Romanian Democracy at Grave Danger

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Open letter of more than 60 groups and organisations of the Romanian civil society to all Members of European Parliament, the European Commission and the European Council

For eleven months now, hundreds of thousands of Romanians have been fighting to defend democracy. But in the face of ever more concentrated attacks on common European values and legal foundations, our means no longer suffice to fend off a parliamentary majority intent on undermining the rule of law. We need your help!

Romania is being dragged down a path similar to the one on which Hungary and Poland have gone for some time now. With the independence of the judiciary under attack by the governing majority, made up of the Social Democratic Party (PSD, member of S&D/PES), the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE, member of ALDE) and supported by the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR), democracy in Romania is at its gravest danger since 1990.

At this very moment we are witnessing the continuation of what the governing majority has already tried to achieve in February 2017. Back then, unannounced changes to the justice system pushed through by an emergency ordinance issued overnight, drew 600,000 people to the streets in Romania and all over the EU on a single day. Since then, it has been 318 days of continuous protest. Today, as we write these lines, once again, the political majority in the Romanian Parliament is working hard to prove the Romanian people right for never ceding the Victory Square. In the Parliament they are passing  changes to the justice system that will directly and immediately impact the fight against corruption. Now, however, the plans are all-encompassing and threaten to change the whole setup of Romania’s democracy in a dangerous and deeply disturbing way.

The justice laws, having previously received negative opinions from multiple professional organisations, as well as from the Superior Council of Magistracy, were brought forth, as all current legislation, in accelerated emergency procedures. Even without any time for a public debate, the changes have come under close scrutiny and drew heavy criticism from the Romanian society, countless NGOs, legal organisations inside and outside the country, Romania’s general prosecutor Augustin Lazar, the Ambassadors of Canada, the US, Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Sweden and the UK to Romania, the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption body GRECO, representatives of the European Union and the US State Department. Politicians of the governing coalition have cast aside all criticism, deeming it either “interventionist” or “uninformed”.

Many members of PSD, ALDE and UDMR, including MPs have either been convicted or are under investigation for corruption. The head of PSD and president of the Chamber of Deputies, Liviu Dragnea, has been convicted of electoral fraud and is at this moment under investigation for alleged corruption charges, including fraudulent misappropriation of EU funds, with damages that amount to 30 million Euro and abuse of authority, with damages of approximately 40,000 Euro. We are certain that what is happening now in Romania is a case of State Capture, and this conviction was recently reinforced by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF). Numerous politicians holding elected or appointed positions who are already convicted or investigated for corruption offences or other financial crimes are simultaneously working to pardon themselves and to undermine the justice system. We are witnessing concerted actions of an organised group of politicians, who are themselves subject to criminal investigation or have a vested interest in protecting others found in such a situation, and who are intent on capturing all state institutions, for serving their own interests, undermining any checks and balances. The most flagrant and disturbing example being the undermining of the independence of justice by fast forwarding laws no. 303, 304 and 317/2004, regarding the statute of the magistrates, organisation of the judiciary and Superior Council of Magistracy (CSM).

The argument that all actions of the majority in the Romanian Parliament should be accepted as the democratic will of the people, following elections, does not stand. The current changes of law regarding the judiciary are certainly violating the Romanian Constitution. The Romanian Constitution explicitly protects the independence of the judiciary, including the operational independence of prosecutors from influence of the executive. A hierarchical subordination of prosecutors to the minister of justice and the elimination of the explicit reference guaranteeing the independence of prosecutors, as stipulated in law 303 (adopted by the lower chamber of Parliament on the 11th of December) would amount to a flagrant violation of the Constitution and its spirit and to a clear signal to prosecutors that their operational independence, including in relation to the investigation of high level politicians, is de facto no longer guaranteed. The processes in which recent changes in Romania, made by the government and the parliamentary majority, are neither democratic, nor do they respect the rules of Parliament, as the rights of the parliamentary opposition are continuously violated and diminished.

We firmly believe that any person accused of fraud by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), as is the case of the strongman behind the government, Liviu Dragnea, should not stand anywhere close to a position of power. Romania is currently not ruled by a democratic government, but suffering under a parliamentary majority that is being controlled by people accused of forming an organised criminal group. Without immediate action this will mean an end to Romanian democracy.

Sadly, we cannot stress enough that it is not the judiciary branch alone which is under attack by the governing coalition. Laws are being made and rules changed in a rush, without any parliamentary, let alone public debate, to impose new financial and reporting burdens on NGOs, to gag the opposition in the Romanian Parliament, even to bring parliamentary debates to an end altogether, reducing the Parliament to a voting machine under full control of the majority. With riot police guarding government buildings and acting towards peaceful protesters in an increasingly authoritarian and arbitrary manner, the Romania of today feels more and more like a police state, held captive by a parliamentary majority with ill intentions.

