Spotlight on Romania: Recovery and resilience, Gabriel Popoviciu’s court win and Iohannis at the UN

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    Romania has been under the spotlight as the European Commission adopted a positive assessment of Romania’s recovery and resilience plan, under which the country will receive EUR 14.2 billion in grants and EUR 14.9 billion in loans under the European Union’s Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF). The decision was announced when EC president Ursula von der Leyen made an official visit to Bucharest.

    However, the European Commission officials currently in Romania for the official announcement apparently stressed that the country needs “a functioning government”. The Romanian coordinator of the PNRR, Cristian Ghinea, explained in a Facebook post that the country has to reach 507 milestones and targets related to the pledged reforms, G4media.ro reported. Every six months, the entire program can be blocked unless authorities deliver on the milestones.

    Despite the good news from the European Commission on the horizon, Fitch Ratings had a gloomy outlook for the country earlier this month, explaining that the collapse of Romania’s coalition government could disrupt fiscal consolidation efforts, which are key to resolving the Negative Outlook on Romania’s ‘BBB-’ rating.  They went on to say buoyant economic growth and Next Generation EU funding still provide a potential path to deficit reduction, but prospects for tackling long-standing fiscal rigidities could deteriorate, with political turmoil jeopardising the benefits of the deal with the European Commission.

    Romania was also in the headlines when President Iohannis addressed the UN General Assembly in New York and human rights was a central theme. In his speech he said: “Romania remains strongly committed to the promotion and protection of human rights worldwide. My country promotes the imperative of combating discrimination and hate speech, including anti-Semitism. […] Romania will continue to work towards these objectives, including by pursuing a mandate to the Human Rights Council for the term 2023–2025.”

    However, what President Iohannis did not touch on was the abuse of human rights in Romania recently highlighted by a London court. The High Court decision that Romanian businessman Gabriel Popoviciu must not be extradited to Romania was based upon concerns about that country’s legal system. Popoviciu’s case exposed that the Romania legal system does not meet the standards expected of a country with membership of the European Union. The robust judgment from the appeal court went so far as to say Popoviciu suffered a “complete denial of fair trial rights”. This is the first time that the High Court has concluded that extradition to an EU Member State represents a real risk of a “flagrant denial” of a requested person’s Convention rights. The London court quashed the order for extradition and allowed the appeal.

    Popoviciu’s trial was conducted in Bucharest by Judge Ion-Tudoran Corneliu-Bogdan (Tudoran). After complaints against the judge, Tudoran was investigated for alleged abuse of his office. In June 2019, he asked for permission to retire with effect from October. After press reports about his unexplained wealth, he said he wanted to retire sooner, in August, forfeiting some of his pension rights. He was allowed to retire in September 2019 but a prosecutor was unable to interview Tudoran in October because, by then, the former judge was in a psychiatric hospital.

    At the appeal court in London, Popoviciu claimed that Tudoran had, for many years, “conducted himself in a wholly unjudicial manner, and has been guilty of corrupt acts” — in particular when dealing with two men called Pirvu and Becali. “A key feature of the relationship alleged between Judge Tudoran and Becali is the soliciting of bribes,” said Lord Justice Holroyde. “Another key feature is the participation of the two men in illegal gambling.”

    Lord Justice Holroyde concluded: “It is important to note that it is a particular, and unusual, feature of this case that the evidence does not show merely a relationship of friendship between judge and witness. It provides substantial grounds for believing that the relationship was also one which involved improper, corrupt and criminal conduct by a serving judge. The evidence shows a real risk that the appellant suffered an extreme example of a lack of judicial impartiality, such that there can be no question as to consequences for the fairness of the trial. If there was such a relationship, Judge Tudoran clearly should not have presided over a trial in which Becali was the complainant and an important prosecution witness; but he did not recuse himself, and there was no disclosure to the parties even of the fact that the two men knew one another.”

    Leading legal commentator Joshua Rozenberg said of the Popoviciu case: “The real lesson of this case is a more chastening one: you don’t have to travel far to find judicial behaviour that would be unthinkable in the United Kingdom. It should also be unthinkable in the European Union.”

    It would seem that as Bucharest perhaps breathes a sigh of relief at having secured the recovery and resilience plan with the European Commission, Romania would do well to look below the surface to see the threats, both to the country’s economic recovery and also any path to establishing the consistent rule of law required within the European Union.

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