July 3, 2012 / 2:29 PM / 8 years ago

Romania top court says govt threatening rule of law

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania’s Constitutional Court on Tuesday accused Prime Minister Victor Ponta and his party of trying to dismantle the court and said it has notified European authorities of threats to its independence.

Ponta, who is facing calls to resign over plagiarism charges, ignored a court ruling last week that his opponent President Traian Basescu was entitled to represent Romania at a European Council meeting and travelled to Brussels regardless.

Ponta said he was following a ruling in parliament, where he has a comfortable majority, questioned the court’s independence and said it was controlled by Basescu. His leftist Social-Liberal Union (USL) party threatened to replace some judges.

“All the recent attacks are the equivalent of dismantling the constitutional court in its current membership,” the court said in a statement.

“We are asking both parliament and the Romanian president to take actions against the planned measures which are blatantly against the constitution, democratic norms and principles of rule of law.”

Analysts say the USL’s actions are threatening the rule of law and separation of powers. The political spat has effectively paralysed decision-making and delayed important reforms agreed under an International Monetary Fund-led aid deal.

The USL took power in May, after toppling a previous austerity-minded government which had close links to Basescu, and has since been embroiled in a row with the president that has effectively paralysed government.

Six of the court’s nine judges are appointed by parliament - half by each house - and three by the president.

“Given the extremely serious situation, the unprecedented attacks against the constitutional Court and its judges, as well as threats to remove them, the constitutional court has notified ... European institutions,” the court statement said.

It said it has been in touch with the European Commission for Democracy through Law, the Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional matters, the Conference of European Constitutional Courts and other European institutions.

The USL performed well in local ballots last month but its row with Basescu, the charges against Ponta and the jailing of a senior party official for corruption could hurt its popularity before a parliamentary election in November.

Ponta has ignored a decision by an academic panel that he copied much of his doctoral thesis, after his government removed the council’s authority as it was meeting to discuss the plagiarism charges.

The constitutional court had also ruled a change in electoral law - which the USL pushed through parliament less than six months before the election and contrary to European recommendations - was illegal.

In another blow to the USL, Adrian Nastase - a former prime minister who was still a major figure in the party - was sent to jail for corruption despite attempting to kill himself, which delayed his imprisonment by a week.

The USL has also passed a law to make it easier to impeach Basescu, which is still pending at the constitutional court.

“The president has the constitutional court, I have parliament,” Ponta said last week. “When we talk about legitimacy, the most legitimate institution is parliament.”

Editing by Diana Abdallah

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