By Daniel Stroe – Bucharest
The Constitutional Court, Romania’s highest court, yesterday decided a series of amendments to the Penal Code that boost lawmakers’ immunity are unconstitutional, after a complaint filed by the opposition and a lower court, as the changes spurred vivid reactions from the civil society and the country’s Western partners.
On 10 December, what the Romanian media now refers to as “the black Tuesday”, 266 Romanian deputies voted in favor of some amendments to the Penal Code so that lawmakers, the country’s president and the liberal professions are exempt from corruption charges, at a moment when about 30 of them are under investigation for various acts of corruption, mostly conflict of interests. Only 32 MPs voted against the changes.
Two months before, the Romanian Senate had rejected these changes which infuriated Romanians and the EU alike.
The country’s High Court of Justice and Cassation and the opposition democrat-liberals filed complaints to the Constitutional Court immediately after the vote in December. About 96 judges from the afore-mentioned court signed the complaint.
The High Court of Justice argued in its notification that the controversial amendments suggest that some people are above the law, a conclusion which is incompatible with the rule of law principles. The amendments have no reasonable and objective justification, the magistrates of the High Court of Justice also noted.
The amendments sparked a flurry of criticism while the Romanian President Traian Basescu warned they knock down the ten years’ work of the anti-corruption institutions. The changes raised even more suspicious since they were not submitted to the public debate and without any prior discussion in the plenum of the Chamber of Deputies. The debate turned even sharper amid the current ruling coalition’s efforts to pass a law on amnesty which would see many politicians either released from prison or exempt from all charges.
The European Commission warned all citizens must be equal before the law and said it would analyze the changes in its next report on the progress of justice in Romania, while the US embassy in Bucharest called the measures a step backward. A US envoy was urgently dispatched to Bucharest to ask for clarifications.
In a public statement on Tuesday night, Basescu also pointed out that, if the amendments are adopted, Romania risks isolating itself on the international stage. “This is a serious worry for our partners” Basescu said, adding that Romania is starting losing credibility abroad if such attacks against justice continue.