BUCHAREST Romania should be able to convince the European Union to lift special monitoring of its justice system by the time it takes over the presidency of the EU Council in 2019, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Thursday.
The EU has monitored the justice systems of Romania and Bulgaria since they joined the bloc in 2007. It has helped bolster a crackdown on high-level graft in Romania, seen as one of the EU's most corrupt states.
The ruling Social Democrats have repeatedly said since coming to power in December of last year that they will work towards lifting the verification mechanism.
But in February the government approved an emergency decree that would have shielded dozens of public officials from prosecution, drawing international criticism and triggering the largest nationwide protests in decades. The decree was rescinded within the week.
"I will militate with Romanian authorities to guarantee the irreversibility of reforms," Juncker told Romania's parliament on an official visit. He also said the citizens who stood up for the rule of law were Romania's biggest advantage.
Later, on a visit to President Klaus Iohannis, Juncker said justice monitoring should end by 2019.
"One cannot preside over the EU while under the impression that one is controlled, observed," he said, adding Romania should also be allowed into the EU's passport-free Schengen zone by that time.
(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Toby Chopra)