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EU to maintain pressure on Romania: official

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(BRUSSELS) - The European Union will maintain pressure on Romania to respect the rule of law, EU officials said Friday, warning that sanctions are possible if a political feud worsens.

The European Commission has voiced concern over the use of decrees by Prime Minister Victor Ponta to strip powers of the constitutional court as part of a campaign to impeach President Traian Basescu, his conservative rival.

During talks in Brussels on Thursday, European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso gave Ponta a list of steps he must take to restore confidence in his centre-left government's commitment to EU rule of law.

The prime minister of one of the newest EU member states pledged to quickly respond to the concerns and vowed to respect the decisions of the top court, which will rule on the outcome of a July 29 impeachment referendum.

An EU official said the EU's executive arm will maintain Bucharest under a monitoring regime for progress on judicial reforms "as long as the situation does not evolve in the way we want."

The commission will issue its regular report next Wednesday on the so-called Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM), which also follows progress in Bulgaria's efforts to combat corruption and organised crime.

The report can be used as a form of "peer pressure" but Brussels has "not yet identified" measures taken by Bucharest that would warrant legal action, the official said on condition of anonymity.

The official noted however that the EU has another tool in its arsenal, Article 7, which includes the threat of stripping a member state's voting rights in EU decisions. But Article 7 has never been used.

"If the situation deteriorates because the Romanian authorities do not seriously follow through with their commitments ... it is a weapon that is at our disposal," the official said.

Barroso has asked Ponta to annul an emergency decree barring the court from ruling on parliament decisions and another changing referendum rules, the official said.

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