The Judiciary, civil society and the opposition were the first targets, but we are left with no doubts that freedom of the press and civil rights, already under siege by government and government-linked media, can fall prey to the blitzkrieg tactics of the governing coalition at any moment. Rights and freedoms, deemed to be everlasting and seemingly guaranteed by EU membership, could vanish almost overnight in the Romania of 2017, mirroring what Romanians nowadays chant in the streets: “at night, like thieves” (“noaptea ca hotii”).

On the 10th  of December, criminal charges were filed for instigating violence on partly ridiculously innocent social media posts and comments, clearly intended to discourage participation in protests and criticism of the government altogether. Anti-government protesters  are now being called neo-nazis by the speaker of the Social Democrats and an absolute peaceful sit-in organised by artists in the city of Sibiu was characterised in a PSD press release as „aggressive, abusive, illegal and uncivilised”. To make things worse, the Ministry of Interior Affairs is currently working on expanding police powers, seriously endangering Human Rights and in clear violation of the Romanian Constitution. There will be increased fines, arrests and entering people’s’ homes will be made easier; the draft law even includes an informal arrest for people who fail to show their ID on demand (for 12 to up to 24 hours). These changes will enable law-enforcement agents to act without judicial oversight. The draft law came to light in a mockery of a public debate, held on December 11th (and announced only two working-days prior). All of this is happening  in a regime of urgency, without debate or transparency, let alone public discourse. Romanians were neither informed about the necessity of these legal changes, nor the implications they might hold for them.

All of these urgent changes come at the cost of tackling actual problems that are plaguing Romanian society, and which are being neglected by government. There is a shortage of vital pharmaceuticals as we speak, a shortage addressed by the previous government, through rules the current government has abandoned. People with serious health conditions are literally dying, but in this case as opposed to the justice system and the rules of Parliament, there seems to be no urgency for the government to act.

In Hungary, Viktor Orban at least had the decency of informing his people about the path he wanted to take the country on: the illiberal one. In Romania this is not the case. Therefore the governing coalition cannot claim to have any form of mandate for the laws being introduced, fundamentally changing Romanian democracy, up to undoing the separation of powers. On the contrary, the majority was gained on a populist platform of increasing wages and pensions. Judicial reform was not a topic in the election campaign, for none of the party programs of the governing coalition. Romanians did not vote for politically-motivated judicial reform and certainly did not vote for the erosion of democratic values and liberties.

The European Union is a community of values. But in absence of a European Constitution and a European Constitutional Court, our only weapon to defend the Romanian democracy and rule of law is to take to the street, by way of peaceful protests. The other option is to go to where these values are upheld  and leave our country for other European nations, a way which at least 3-4 millions Romanians have chosen since EU-admission in 2007.

Romanians and Europeans cannot afford to just let this happen, we have to take up the fight for Romanian democracy together. If states degrade to pseudo-democracies in Europe, like dominoes, the wave might reach all of us, sooner or later. And every state that goes down the illiberal road weakens Europe as a whole. Romania is a vital pillar of the European Union and NATO in South-Eastern Europe.
We therefore urge all democratic actors of Europe, heads of state, prime ministers, ministers, Members of Parliament, lawyers, journalists, the civil society and citizens alike to take immediate action in order to prevent Romania from falling victim to this assault on democracy and freedom.

We therefore urge all democratic actors of Europe, heads of state, prime ministers, ministers, Members of Parliament, lawyers, journalists, the civil society and citizens alike to take immediate action in order to prevent Romania from falling victim to this assault on democracy and freedom.

But what can be done?

The fact that the governing parties PSD and ALDE are still respected members of S&D/PES and ALDE respectively is unbearable for many European Citizens. It is an insult for all democratically minded Romanians, and to the members of proudly democratic Socialist, Social Democratic and Liberal parties in all EU member states, it is a disgrace.

We seriously urge all PSD and ALDE members of the European Parliament to talk to their Romanian party colleagues in order to demand for the laws on the judiciary that undermine the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary and the fight against corruption to be amended by any legal and Constitutional means available. If this does not happen without delay, we call for the leadership of S&D and ALDE in the European Parliament to stand up for their values and to immediately suspend membership for these two parties that are violating democratic rules and European values at any given day.

We call on all European institutions, the Parliament as well as the European Commission and the European Council to take immediate action and prepare all necessary measures within the limits of their competencies to address the systematic threats to the rule of law that Romania is currently facing. There can be no doubt that with the proposed changes to the judiciary system already in place, Romania would never have been admitted to the European Union in the first place. The legislative process defies the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism, and the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission) was not consulted. We think that the fact that the President of the Chamber of Deputies, head of the Social Democratic party and strongman behind the government, Liviu Dragnea (PSD), is accused by OLAF of substantial fraud to the EU budget, should be reason enough, to make all further payments of European funds to Romania condition to the Romanian government again fully complying with its European and constitutional obligations.

