Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Is the Political Crisis in Romania Abating?

Adelina Marini, August 29, 2012

With a drama ended the episode with the impeachment of Romania's President Traian Basescu, which is part of a bitter confrontation between him and Prime Minister Viktor Ponta. Late in the afternoon of August 27th, Romania's Parliament gathered to hear the ruling of the Constitutional Court from August 21st which reinstates Mr Basescu as president of the country. According to Romanian law, the parliament has to validate the Constitutional Court decision but this happened after numerous attempts by some political groups to prevent a quorum.

The culmination of the conflict between centre-right Basescu (former member of Romania's Communist Party before 1989) and social democrat Viktor Ponta was in the beginning of July when the parliament suspended Basescu's powers pending a referendum which was to decide whether he should stay in power or not. The referendum took place on July 29th but failed because the turnout was less then 50% to be valid. Nonetheless, Basescu was still unable to return to the Cotroceni Palace because the social democrats continued their attempts to prevent that, in spite of the strong reactions from the EU, challenging the results from the referendum quoting fraud with the electoral lists. If the number of voters had reached the threshold of 50% in order to be valid Traian Basescu would have been removed from power because over 87% of voters voted against him. Traian Basescu has been holding this post since 2004.

On August 21st, the Constitutional Court ruled that there were no sufficient grounds the results from the referendum to be cancelled, thus reaching to the point the parliament to adopt that decision on August 27th. Romania's parliament consists of two chambers - a chamber of deputies (the lower one) and a senate. In both chambers the biggest parliamentary group is of the party associated with President Basescu - the Democratic Liberal Party (PDL). But at the moment the country is ruled by a coalition between Ponta's Social Democrats, who are the second largest political force in the country (PDL leads with a small margin) and the Conservative Party. In the beginning of the extraordinary session, the members of the National Liberal Party (PNL - third largest political group) boycotted it in order to prevent a quorum of 217 deputies.

A large part of Ponta's Social Democrats, too, refused to attend but were called to with text messages. According to Romanian daily Adevarul, the prime minister had sent text messages to his MPs with a request to attend the session "in order to avoid image problems abroad". Until then, the position president was held by Crin Antonescu who also sent a similar request to his MPs. In the late afternoon on Monday there was a quorum and the ruling was read out. Media in Romania report that in the mean time a deal was reached for the next ombudsman of the country (the previous was removed a little before Basescu in July, which was another reason for deepening of the crisis).

Thus, 52 days later, on Tuesday morning Basescu returned to the Cotroceni palace. But still the question how the two political enemies, Ponta and Basescu, will continue working together in the future remains. In the end of the year, the European Commission will come up with an extraordinary report under the Control and Verification Mechanism (CVM) in the area of justice and home affairs. In July, precisely in the peak of the political crisis in Bucharest, the Commission published a five-year summary of the functioning of the mechanism, which in Romania's part (as the CVM covers Bulgaria as well) was focused predominantly on the conflict Basescu-Ponta. A spokesman of the Commission said on Tuesday that the reinstate of the president was taken into account and that the Commission will continue to monitor the situation. "We will remain vigilant", were his words.

Although the denouement seems promising for an abating of the political passions and a return of Romania on the path of democratic development, Viktor Ponta's words, if correct, are worrying - namely that it seems for him more important is image abroad than real reforms. What should happen in the near future is this dependence to turn upside down - genuine and sustainable in the future reforms first and then the good image will come on its own. This, by the way, is valid with the same force for Bulgaria as well, no matter that the country still is not in the headlines of the European media with reports of a serious retreat from democratic development.