Weekly review: Romania, between money for weapons and electoral alms

Weekly review: Romania, between money for weapons and electoral alms


By Daniel Stroe – Bucharest

The Romanian Government started to prepare for elections with a spate of measures designed to appeal to voters this week, while the instability in Ukraine is still giving authorities in Bucharest the shivers, making them turn their attention to the army and reminding them Romania is a NATO member state with obligations, not only benefits, deriving from this status.

“Amid the events on Romania’s Eastern border, the army has to increase its reaction capacity by supplementing its budget” the Romanian President Traian Basescu said on Thursday when he attended the Minister of Defense’s review. He pointed out that so far, the Romanian army’s priority was fulfilling its missions abroad, but now it has to take on a new objective.

“In my opinion, if so far the army’s major priority was fulfilling the missions abroad, from now on there is a new objective, namely the continuous raise of the Romanian army’s reaction capacity. Not because Romania may be attacked by someone, but now and then on our Eastern and Northern borders events are happening such as those which led to a neighboring state’s territorial loss in favor of Russia and we cannot leave things without having a reaction” Basescu said. “Russia’s unpredictability is forcing us to look for options” he pointed out.

Receiving the NATO secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Friday, Basescu said the country’s military budget will increase by 0.3 per cent next year while in 2016 the budget is meant to reach 3 per cent of Romania’s GDP, as the NATO accession treaty stipulates as part of the country’s obligations.

On Wednesday, Basescu warned that, amid the Ukrainian crisis, Romania may benefit from NATO’s repositioning of forces “which will make it more attractive for espionage”. “This is why the counter-espionage component has to be consolidated, as an adaptation to today’s reality” the president further said. In his turn, Mircea Dusa, minister of Defense, underlined that Romania, Poland and other NATO member states bordering Ukraine have to have NATO capabilities in the context of the events in the former Soviet space.

While the President is taking the lead in the country’s geopolitics amid events on the Eastern border of the country, PM Victor Ponta seems more concerned about smoothing his way into the elections. On Monday, the social-democrat premier announced that about 230,000 Romanians will get a pension raise. At the same, the PM announced that the so-called “electorate”, a controversial fiscal scheme designed to halve bank repayment rates for low income Romanians, will go into force as of July, reopening a chapter which has pitted him against President Traian Basescu who disagrees with the measure.

The repayment scheme would envisage about 1 million Romanians and would reduce installments to up to 4 billion lei (less than 1 billion Euros) in 2014 alone, hence the heavy impact the measure could have in terms of electoral gains. But President Traian Basescu disagreed with it and called it an “electorate”, hinting the measure is only designed t raise Ponta votes since this is an electoral year, with Euro-elections in May and presidential polls in November. “The electorate is a fraud, a deception” Basescu said, accusing the National Bank of siding with the government for electoral purposes.

On Friday, Romanian authorities were left empty handed after no investor submitted offers for the privatization of Oltchim, a chemical plant in south-east Romania which has been in insolvency since January 2013. Four companies bought the tender book, but none took the next step. A fourth corporation, a Chinese consortium, submitted their offer, but after the deadline set by the Romanian authorities. Another privatization attempt failed in September 2012, after the chemical plant was the object of a sinister electoral circus whose protagonist was Dan Diaconescu, a TV anchor turned politician and who sought to turn the plight of the plant to his political advantage, with the suspicious complicity of the Romanian authorities.

Also on Friday, President Basescu closed the circle of a tarrying debate after refusing to pardon George Becali, owner of FC Steaua Bucharest. Becali, imprisoned in a shady land transfer with the Ministry of Defense, called on the president to pardon him. Bu the decision was probably deemed a risky one by the president’s advisers since four in five Romanians said they wanted Becali to stay in prison. Becali, who rose to fame after buying FC Steaua in the late 90’s, is a popular politician and public figure who appealed to the ordinary citizens by an over-publicized philanthropy. He raised eyebrows many times by making homophobic, xenophobic and anti-Semitic statements.