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EU warns Romania as PM defends president's impeachment

Romania's prime minister has touched down in Brussels to allay European fears that a bid to impeach the country's president jeopardizes democracy there. But the EU has voiced concern about the country's politics.

Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta defended the ousting of the country's president, Traian Basescu, during his visit to Brussels on Wednesday. He aimed to reassure EU leaders that his government was committed to democracy and the rule of law.

"I will leave them in no doubt as to my determination to uphold the Romanian constitution and European values," Ponta said.

His comments were in reference to the fact that Romania's constitutional court on Monday upheld the government's bid for a referendum on the president's impeachment, which is now scheduled to take place on July 29, although the court has since added that there must be a majority turnout to validate the vote.

“This is not about party politics. For my taste, in recent days we have seen too much political spin and too few facts, not only at home but also at European level," Ponta added.

Ponta made the visit to Brussels on Wednesday to meet EU officials after the European Commission and the United States raised the alarm over the actions made by the government with a view to impeaching President Basescu and curtailing the constitutional court's powers.

EU voices concerns

EU officials were blunt about their concerns on Wednesday, despite Ponta's reassurances.

"Personally I see a great danger in the recent developments in Romania, which could call into question the progress that has been made during the last years," EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding told a news conference.

"And if there are not very reliable reassurances and concrete actions by the Romanian government with regards to the re-establishment of the rule of law, then the country might lose the years in the progress of full integration into the European Union," Reding added.

Traian Băsescu

President Basescu insists the attempt to impeach him is politically motivated

She also said that she would point out to the Romanian Justice Minister Titus Corlatean during Wednesday's Brussels meeting that "lady justice is blind and does not look at the political color."

An ongoing feud

The impeachment controversy is the latest twist in an ongoing feud between Ponta and Basescu since the latter's coalition came to power in May, after the previous government was booted out following a vote of no-confidence.

Basescu contends that moves to impeach him are politically motivated, with the center-left coalition aiming to gain control over the judiciary. But Basescu has also himself been accused of trying to monopolize power over the judiciary since he took office in 2004.

Nonetheless, the Romanian government has - at the same time as pushing forward with the impeachment - also introduced emergency decrees strengthening its power and prompting anxiety that constitutional checks and balances are being eroded.

sej/slk (Reuters, AFP)