Hundreds of thousands of Romanians last night took to the streets to protest against a government decree they say will water down anti-corruption laws and allow politicians to commit crime with impunity.
In some of the largest demonstrations the country has seen since the 1989 revolution, as many as 300,000 people attended protests in more than 50 cities and towns, despite sub-zero temperatures.
Some 150,000 gathered in the capital Bucharest, forming a demonstration that ended with protestors scuffling with police officers. Five people are said to have been injured.
The demonstrators were protesting against an emergency ordinance passed by the Romanian parliament on Tuesday that decriminalises some corruption offences, including official misconduct.
According to the government, the law change will ease prison overcrowding and align the criminal code with recent constitutional court rulings. If enforced, the ordinance would decriminalise abuse-of-power offences that involve less than 200,000 lei (€44,350).
Critics of the decree say it would set back Romania’s widely-praised fight against corruption, amid worries that the government could pass additional laws that might further erode the accountability of law makers.
Social Democratic Party (PSD) leader Liviu Dragnea would be an immediate beneficiary of the law change, on account of the fact he is currently facing charges of defrauding the state. In all, scores of politicians stand to benefit from the decree if it passes into law.
“I don’t understand what the protesters are upset about,” Dragnea said on Tuesday, when demonstrations began.
Opposition parties yesterday filed a motion of no confidence against Romania’s leftist government, which is led by the PSD and only won power in December.
Commenting on the decree, European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said: “The fight against corruption needs to be advanced, not undone. We are following the latest developments in Romania with great concern…
“The Commission warns against backtracking and will look thoroughly at the emergency ordinance on the Criminal Code and the Law on Pardons in this light.”
The ordinance is currently being challenged by the Superior Magistrates’ Council, the final legal obstacle to it passing onto the stature books.
Responding to the decree, the embassies of six countries – France, Belgium, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands and the US – issued a statement saying: “This act, in contravention to the collective wisdom of the entire judicial and rule of law community, credible elements of civil society, and the demonstrated concerns of Romanian citizens over the past two weeks, can only undermine Romania’s standing in the international community and risks damaging partnerships that are based on common values, inherent in the guiding principles of the EU and NATO.”
The statement said the embassies hope the decree does not become law.