Damien Phillips is a public affairs consultant.
Theresa May promised the country in 2014 that the problems with the European Arrest Warrant had been fixed, and that she would argue “loudly and clearly” for the UK to re-join the system. Romania is just one example of how the EAW is not only failing to uphold the rule of law but assisting authoritarian regimes in the suppression of their critics.
Consider the Romanian state’s regard for even basic civil liberties, for instance. The recipe for media control in this EU member state is all too familiar. When a journalist is critical of the government, send out undercover agents to collect information about the target, come up with a spurious case against them, publically smear him through your state-controlled media outlets, and then instruct your supposedly independent prosecutors to try them on trumped up charges. There go your independent journalists.
Stuart Ramsay of Sky News, a British investigative journalist, is now finding this out to his cost. He had the temerity to air a report about Romanian gun-runners willing to sell military-grade weapons of Russian origin to terrorists. As Britain’s security services warn of potential Paris-style terror attacks at home, gangs in Romania are trading weapons to anyone willing to pay for them.
Brussels launched an investigation into Romanian border control, but instead of cleaning up its act Romania quickly chose to shoot the messenger. Dacian Cioloș, Romania’s Prime Minister, lashed out – claiming it was unacceptable to denigrate a country without proof. On 17 August, Ramsay was officially prosecuted by Romania’s anti-terrorism unit. The prosecutors invoked an obscure national security law of “giving out false information” and Ramsay, and his two colleagues, are now being prosecuted for forming an “organised criminal group”. Valentin Jucan, Romanian Secretary of State for media supervision, wants Ramsay to face trial in Romania imminently.
For the press within Romania, the situation is even worse. Dan Adamescu, publisher of the elite-bashing anti-nomenklatura newspaper Romania Libera, was accused by then Prime Minister, Victor Ponta, of corruption after he decided that Adamescu had published too many articles critical of his shenanigans. Ponta announced the upcoming prosecution of Adamescu in an extraordinary televised interview. Two weeks later, squads of masked anti-terror police arrested Adamescu on charges of bribery.
Adamescu was promptly declared guilty on the first day of his trial by a judge who said that he “had to be exposed to public shame”. He was refused bail on the grounds that he continued to plead innocent to the charges he was accused of. He was then imprisoned, denied medication and critical knee surgery, and is now bound to a wheelchair as a broken man.
His son, Alexander Adamescu, a writer brought up in Germany and now at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, has been fighting a lonely cause in London to draw attention to the injustice being done in his home country. Tired of this fly in their ointment, Romania quickly acted to remove the irritation. Adamescu junior was suddenly accused of the same charges as his father, more than one year after his father’s trial had concluded. A Romanian judge issued a local arrest warrant on Alexander’s head after a mere 20 minutes of deliberation. Excerpts of the judgement were then leaked to the collaborative press, which printed the official propaganda without question.
Despite being a London resident for four years, together with his partner and his three small children, Alexander was brandished as a fugitive from justice who had to be apprehended urgently. When Romania got wind of Alexander’s invitation to speak at that haven of independent journalism, the Frontline Club, on 13 June – on the very topic of Romania’s suppression of media freedom and its abuse of European Arrest Warrants – the Romanian embassy quickly contacted the Met, sent them a freshly printed EAW and had Alexander arrested two hours before he was due to speak to prevent his story being heard.
As I sat in the audience of this event, listening to Alexander’s distraught partner trying to read his testimony through floods of tears and worry, I couldn’t quite believe my ears. Romania seems determined to employ every weapon in the EU arsenal to undermine the very values it promised to uphold when it joined in 2007.
Romania took its place in the EU club despite failing to adhere to almost every chapter of the “unnegotiable” acquis communitaire. Its minimal reforms mean that the country is still governed by unreformed power structures that trace back to the country’s dark days under Communist dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu. It might have absorbed the laws made in Brussels at a declaratory level but, in reality, things are being run as in the good old days of the Securitate, Ceausescu’s feared secret police.
By prosecuting its own free press and persecuting anyone, anywhere, who dares to criticise the regime, Romania is confirming that despite all the ink spilled and the goodwill shown it has not progressed an inch from Ceausescu’s Securitate-controlled authoritarian nightmare. It now looks much closer to Erdogan’s Turkey, with liberty trampled underfoot. Yet it is now a full member of the EU - with all the pooled sovereignty that entails. British police and courts are duty bound to place as much trust in the Romanian state as they do in Germany or Denmark.
British lawmakers are faced with an uncomfortable truth today on their return from recess. In both the Ramsay and the Adamescu case, according to current EU law, there is little that British authorities can do about Romania’s absurd charges. Despite the parlous state of Romanian justice being an open secret amongst British judges, they must accept it at face value thanks to the European Arrest Warrant system.
Ramsay will be questioned by a commission of Romanian anti-terrorist prosecutors in London. If they decide that he’s a criminal and to be charged, then the British courts will be powerless to resist his extradition, just as in the Adamescu case. They will not be allowed to verify the grounds of the accusations – remember the principle of mutual trust between the UK and Romania – and have no choice but to put both Ramsay and Adamescu on the first plane to Bucharest where they will face a show trial that would have made Ceaucescu proud.
It is time we put a stop to the abuse of our justice system by governments that have no true respect for the rule of law and the separation of powers. As the UK moves towards Brexit, we should withdraw from the European Arrest Warrant and reassert the primacy of our world-renowned legal system once more.