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Thursday, 20 April

PM Sorin Grindeanu: The Government’s goal is to fulfill the undertaken commitments for the CVM to be lifted before Romania takes over the EU Council Presidency

Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu has met at Victoria Palace, with the First Vice- President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans. Justice Minister, Tudorel Toader and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Teodor Melescanu have also attended the meeting.

Discussions have focused on the CVM issues, the absorption of European funds and other topical files on the European agenda.

Given that the last four reports of the European Commission on Romanian judiciary, were positive, Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu has underlined the Government’s determination to continue on the same path. “My goal and the goal of my Cabinet is to finalize the CVM before Romania takes over the EU Council Presidency. It is a matter of prestige and pride that I care very much about”, Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu has stated.

The Head of the Executive has underlined the Government’s determination not to take any step backwards following the major progress achieved to date, in connection with guaranteeing a fair and independent justice. All the Executive‘s demarches will be based on dialogue, transparency, and consultation, for them to be endorsed by both Romanian justice system and the entire society.

Priorities mentioned in this respect by Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu and the Justice Minister Tudorel Toader, during the meeting with the first Vice-President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans, are: putting the legislation in accordance with the Constitutional Court’s decisions, ensuring full respect for fundamental rights, guaranteeing the efficiency, predictability, and quality of the justice act, as well as bringing justice closer to citizen. The situation of penitentiaries has been detailed, as well as the measures the Government envisages for the next period in order to find solutions to improve the detention conditions.

The EC First Vice –President Frans Timmermans has appreciated the proposals put forward by the Government to fulfill the latest recommendations on justice and has given assurances that Romania is on the right track regarding the perspective of CVM lifting. “ I strongly hope that the Government will get strong backing from Romanian Parliament and from the Romanian society, to achieve this goal”, Frans Timmemans  has stated.

Other topic addressed during the meeting aimed at maintaining the budget deficit within the limits of 3 percent of GDP, and the continuation of the Government’ social policies. In connection with the absorption of EU funds, Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu has also mentioned his weekly meetings with the authorities in charge of managing European funds, in order to recover the delays recorded so far.

The officials have referred at the same time to the current debate on the EU future, in the context of the UK exit from EU being triggered. 


Joint press conference by Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu, EC First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, and the Justice Minister Tudorel Toader

Sorin Grindeanu: Good afternoon. Welcome. I had a meeting today with Mr. First Vice –President Frans Timmermans. The Justice Minister Tudorel Toader is also here. We approached the CVM issues but also other important topical files, now on the EU agenda. My goal and the goal of the Government I am leading, is to finalize the CVM before Romania takes over the EU Council Presidency. It is a matter of prestige and not only that I care very much about. We already have four consecutive positive reports.

I want to have a final report that is positive, at the end of 2017, which can represent the basis to close this mechanism. We shall continue –and I emphasize this, the major progress we have achieved to date in the field of justice and we will not make any step backwards in what means to guarantee a correct and independent act of justice. We will fully use the instruments of dialogue, transparency, and consultation for our demarches to be endorsed by the justice system in Romania and the entire society. We should do this for two major reasons: Romania’s economy cannot grow without the confidence of investors that their money is protected by a predictible and effective justice system and secondly, the society cannot advance without the protection of interests and fundamental rights of citizens. The priorities that I have communicated to Mr. Vice –President too, and the Minister Tudorel Toader has detailed are, as you know: putting the legislation in line with the Constitutional Court’s decisions, ensuring full respect for fundamental rights, guaranteeing the efficiency, predictability, and quality of the justice act, as well as bringing justice closer to citizen. I believe it is in both citizens and private sector’s interest to have a reliable, effective and accessible system of justice. I conclude by personally thanking Mr. Timmermans for his constant, principled approaches regarding the importance of avoiding any connections between the CVM file and other files, as well as structural funds or accession to Schengen. I would like to also outline the fact that following our first meeting early this year, in Brussels, several steps were taken. Currently, all the unclear issues for us, are being discussed at technical level and the European Commission sent them to the Justice Ministry, regarding the CVM. Also, on our today’s discussion, Minister Tudorel Toader has detailed the situation approached on Brussels discussion,early this year, regarding the penitentiaries, and the measures we envisaged for the next period. I underline once again my appreciation as Prime Minister for the openness, and the constructive dialogue, the Romanian Government had with the European Commission these months and esecially with Mr. First Vice –President Timmermans. Thank you.

