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February 5, 2023

Disputes and resentful policy

Given what happens in the Romanian social and political life, one cannot avoid the feeling that almost all public statements and actions are determined by serious problems that result from a common past shared by the combatants. It looks like politicians are squaring accounts with each other and they are more preoccupied by the direct battle, than by achieving a breakthrough victory that would annihilate the negative effects of a past action. Everything is told in words that often do honor to nobody.

A life-and-death war is waged in Parliament, at the epicenter of battles that are decisive for the prestige, and political and even financial survival of combatants. The financial aspects are carefully hidden from curious eyes, while trans-party relations are very common when the opposition does not leave the room, when minds are not elated by a speech delivered from the tribune, and television cameras are busy elsewhere, dealing with irrelevant matters. The real business is done and undone on the Parliament’s hallways. Money is always welcome and the “connoisseurs” need much more than the “meager” incomes of a member of the Parliament can provide.

When TV cameras are near, the political conflict suddenly picks up with renewed strength, turning into an all-out war. The Opposition jumps at the Power’s throat, initiates no-confidence motions, while the parties of the ruling coalition – eroded by the act of governance and by various bi and multilateral disputes – answer the accusations in a tough voice, defending their own advantages and… democracy. Like their Social-Democratic predecessors in the past, the Democrat-Liberals raised a shield wall around former Youth and Sports minister Monica Iacob Ridzi, by rejecting in Parliament the DNA’s request to start an IT search and to expand the criminal investigation. It is obvious that Ms. Ridzi could have proven her innocence in court. As things are now, she will remain just another politician suspected of corruption, while PDL will be seen as the party that speaks a lot against corruption, but ends by protecting its own members suspected of corruption, thus proving it is no better than its predecessors.

The outcome might give the false impression that PDL and its junior partners in the ruling coalition (UDMR and UNPR) act like a monolithic structure. Wrong! It is a momentary alliance of convenience. Worth mentioning are the PDL-UDMR disputes over the Education Law and the PDL-UNPR disputes over army pensions. And there’s more to it. Even inside PDL things are far from being settled. The effervescence of changes that began in 2005, when they came to power – jointly with PNL – after the elections of 2004, has exhausted the Democrat-Liberals, and the heroes of those days, such as former Justice minister Monica Macovei, have become undesirable now. The criticism voiced by Macovei troubles the acting PDL leaders, who often tell her to mind her own business. Of late, Ms. Macovei mentioned the possibility of founding a new party of her own. Nobody will shed a tear in PDL neither for Macovei, nor for MEP Cristian Preda who has become increasingly acid and “restless” with regard to the party’s actions. This is why high PDL officials repeatedly warned him that he will be expelled if he goes on like this. However, they were unable to deter him and Preda goes on unabated, though many don’t understand him at all. He even committed the supreme sin of criticising the mighty minister of Development and Tourism, Elena Udrea, recently elected the chief of PDL Bucharest – something that seems unconceivable to those who know the ins and outs of Romanian politics. “Listening to her, I realised that Mrs. Udrea missed the lesson on modesty. She seems to have forgotten rather fast that she could not be out there too much during the last campaign and that she wasn’t even included in the government ‘temporarily’, because of her lack of credibility. Sometimes she gives me the impression that she is on the Titanic, asking for a glass of champagne,” Preda said in a recent interview.

But the fiercest fight is between Opposition leaders Victor Ponta (PSD) and Crin Antonescu (PNL), on one hand, and President Traian Basescu on the other. Demonized by Ponta, who called him “The Devil” on his blog, Traian Basescu is making the news even when he says nothing in public, as he is the preferred target of Opposition leaders. There is strong resent on either side. With both PNL and PSD being allied with PDL at various moments in the past, the events experienced together have left deep scars in everybody’s memory. The president neither forgets, nor forgives, and he uses the same language as his opponents – almost suburban – when he speaks about various politicians. Furthermore, he was very “effective” at cutting all chances of dialogue, and is now faced with the refuse of both PSD and PNL when he invites parties for talks at the Cotroceni Palace (except for the latest such invitation, attended by the Social-Democrats, who made their mind at the last minute).

But the president’s very personal style has shut many doors on him, not just those of the Opposition: trade unions, teachers, doctors, pensioners and – more recently – judges, starting with the members of the Superior Council of Magistrates (CSM). Trade unions blame him for his statement about the state being unable to care for each of its citizens, so they want the “welfare” removed from the “welfare state” expression provided by Constitution. Teachers are unhappy over salary cuts, in contradiction with the 50 pc wage hike promised by the president in 2008. Retirees learned that authorities will deprive them of 5.5 pc of their pensions as contributions to the welfare system, and an income tax looms around the corner. And the list might go on.

Just days ago, the president lashed out at the legal system. “No justice system of the EU did so much harm to any country than ours did to Romania and Romanians. They did it because they don’t mind, because they think they are gods and despise the national interest, out of disdain for the Romanians’ wish to live in a country where they are protected by the law,” Basescu said in a press conference. “I consider that the CSM acted wrong during its previous mandate and brought Romania where it is now, in terms of credibility,” he stated.

Obviously, the CSM answered the accusations by claiming its independence, while forgetting the numerous disputable – and disputed – decisions it made through the years. Let alone the odd situation of one of its members being at his second term in office, although the law only allows one term per member. But the real issue here is the person of the accuser, rather than the accusation itself. In certain aspects, Traian Basescu’s credibility is minimal, as he failed to take the due measures in his past presidential mandate, which he refers to now. But there is more than meets the eye in this latest row. The president warns that, because of this issue, Romania risks a negative monitoring report under the EU Mechanism of Cooperation and Verification, and even the accession to the Schengen Zone could be compromised in 2011. Hence, the responsibility for this failure belongs to CSM and the judiciary system, instead of the government, the president or the administration. This seems to be a rather conjectural accusation. No matter how “fragile” justice may be, it cannot bear the whole blame for the setback.
But, in Romania, politics are done with passion and resentment. This is why statements should be considered with much caution. Tomorrow, the combatants might simply reverse their opinions. But Brussels makes its decisions on different criteria.

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