Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Governing coalition in Romania near collapse

BUCHAREST: Less than three months after Romania joined the European Union, the facade of good behavior and unity of its politicians has crumbled and the governing alliance is on the verge of collapse.

On Monday, Prime Minister Calin Popescu-Tariceanu declared that the country was "witnessing the death" of the center-right governing coalition.

On Tuesday, Justice Minister Monica Macovei, whose battle against corruption helped Romania press its way into the EU on schedule on Jan. 1, confirmed that her job was on the line if the government was reshuffled, as is expected.

"I feel good about the work I did," she said in an interview at her ministry office. "People say I was naive not to expect it. I didn't expect it to happen so soon."

Local analysts said a reshuffle could take place as early as Wednesday.

Political tensions have escalated sharply here since President Traian Basescu phoned in to a live television appearance by the prime minister last month and accused him of lying.

The two men have been at odds since the summer, when Popescu-Tariceanu said he wanted to pull Romania's troops out of Iraq, and Basescu disagreed. Last week, a parliamentary commission dominated by the opposition recommended that Basescu be impeached for alleged constitutional violations.

The conflict - seen by analysts as demonstrating that Romania has reverted to Balkan politics as usual now that it is safely in the European club - has impeded the business of government.

Romania has been without a foreign minister since Mihai Razvan Ungureanu resigned last month and Popescu-Tariceanu's nominee to replace him was blocked by Basescu. The diplomatic impasse has left the country with no ambassadors in important capitals, among them London, Paris and Washington.

Legislative work has also seized up. For the last month, the governing coalition between the president's Democratic Party and the prime minister's Liberal Party has been in a parliamentary deadlock, refusing to sign each other's decrees and legislation.

The fate of Macovei in particular is being monitored closely in Brussels, where she is widely respected as an independent and vigilant voice who has helped Romania to tackle graft and come to terms with its past.

"I think this is very damaging for our credibility in Europe and the world," said Mircea Geoana, president of the opposition Social Democratic Party, the largest party in the Romanian Parliament. Basescu, he said in an interview, "wants to take more power than the constitution gives him."

Geoana denied reports that he might be entering negotiations about possible participation in a new cabinet.

The open and personal confrontation between the president and prime minister has provided grist for the media - and popular discussion - for months. But some analysts see the divide as stemming not from personalities but from a deeper flaw in Romania's political system.

"It's not a psychological conflict," said Dorel Sandor, director of the Center for Political Studies and Comparative Analysis, a research organization in Bucharest. "It's an institutional incompatibility."


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