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Romania Dismisses EU Charge It's Backsliding On Democratic Reform

Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dancila (left) and Social Democratic Party Liviu Dragnea speak to the press in Bucharest.
Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dancila (left) and Social Democratic Party Liviu Dragnea speak to the press in Bucharest.

Romania's prime minister has dismissed European Union criticism that the country is backsliding on democratic reforms and insisted that Bucharest is ready to take over the EU's rotating presidency next year.

"I assure you that Romania is ready...logistically and from an organizational point of view," Prime Minister Viorica Dancila said on November 13, blasting the EU for a critical report on the country's justice system.

Dancila called the EU report "profoundly unfair" and politically motivated.

The report echoed recent criticisms from Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, an opposition politician, who said on November 12 that Romania was "totally unprepared" to take over the six-month leadership of the EU on January 1.

On November 13, Iohannis called on Romania's political leaders to "act at once" in response to the "devastating" EU report saying that Romania has backtracked on democratic reforms achieved in the last 10 years.

The report prompted the European Commission to call for the immediate suspension of new judicial laws and appointments of prosecutors in Romania, while the European Parliament passed a resolution warning that recent changes in law threaten to "structurally undermine the independence of the judicial system and the capacity to fight corruption effectively in Romania, as well as to weaken the rule of law."

European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said that the EU executive set out eight recommendations for "immediate follow-up" to increase the independence of the judiciary and toughen the fight against corruption.

"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," he said.

Timmermans also said media freedom needed to be better respected in Romania.

With questions being raised about Romania's readiness to take over the EU presidency in less than two months, Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipila said on November 13 that his government was ready move forward its presidency term, which is scheduled to start on July 1. But he told Finnish media he didn't intend to swap terms with Romania.

A little-known politician, Dancila became Romania's prime minister in January, but has little executive power. Liviu Dragnea, the chairman of the ruling Social Democratic Party, basically runs the government but can't be prime minister because of a conviction for vote-rigging.

Dragnea dismissed the EU criticism on November 13, saying "the real topics regarding Romania are beyond any report or monitoring mechanism."

But the support President Iohannis voiced for the EU illustrated how the government is under domestic pressure for change as well.

Dancila claimed that Iohannis was advocating "anarchy," in an apparent reference to anticorruption protests that drew thousands of demonstrators into the streets of Bucharest and other major Romanian cities in August demanding the resignation of the government.

With reporting by AP, dpa, and Reuters
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