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Romania Prime Minister Vows To Respect EU Norms

Prime Minister Victor Ponta in Bucharest, July 11
Romania's Prime Minister Victor Ponta has assured the European Union that his government would respect the rule of law after drawing fierce criticism over moves to impeach the president and weaken the judiciary.

Center-right President Traian Basescu was suspended by the leftist-controlled parliament on July 6, but a referendum is needed to confirm his removal.

Ponta, speaking on July 11 in Brussels after talks with European Parliament president Martin Schulz, said his leftist coalition will obey a constitutional court ruling on the upcoming referendum on removing Basescu.

"I am going to take all the administrative and governmental steps to assure that all the decisions of the constitutional court are respected. I am going to answer to all the concerns, legitimate concerns of our partners in Europe," said Ponta. "I assume, on behalf of the government, that any, any measures necessary to be taken to give back the trust in the democratic and constitutional functioning of Romanian institutions we are ready to take."

EU Following Romanian Events 'Very Closely'

The court ruled on July 10 that a majority of the eligible voters is needed for the July 29 vote to be valid.

The ruling came after Ponta's government had issued an emergency decree to make the poll valid regardless of the turnout, in one of several moves to limit the powers of the judiciary.

Schulz said he was following the events in Romania "very closely," and added, "I did not hide from Prime Minster Ponta my concern over recent events and the point I raised with the Prime Minister is my feeling that important laws should not be changed by emergency decrees. Such changes should be introduced through a proper democratic process involving a broad debate in the country, reflection and a parliamentary vote."

Schulz said that he had been informed by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, of "his intention to ... ask an inquiry of the procedures in the country."

Ponta was invited to Brussels to give explanations after the European Commission and the United States voiced concerns over what some commentators have termed "a blitzgrieg on democracy."

President Basescu, a former sea captain turned anti-corruption crusader, survived a previous impeachment referendum in 2007, and went on to win a second term in 2009.

But tough austerity measures have eroded his popularity and led to the eventual fall of his center-right government in late April.

The new leftist government's main accusation against Basescu was that he improperly assumed the powers of prime minister when he announced drastic austerity cuts in 2010.

Romania's Schengen Bid In Doubt

Ponta, however, accompanied the impeachment bid with a rapid-fire string of emergency decrees which raised concerns that it may be backsliding on Romania's obligations to the rule of law and democracy.

Critics see the current moves against Basescu as an attempt to reverse hard-earned judiciary reforms and some notable results in the fight against corruption -- both areas of concern for the European Union, of which Romania became a member in 2007.

EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding earlier Wednesday warned Ponta that moves to undermine the independence of the judiciary represent "a great danger... which could call into question the progress that has been made during the last years."

She warned the current moves could also slow Romania's bid to join the borderless Schengen zone.

Ponta on July 12 meets European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso and EU president Herman Van Rompuy.

With additional reporting by Rikard Jozwiak--Brussels, AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters

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