Two Romanian leaders fight over single EU summit seat

Traian B?sescu and Victor Ponta

Romania's recently elected prime minister, Victor Ponta, was prepared to attend the informal EU summit on Wednesday (23 May) although his country is usually represented by President Traian B?sescu. If both turn out at the summit, they there will only be one chair for them, a Council representative told EURACTIV.

Ponta, who is the leader of the Social Democrat party (PSD), said he wanted the Romanian Parliament to decide who should represent Romania at the EU summit, which is expected to discuss measures to promote growth in the crisis-hit Union.

Over the past years, Romania was represented at all EU summits by B?sescu, who is affiliated with the centre-right European People's Party (EPP).

Observers see the conflict between the country’s two top politicians as politically motivated. The Romanian leftist opposition USL toppled a B?sescu-appointed government last April and Ponta acceded to the post of prime minister. His real challenge will be to retain this post following parliamentary elections to be held in November.

Ponta contends that the Romanian president has authority over foreign policy, while EU summits are increasingly focused on economic affairs.

“As EU decisions touch upon the executive, they relate to internal politics, therefore my opinion is that it’s the prime minister who should attend. The Romanian constitution does not foresee an absolute right neither for the president or the prime minister to attend" EU summits, Ponta was quoted as saying.

“On Wednesday in Brussels [leaders] will discuss economic growth and jobs creation. B?sescu has no attribution in this field, therefore he will be going just to eat and make jokes,” he said, according to reports in the Romanian press.

The EU summit, which will take place over dinner, was called by European Council President Herman Van Rompuy to discuss growth initiatives that could supplement the recently adopted fiscal discipline treaty. A major highlight will be the first appearance of newly elected French President François Hollande, who wants to renegotiate the fiscal compact so that a growth dimension can be added to it.

Without any doubt, Ponta, who acceded to the executive power two weeks before Hollande’s victory in the French elections, would like to be present on such an occasion, the Romanian press reported.

Meanwhile, B?sescu's bid received support from the president of Romania’s Constitutional Court, Augusin Zegrean, who said the Romanian president should continue to represent the country at EU summits. He said that anyone who would like to find an answer to the question should read Romania’s Constitution. However, he did not provide details and in fact, the Constitution doesn’t go into such details.

Ponta fired back, stating that Zegrean was “a friend of B?sescu”. He said he had discussed the issue with the president on 16 May, and that the two had “agreed to disagree” on the subject.

Asked what would happen if both B?sescu and Ponta attended the summit, Council spokesperson Jesús Carmona told EURACTIV that both would be allowed into the building, but that there would be only one chair for the representative of Romania.

“It’s them who should decide who sits on the chair,” Carmona said, insisting that the Council would not play a role as an arbiter.

He also made it plain that the other Romanian leader would not even be allowed to sit in the same room, even in the back row, and therefore would not be able to make a statement.

Since the entry into force of the 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 the 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 bring first Tusk and then Kaczy?ski.

  • 23 May: Extraordinary EU summit to discuss growth
  • 28-29 June: EU summit in Brussels expected to finalise growth agenda

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