Romania repeals corruption decree amid mass protests

Romania's government has repealed an emergency decree that decriminalises some official misconduct following days of mass protests and condemnation from abroad.

Crowds in front of the government headquarters in Bucharest protest against the governments contentious corruption decree. Picture: Getty

The government led by Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu originally approved the plan on Wednesday, with no input from parliament.

After repealing the decree yesterday, Grindeanu asked the justice minister to prepare a draft law to be sent to parliament for debate and approval.

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The centre-left Social Democratic Party has a parliamentary majority with a junior partner.

President Klaus Iohannis then needs to sign off on the legislation.

The country’s constitutional court is still scheduled to rule on the legality of the original decree.

It decriminalised official misconduct if the funds involved were worth less than 200,000 lei (£38,000), which critics said would just encourage officials to steal on the job up to that threshold.

Grindeanu said the draft should respect the court’s rulings, European directives and Romania’s criminal code.

In an abrupt about-face, Grindeanu said on Saturday that he would repeal the decree at an emergency meeting because he did not want to “divide Romania”, adding: “Romania in this moment seems broken in two.”

He said that parliament would now debate a new corruption law.

He confirmed that Justice Minister Florin Iordache would take responsibility for the poor communication and confusion around the controversial measure which would also have allowed many officials convicted of corruption to leave prison.

Tens of thousands of flag-waving protesters in central Bucharest cheered his announcement, which came after five consecutive days of demonstrations. The protests in the eastern European country against the decree have been the largest since the fall of communism in 1989.

Liviu Dragnea, head of the ruling Social Democrats, is one of those who could have benefited from the decree.

He is banned by law from serving as prime minister because he was handed a two-year prison sentence in April 2016 for vote-rigging.

Government officials in Romania have said that changes are needed to reduce prison overcrowding and ensure certain laws are compatible with the constitution. The country’s leftist government only returned to power in December after protests forced its last leader from power in October 2015.

EU leaders have warned Romania against reversing its progress against corruption.