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October 22, 2021

Christian-Democracy reloaded

The Foreign Minister joined the ruling party. Everything shows this was not the best moment to do it. The party losing popularity and the government is hanging by a thread. Despite his very personal style, even the president is on the defensive. Teodor Baconschi – still just a diplomat with sympathy for the president – could have moved his career along other political lines. Now, his political decision has put him on a different path. His option comes shortly after President Basescu mentioned him as a possible presidential candidate, and a few months after the birth of a Christian-Democratic foundation.

These are elements meant to give a subtle coherence to a move that would have stayed marginal, in a different context. So far, Teodor Baconschi only acted as a perseverant and rather discreet diplomat, with no aspirations to become an opinion leader.

Unlike other intellectuals – much more active in public debates – the minister gave no sign about having a political project of his own. Then, why this political affiliation now?

Did he answer a presidential demand, did his political ambitions reach maturity, or did he react to the presence of a reformist current within the ruling party? Probably all three variants concurred to a decision that surprised some and disappointed others. The political stance taken by some intellectuals has lost its power to impress people, especially after the “marriage” between Basescu and the intellectuals left rather sour memories. However, the distinguished profile of the diplomat-intellectual may still hold a good image – something the party heavyweights have lost long ago. President Basescu, at least, will certainly benefit from such a move, which enforces his image of “enlightened” autocrat.

All image-related considerations aside, what chances will stand a personality as the Foreign minister to have a say in politics? Everything depends on the president’s support. Teodor Baconschi does not have political connections in high places, he lacks a populist charisma and has small chances to suddenly affirm himself like an outstanding manager. Due to conjectural political alliances, he may find himself in one camp or another within the party, which will push him into privileged positions. But what role might suit him best? His personality makes him unfit for being the leader of an influential network of mayors, local barons and activists with very concrete ambitions. His experience in positions of authority, as well as his background, makes him unsuitable for being a prime minister. Could he have the vocation of a presidential candidate?
As part of a political experiment, he might stand real chances in a carefully conceived campaign. With support from a president seeking a heir and from a party wishing to regain the sympathy of the electorate, backed by leaders aware that the image of their party is declining, the acting minister could play the presidential card like Emil Constantinescu in the ‘90s. But he still needs something more. He needs an idea. In 1996, the campaign was centered on the idea of “change,” of a political turning point. Now, it is about a party that has become unpopular because of the extreme austerity measures. And a president that risks an ignominious end. Overuse by Traian Basescu has voided of all substance the old themes about fighting corruption and political clientele.

Teodor Baconschi is trying to strike the chord of returning to ideology – a move that still has substance. Abandoning the ideological references is a chronic disease of the Romanian political establishment. It is also one of the reasons for the declining confidence in political programmes. Traian Basescu is no stranger to such a phenomenon. Moving from ESP to EPP was merely a tactical maneuver, with conjectural benefits. Now, the ruling party, associated with the president, with a few disputable leaders and frustrating governance, it needs someone new. As providential leaders are hard to find, it must look for something else.
Resuscitating Christian-Democracy in Romania – a political current buried along with the National Peasants Party – is a move that deserves attention. Teodor Baconschi has a theological education, which he started during the atheistic regime. For many years, he was a publicist with an interest for religion – a background that would support his recent Christian-Democratic option. But whom will he cooperate with, inside the party? The political basis remains the essential problem. Without an entourage of people truly dedicated to the values of Christian-Democracy, without a think-tank capable of drafting projects that will adapt the doctrine to the reality of the country, without a strong relationship with similar political forces, everything will remain just a good-looking project.

Does Teodor Baconschi have the qualities required to generate political and ideological enthusiasm? Either he stays under the president’s control, playing in a show integrally conceived by others, or he is able to put conditions and promote his own team, one that will be really ‘new’ for his party and for Romanian politics, in general.

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