Romanian leaders fight over EU summit seat, Episode II

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With the 28-29 June EU summit approaching, recently elected Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta opened a new chapter in his conflict with President Traian B?sescu over who should represent the country at the EU leaders' table. EURACTIV Romania contributed to this article.

The Romanian Parliament voted on 12 June to allow Ponta, who is the leader of the Social Democrat party (PSD), to attend the June EU summit. The meeting is expected to agree on a “calendar for more EU integration” and measures on fiscal discipline and growth.

The vote of 249 to 30, with one abstention, became possible after the left-leaning coalition USL, an anti-B?sescu union of three parties dominated by the PSD, won the local elections held on Sunday (10 June). USL secured 49.31% of the vote, against 15.46% for B?sescu’s Democratic Liberal party (PDL), an affiliate of the centre-right European People's Party.

Ponta had already tried breaking with tradition of the president representing Romania by trying to secure a presence at the EU summit held on 23 May. Failing to do so, Ponta chose instead to pay a visit to the Romanian troops in Afghanistan.

“The Parliament’s decision is not aimed at excluding the president from European affairs, by no means,” Ponta stated after the vote. He added that it was a matter of “dividing attributions”.

According to USL, the president can represent the country when the summit agenda is dedicated to foreign policy or security affairs. But when summits are dominated by economic affairs, with a strong impact on the county’s internal policies, the meetings should be attended by the prime minister, Ponta’s party insists.

But B?sescu said the Parliament had no right to vote on the issue.

“I will read for you article 80 of Romania’s Constitution: 'The president represents the Romanian State'. You will not find anywhere the government representing the Romanian State,” B?sescu said.

Ponta replied yesterday (13 June) by saying he will visit the president to discuss the issue. “Today I will call the president and when he has time, I will go to Cotroceni [the presidential palace]. It’s not a matter of pride, I’m just younger. We will find a rational solution, we should not become a laughing stock in Brussels,” he was quoted as saying.

When asked whether he would initiate an impeachment procedure agains the president if he failed to follow the Parliament's decision, Ponta remained vague.

EU Council representatives told EURACTIV that if both B?sescu and Ponta attended the summit, they would be allowed into the building but only one chair would be available for the representative of Romania.

Since Lisbon Treaty in December 2009, EU heads of state and government attend EU summits alone, as the practice that they could be accompanied by the foreign minister was abandoned. Their ambassadors and other collaborators watch the summit discussion on screens from another room.

EU summits have been marked time and again by internal disagreements over whether a given country should be represented by its head of state or government.

France and Cyprus are always represented by their president, while most other countries are represented by their prime minister.

Over the period preceding the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, the then-president of Poland, Lech Kaczy?ski, and Czech President Václav Klaus, both eurosceptics, insisted on representing their countries at EU summits, causing some tension with their Brussels hosts.

In October 2008, both Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and Kaczy?ski attended an EU summit, but arrived separately in Brussels. A government jet made two journeys, to transport first Tusk and then Kaczy?ski.

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