BUCHAREST, Romania – Romanian officials on Monday slammed European Union officials for treating it as "a second-rate" country as it prepares to take over the EU's rotating presidency.
Underlining the fractious mood between Romania and Brussels, a senior official of Romania's governing Social Democratic Party blasted top EU officials including European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker for alleged prejudices.
"Romania is under special (EU) monitoring. Romania is treated like a second-rate nation by some EU officials," Mihai Fifor, a Social Democrat leader, wrote Sunday.
We "will no longer take being scolded or sanctioned for things that happen everywhere in Europe," he added.
Romania takes over the rotating role on Jan. 1 amid deep political divisions at home and a contentious domestic judicial overhaul. EU officials have repeatedly criticized Bucharest over the legal changes, warning they will dilute efforts to prosecute high-level corruption in one of the bloc's most graft-riddled states.
On Saturday, Juncker told Germany's Welt am Sonntag newspaper that Romania may be "technically well-prepared" to take on the EU presidency, but he had doubts about whether Romania was ready for the political give-and-take of the role.
Romania joined the EU in 2007 but its justice system remains under special monitoring due to long-running concerns over the rule of law and corruption. It also hasn't been admitted to Europe's Schengen passport-free zone, an ongoing source of frustration for the government.
Romania's government insists it should be free to pass its own laws. It argues that anti-corruption prosecutors, who have successfully prosecuted hundreds of lawmakers, ministers and other top officials in recent years, have too much power.
In July the government dismissed chief anti-corruption prosecutor Laura Codruta Kovesi, the driving force behind the prosecutions, over mismanagement allegations. Kovesi, who was praised by the EU and U.S., still hasn't been replaced.
The handover of the EU presidency, currently headed by Austria, has also exposed a rift between Romania's centrist President Klaus Iohannis, who backs efforts to root out graft, and the left-wing government.
Visiting Bucharest on Dec. 21 for a symbolic handover, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz stressed the rule of law, saying it was "important when there is a negative development for us to react and try to correct" backsliding. He praised Iohannis for being "a guarantor of these things, he watches them and reacts to correct them."
But Social Democrat leader Liviu Dragnea, the country's most powerful politician, wants an amnesty for "thousands of Romanians" he claimed were wrongly imprisoned by anti-corruption prosecutors.
Dragnea was handed a 3½-year prison sentence in June for abuse of office. He will hear his appeal in that case during the EU presidency.
His ally Premier Viorica Dancila directed criticism at EU ambassadors on Sunday, saying they had been misinformed by the media.
She also hit out at Iohannis for representing Romania at the EU, saying it was the government's job to do that.