East testing EU principles

Brussels sees a “real risk” of a slide towards authoritarianism in Romania, amid a spate of worrying judicial reforms in Warsaw, Budapest and Bucharest

Brussels is fearing a domino effect of democratic regression, in eastern Europe. As the number of worrying “reforms” to the judicial systems of former Soviet republics builds up, these are testing times for the fundamental principles of the European bloc. First Poland, then Hungary and now Romania are weighing on the minds of EU leaders, keen to preserve the separation of powers. On October 19th, the Council of Europe called the recent changes to the Romanian penal code, undertaken by Prime Minister Viorica Dancila’s social-democratic government “worrying”, as they would “limit the ability of the judiciary to fight crimes of corruption”. According to the latest index by the Economist Intelligence Unit, the eastern bloc registers the worst scores on democratic measures within the EU. Dimitry Kochenov, an expert in European law from the University of Groningen considers that these “anti-democratic swings” aren’t just a problem in these eastern member states, but rather an indication of “less-consolidated or young democracies.” The EU is facing such issues in Poland and Hungary on the one hand, and experts say opening up another defensive front in Romania may stretch its resources. There is a risk that the bloc’s inability to adequately fight such attacks on its fundamental principles might lead to a perception of impunity, for those attempting to bend or break the rule of law, and lead to further such incursions from eastern member states. Martin Michelot, a European law expert from the German Marshall Fund highlights the Czech Republic and Slovakia as next on the list to lurch away from democracy. Kochenov points out that western member states are not necessarily safe, in that “no system is by definition secure. The principal problem here is ensuring the Union can maintain its supranational integrity, faced with a shift to authoritarianism by member states”.

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