In a strongly worded report on alarming political developments in Romania, the European Union on Wednesday criticized manipulations of the judiciary and questioned the country's commitment to democratic values.
The progress report by the European Commission, the EU's executive body, focused on recent political instability in the country, noting "exceptional events" that are a "major source of concern."
"Events in Romania have shaken our trust," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said in a statement.
In early July, at the urging of Prime Minister Victor Ponta's left-leaning government, Romania's parliament suspended President Traian Basescu from office. A referendum is to be held late this month to decide whether he will lose his position. Basescu has been accused of overstepping his authority, but critics view the affair as a power-grab by Ponta, who is also suspected of trying to disempower the judiciary.
The latter issue is particularly disturbing to the Commission. "Challenging judicial decisions, undermining the Constitutional Court, overturning established procedures and removing key checks and balances have called into question the government's commitment to respect the rule of law," Barroso said. "Party political strife cannot justify overriding core democratic principles. Politicians must not try to intimidate judges ahead of decisions or attack judges when they take decisions they do not like."
Keeping an Eye on Progress
Barroso has pressed Ponta to act immediately to revoke emergency decrees and restore the Romanian Constitutional Court's powers, requests that the prime minister has agreed to in writing.
On Wednesday, Ponta pledged that he would respect the Constitutional Court's powers, a move that could help diffuse the tensions. His ally, interim President Crin Antonescu, also indicated he would do the same.
"Crin Antonescu and I are interested and ready to make any personal and political sacrifice for Romania to be considered a viable partner abroad -- a serious partner and a country that respects all democratic rules," Ponta told journalists.
The European Commission's report is part of regular reviews of Romania and its neighbor Bulgaria, both of which joined the EU in 2007, to ensure that they live up to the bloc's standards. Another report on Romania will be issued by the end of the year to review whether Bucharest has addressed the Commission's concerns.
"Romania has stepped back from the edge, but we cannot yet say that we have reached the end of the process," Barroso said.
For its part, Bulgaria has achieved "relevant progress," he went on, urging the country to take further steps in combating corruption and organized crime.