By Ethan Bilby and Luiza Ilie
BRUSSELS/BUCHAREST (Reuters) - The European Commission, citing delays in validating a referendum on impeaching Romania's president, said on Friday the Romanian government had reneged on its commitment to protect democracy and the rule of law.
The July referendum in favor of impeaching Romania's president is being reviewed by the country's Constitutional Court to see if it met a minimum 50 percent turnout requirement.
Prime Minister Victor Ponta's drive to oust President Traian Basescu, whom he accuses of improperly blocking government policies, has been condemned by the European Commission and Washington.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said in a letter to Ponta that he was worried by allegations of pressure being applied to judges on the Constitutional Court.
"I am deeply concerned about recent developments relating to the Constitutional Court's validation of the referendum, despite the assurances you have personally given me in our contacts," he said.
"It is now crucial that the Romanian government respond without undue delay to the requests of the Constitutional Court as regards the transmission of the relevant electoral lists, so that the Court may issue its final decision on the referendum as soon as possible."
The court was expected to invalidate the vote, but is investigating claims by Ponta's Social Liberal Union (USL) party that the size of the electorate is smaller than was previously thought, therefore pushing the turnout above the 50 percent mark.
The letter also expressed concerns by the Commission about allegations of pressure being applied to the court's judges.
The Strasbourg-based Council of Europe said the court had appealed to it for protection earlier this week.
On Tuesday, the president of the Venice Commission - the Council of Europe's advisory body on constitutional matters - said in a statement that the court had asked his panel for help to protect its independence from political pressure.
"It is essential that such allegations are immediately brought before the competent authorities and thoroughly investigated," Barroso said.
He added that the European Union would pay particular attention to developments that have occurred since the referendum in its next report due before the end of the year.
Romanian prosecutors asked parliament on Friday to approve an investigation against a former junior minister for suspected abuse of power.
They said Victor Dobre, who quit earlier this week, had used his post in the interior ministry to influence the Constitutional Court's pending August 31 ruling on the validity of the plebiscite.
The dispute over Basescu has stalled policy-making, raised concern over an aid deal led by the International Monetary Fund and plunged the leu currency to a record low.
(Editing by Michael Roddy)