enter into 2019 with fresh thinking and renewed focus.