Romanian lawmakers on Wednesday voted to disband a contentious department of prosecutors that was created to specifically investigate magistrates.
The European Commission and judges’ associations were among those which said the unit which was set up in 2018 put political pressure on judges and prosecutors and dampened the anti-corruption fight.
Lawmakers voted 171-136 to dismantle the ominously named Section for the Investigation of Criminal Offenses in Justice.
The opposition Social Democratic Party said it would appeal the legality of the vote at the Constitutional Court.
But Justice Minister Stelian Ion called it the unit „a great disgrace for Romania.”
He said the unit had succeeded in discouraging all but a few „courageous magistrates” leaving a huge backlog of 6,000 cases.
The Senate is expected to vote for it to be dismantled. The Liberal-led coalition government holds a majority in the upper house.
The development marks a step towards resuming judicial reforms that were overturned by previous Social Democrat governments.
The European Union has criticized Romania for setting up the unit to investigate judges and prosecutors over alleged abuses.
Under the previous Social Democratic-controlled government, which was in office from 2016 to 2019, Romania backtracked on anti-graft measures and weakened judicial independence, critics said.
The Liberals have committed to undoing the changes made to the justice system carried out by the previous government.
Prime Minister Florin Citu said last week that the EU is now ready to lift special monitoring of the rule of law Romania by the end of the year.
Prosecutors have successfully prosecuted dozens of lawmakers, ministers, mayors, magistrates and businessmen in recent years for abuse of power, fraud and bribery.
The anti-corruption prosecutor’s agency won praise from the EU, the U.S. and ordinary people.