Romania joined the EU a few months ago but not too much is known of Romanian politics in the rest of Europe. Only Vadim Tudor managed to get some press coverage in Brussels by helping to set up the Independent Tradition Sovereignty (ITS) group in the European Parliament. But nobody seems to care about what has been happening in Romanian politics in the last weeks. And important events are coming up: elections for the European Parliament are scheduled for 13 May. A good overview on Romanian political forces can also be found here.
To become familiar with politics in Romania everybody should know the three basic features: (1) Romanian politics is a rather complicated and messy business and a ‘liberal’, ‘conservative’ or ‘socialist’ name tag does not mean too much to the parties. (2) Personal fights mixed with populism and corruption are at the centre of all debates. Political debates are often generated by the press and covered by various TV channels quite extensively. (3) Political parties always act somewhat detached from the public.
Undoubtedly the most important ‘personal fight’ is the one between PM Tariceanu and President Basescu. It started just after the last national election in late 2004 and has been going on ever since. (with debates on: “Basescu: a member of Securitatea?” or “Tariceanu involved in dubious Rompetrol transactions?”) The highlight was the resignation of Tariceanu after the floods in 2005 and the immediate withdrawal from it. President Basescu always wanted early elections, first to secure a broad majority for his D.A. Alliance in Parliament, later just to get rid of Tariceanu.
Recently, the fight heated up again with a (private) letter sent by Tariceanu to Basescu asking for support for one of his friends in court. In case Basescu had interfered, this would have constituted a clear case of political corruption. But since this is Romania, it is not as easy as it appears. The letter was sent nearly a year ago, but only in January it got revealed by the press. Basescu claims that he did not interfere, but his silence about the letter that could have helped him to oust his opponent is striking. Of course, this caused a major crisis in Romanian politics, with the main opposition party PSD officially launching an impeachment procedure against the President. After a recent procedural change, a referendum needs to be held in case of an impeachment. But the always outspoken Basescu enjoys a comfortable 50% approval in the latest polls. At the same time, Basescu opens another battlefield in proposing to change the existing proportional voting system into a majoritarian voting system.
EU accession definitely had its impact on Romanian ministers:
The first victim was foreign minister Ungureanu who had to resign after he failed to report to the PM about the situation of 2 Romanian workers held in custody at a US military base in Iraq, accused of taking pictures of military equipment.
The second victim was the well-known minister of justice Macovei who pushed through painful reforms in the Romanian justice system in order to secure the EU accession of the country. Obviously she became the most appreciated Romanian politician in Brussels but, at the same time and for the same reasons, disliked by many political actors across all parties. This resulted in a motion adopted by the Romanian Senate, calling for the immediate resignation of Macovei. Finally, she did not have to resign, thanks to the lack of consistency of the internal Senate procedures and the Romanian Constitution.
The big showdown was initially planned for 13 May 2007, the day of the scheduled elections for the European Parliament. The PSD thinks that this was a good date for the referendum on the impeachment of the president. President Basescu thinks that it would also be a good date to hold a referendum on his proposals to change the Constitution. Faced with these ideas, PM Tariceanu prefers to postpone the EP elections because he thinks that the other issues might influence the outcome of the EP election (also taking into account possible party losses!). Naturally, the political elite is divided on the issue.
Nevertheless the government decided on Monday due to the “inappropriate political climate” to postpone the European elections until the second half of 2007, without having a consensus in the cabinet (vetoed by the minister of justice and the interior minister).
But since this is still Romania, I do not believe that this decision is carved in stone.