Weekly review: Romania’s clown politicians and a constant chase for personal interests

Weekly review: Romania’s clown politicians and a constant chase for personal interests


By Daniel Stroe – Bucharest

With only personal interests in sight, Romanian politicians have again turned the Parliament, the institution allegedly representing the people, into a springboard to satisfy their own ephemeral personal needs, leaving their voters a bitter taste again in the face of a uselessness which has been the curse of post-communist Romania.

On Monday, PM Victor Ponta said he would summon the plenum of the Parliament to vote for President Traian Basescu’s resignation. The President’s brother, Mircea, now in arrest, is charged with corruption after he allegedly asked for 250,000 Euros to help release a famous Roma crime boss from prison. But the President argued he had no idea about his brother dealings and asked justice to have its say in this case. The Romanian home intelligence service (SRI) confirmed it had never sent any notice or warning to the President about his brother’s actions.

Still, without any solid proof to point the finger the head of state, the ruling coalition’s parties called for a vote on the President’s honor resignation. Two years ago they suspended Basescu for…passing austerity measures, in a Europe generally engrossed in austerity amid a fierce economic crisis.

“Given the serious and irremediable damage done to the presidential institution by the president’s brother’s involvement in extremely corruption deeds, as well as his relation with persons belonging to very dangerous organized crime groups which have also been used electorally by the Romanian President (…) the Romanian Parliament (…) passes the present political declaration: the President of Romania, Mr Traian Basescu, is no longer entitled to ensure the prestige, independence and legitimacy of the presidential position, grounds on which he should immediately assume the resignation” reads the declaration which was rushed through the Romanian Parliament in a matter of days.

But speaking about morality, the very same lawmakers who voted for Basescu’s resignation forgot to account for their own moral sidesteps, such as the amendments brought to the law on public administration and which basically legalize conflicts of interests and corruption, in a nutshell. The Chamber of Deputies, the Romanian Parliament’s lower house, gave its green light to a law which allows mayors and local councilors to be members in the board of companies that have contracts with the local administration, dealing a heavy blow to the country’s Integrity Agency (ANI) which has so far found hundreds of incompatible local officials. If enforced, the law basically exempts local elected officials from incompatibility charges and they can do business in local utilities companies involved in deals with the public administration, which attract millions of Euros in EU funds they will thus get to manage directly, with serious risks of embezzlement.

So the same lawmakers that sought to finally get rid of a redoubtable political rival, Traian Basescu, even if the latter’s second mandate ends late this year, by taking advantage of an unfortunate family situation which is now in the hands of justice, vote to shield themselves from anti-corruption institutions. For years, so-called local barons, influential local politicians, have been pressing the government to secure them easy access to EU money. So, the morality they invoked when asking the President to step down was buried under an abuse which will probably impact on the country.

Speaking from Brussels last night, at the end of the European Council, the Romanian President warned these amendments will likely hinder Romania’s renewed efforts to join Schengen. Basescu, half a year away from the end of his second term, has never hidden his desire to get Romania into Schengen and this has turned into a personal ambition of his. Romania, along Bulgaria, was on the brink of joining the border-free space in 2012 when the most sever political crisis struck and threw the country years back, forcing it to almost start anew. “By the end of my term, I have this objective to start the process of joining Schengen, even if only with airports. But the vote on amending the law on public administration is not helping us in this regard, I will have to discuss with the political factors (in Romania) to abstain themselves until the new European Commission finds a formula” Basescu said.

This week, the European Court of Human Rights finally served justice to a Romanian journalist to whom a stubborn mayor refused to release public information. Even if the journalist prevailed in the Romanian courts, the former mayor of Baia Mare, Cristian Anghel, in the meantime sentenced to prison for corruption, simply refused to obey the rulings, despite repeated fines. The court in Strasbourg’s verdict came to shame him again.