Embattled Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta said European Commission President José Manuel Barroso did not reproach him during a meeting yesterday (17 September), and praised him for sticking to commitments to overcome the political crisis in his country.
“He praised the fact that the famous 11 points have been treated by myself and the government which I lead in the most serious way,” Ponta said, as quoted by the Romanian press. He referred to the so called “11 points to-do list”, handed over by Barroso to Ponta on 12 July, in the midst of a political crisis seen by the Romania opposition as a coup d’état.
No press conference was held following the meeting between Barroso and Ponta. There was also no news conference on Friday (14 September) when Barroso received Romanian President Traian B?sescu.
But the Commission’s press release doesn’t leave the impression that the meeting had gone as smoothly as Ponta described it.
According to the text, Barroso called on the government and on the opposition to act with responsibility and restraint and “to set their focus very firmly on the urgent need to restore institutional and political stability”.
“President Barroso emphasised the importance that Romania promotes all European values, the values of justice and freedom and all the features of a truly pluralistic society,” the statement says.
Barroso said it will be “especially important” that key nominations for the posts of general prosecutor and chief prosecutor of the National Anti-Corruption Directorate are conducted in a fair and transparent way. He also insisted that the government, both before and after the election, should avoid appointing ministers with clear integrity rulings against them.
Parliamentary elections are to be held on 9 December and the Socialist-Liberal USL coalition, led by Ponta, is leading in the polls.
An important highlight of the meeting appears to be the need to improve the poor absorption rate of EU funds by Romania.
“Romania risks to lose significant amounts of funding that could have a major beneficial impact on Romanian citizens and businesses. President Barroso urged the government to take the immediate measures necessary to improve the administrative capacity and public procurement rules,” the statement reads.
According to a recent report by the French Senate, Romania has been able to absorb, by January 2012, only 4% of the €19.7 billion allocated to the country from the 2007-2013 EU budget. If EU funds were completely used, EU funds could amount to 3.8% of Romania’s GDP.
Instead, Romania has been given a lifeline under the form of an IMF-led aid deal worth €5 billion, but its fate remains unclear under the difficult political circumstances.
Barroso urged the Romanian Government to maintain the efforts to keep the two economic adjustment programmes on track.
“The progress of structural reforms, particularly the restructuring of state-owned companies and reform of healthcare are crucial for the long-term sustainability of public finances,” the statement says.
Barroso also urged the Romanian government to work towards achieving the objectives of the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM), put in place to help Romania and Bulgaria to improve law-enforcement and combat corruption. The last report, published on 18 July, was extremely critical vis-à-vis Romania.
The next CVM report will be published in December and will focus on Romania only. In a recent position paper, Germany has insisted that countries in breach of generally recognised principles of democracy should lose EU funding.
“It should be possible to freeze funding from the Common Strategic Framework funds if the Council has doubts about a member state adhering to the European values set forth in article 2 of the TEU,” the German paper seen by EURACTIV reads.
Another test for EU-Romania relations are expected to be the next summit meetings. Against the background of constant in-fighting between Ponta and B?sescu regarding who should represent the country at EU summits, Council President Herman Van Rompuy made it clear that it would be him to decide which of the two Romanian leaders to invite.