Frans Timmermans: Thank you very much, Prime Minister. I am sorry I do not speak Romanian, so, it will be in English, from my side. Our fight for the rule of law and human rights is not a fight because we want this fight or because we do it for us. We think that every European citizen, regardless of where he or she lives, deserves the rule of law and the full respect for human rights. In the last ten years, with the CVM, we have achieved so much in Romania. If I look back over that period of time, some of these achievements would not have seemed possible ten years ago, but we did achieve so much, and now, we are in the final meters of this long marathon. And we had a bit of a scare a couple of months ago, when we had the impression that this process would be stopped or would change direction. But I have had some very constructive meetings with Prime Minister Grindeanu, and I have full confidence in his Government’s plans, and Minister Toader has come up with projects that put Romania on the right track, to be able to conclude the CVM process in the foreseeble future. All depends on the fulfillment of the recommendations we have put in our report, these are final recommendations, we will not change them, we will not add to them. This is it. And if the Government is in a position as is the wish of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice, to fulfill the recommendations, we can come to conclusion on the CVM, and I certainly hope that this Government will get strong backing from the Romanian Parliament to achieve this goal, strong backing from the Romanian society to achieve this goal, because once we have achieved that goal, we have reached the point of no return, and then, the full enjoyment of the human rights and the application of the rule of law in Romania, in Romanian society will be irreversible. And indeed this will create legal certainty for businesses and legal certainty for every single citizen and this is what all European citizens deserve.

I really want to thank Prime Minister Grindeanu for his cooperation in this. I think the plans he and the Minister of Justice have elaborated, put us on the right track, and I hope we will come to the conclusion soon that the recommendations we have written down, are fulfilled, and I am looking forward to a continued cooperation with the Romanian Government. Thank you very much.

Tudorel Toader: Thank you. I would like to express my thanks to Mr. Vice –President Timmermans. It is our second meeting, and I enjoyed his full support and encouragement. As Minister of Justice, surely, I must be further preoccupied with the good functioning of justice in Romania, which means inter alia alignment with the modern European standards of protection of fundamental rights and freedoms. It has been already talked about the 12 recommendations from the CVM. We rejoice that the recommendations are not changing, the Commission has provided us with a set of explanations complementary to those initially written down, so that, we, as decision –maker, on the one hand, factor of implementation, on the other, to exactly figure out the message, the contents and to fulfill them. Finally, I would remind one thing which seems essential to me: fulfilling those recommendations does not represent anything else but aligning national legislation, aligning the functioning of the judiciary, of the practice which should become unitary, with modern standards of protection of rights and freedoms. There are recommendations fully compatible with the Constitution requirements, with European norms, which we can fulfill. In this respect, I referred as you very well know, to the assessment process of the entire legislation. The first step was to align the Criminal Code, the Criminal Procedure Code with the Constitution requirements, resulting from the Constitutional Court’s rulings. We are preoccupied with bringing legislation into alignment with European standards, transposition of European directives into national legislation. You are aware of this reality, we need to change it, there are many directives not transposed yet, with missed deadline, and we are duty bound to transpose them as soon as possible into national legislation. One may see on the Ministry of Justice’s webpage the draft laws on the transposition of the directive regarding extended confiscation, transposition of the directive regarding protection of the victims of crime. We are preparing the package of laws for justice, laws dating back to 2004. It is 13 years since then. Practice has showed  the omissions , the inconsistencies, as well as the improvement needs. We will tackle them observing decisional transparency, they will pass through Government, the draft law will later be submitted to Parliament that should decide in this respect. We will also make an assessment of the entire legislation – the Criminal Code, the Criminal Procedure Code, Civil Code, Civil Procedure Code, the other fundamental laws. Each law is paricularly important. We will put them in accordance with the Constitutional requirements, with modern standards. Some are adopted before the 2003 Constitution revision, and should be brought into alignment from this point of view. We have the problem of prisons, we have complementary solutions, at legislation level, at law enforcement level, at the level of upgrading and enlarging existing prisons, building and finalizing the two new penitentiaries. We have a set of internal requirements relative to Constitution. We have a set of external requirements relative to standards, treaties, conventions that Romania is part of, and all these measures are binding, for that process of raising the standards of protection of fundamental rights and freedoms to become irreversible. 

Reporter: It has been talked a lot about this irreversibility, and it has also been emphasized in all CVM reports, therefore, I wanted to ask you from what you have noticed from January to date, in Romania, are there premises for Romania to meet these irreversibility conditions and for this fight against corruption to continue after CVM is lifted? This is a first question.

Frans Timmermans: We have given these twelve recommendations, they are I think very clear. If the Government sticks to its programme, which I think the commitment is very strong, these twelve recommendations can be met. I hope Parliament will support the Government in doing that, but your question is much more profound than that. You know I have become increasingly convinced that the best guarantor for a continued fight against corruption and for the rule of law are the Romanians themselves. There is such a strong feeling in the Romanian society that this is the right fight, and they want this, and they want this to continue, and they want this to be maintained. I am sure that once the recommendations are met, and we can stop the CVM process, the process of fighting corruption will be driven by the will of Romanian people. I know this country pretty well, I have been coming here for more than twenty years, I remember the times the Romanian population when you talked about this issue, was rather cynical in the sense: „yeah, ok. But this is never going to happen”. Now, the Romanian population is in a different place: „we want this to happen”, „we will fight for this to happen”, „we deserve this because we are Europeans”. This, to me, is one of the most inspiring things that the population says: not because Brussels says something, not because the Commission has come here to say something, but the people themselves say : „we want this for ourselves, for our children, for our country”. This is the best guarantee I have that this process will continue, also after we have concluded the CVM process.

