On February 27, the Civil Liberties Committee of the European Parliament has selected Laura Codruţa Kövesi, a Romanian citizen, as their top candidate for the position of European Chief Prosecutor.
She was selected as the top candidate with 26 votes, winning in a short list of three candidates a French and a German.
In any other circumstances Romania should celebrate the high honor. A Romanian chose to lead an ambitious EU institution it is not something it happens every day.
But Romania is deeply divided between a government accused of corruption and undermining the rule of law, and the rest of the political forces.
Codruţa Kövesi served as chief prosecutor of the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) between 2013 and 2018. Her role in unveiling the involvement of high rang politicians was instrumental. Kövesi became a first-class enemy of the government after she successfully prosecuted hundreds of top officials.
This is why Ms. Codruţa Kövesi was fired on Justice Minister Tudorel Toader’s proposal on July 2018.
This is why, once the candidature for the EPPO’s top post was announced, the Romanian government unleashed a fierce campaign against Kövesi.
While Romania took over the presidency of the Council of the European Union, Toader announced he will use all possible means to block the appointment of his compatriot Laura Codruta Kovesi as the chief prosecutor of the future European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO).
Under her leadership the DNA targeted high-level corruption in Romania. Dozens of mayors, members of the parliament, ex-ministers and a former prime minister were prosecuted during the first year of her office
A newly established office set up to investigate magistrates of the court made anti-graft prosecutor its first high-powered target. Kövesi allegedly abused office, took bribes and made false statements.
She denied wrongdoing and said the case was a retaliation to her front-running candidacy for the EU’s top prosecutor job and opening a lawsuit against the government at the European Court of Human Rights.
Now, the Romanian government continues the fight against the former chief of DNA, summoning her on Thursday for a second hearing in the alleged abuse case.
The persecution of a successful Proseutor
Codruţa Kövesi was the driving force behind the anti-graft campaign in Romania that has jailed many ruling party officials.
Kövesi has a long and successful carrier of a judge. Between 2006 and 2012 she was the Prosecutor General of Romania, the younger and the first woman Prosecutor General in Romania’s history.
On 2013 she was appointed chief prosecutor of the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA).
At the time high-level corruption in Romania became epidemic. Public opinion demanded transparency and justice. The anti-corruption campaign had the support of the Romanian society.
Under her leadership the DNA targeted high-level corruption in Romania. Dozens of mayors, five members of the parliament, two ex-ministers and a former prime minister were prosecuted during the first year of her office. The list was completed with former judges and prosecutors, more members of parliament and ministers were investigated, including ministers.
On November 2015 Prime Minister Victor Ponta, a powerful politician, resigned. Ponta is still the highest-ranking government official currently under DNA investigation and prosecution.
Her work has substantially increased public confidence in DNA. According to a poll in 2015 60% of Romanians declared they trusted the DNA (a high score compared to the 61% of trust for the Romanian Orthodox Church and a tinny 11% for the Romanian parliament).
But she became the number one enemy for the government.
As a result the country’s justice minister Tudorel Toader sacked her for alleged abuse of power, on 9 July 2018.
On 13 February 2019 the Department for Investigating Judicial Offences accused Kövesi of malfeasance in office, bribery and false testimony.
However, President Klaus Iohannis opposed to the new Department. On February 13, he urged the institution to abide by the law and swiftly clear the matter of Kövesi’s investigation.
Laura Codruţa Kövesi became the number one enemy for the government
“This special office must not, under any circumstance, be used as a political tool to investigate and intimidate magistrates and prosecutors,” Iohannis said in an e-mailed statement. “I’ve contested this office from the beginning, along with the European Commission, because there aren’t enough guarantees that it will stay independent from political factors.”
In a statement on Facebook, Monica Macovei, a Romanian member of the European Parliament and former minister of justice, said Kovesi’s nomination as entirely fair, arguing the Romanian government has an obvious fear of an independent judiciary. Toader, meanwhile, is attempting to consolidate the power of a “criminal group” with her dismissal, she said. If Toader succeeds in blocking Kovesi’s appointment, he should resign, Macovei wrote on February 11.
The fight against corruption is suspended
Last November, the European Commission warned Romania the fight against corruption was going backward, highlighting pressure on the DNA. Some European diplomats think Romania should be subject to the EU’s rule-of-law sanction procedure, if the government follows through with proposals for an amnesty to wipe the slate clean for politicians convicted of corruption.
Ahead of the European Union’s rotating presidency Romania faced criticism from Brussels about its un-democratic reforms.
The European Commission warned the government in November that it was backtracking on progress made since joining the EU in 2007, while the European Parliament passed a resolution voicing “deep concerns” at legislation that has the potential to weaken the rule of law.
As reported by the Guardian, members of the European Parliament also condemned “the violent and disproportionate intervention by police” in Bucharest in August, when police used water cannons and teargas to disperse anti-corruption protesters.
One proposal being closely watched is an amnesty to protect politicians from prosecution for corruption. Such is the case of Liviu Dragnea, who is considered the most powerful man in Romania.
Dragnea, a businessman-turned-politician, is the leader of the Social Democratic party. But he was barred from becoming prime minister when his party won power in 2016 because of a conviction for vote-rigging.
the “Bucharest government has not fully understood what it means to preside over the countries of the EU,” Jean-Claude Juncker said in an interview with the newspaper Die Welt.
The Agence France-Presse (AFP), noted that European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker voiced doubts on December 29 about Romania’s ability to take over the EU’s six-month rotating presidency next month, amid tensions between Bucharest and Brussels.
Even if the country is “technically well prepared”, the “Bucharest government has not fully understood what it means to preside over the countries of the EU,” Juncker said in an interview with the newspaper Die Welt.
He said the EU presidency “requires a willingness to listen to others and a willingness to put one’s own concerns in the background. I have some doubts about this”.
The European Chief Prosecutor’s role
The European Chief Prosecutor, who will head the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO), will be jointly appointed by common accord, by the European Parliament and the Council.
The EPPO which, is expected to be operational at the end of 2020, will be an independent office in charge of investigating, prosecuting and bringing to justice crimes against the EU budget; such as fraud, corruption or cross-border VAT fraud above 10 million euros. The list of crimes could be extended in the future to include, for example, terrorism.
So far, 22 member states have joined the EPPO. The five countries that currently do not participate – Sweden, Hungary, Poland, Ireland and Denmark – could join at any time.
The EPPO central office will be based in Luxembourg, along with the Chief Prosecutor and a College of Prosecutors from all participating countries. They will be head the day-to-day criminal investigations carried out by the delegated prosecutors in all participating member states.