Romania’s Social Democrat Prime Minister Viorica Dancila blamed “fake news” on Wednesday at a hearing in the European Parliament, after MEPs accused her Social Democrat-led government of pushing for changes to justice legislation deemed damaging to the rule of law.
“This government has brought economic growth,” Dancila said. “Romanians love this government,” she added.
Dancila, a former Socialist MEP who was appointed head of the government in January 2018, was summoned to answer questions from MEPs on Wednesday, as concerns grow over her government’s record over key corruption and rule-of-law related issues.
Romania has experienced turmoil in the two years since her party came to power. But Dancila stressed that whatever the debate on threats to the rule of law, her government would not stray from European values.
“Romania is a European country and will surely not stray from the pro-European path and I tell you this as a former colleague. Please trust Romania,” she said.
The Social Democrats have pushed for changes to the judiciary that would reduce the independence of prosecutors and remove some corruption offences from the criminal codes.
The moves triggered Romania’s biggest street protests since the fall of communism and have drawn warnings from Brussels and other foreign partners, such as the United States.
Civil society activists accuse the Social Democrats of trying to change the law in order to prevent party leader Liviu Dragnea from going to jail, after he was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison in a second corruption case in July 2018.
“We will make right what needs to be made right. There will be dialogue [with the European Commission],” Dancila said on Wednesday. Dancila said reports by the European Commission on the Romanian justice system were flawed.
She said they had failed to mention alleged secret protocols signed between Romanian intelligence services and prosecutors, which she claims have allowed the surveillance of “millions of Romanians.”
“Why were these cases of abuse kept from you?” she asked.
However, European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans renewed his observation that the rule of law was under threat in Romania.
He noted that the Council of Europe, through its anti-corruption working group, as well as the Venice Commission and the European Commission, had repeatedly warned Romania that the new legislation threatened the rule of law.
“The Romanian government so far has made no effort to respond to these recommendations,” he said. Timmermans, who met Dancila and Romanian Justice Minister Tudorel Toader on Tuesday, no longer mentioned referring Romania to the European Court of Justice, however.
At a Monday hearing in the Human Rights and Civil Liberties Committee in the European Parliament, he said the Commission would not hesitate to send Romania to court, if necessary. Romania has been under a Monitoring and Verification Mechanism since 2007, when it joined the EU.
The European Parliament is due in November to adopt a resolution on the rule of law in Romania. The Commission is also set to release a new CVM report on justice and rule of law in Romania in the same month.