EU elections in Romania: a test before a bigger battle

Elena Basecu, Daciana sarbu

This time B?sescu's daughter Elena (L) will not run, but Ponta's wife, Daciana Sârbu, will.

For political forces in Romania, the European elections are first and foremost a test before the presidential election, to be held later this year. EURACTIV Romania reports.

Romania is preparing for its third electoral campaign for the European parliament. On 25 April, a full month before Election Day, all the parties and all the independent candidates who have met the necessary legal requirements will begin competing for the 32 seats that Romania will have in the new legislature of the European Union.

Although the European agenda is filled with pressing problems spanning economic issues, debates on freedom of movement, and Euroscepticism, to issues related to Russia, Ukraine and, more recently, Moldova and Transnistria, the Romanian electoral campaign will more likely be focused on internal politics.

A complicated relationship

Romanians will vote to elect a new President in November 2014. The country’s institutional framework splits executive power between a government confirmed by the parliament, and a president elected through the popular vote. As a consequence, both institutions play an immense role in shaping Romanian politics, creating complex tensions between major players. This is why the results of this year’s presidential elections will be of particular importance.

Therefore, political parties view the EU elections as an early opportunity to strengthen their position, and to gain public support for the bigger battle. The ruling center-left coalition will search for ways to promote its political agenda, and counteract all opposition criticism, while the right-wing parties will look for ways to get public attention, and improve the chances of their candidates in the presidential election.

Both the centre-right president, Traian B?sescu, and the Socialist prime minister, Victor Ponta, have publicly addressed the security risks surrounding Ukraine, and more recently in Transnistria, the breakaway region in another Romania’s neighbor, Moldova, where Romanian is widely spoken. But, no matter how big these challenges may appear, the public agenda is primarily saturated with accusations of corruption.

The Romanian political landscape

The 2012 parliamentary elections were won by a coalition named Social Liberal Union (USL) an alliance between Ponta’s Social democratic Party (PSD), the National Liberal party (PNL) of Crin Antonescu, and two smaller forces, the National Union for Progress of Romania (UNPR) and the Conservative Party (PC).

Last February, the coalition was dissolved due to tensions between PSD and PNL, but Ponta retained his parliamentary majority through an alliance with PC and UNPR. Their former partner, the PNL, shifted towards the opposition, while, at the same time, a newly formed right-wing political party, Popular Movement, managed to attract several former members of the Democratic Liberal Party (PDL), including the support of B?sescu.

Parties and candidates line up for MEP seats

The list of the largest political force today, PSD, is led by current MEPs Corina Cre?u and C?t?lin Ivan. Daciana Sârbu, also a current MEP and wife of Prime Minister Ponta, is on the eligible 7th rank.  The PDL has kept its prominent MEPs for the eligible positions – Theodor Stolojan, Monica Macovei, formerly Minister of Justice, Marian-Jean Marinescu, vice-chairman of the EPP.

Similarly, in the case of the liberal party (PNL) and of UDMR, current MEPs top the list: Norica Nicolai (PNL), Renate Weber (PNL), Adina Ioana Valean (PNL),  Iuliu Winkler, and Csaba Sobor.

Surprisingly, Elena B?sescu, the daughter of president, a PDL MEP who switched to PMP, will not run for a new term. From this party, the first three candidates will be MEP Cristian Preda, Siegfried Muresan, European People’s Party Political Advisor in charge of Economics and Social Policy, and Teodor Baconschi, formerly Minister of Foreign Affairs.

The electoral race will also feature lesser-known parties, that have yet to make themselves noticed in the Romanian political landscape, such as the Socialist Alternative Party, the Social Justice Party, and the National Alliance of Farmers. The Green Party, and the Ecologist Party of Romania, will also run for seats in the European Parliament.

The final political party contending in this year’s elections will be the Greater Romania Party (PRM), a nationalist party that won 2 seats in the European Parliament, in 2009.

Additionally, 8 independent candidates have enlisted in the electoral race. [More details in this document]

The finalization of the list of candidates has been a complicated process, as the Central Electoral Bureau has rejected several political parties and independent candidates. Most of them have contested the decisions of the Bureau at the Tribunal of Bucharest. Ultimately, Bucharest’s Court of Appeal overturned the decisions, and the parties and independent candidates were allowed to run in the elections.

The most notorious case was that of former PNL senator Mircea Diaconu. The National Agency of Integrity prohibited him from participating in the election. In the end, though, the court recognized his right to run for a seat in the European Parliament, and the Electoral Bureau was forced to overturn its initial ruling, and confirm his candidacy.

The European elections will be held in all EU countries in May 2014. The Lisbon Treaty states that the European Parliament shall elect the Commission president on the basis of a proposal made by the European Council, taking into account the European elections (Article 17, Paragraph 7 of the TEU). This will apply for the first time in the 2014 elections.

European Parliament, parties and many others have pushed for these parties to nominate their front-runners in the election campaigns. This would make the European elections a de facto race for the Commission president seat, would politicise the campaigns and could increase voter turnout, they say.

But others have argued that the European parties’ push for own candidates may not be the best solution. Raising expectations could easily lead to disappointment, Herman Van Rompuy has repeatedly said, calling for caution in case the European Council chooses another candidate than the winning party’s frontrunner.

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