Barroso steps forward as Romanian election arbiter

Traian B?sescu and Victor Ponta

José Manuel Barroso’s congratulatory message following the recent parliamentary election in Romania carries two important messages: it tells President Traian B?sescu that he should re-appoint Victor Ponta as prime minister, and warns Ponta he should work with B?sescu instead of reviving efforts to impeach him.

The message from the European Commission congratulates Ponta, leader of the leftist Social Liberal Union (USL), for his victory. The USL is a coalition consisting of Ponta’s Social Democratic Party (affiliated with the Party of European Socialists) and Crin Antonescu’s National Liberal Party (affiliated with the European ALDE group). Ponta's party is the senior partner in the coalition.

In the 9 December election, the USL won a huge majority in both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, with 273 seats out of 412 in the lower chamber.

Far behind were B?sescu's allies, the Right Romania Alliance (ARD), affiliated with Barroso's centre-right European People's Party. They came in second with 56 seats in the lower chamber, losing about half of what they won in 2008.

The Romanian constitution gives the president the power to choose a prime minister and it is far from certain that B?sescu will select his political foe Ponta. Last summer, when the two were engaged in a bitter political row, B?sescu said he would not re-name Ponta as premier.

But the future of B?sescu as head of state also appears uncertain. Though his term ends in November 2014, it is widely expected that the USL coalition will try to repeat its effort to impeach the president.

A bid to do so in July failed when not enough voters turned out in a referendum.

>> Read: Romania’s President cleared to return to office

In his message, Barroso says he looks forward to working with both.

“The Romanian people have made a clear choice in a democratic way. President Barroso looks forward to working with Prime Minister Victor Ponta and President B?sescu, during the coming challenging years, to promote the necessary reforms in Romania's and Europe's interest,” the message reads.

The carefully-worded message tells both leaders to exercise restraint. As Ponta emerged as the clear winner of the election, it appears that the Commission wants B?sescu to respect the election results and appoint him as prime minister. But Brussels also told USL that it looks forward to work with B?sescu over the “coming years”.

Romania’s relations with the EU have been under strain since this summer’s political crisis.

Monitoring report

The European Commission is readying a monitoring report on Romania's judicial reforms (see background), due to be published in the following weeks. The last report, published on 18 July, suggests that if the country's constitutional order is not respected, Romania could see its voting rights in the EU Council of Ministers suspended.

Commission sources told EURACTIV that the EU executive will send an exploratory mission to Bucharest before the end of the year. After the mission reports to Barroso, the next report is due in the beginning of the new year.

The American ambassador to Bucharest, Mark H. Gitenstein, also said recently that Washington expects its “strategic ally” Romania to stick to its rule of law and IMF commitments in order to avoid a "replay" of the political crisis of last summer.

The European Commission for democracy through law, the Venice Commission, said in a longer opinion on the recent developments in Romania:

"In July 2012, the Romanian Government and Parliament adopted a series of measures in quick succession, which led to the removal from office of the Advocate of the People, the Presidents of both Houses of Parliament, a limitation of the competences of the Constitutional Court, changes on the conditions for a referendum on the suspension of the President of the Republic and the suspension of the President itself. The Venice Commission is of the opinion that these measures, both individually and taken as a whole are problematic from the viewpoint of constitutionality and the rule of law."

When Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU on 1 January 2007, shortcomings remained regarding judicial reform and the fight against corruption. In the case of Bulgaria, problems also remained regarding the fight against organised crime.

A Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) was set up to assist both countries with judiciary matters after their EU accession.

The European Commission expressed concern about the ongoing political infighting in Romania in its most recent CVM report.

The 18 July report questions the country’s ability to comply with the EU's fundamental principles and the sustainability and irreversibility of reform. Commission President José Manuel Barroso said that the political feuds in Romania had "shaken EU's trust" in the country.

European Commission

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