Monday, March 3, 2008

Romanian president swears in new justice minister

Fri Feb 29, 1:09 PM ET

Romania's president swore in a new justice minister on Friday, ending a political impasse that had fuelled concerns in Brussels over the pace of judicial reform in the new EU member.

A row over the post between Prime Minister Calin Tariceanu and President Traian Basescu had left Romania without a justice minister since December, even as Bucharest sought to convince Brussels its anti-graft fight was effective.

An EU report on Romania's judiciary is due this summer and international observers say the centrist government, which controls only 20 percent of seats in parliament, has let reform momentum to fizzle since the country joined the EU in 2007.

Tariceanu nominated 39-year-old lawyer and academic Catalin Predoiu earlier on Friday after Basescu had refused to approve two previous nominees.

"I can assure you of my full support because you have a relatively difficult mission," Basescu told Predoiu after the swearing in ceremony.

"I'm fully convinced that you will succeed, I trust you because you are a young man with an impressive career," he added.

The previous minister, Tudor Chiuariu, criticized at home and in Brussels after he tried to sack a prosecutor investigating high-level corruption, resigned late last year ahead of a criminal probe into graft allegations against him.

The EU Commission earlier this year urged Romania, ranked by Transparency International as the EU's most graft-prone state, to step up action against high level corruption.

EU diplomats have said that Romania, riven by political infighting in an election year, is standing still or going backwards in its fight against widespread corruption.

An EU report on justice issues is due this summer and Brussels could impose punitive measures at any time until the end of 2009 if the country fails to make marked progress.

(Reporting by Radu Marinas and Iulia Rosca; Editing by Jon Boyle)

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