By Daniel Stroe – Bucharest
Romanian PM Victor Ponta seeks to discuss and find with the European Commission a legal solution to a thorny problem residing in half of the country’s mayors having been declared incompatible by an independent body entrusted with checking the wealth of the public officials.
“This situation is all over the country. I first want to see what the courts’ decision is because I know all the mayors and local councilors found incompatible contested the decision in courts. There is something in the middle, since we are talking about public interests and not private ones. We will see what the courts say, we will discuss with the National Integrity Agency (ANI) and the European Commission and we will certainly have to find a solution” Ponta said.
ANI is an independent state body founded in 2007, when Romania joined the EU, at the request of the European Commission with the aim of checking the wealth and interests statements of the state officials, ranging from central to local authorities. Last year alone, 206 officials were declared incompatible either by a court or by the culprits’ decision not to contest ANI’s findings, according the agency 2012 activity report. The incompatibility decision comes with the removal of the respective official from the public position.
Therefore, ANI has become a real nightmare and the public enemy for the Romanian politicians, the agency coming under renewed political attacks over the years with the purpose of shutting down the body. In the case under discussion now, most of the mayors were declared incompatible after ANI found they also hold central positions in public companies which are the city hall’s supervision.
Faced with the unprecedented situation, Ponta seeks to discuss the matter with Brussels to avoid being accused of taking unilateral measures concerning an issue EU pays a lot of attention to, especially since Romania is still under EU’s justice scrutiny. “What shall we do? Call elections in the whole country? I don’t think this is a good idea” Ponta expressed his helplessness.
“I want to take the right legislative decision. It is important not to have another dispute reason with the European Commission, but I stress again, half of the country’s mayors and councilors are in this situation” the PM underlined.
One of the mayors found incompatible is Klaus Iohannis, the German ethnic mayor of Sibiu, a city in central Romania. Iohannis is now going through a second trial against ANI, after winning a first one. The Romanian media has revealed that the local officials representing the ruling coalition are starting to put a lot of pressure on the central leaders to cut down the powers of ANI, but the government shies from doing that, fearing a backlash from the European Commission at a time when all the internal decisions in the field of justice are closely observed amid Romania’s efforts to join Schengen.