Reporter: The second question: under these circumstances, is 2018 a realist date for CVM lifting?

Frans Timmermans: I never talk about dates, I never do that. The only thing I will say about this: the programme of the Government to fulfill the recommendations is clear and all depends on the public consultations the Minister was referring to, depends on the inclusion on all stakeholders in this process, of course it depends on votes in Parliament, whether the project of the Government can be fulfilled. Once it is fulfilled, we, the Commission, we certainly will not hesitate to say that the commitments in the CVM are met but I can’t put a date on that, it depends on how these decisions are taken.

Reporter: Referring to my colleagues’ earlier questions: there is an initiative put forward by leading members of the leading Alliance that the president of Romania should be removed from naming prosecutors, would you salute this as something that is conducive in the Romanian fight against corruption, or do you think it is a step backwards? Thank you.

Frans Timmermans: As I said in general terms and I repeat that, the line taken by the Government is conducive to be able to fulfill the recommendations we have set out. Although Parliament is of course sovereign, Parliament makes its own decisions, as it was also pointed out by the Minister of Justice. I would kindly ask Parliament to support Government in this, and not go in other directions than what the Government is proposing because I believe that is the best way to fulfill the recommendations but I shall not go into individual issues, and individual potential initiatives of the Parliament, I want to be able to look at the whole picture and we will see where we will be, at the end of this year when we have to make another report on the CVM.

Reporter: A question for the first Vice-President of the European Commission: today, during the discussion with Senate President Calin Popescu-Tariceanu, I quote: "I told Mr. Timmermans that Ordinance 13 contained nothing illegal and unfortunately DNA started an investigation against the Cabinet members. The investigation of the Cabinet members, prompted the CCR to intervene and the Court ruled that the DNA action is illegal and does not comply with the Constitution ". Currently, the DNA has declined its responsibility for this investigation which nevertheless continues at the General Prosecutor's Office and is still directed against members of Grindeanu Cabinet, even though the Constitutional Court stated that the right of the Prosecutor's Office or the DNA to conduct such an investigation is out of question. What is the view of the European Commission given the conflict that still exists between the two powers, the legal and the executive one?

Frans Timmermans: The Government has engaged to bring the legislation in line with the jurisprudence of the Highest Court in Romania. This is the normal process and it happens in every member state, that if the jurisprudemce goes into a direction where you get different interpretations of the law, you need to bring the law in line with jurisprudence, this is the normal process and the Minister of Justice has engaged in that process. It happens in all member states, all the time. I have no issue with that, but I have also indicated that if in this process, we can be of use, we support the Romanian Government, we are at Government’s disposal, and as the Minister has indicated very clearly, this is just responsibility any Government and as legislator I would say, has, if the Highest Court of the land rules in a certain direction. I do not really see any big conflict, perhaps I have not understood your question well enough, this is something that happens all the time in all member states: we respect the separation of powers, and if the highest Court in the land gives a certain direction, you follow that direction – that is how you respect the independence of the judiciary.

Reporter: Mr. Timmermans, you know that an evaluation of the heads of the Prosecutor’s Office and the DNA took place in Romania, and several politicians raised the issue of their replacement, asking for such measure to be taken. In your opinion, if you followed what has happened in our country, such replacement would it be necessary or would it affect the judiciary?

Frans Timmermans: Again, I can only refer to the plans of the Government and the plans of the Government are completely in line with what we see as the requirements to stay on track to be able to complete the CVM process. If the Parliament decides other way, we will have to draw other conclusions, it is up to Parliament, Parliament is sovereign in these things. The only thing we can do is to make a dispassionate, neutral, professional assessment of the situation. And again, if Grindeanu Cabinet gets the support of the Parliament to do what they want to do, which includes very clearly respecting the responsibilities of different agencies, including the DNA, then, I am sure we will have a fulfillment of the recommendations. Any divergence from that, we will judge if it happens; yes or not, but this is up to Parliament to decide. All these initiatives are the sovereign right of the Parliament. I was a parliamentarian long enough not to have the arrogance to tell Parliament what it should do. But of course, actions have consequences. My only advice to Parliament is: stick to the plan that has been put on the table by the Government, and it will get you in the best possible situation you can be.

