Ponta: I’m still in disagreement with Băsescu

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Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta says he is still in conflict with President Traian Băsescu. The statement appears to augur for a new controversy over who will represent Romania at the 23-24 November EU summit.

Victor Ponta is the leader of the Romanian Social Democrat party PSD and of the currently ruling socialist-liberal USL coalition. Romania is to hold parliamentary elections on 9 December. Ponta spoke to EurActiv Senior Editor Georgi Gotev at the Congress of the Party of European Socialists (PES) held on 29 September.

Who will come to the 18-19 October EU summit, you or the President Traian Băsescu? I’m asking the question because the issue of the representation of Romania has been very controversial since you became prime minister last May.

The Constitutional Court decided [on 26 September] that the president can attend, or the prime minister, if he has a mandate from the president. And I’m going to respect the ruling of the Constitutional Court.

Probably the agenda of the summit matters depending on who decides to go?

Indeed. Regarding the summit on the multi-annual financial framework 2014-2020 [to be held on 23-24 November], because it refers to the positions of the government, I will ask from the president the mandate to participate. For the other summits, it will be President Băsescu who will attend.

Does it mean that you have a good mutual understanding now?

No, no. But I respect the decisions of the Constitutional Court and I respect the institutions. I’m not talking about the people [representing the institutions]. With regards to the people, nothing has changed. If the Constitutional Court has ruled, that’s what we should do.

Is political cohabitation possible in Romania?

Between institutions, yes. I was prepared, and I am prepared, to cohabitate with whatever president. The president should share the same approach. But institutionally yes, we should collaborate. But I’m speaking of collaboration, not subordination.

Romania will hold parliamentary elections on 9 December. Is this why you need to have conflicts with Mr. Băsescu?

No, no, not at all. At the present time, the most important thing is to confirm the economic and social measures we have taken over the past few months. And I’m convinced, this being confirmed by the opinion polls, that the people will give us the four-year mandate to put into practice our programme of reforms and our social and economic programme.

It looks like the social-liberal USL coalition which you lead is in pole position ahead of the elections. We are speaking at the Congress of the Party of European Socialists in Brussels. Do you feel like one of the strongest centre-left leaders of the EU countries?

I am indeed one of the prime ministers of the PES. After France, Romania is the second largest EU country conducted by a Socialist-led government and by a social-democrat prime minister. Our next goal is the 2014 [European] election, to have, as we always have, the biggest number of Romanian representatives to the European Parliament, and to support the election of a European Commission president from PES.

The Commission is due to present a report under the cooperation and verification mechanism in December. What is new regarding the implementation of the so-called “11-point to-do list” of Commission President José Manuel Barroso, the issue of the implementation of which will probably be central in this report?

From this list, we have solved 10 points and a half. The remaining issue is a liberal senator who is considered in situation of incompatibility and the proceedings are ongoing. But I think the relations have greatly improved and normalised between Romania and the European institutions, and the way I was received and I have discussed with President Barroso and [European Parliament] President Schulz [on 17 September] encourage me to say that we are on the right path.

Even before you came to power, Romania was not good at absorbing EU funds. According to a report by the French Senate, it ranks last and by January 2012 has been able to utilise only 4% of the funds available under the 2007-2013 budget. What do you plan to do to change this situation?

Indeed, this is Romania’s biggest problem. This is a file in which I have kept Minister [of European Affairs and former EU Commissioner Leonard] Orban precisely to have continuity in following up what has been discussed with the European Commission in the beginning of this year. After that, in 2013, we need to radically change our administrative system, to prepare Romania to be ready from 1 January 2014 with a completely new, much more efficient approach, with real capacity for the absorption of EU funds. For us the year 2013 will be the year of drastic changes in this field. Unfortunately, for the period 2007-2013, there are very few things that can still be done. It’s too late.

But we will prepare for 2014-2020 on a completely different basis. We will follow the example of Poland and of other countries that have been very successful in this field.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov has said that his country’s goal to enter the Schengen border-free area in 2013 has not been attained, because of the political turmoil in Romania. Do you agree to this analysis?

No, and I haven’t heard such a public statement. The goal has not been attained last year before of internal problems in the Netherlands, and this year, again, because of problems of internal nature in [Schengen] member states. Both Romania and Bulgaria are ready for Schengen accession and when the situation will be unblocked, they will join Schengen.

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