Not only has Romania stalled in its fight against corruption, but it's also falling back on judicial reforms, the European Commission says, urging Bucharest to immediately reverse anticorruption moves and restore judicial independence.
The annual reports on the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) scrutinizing the rule of law in EU members Romania and Bulgaria, on November 13 highlighted the bloc's growing concerns about the erosion of democratic values in Romania since the Social Democratic Party (PSD) came to power almost two years ago.
Romania joined the EU alongside Bulgaria in 2007, and both countries were placed under an unprecedented EU monitoring mechanism, making their entry into Europe's passport-free Schengen zone conditional on fulfilling the rule-of-law criteria.
The report on Romania came out shortly after EU lawmakers sharply criticized the PSD-led government's recent moves to reverse anticorruption measures, and passed a resolution warning that its actions threaten the independence of the judicial system as well as the ability to fight corruption effectively in Romania.
The resolution was passed by the European Parliament by 473 votes to 151, with 40 abstentions.
"I regret that Romania has not only stalled its reform process, but also reopened and backtracked on issues where progress was made over the past 10 years," commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said at the launch of the CVM report.
The document says that "recent developments have reversed the course of progress and called into question the positive assessment made back in January 2017."
It said that "the entry into force of the amended justice laws, the pressure on judicial independence in general and on the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) in particular, and other steps undermining the fight against corruption have reversed or called into question the irreversibility of progress."
The commission put forward eight additional recommendations, including the immediate suspension of all ongoing appointments and dismissal procedures for senior prosecutors and the relaunching of the process to appoint a new chief prosecutor of the DNA.
Bulgaria fared far better in the CVM report, with Timmermans hailing Sofia's advances on judicial reform as well as in the fight against corruption and organized crime.
Last month, commission head Jean-Claude Juncker said he would like to see Romania join the Schengen area next year, but warned Bucharest not to endanger that objective by "distancing" itself from the rule of law.
On November 12, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis warned that his country, which is due to take over the six-month rotating EU presidency in January, is not prepared to fulfill the task.
Iohannis called for the immediate resignation of the PSD-led government, which he called "an accident of Romanian democracy."