Romanian opposition warns of ‘coup d’état’

Traian B?sescu and Victor Ponta

Prime Minister Victor Ponta’s leftist USL coalition set a Friday vote on whether to suspend President Traian B?sescu as a first step towards possible impeachment, a move that the opposition denounced as a “coup d’état”. EURACTIV Romania contributed to this article.

The decision, announced today (4 July), is the latest in a series of developments that started in May with a conflict between Ponta – leader of the Social Democrat party (PSD) and the USL coalition – and centre-right President Traian B?sescu over who should represent the country at EU summits.

Observers see the conflict between the two leaders as politically motivated. USL toppled a B?sescu-appointed government in April and Ponta acceded to the post of prime minister. Ponta faces parliamentary elections scheduled for November.

At the EU summit on 28-29 June, Romania was represented by Ponta, despite a ruling by the country’s Constitutional Court that said the president should represent the country.

In an escalation of rhetoric, Crin Antonescu, leader of the liberal PNL party and Number 2 in the USL coalition, said Monday that parliament and the government can change Constitutional Court judges and that “the court is a disgrace” under its current structure.

Under Romanian law, three judges are appointed by the president, three by the Senate and three by the Chamber of Deputies.

EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding voiced her concern on Tweeter over the “attacks on the independence of the Constitutional Court of Romania”.

“For me, a well-functioning, independent judicial system is a pre-condition for mutual trust in the European area of justice,” Reding tweeted.

Mina Andreeva, Reding’s spokesperson, said today the EU executive had seen statements made earlier in the day that no efforts to change the court would be tabled.

Parliamentary leaders replaced

But USL moved to replace the heads of the Parliament’s two chambers, who are members of the opposition Liberal Democratic party. The Senate leader, Vasile Blaga, was replaced by Antonescu, while Roberta Anastase, head of the lower chamber, is due to be replaced by Valeriu Zgonea.

EURACTIV Romania reported that Blaga warned of a coup d’état in the country.

The website Ziare.com reported that USL introduced in both chambers of parliament the papers for requesting a vote on suspending B?sescu for a month. The 17-page document spells out alleged infringements by B?sescu.

USL announced that a national referendum on B?sescu’s impeachment from office could be held on 22 July.

"The series of decisions made by the Romanian Government over the last days are very worrying," said European People's Party Group MEPS Alain Lamassoure, chairman of the Budgets Committee, and Elmar Brok, Chairman of the Foreign Affiairs Committee of the European Parliament, in a joint statement.

"The European Commission must act now and put the country under scrutiny," they continued.

"Many decisions raise a number of questions on the country's compliance with the rule of law: the Prime Minister's neglect of a Constitutional Court ruling, the prevention of the timely publication of the ruling by means of a government decree, the taking over of the Official Journal through the government, formerly in the hands of the Parliament, the plan to replace judges at the Constitutional Court, and now the launching of impeachment proceedings against President Basescu," the MEPs said.

"We call on the Commission to scrutinise and access all these matters through the 'Cooperation and Verification Mechanism' and to draw up a report in the coming weeks. The conclusion of this report could lead to the use of Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty," they added.

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