Domestic and international critics poured scorn on Romanian lawmakers today after they unexpectedly voted to exempt MPs and the president from corruption charges while in office.
The executive European Commission, which keeps a close watch on the EU member's drive to rein in corruption, warned that the snap amendments were "obviously something that will be taken up" in its report on the rule of law in Romania next month.
"We have highlighted in previous reports that high public officials... Should be covered by corruption and conflict of interest rules", Commission spokesman Mark Gray told journalists.
"A very important principle for us is that all citizens are equal before the law," he added.
The United States said the proposed changes to Romania's criminal code were a step in the wrong direction.
"This move by the parliament is a step away from transparency and rule-of-law and is a discouraging sign for investors, which will negatively affect Romania's economy", the US embassy in Bucharest said in a statement.
Romania's lower-house Chamber of Deputies, where a centre-left coalition holds a two-third majority, adopted the amendments yesterday after a secret meeting by the justice committee.
The national anti-graft prosecutor and the magistrates council were not consulted and criticised the changes.
According to the prosecutor, 28 lawmakers are currently on trial on corruption charges or serving jail sentences.
President Traian Basescu, a sharp critic of the centre-left coalition, has vowed to send the bill changing the penal code back to parliament.
"Ten years of efforts to uproot corruption have been blown away," he said.
"If implemented, these changes will mean that pending investigations... Against lawmakers will be frozen", Dana Pascut, a spokeswoman for the National Union of Judges (UNJR), told AFP.
"Those who are sentenced for graft will be freed because they will benefit from the new law," she added.