A ‘deja vu’ strategy

Premier Emil Boc explained on the public TV channel that the government’s attempt to modify the Constitution is in no way related to Parliament setting up a commission for fundamental law revision, mentioning that the executive has been working on the project for one month, together with the president, because the two institutions must have a unitary opinion in this matter. “Do you really think we knew Parliament would set up the Revision Commission just two days before the government passed the draft act in its current form? Commission or not, we would have still submitted the draft.”

On several occasions, the prime minister brought clarifications to some important aspects, both by what he said and by what he did not. Why did Emil Boc emphasise he was unaware of Parliament’s approach? Nobody asked him to come with an explanation.

However, one can easily notice that the government chose a really particular moment to bring its draft change of the Constitution to the public attention: right after Parliament formed its own commission, charged with a similar task. The coincidence is intriguing, to say the least. The Commission is formed on Tuesday, the premier brings his own draft in Parliament on Wednesday.

The text of the draft Constitution clearly reveals how hurriedly it was put on paper. To be more precise, only some paragraphs were changed while the others were copy-pasted. The media noticed the inadvertencies almost instantly. For example, the draft unveiled last week operates small changes in two articles which should have been actually repealed: one refers to the way the Parliament approves Romania’s accession to the European Union, while the other refers to the accession to NATO. Romania is an EU member since 2007 and joined NATO back in 2004 (!).

Another mistake is the document stating that organic laws must be voted by the “joint plenum” of Parliament. As the next Parliament will have only one house (named the House of Representatives), there would be nothing to join.

All these aspects show the government’s rush to surprise everybody and come with a draft change of the Constitution that will make the basis of talks over this matter. Even the premier confirmed things were like this, when he said that authorities have been working for a month on the proposed changes. Just a month? Changing the Constitution of Romania is a one-month project, when there are papers in ministries that take longer to go from bottom to top? Also, the head of the executive explained the contribution of the presidential administration, for those still in the dark. During this month, the executive worked “with the president” on this project.

And this is obvious. The 1991 Constitution, modified in 2003 and still in effect now, clearly leaves much to be desired. Its creators – with late lawyer Antonie Iorgovan being the most prominent of them – were split between modern democracy and the need to leave then president Ion Iliescu a wider space of manoeuvre, of intervention in politics. Thus resulted what has been described by some as a strange hybrid: a fundamental law that turned Romania into a semi-presidential state, without giving a clear advantage either to the Parliament or to the presidential institution. What the government and presidency are trying in the draft law unveiled last week is to transform the country into a presidential republic, where no important decision can be made without the head of state’s approval. You have read in the pages of this newspaper details on the changes envisaged by the act, such as presidential impunity, only one house of Parliament (which can be easier manipulated), the increasing attributions and power of the referendum – which the head of state can resort to, consulting the president over cabinet reshuffling, the (easier) possibility to dissolve Parliament etc.

The draft changes are obviously inspired by the presidential administration and President Traian Basescu himself. The head of state was probably left wide “scars” by his impeachment in 2007 and now wants to make it sure this won’t happen again. As completely scrapping the suspension procedure was bad for image, a new provision was added, which looks rather harmless at first sight. The president may be suspended only with green light from the Constitutional Court (CCR) – a Court which recently gave a verdict that practically disbanded the National Integrity Agency (ANI), the institution that checked the wealth of high state officials. Rumours say that seven out of nine CCR judges were being probed by ANI, so there is no doubt that the Court will always find the right justification to support or reject an initiative, as it pleases.

The Constitution changing strategy gives a strong impression of ‘deja vu.’ The referendum for a unicameral Parliament with 300 MPs was held together with last fall’s presidential elections. It was an important campaign theme, aimed at vilifying the legislative and – especially – its members and the opposition. It is said that, with less legislators, there will be less corruption; the politicians who oppose it obviously want to keep the privileges associated with the position of MP.

What is Premier Emil Boc, the voice of President Traian Basescu, saying now? That by disbanding a house of the Parliament, millions of euros will be saved each year, and all those who are blaming the draft revision of the Constitution fear they will lose their privileges, their “seats.”

Romanians voted for a unicameral Parliament in the referendum, but they knew very little about it and were influenced by the heated electoral debate. This was rather instinct voting. Now they are being sold the same strategy. The evil people oppose them, while the good people are with them and want to consult them through referendums, to make reforms etc. Nothing about the essence of modern democracy, built around the very idea of representativeness that justifies the Parliament as an institution. Coming to how surprised the premier was about the Parliament forming its own commission for the revision of the Constitution, there is not much to be said. I’ve seen better acting.

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