Romania Edges Closer to EU Sanctions in Rule-of-Law Dispute

(Bloomberg) -- Romania received a new warning from the European Union that recent legislative changes breach rule-of-law norms and bring it closer to the kind of sanctions already hanging over other eastern European countries.

The warning raises the prospect that Romania will join Poland and Hungary in facing EU censure for breaching the bloc’s democratic norms, a process known as Article 7. The bloc’s ex-communist region has come under increased scrutiny as Poland and Hungary sought further sway over courts, prompting some European leaders to push for a cut in their development funding.

The European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, said changes to Romania’s criminal code approved last month are detrimental to anti-corruption efforts and the judiciary. Failure to shift course could result in infringement proceedings, according to a letter to Romania’s government signed by First Vice President Frans Timmermans.

“If the necessary improvements aren’t made shortly, or if further negative steps are taken, such as the promulgation of the latest amendments to the criminal codes, the Commission will trigger the Rule of Law Framework without delay,” Timmermans said, according to the text of the letter, seen by Bloomberg.

Eastern Europe has already been in the spotlight before this month’s European Parliament elections. Hungary’s governing Fidesz party has been suspended from the European People’s Party, while the European Social Democrats said last month they’ll freeze relations with Romania’s ruling party.

Summit Rebuke

Romania, which currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency, was reprimanded last week at a summit in the town of Sibiu, where French President Emmanuel Macron and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte both criticized the overhaul of the judiciary.

Liviu Dragnea, head of the ruling Social Democrats and Romania’s de facto leader, blamed President Klaus Iohannis -- a long-standing political opponent -- for Timmermans’s letter.

“Apparently Iohannis pressed the European Commission officials that attended the Sibiu summit to come up again with something against Romania, ” Dragnea said in televised comments. “He wanted something to use to attack the Social Democratic Party and the government.”

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