A group of protesters tried to break through the police cordon - the police responded with water cannon, tear gas and pepper spray. Hundreds of people, including police officers, have been injured.
Liberties’ Romanian member, Apador CH, in cooperation with ActiveWatch published a press release on Saturday which calls on the Romanian police to, among other things, publish the orders that they received during the protests.
This is the latest in a succession of mass protests across the country over the past two years. Tens of thousands have been protesting the government’s continued attempts to protect corrupt politicians from investigation and prosecution through reforms that would weaken anti-corruption laws and the judiciary.
The proposed reforms have been criticised by the Council of Europe because they could allow the government to intimidate judges and prosecutors pursuing anti-corruption cases. Last month the chief anti-corruption prosecutor was sacked. The government has also tabled bills intended to silence non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working on anti-corruption.
Before the violence, the EU’s Commissioner for Justice Vera Jourova stated that after several years of progress, the government is proposing reforms that would take it backwards by weakening the independence of the judiciary and public prosecutors.
The European Commission has special powers to monitor judicial and anti-corruption reform in Romania and Bulgaria, known as the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism. This mechanism was created for these countries when they joined the EU because they were not considered to meet EU standards on judicial independence and anti-corruption.
The violence in Romania has yet to meet with any substantial official reaction from Brussels. Unless the European Commission is willing to use political and legal pressure under the mechanism to condemn unjustified police violence and pressure Romania to abandon its plan to weaken the judiciary and its fight against corruption, the EU’s credibility could be undermined when Romania takes over the presidency of the EU in January 2019.
Liberties has put forward a number of suggestions for longer term measures that the EU could take to sure up protection for the rule of law, which is also under threat in Hungary and Poland.
Our organisation has been calling on the EU to support NGOs in the EU by creating a new freedoms fund (a European Values Instrument) to provide financial support for organisations to protect the rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights in Europe. While the idea has received support from the European Parliament, the European Commission’s proposals to support NGOs have been very modest.
Liberties has also called on the EU not to provide EU money directly to governments that violate the rule of law and instead reroute EU funding to the public. Between 2014 and 2020 Romania is due to receive over 36 billion EUR in EU structural and investment funds. The Commission has published a new legislative proposal that would make such funding cuts possible under the next EU budget. However, the controversial proposal still requires agreement from EU governments in the Council before it can become law.