US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, has already made a surprise visit to his Romanian colleague. We cannot emphasize enough the extent to which such visits by European Foreign or Justice Ministers, let alone heads of state or Prime Ministers can help the cause of democracy in Romania. We welcome the joint  statement issued by the Canadian, US, Belgian, French, German, Netherlands’, Slovene, Swedish and UK’s Ambassadors to Romania and hope that the Embassies are onwards actively watching the situation.

The time to act decisively is now. We are looking forward for your support!

Sincerely,

Ada Solomon (Member of the Board of the European Film Academy)
Adrian Ivanciu, #Rezist Constanța
Adrian Moraru, Institutul pentru Politici Publice
Adrian Cristian Ionescu, Asociația Segoia
Alexandra Palconi, Asociația Prin Banat
Alexandru Solomon, Asociația One World Romania
Alina Floroi, Asociația Laborazon
Ana Cristina Burtea (executive director Fundația Inima de Copil)
Anca Aradei Paraschiv, Cuza Vrea Dreptate – Iași
Anca-Raluca Majaru, Asociația ARCHE
Andreea Iager Tako, Asociația Casa Plai
Andrei Cosuleanu, Let’s do it Romania
Angelica Șerban, Grupul civic #Insist
Călin Miclăuș, Asociația Aradul Civic
Ciprian Ciocan, Vă Vedem din Sibiu
Claudiu Vlas, Mureșul Civic
Cătălin Lazăr, #Rezist Milano
Cătălin Tenița, Geeks for Democracy
Cristian Clapan, Oradea Civica
Cristian Eremia, #Rezist Liguria
Cristian Mihai Dide, Evoluție în Instituție
Cosmin Manolescu, Fundatia Gabriela Tudor
Cosmin Pojoranu, Funky Citizens
Dragos Neamu, Reteaua Nationala a Muzeelor din Romania
Dumitru Claudiu, Asociația Alianta Pentru Combaterea Abuzurilor
Edmond Niculușcă, Asociația Romana pentru Cultura, Educatie si Normalitate
Eduard Gabia, Solitude Project Cultural Association
Florin Badița, Corupția Ucide
Florin Moisa, Centrul de Resurse pentru Comunitatile Romilor
Gabriela Stanca, Rezistenta in Valencia/ Asociația culturala Noul Horizont din Valencia
Ioana Avădanei, Centrul pentru Jurnalism Independent
Ilinca Păun Constantinescu, Asociația Idei la Gram
Ilyes Lorand, Procivic Baia Mare
Irina Dulgheru, #Rezist Lyon
Irma Butnaru, Tulcea#rezista
Laurențiu Brătan, Asociația ESTE’N’EST
Laurențiu Ștefănescu, Inițiativa Timișoara
Lavinia Andrei, Fundația TERRA Mileniul III
Ligia Roxana Măhălean, Umbrela Anticorupție Cluj
Loredana Ivanov, Grupul Civic Protestatari Pro Democrație
Loredana Peca, Umbrela Anticorupție Cluj
Lucian Mioc, Timișoara Civică
Maria Elena Vanghelatou, Ștafeta Steagului UE
Marius Florin Popescu, Alba Iulia Civica                                                                                                                             Mădălina Gabor, International Radio Deutschland
Mădălina Marcu, Asociația pentru Relații Comunitare
Mădălina Roșca, Asociația Make a Point
Mihaela Cîrjan, Asociația Maatka Phi
Mihai Bumbeș, Miliția Spirituală
Mihaela Mihai, Diaspora Franța Solidară cu România/ Rezistam și la Paris
Mihnea Mihai, #Rezist Zürich
Mihai N. Tudorica, #REZISTENȚA
Oana Dimofte, Corupția Ucide
Octavian Rusu, Centrul pentru Legislație Nonprofit
Ovidiu Voicu, Centre for Public Innovation
Paul Arne Wagner, Asociația Make a Point
Pollyanna Hangan, Evident Deva
Traian Paparete, #activAG Pitești
Sanda Hristudor, Acțiunea Civică Galați
Smaranda Găbudeanu, Asociația Pentru Teatru și Carte PETEC
Sorina Stallard, Rezist Birmingham WMW
Suzana Dan, Asociația Ephemair
Șerban Sturza, Fundația Pro Patrimonio
Ștefania Ferchedău, Asociația Institutul Prezentului
Ștefan Ghenciulescu, Asociația Zeppelin
Tudor Brădățan, Declic
Tudor Giurgiu, Asociația pentru Promovarea Filmului Românesc
Viorel Micescu, Centrul de asistență pentru organizații neguvernamentale CENTRAS
Vlad Uta, Asociația ProFest
Yvonne Irimescu, Societatea Culturală Next

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