EU warns Romania PM Victor Ponta over political crisis

Victor Ponta looks at the Romanian Mission of the European Union, in Brussels, on July 12 Victor Ponta's power struggle has caused "deep concern" in the EU

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A top EU official has urged Romania's prime minister to safeguard judicial independence and the rule of law, amid a paralysing political crisis.

The message came from European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, who met PM Victor Ponta in Brussels on Thursday.

Mr Ponta, a leftist, has moved to oust Romania's President Traian Basescu.

The president has been suspended by the largely pro-Ponta parliament and a referendum on 29 July will decide whether he can be impeached.

Mr Van Rompuy, who chairs EU summits, voiced "deep concerns" about Romania's crisis, "with regard to the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary", a statement from his office said.

He asked Mr Ponta to "address the issues identified by the [European] Commission as problematic".

Critics say the moves by Mr Ponta and his Social Liberal Union (USL) supporters, who came to power in May, are aimed at weakening the influence of Mr Basescu and undermining the judiciary.

Mr Ponta says he will address any issues raised by Romania's EU partners. But he also accused the centre-right president of blocking government policies.

Romania and its neighbour Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007, but Brussels has put both countries under special monitoring because of concerns about judicial independence, corruption and political influence in state institutions.

The Ponta-Basescu duel has stalled decision-making processes in Romania at a time when it is finalising agreements on an IMF-backed aid package for its economy.

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