Reporter: Do you think it is necessary to change the criminal legislation and, for example, to decriminalize the abuse of office , given that this offence also involves fraud with European funds? And a complementary question: would it be necessary, a minimum threshold to be imposed in case of irregularities with European funds?

Frans Timmermans: I am sorry, I am not going to go into these detailed questions. I think, once again let me reiterate, I think it is the tenth time I am saying this, what I have seen coming out of the Grindeanu Government is clearly in line with what we would like to see in terms of fulfilling the recommendations. I think Romania has been extremely successful over the last ten years in putting the fight against corruption on a high level, something that was seen as eternal endemic in this country, no longer is. Do you have any idea how big cultural and political that change is? That is a huge achievement and I think that we have to make sure that we finalize that achievement. We are in the last stretch of a long marathon, and let’s not be distracted by other issues, let’s complete this, and then the process will be self sustained, as I said because I believe that the scrutiny by the Romanian people of that process will be very thorough, because the Romanians want this to happen and any Government will be well-advised to listen carefully to its people on that.

Reporter: I have one last question, if you allow me, because Mr. Frans Timmermans said that it depends on you, Mr. Prime Minister what will happen from now on. When do you think the CVM report will end, and how do you see the relationship with Parliament, as Mr. First Vice –President said that only the Parliament’s alignment to what you do, will lead to CVM lifting? Thank you.

Sorin Grindeanu: It does not depend solely on me and the Cabinet I am heading but on the other institutions too, as Mr. First Vice –President said. Today, we have detailed what we intend to do, the Justice Minister has detailed, to attain all these objectives, objectives which are not a purpose in itself, to conclude the CVM, they are beneficial for the entire society so that we enter the normal track, and that irreversible process. All things linked to us, to attaining these objectives, we assumed them, we detailed them, we had discussions which will continue, at technical level, between the European Commission and the representatives of the Justice Ministry. It was about those clarifications we announced you. I have no doubts about the support of the Parliament for what we committed to do, in order to attain these objectives. And these things will be viewed in the next period, on the measures, some of them will be announced by the Justice Minister and I repeat there are no clues currently that things would be different.

Reporter: A question for Mr. Prime Minister as well as for the Justice Minister. There have been statements today in Parliament from some PSD lawmakers and PSD President, Liviu Dragnea, regarding delays in connection with the draft laws on amending the Criminal Code. The Minister is requested a meeting with PSD President Liviu Dragnea and is summoned at the Senate Legal Committee. I would like to know your position, Mr. Prime Minister, in connection with that package on amending the Criminal Code and the delays signaled by PSD. And for the Justice Minister, when is that package ready, when do you send it to Parliament as the PSD members said that the pardon law at least would be passed tacitly, meanwhile.

Sorin Grindeanu: We committed to making a transparent process, whereby to consult all institutions and not only, NGOs, etc. We announced all these early this year. Currently, there is on the Justice Ministry’site that aforementioned draft law, to align the Constitutional Court’s decisions with the Criminal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code. This draft law is in public debate process. We will send to Parliament, irrespective of who asks this, this draft law as soon as the public debate is concluded. This is my point of view and we follow this line. As soon as this public debate is concluded, according to law, with eventual additions, discussions on various articles, following public debates, improvements of this first draft, we assume it in Government as draft law, and we will send it in Parliament after the public debate process finishes.

Tudorel Toader: I will not talk about the Criminal Code, the Criminal Procedure Code as Prime Minister did it. What I can tell you in connection with the package of laws: there are three basic laws on the organization and functioning of justice: 303, 304, 317, all from 2004. If we want to do a job in stages, if we want to do a job that adds here and there, we can send them tomorrow too. If we want to do a thorough, rigorous job, both in substance and in form, we should make a full assessment of the three laws that have been enforced for 13 years in Romania, which, I say, for 13 years show their good or bad parts, then we have to make an assessment from the first to the last article, we will consult the CSM, all the institutions involved in the act of justice, we use transparent decision-making, the Government appropriates it and passes it on to the Parliament as draft law. Therefore, only that time, we can have a reconciled heart and mind, that we made a demarche that is functional, viable, necessary to the justice system. Only then can we hope that the changes to the package of justice laws will really improve the work of justice. Beyond this question, I will answer something else. So beyond the package of laws of justice, we will make an assessment of the four codes, in a first stage: the Criminal Code, Criminal Procedure Code, Civil Code, Civil Procedure Code. Four codes that were adopted by government responsibility, which were not debated by the legislator, four codes which in the years of application showed their inconsistency with the fundamental law, inconsistencies between provisions, regulatory omissions, inconsistencies with European norms . Therefore, we must and are compelled to make a rigorous assessment, complying with the Constitutional and the European requirements, we consult with all authorities, with decisional transparency, in the hope of a legislative act capable of improving the work of the judiciary.

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