Romanian court clears way for B?sescu return

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Romania's Constitutional Court ruled today (21 August) that the referendum held last month to remove President Traian B?sescu is invalid because turnout fell short of the required 50% threshold. Veteran politician B?sescu is now cleared to return in office, risking further confrontation with Prime Minister Victor Ponta’s government.

An impeachment referendum held on 29 July yielded an 88% majority in favour of removing the centre-right B?sescu, but the turnout fell short of the 50% required – only 46% of registered voters cast a ballot during the referendum.

Ponta's  Social Liberal Union (USL) had pressured the Constitutional Court to rule that the electoral lists had not been updated and that the turnout requirement had been met. The judges ruled, by a 6-3 margin, that the referendum was invalid.

Asked if B?sescu should now return to office, Chief Judge Augustin Zegrean said "Yes".

Ponta , whose USL controls the parliament, said he would respect the court ruling.

But the cohabitation between the centre-right president and USL could yield further tensions ahead of the November parliamentary election, which is likely to be won by the USL coalition. B?sescu has the power to appoint prime ministers.

The country needs to focus on austerity policies to keep a €5-billion International Monetary Fund stand-by agreement on track, Reuters reported.

Analysts said the battle between Ponta and B?sescu reflects a wider struggle for power and the justice system in the country hobbled by corruption and 19 members of the USL parliamentary coalition are under investigation.

The centre-right European People’s Party in the European Parliament called on the Romanian authorities to respect the Constitutional Court’s decision.

“The Romanian people need responsible political leadership that focuses on the reform and development of their country and not on the personal political agendas of socialist and liberal leaders,” stated Joseph Daul, leader of the EPP group.

Crin Antonescu, who heads the Romanian liberal party PNL and is part of the governing coalition, held the post of interim president pending the decision of the Constitutional Court, and should now resign.

But Antonescu made statements that sounded at the least confusing.

“For us Traian B?sescu is no longer a president. He is the president of Romania in the legal sense. But the decision of the Constitutional Court has been unfair,” Antonescu said. 

The Romania Social Democrat party PSD said in a statement that the USL coalition would respect the decision of the Constitutional court. But it adds that “even if he returns to Cotroceni [the presidential palace], B?sescu will be a defeated president, and nobody would take him into account!.

“We are determined to continue what we have begun.  Romanians have given the signal that change is happening – we are heading toward a Romania without B?sescu, and we are getting there with accelerated pace.

“Our plan is clear: (1) We continue the fight with Traian B?sescu and what he and [his party] PDL represent, and (2) We continue to govern.

“In the next months, over the November battle [the parliamentary elections] we need majority, so that changes would be solid!”

Hannes Swoboda, President of the S&D Group in the European Parliament, also commented on the Court's decision:
 
"The Romanian Constitutional Court today put an end to a debate that has hurt Romania. We respect the Court's decision and urge all parties and players to do the same. The debate reached a level that was no longer acceptable and inappropriate comments about a 'coup d'état' must now, finally, stop."
 
"The result of the referendum demonstrated a strong sentiment from a large part of the Romanian electorate. But we have always emphasised that the legal provisions cannot be changed afterwards. In this referendum, the key legal provision was not met for it to take effect. Everybody must respect this," Swoboda continued.
 
"All sides need to set differences aside and get back to work. The parliamentary elections in November will be the appropriate opportunity to send a clear and strong signal about the future Romanians want for their country," he added.

The European Commission said in a statement that it takes note of the decision and considers that it will now be of utmost importance for all political actors to comply with the decision of the Constitutional Court.

"Accordingly, the legal procedure to reinstate President Basescu should be respected. The European Commission expects the Romanian authorities to abide by the rule of law and the decisions of the Constitutional Court."

"The European Commission calls on all political forces to respect European values, to act with responsibility and to work constructively in overcoming divisions, in Romania's best interests. Respect for the rule of law and independence of the judiciary are essential for restoring political stability and economic confidence in Romania," the statement said.

"The European Commission will continue to monitor the situation very closely. It will adopt a further report under the cooperation and verification mechanism before the end of the year," the Commission said.

The European Commission expressed concern about the ongoing political infighting in Romania in its most recent progress report on judicial reform and the fight against corruption in Romania. 

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 recent events in Romania had “shaken EU’s trust”.

Barroso had met with Prime Minister Victor Ponta the previous week and presented him with a 11-point to-do list aimed at restoring the status quo following what critics said was an attempted coup d’état and an assault on democratic values.

Ponta reportedly committed to following Brussels’ advice.

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