Romania Launches EU Presidency Amid Protests and Warnings

Romania's government on Thursday inaugurated its six-month presidency of the European Union Council amid popular protests and renewed calls from EU guests for the country to continue to fight corruption.

Some 800 people attended the ceremony that took place at the Romanian Athenaeum in Bucharest, but hundreds of others joined protests, holding up pro-EU banners and chanting slogans against the ruling Social Democratic Party.

Photo: Liviu Florin Albei/Inquam Photos

"We want to stay in Europe, we don't want dictatorship," the crowd chanted, as protesters held banners reading: "Stop Corruption", "EU, sorry for this govt", "Romania fights for justice".

Photo: Liviu Florin Albei/Inquam Photos

Romania has experienced political instability in the past two years since the Social Democrats won the December 2016 elections. Protests started in January 2017, when the cabinet passed an emergency decree to pardon some corruption-related offences.

Demonstrations continued throughout 2017 and 2018 as officials pushed more legislation to relax the fight against corruption. On August 10, hundreds were wounded when riot police intervened with force to disperse protesters in front of the government HQ in Bucharest.

President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani, (R), and European Commission Chief Jean Claude Juncker (C) arriving at the ceremony. Photo: George Calin/Inquam photos

The government's controversial justice-related policies have drawn heavy criticism from Brussels. In November 2018, the European Commission released its most pessimistic report on Romania's justice affairs since the country joined the EU in 2007.

European officials have not shied away from renewing their warnings, despite Thursday's festive occasion.

"The EU is...

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