Romania leader at odds with EU, won’t attend key EU event

Corruption warning as Romania takes over EU presidency

Corruption warning as Romania takes over EU presidency

In a sign of the febrile atmosphere in Romanian politics, outside the grand Athenaeum concert hall where the ceremony took place, hundreds of demonstrators protested against the government.

At an official ceremony in Bucharest on occasion of the start of the Romanian Presidency of the Council of the European Union the President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani voiced hopes that Bulgaria and Romania would join the Schengen Area during the Romanian EU Presidency, reported the Bulgarian National Radio. They spoke about the need for unity both in Romania and in Europe.

Popescu-Tariceanu said the European Union had "misconceptions about Romanian public life".

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said late previous year the Romanian government "has not yet fully understood what it means to preside over EU countries". (Full speech, in French, available here).

The EU's justice commissioner is working on a proposal that could oblige member states such as Poland, which has clashed with Brussels over reforms to its courts, to pass tests on the independence of their judicial systems before receiving funding. "Romania must have a central role in building the new Europe", he said and ended his speech with a saying from Romania's folklore: "where there's one, there's no strength, where there are two, the strength is growing". "I am sure that you will be performing your own "Romanian Rhapsody" with energy and wisdom during these six months".

For its time holding the presidency, Romania chose "Cohesion, a common European value" as its motto.

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The former prime minister warned that many in Romania had barely moved on from the totalitarian era imitating habits used by those in power during the years of Stalinism which isolated the country and dragged its people into cycles of poverty.

"I see nothing unnatural", Romanian Foreign Minister Teodor Melescanu said of the election year political infighting. "Remember that there will always be challenges and, sometimes, "light does not come from light, but from darkness", as Mircea Eliade once put it". The dismissal of anti-corruption prosecutor Laura Codruța Kövesi as well as the recent resignation of her replacement, brutality shown towards peaceful protestors marching against corruption, and efforts to hold an amnesty for corruption offences for officials all seriously undermine Romania's commitment to the rule of law, civil rights and the fight against graft.

Backstage drama came to the fore Thursday as Romania assumed the presidency of the European Union for the first time, an worldwide debut that was preceded by questions about the country's readiness for the role. Moreover, the European Parliament adopted a resolution in November 2018 asking Romania to reconsider its justice reforms and take into account the recommendations received from global bodies such as the Venice Commission and GRECO.

Another awkwardly timed problem arose Thursday, when word went public that the chairman of Romania's ruling party had sued the European Commission - led by Juncker.

Dragnea, who is also speaker of the lower chamber of deputies, has delegated his duties to a deputy.

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