Thousand’s of people have taken to the streets in Romania to protest against government reforms that critics say will undermine the independence of the judiciary and water down penalties for corruption. Around 20,000 people turned out in Bucharest with thousands more attending rallies in 70 cities around the country organised by NGOs, civic organisations and labour unions. The protests were prompted by a mix of grievances with the Social Democrat-led government of Mihai Tudose, including plans to overhaul the justice system to bring the judicial inspection unit, which investigates judicial misconduct, under the control of the justice minister. The reforms would also remove the Romanian president from the process of appointing top prosecutors in a move that the European commission and international legal bodies have warned puts too much power in the hands of the government and risks politicising the courts.
Romania has been hit by an unprecedented number of large-scale protests this year beginning in January, just days after the new government took office, against a proposal that was widely seen as being designed to provide amnesty to public officials convicted of corruption. The backlash against the proposal forced the government to rescind the ordinance and the then justice minister, Florin Iordache to resign in the face of the largest protests seen in Romania since the fall of communism. Iordache has again found himself the focus of protesters ire as the head of the special parliamentary commission tasked with driving through the latest controversial reforms.
Earlier this month Liviu Dragnea, the head of the governing Social Democrats, was placed under investigation by the National Anticorruption Directorate for embezzling EU funds during his time as the head of Teleorman county council. Last week, Dragnea, who is barred from becoming prime minister due to a 2015 conviction for electoral fraud, had his assets and accounts frozen as part of the investigation. He denies any wrongdoing.
Since joining the EU in 2007 Romania, which is routinely named as one of Europe’s most corrupt countries, has been subject to regular reviews from Brussels to monitor its fight against graft. In its most recent report, which came out this month, the European Commission praised Romania’s progress over the last decade but said that recent controversies “raised questions about whether the [last] report assessment with regard to progress on the independence of the judicial system would have to be reconsidered.”