Romania’s Constitutional Court lodged a complaint with the Council of Europe over what it called government efforts to disband the court, saying that such a move would harm democracy and the rule of law.
The nine judges on the Bucharest-based court sent a notice to the Venice Commission, the advisory body for the 47-nation Council of Europe on constitutional matters, and European institutions about “virulent attacks” by the government against it, according to a statement published on its website today. The ruling Social Democrats and Liberals denied they planned to dismiss judges, according to an e-mailed statement today.
“I am seriously concerned about recent attacks on the independence of the Constitutional Court of Romania,” Viviane Reding, the European Union commissioner for justice, said today on Twitter. “For me, a well-functioning, independent judicial system is a pre-condition for mutual trust in the European area of justice.”
Prime Minister Victor Ponta, the third head of government this year for the Balkan country, is embroiled in a policy battle with his political rival, President Traian Basescu.
Among disputes, the two leaders warred over who would represent Romania at last week’s summit of EU leaders. Ponta attended the Brussels meeting, even as the Constitutional Court ruled that Basescu should represent the country on June 27.
The premier said the court ruling “wasn’t a surprise because the president appointed some people who have always fulfilled his wishes.” Basescu, meanwhile, accused Ponta of disregarding the ruling and of hampering his constitutional responsibilities for the first time in eight years.
“All the recent attacks are the equivalent of a disbandment of the Constitutional Court in its current composition,” according to the notice. “This measure is a serious breach of the Constitution, which stipulates that the judges are irremovable during their term.”
Ponta’s political ally and head of the Liberal Party, Crin Antonescu, said yesterday that Parliament and the government can change Constitutional Court judges and that “the court is a disgrace” under its current structure, according to news website Hotnews.ro. Antonescu also said on June 26 that his party may seek to suspend Basescu.
“I am deeply concerned about any attempt to threaten the independence of Romania’s democratic institutions,” Mark H. Gitenstein, the U.S. ambassador to Romania, said in an e-mail today. “Manipulation or threats to your institutions, particularly your courts, will not only be of concern to our government but to the way Romania is viewed by financial markets.”
Under Romanian law, three of the court judges are appointed by the president, three by the Senate and three by the Chamber of Deputies.
Romania’s ruling coalition said in an e-mailed statement today that it plans to replace the two heads of Parliament, who are members of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, in line with legislative rules. The head of the Senate, Vasile Blaga, was already replaced with Antonescu, Mediafax news service said.
Blaga, the head of the Liberal Democrats and still acting chairman of the upper house of Parliament, told reporters today that the ruling coalition is attempting “a coup d’état” and that its plans to replace him and Roberta Anastase, head of the lower house, violate the constitution. His party will challenge any such decisions in the Constitutional Court, Blaga said.
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