Romania’s suspended President Traian B?sescu said yesterday (15 July) the government’s drive to force him from office was an attempt to shield some of its lawmakers from corruption investigations.
European Union leaders have criticised leftist Prime Minister Victor Ponta for his campaign to oust B?sescu, his long-time political rival. They accused him of failing to protect the rule of law and democratic institutions.
Ponta and his Social Liberal Union (USL), backed by a vote in parliament, earlier this month suspended Basescu for 30 days. A national referendum due on 29 July will decide whether the president will be impeached.
“My suspension was a long-planned move … and was done to protect would-be convicts in Romanian politics,” B?sescu told private television station Realitatea in an interview.
“In the suspension vote there were 19 lawmakers under criminal investigation, let’s call them would-be candidates for jail,” he said, without elaborating.
Ponta accuses B?sescu of blocking government reforms and abusing his position to grant favours to his allies and to interfere in the judicial system.
B?sescu‘s Democrat-Liberal opposition allies have said the plan to drive him from power was a retaliation to the conviction of former prime minister Adrian N?stase, a senior member of Ponta’s USL, in a landmark corruption trial in June.
The row has rattled markets, sending the Romanian currency to a record low last week, and raised fears the EU’s second-poorest state may be faltering in its march to catch up with the richer West.
On Friday, a day after EU leaders expressed concern over the state of democracy in Romania, Ponta said he had responded in writing to a list of demands from the European Commission which included banning any pardoning decrees during the interim presidency.
But he balked at giving a clear signal on whether he would work to undo both an emergency government decree and a separate law scrapping a 50% turnout threshold for referendums.
All eyes are now on a tangle of legal statutes that have blurred the referendum rules, most importantly over the minimum turnout requirement.
B?sescu would have a better chance of avoiding impeachment with the threshold rule in place, because many in the country of 19 million people could stay away, making the vote invalid.
Parliament, which is dominated by Ponta’s USL, will discuss the referendum legislation on Tuesday and Wednesday and will also consider extending the voting to two days.
Barrosos’s eleven commandments
In the meantime, Romania’s interim President Crin Antonescu said his country would not take orders from Brussels. He denied that over a meeting with Commission President José Manuel Barroso on Thursday Ponta was given an 11-point to-do list, dubbed by the press “Barroso’s eleven commandments”.
The Romanian news website Hotnews reported that the main points of this list are:
- No new head be named at the National Anti-Corruption Department and no new prosecutor-general be named during the interim presidency of Antonescu;
- No pardons will be issued during the interim presidency – a hint at the N?stase case;
- Ministers must be named from among people who have not received sentences regarding their personal integrity and those who have such sentences must resign (as in the case of former education minister Ecaterina Andronescu). Deputies who are subjects of final decisions of incompatibility and conflict of interests must also resign (as in the case of MPs Sergiu Andon and Florin Pislaru);
- The People’s Lawyer (Ombudsman) must be a person who has the support of all political parties;
- The powers of the Constitutional Court must all be returned and a recent ordinance limiting these powers must be annulled;
- The rules to validate the referendum to impeach the president must be re-established, while the Official Gazette must no longer be used for the “selective” publication of official decisions.
But as EURACTIV Romania reported, Ponta himself said he had sent written answers to Barroso to the eleven-point list. On 18 July, the Commission is due to publish its landmark five-year conclusion over Romania and Bulgaria’s progress under the so-called Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (see background).