It looks like Romanian lawmakers don’t believe Santa Claus exists. They seem eager to wrap up a fine Christmas without Santa’s help and without his presents. What would be more interesting for an MP than putting himself in a position above the law, where no state institution can look into his business, his accounts or his conflicts of interests? Bearing this in mind, on Tuesday the Romanian parliament has written one of the most controversial chapters of its existence, as the ruling MPs attempted to build a wall around themselves by promoting laws that could offer them a privileged position. More than that, a law on amnesty was put forward, transparently aiming at helping MPs in ‘distress’ or on the brink of getting final judicial sentences.
The events on Tuesday prove once more ruling lawmakers aim high. It is more or less a continuation of the attempts during the summer of 2012, when trying to suspend President Traian Basescu.
Besides their eagerness to have revenge with the head of state, at the time the MPs aspired to the same target: putting themselves above the law, above state institutions by ruling at the time that Constitutional Court rulings cannot overcome those of the parliament.
So, it is not surprise President Traian Basescu plays now the part of genuine democrat facing a bunch of ill-mannered and ill-intended MPs, coming mainly from the social-democrats and conservatives, who are trying to turn Romanian democracy upside down. ‘They’re carrying on a coup d’etat started last summer, now they’re doing it by using different methods, claiming democracy,’ Basescu said Tuesday evening. He also stressed he would send back to parliament the law stipulating the president and the MPs are no longer civil servants, considering the fact that ‘we cannot confuse the Presidency and the Parliament with some Northern Station boutique.’ He accused the MPs of wanting to ‘protect themselves’, by amending the Criminal Code, by including such decisions that ‘might happen to suit them or their families, especially when it is about the appropriation of contracts involving public money’.
The Deputies Chamber at its plenary session on Tuesday adopted a draft law amending the Criminal Code, among other things the Romanian President, the Deputies and the Senators being eliminated from the category defined as ‘civil servants’. But will the MPs think differently when it comes to promoting their own law again and again, if the president returns the law to parliament? The head of the National Integrity Agency (ANI) Horia Georgescu placed a message, before the parliament’s vote, saying ‘the lawmakers intend to build themselves a super-immunity’ and that ‘the background of ANI cases will be brown up in the cases of some 25 senators and deputies.’
The most stunning of all attempts was the amnesty law, brought to light overnight. And overnight it did come! The juridical committee of the Chamber of Deputies discussed behind closed doors, during the night of Monday to Tuesday, a controversial draft law promoted by Deputies Nicolae Paun (Rroma Party) and Madalin Voicu (Social-democrat Party – PSD), regarding the amnesty of some offences and the pardoning of crimes for which jail sentences are up to six years. The two have had a similar attempt during the last parliamentary legislature, but it was abandoned as the mandate came to an end. The two seem very determined. In February 2013 they filed again the same draft law, but the government gave a negative notification, while the Senate rejected it. So it came to the Lower Chamber to deal with the issue. On Monday evening the juridical committee of the Chamber of Deputies brought the draft law into discussion and had some amendments, however non-essential.
The opposition and media analysts point to the fact that that the committee omitted to exclude from amnesty the criminal offence included in article 13 of Law 78/2000, which reads that political parties leaders, NGO heads and union leaders that committed corruption deeds or used their influence in corruption deeds are to be sentenced to 1 to 5 years in jail. The same analysts say that on the basis of this very article former PSD leader Adrian Nastase was sentenced to two years in prison in the ‘Quality Trophy’ file (executory sentence), while PC honorary president Dan Voiculescu was sentenced to 5 years in the ‘ICA file’ (waiting for a superior instance final decision). According to the draft law filed to the Lower Chamber on Tuesday, the two politicians would get a ‘white file’. As far as pardoning is concerned, all voices confirm the opinion that businessman Gigi Becali is the target. According to ‘Adevarul’ newspaper, other names could benefit by the law: former Senator Catalin Voicu, former minister Relu Fenechiu, former ministers Decebal Traian Remes, Codrut Seres, Miron Mitrea, Ioan Avram Muresan, incumbent deputy-PM Liviu Dragnea, MEP Adrian Severin and Constanta Mayor Radu Mazare.
Fortunately, the draft law was pulled out of the Chamber’s agenda by the PSD and PC MPs as the Liberals said they would vote against.
Also on Tuesday the draft law on lobby was discussed by the parliament. It was decided to return the draft to the juridical committee until February 1 by 119 ballots to 1, so that some ‘inadvertences’ should be solved. Even so, the draft law stirs controversy, as it might, as some say, open the door for influence peddling under the cover of lobbying. Even the juridical committee president Bogdan Ciuca insisted on the fact that specific definitions are needed to separate the lobby activity from influence peddling.
The ‘mad Tuesday’ may have not solved much, but it did draw the attention of Brussels. During a briefing yesterday, European Commission spokesman mark Gray underscored the EC position on Criminal Code amendments will be pointed out in the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) report in January. On the other hand, the Embassy of The Netherlands in Bucharest stressed in a release it is concerned and is closely following the amendments brought to the Criminal Code by which the President and the lawmakers will no longer be considered civil servants.
Well, it seems our MPs have done it. Now they can calmly wait for Christmas celebrations as they expect to enjoy is in style. However, PSD, PNL and PC lawmakers could get the presents a little bit later this time, by the time of Christmas celebrations according to the Gregorian calendar, sometime in January. As we know, the CVM report is expected to be released by then.