Romanians Flood Streets to Protest Latest Court Reforms

(Bloomberg) -- Thousands of Romanians resumed protests in Bucharest and cities across the Black Sea nation, demanding the ruling party scraps a judicial overhaul that’s been criticized for its potentially damaging effects on anti-corruption efforts.

More than 15,000 people defied cold weather -- including about 10,000 in the capital -- to call for the resignations of Social Democrat leader Liviu Dragnea and his allies, who’re ignoring opposition from judges as they proceed with the court revamp. An emergency decree in January to decriminalize some abuse-of-office offenses prompted the largest protests since the fall of Communism. It was eventually reversed.

“It’s very clear that the desire to control the judiciary is stronger than logic,” Chief Prosecutor Augustin Lazar said last week.

Judicial reform has been a hot-button issue for eastern Europe, with governments from Budapest to Warsaw standing accused of seeking to undermine the independence of the courts. Romania’s plan risks igniting massive demonstrations akin to the rolling protests at the start of the year, which attracted as many as half a million people and lasted for almost two months. The push comes as the economy is growing at its quickest pace in almost a decade, though government spending has raised budgetary concerns.

Changes under the proposed legislation include holding judges and prosecutors accountable for incorrect rulings and negligence, and allowing the state to recover damages from them. While some bills were approved by the lower house of parliament last week, others are still under debate in a special committee chaired by former Justice Minister Florin Iordache, who initiated the January decree and remains a deeply unpopular figure.

On top of the judiciary changes, Romania’s government has angered citizens by revamping the tax system to shift the the burden of social contributions almost entirely to workers, from the current split between employers and employees. Businesses and unions have expressed concern as workers complain that their salaries will drop.

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.