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EU Commission Urges Romania To 'Put Reform Process Back On Track, Urgently'

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Laura Koevesi speaks to reporters in Bucharest on March 7.

The European Commission has said that it is following "very closely and with great concern" developments in Romania, as EU lawmakers held a plenary session to discuss the rule-of-law situation in the country.

The EU member state "needs to put the reform process back on track and to do it urgently," Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova told the European Parliament in Strasbourg on April 15.

"This means going forward -- not backwards -- and abstaining from any steps which reverse the progress accomplished over the past years," she added.

Jourova cited "very real risks of further steps backwards" regarding the rule of law and, more specifically, "the independence of judiciary and the fight against corruption."

There has been growing criticism from Brussels after Romania's government first dismissed then moved to indict former chief anticorruption prosecutor Laura Koevesi on corruption charges in March and banned her from leaving the country for 60 days.

Romania's Supreme Court later struck down the ban, allowing Koevesi, who is a front-runner to become the first-ever EU antifraud chief prosecutor, to travel abroad during the selection process for the job.

Critics have alleged that Koevesi's dismissal last year was meant to prevent the anticorruption body she headed, the DNA, from targeting more senior members of the governing alliance, including the leader of the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD), Liviu Dragnea.

The PSD-led governing coalition has reportedly long been planning two emergency decrees altering judicial legislation, which some say are aimed at scuppering Dragnea's definitive conviction for abuse of office in 2012 and abandon a second case against him.

Dragnea's conviction has prevented him from becoming prime minister and forced him to settle for the position of speaker of the lower house of parliament.

The two planned decrees and other measures to reverse anticorruption reforms have prompted massive protests in Romania over the past two years, including one in August in Bucharest that was violently repressed by the authorities.

Jourova said that recent developments in Romania, taken together, "start to amount to a very worrying pattern."

"Recent months have been characterized by a very volatile situation in Romania with a series of rushed decisions being taken on essential matters. If these concerns are not met, the commission will have to act and to use all the means at its disposal," the commissioner added.

During a visit to Bucharest earlier this month, European Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans warned the Romanian government that Brussels will act "swiftly" if it does not take real action toward reform.

"I want to warn against any governmental action that would disrupt the Romanian judicial system by creating a systemic, de facto impunity for high-office holders who were sentenced for corruption," Timmermans said on April 3.

Although not saying what steps Brussels was considering if Bucharest failed to act, a senior EU official confirmed to RFE/RL under condition of anonymity that "all options are on the table," including "infringement procedures" and launching Article 7 procedures similar to those leveled against Hungary and Poland -- a process that could lead to a country losing its voting rights in the bloc's council.

With reporting by Rikard Jozwiak In Brussels and RFE/RL's Romanian Service
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