Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Romanian reformer faces sack after clash

By Christopher Condonin Budapest

Published: March 27 2007 03:00

Monica Macovei, the Romanian justice minister credited with cleaning the country up before it joined the European Union, is facing the sack after clashing with members of the cabinet.

Calin Tariceanu, Romania's prime minister, has hinted that he may dismiss his government's most prominent reformer for refusing to co-operate with the rest of the cabinet. Any decision would be closely scrutinised in other parts of the EU, where her reforms are held in high regard.

"Every minister has to take into consideration the very basic principle of government solidarity," Mr Tariceanu told the Financial Times. "This is true of Minister Macovei. We cannot make exceptions."

It is not clear whether the prime minister wants to sack her over the thrust of her anti-corruption efforts or because of her unwillingness to compromise. Ms Macovei, a political independent, has repeatedly clashed with parliament over a wide range of anti-corruption measures.

"She does not know how to pick her battles," said one official close to the prime minister.

Ms Macovei won plaudits throughout the EU for championing judicial reform and anti-corruption efforts; her clean-up was seen as a key to Romania's winning membership of the EU. But there is concern that reform has stalled since November, when Romania received the green light to join the union.

Previous moves against Ms Macovei have drawn a sharp reaction. In February, after Romania's Senate passed a motion calling for her removal, Franco Frattini, the EU's justice and home affairs commissioner, expressed his support for her. And Susanne Kastner, deputy speaker of Germany's Bundestag, said dismissing Ms Macovei could trigger one of the "safeguard clauses" in Romania's EU accession treaty, allowing for penalties if promised reforms were not achieved.

However, people in Brussels accept it might now be time for "the hero of Romanian accession" to step aside if she had lost the confidence of the prime minister and president.

What matters, they say, is that she be replaced by someone seen as having the credentials to steer her reforms through a hostile parliament.

"It is not about individuals, but about necessary reform of the judiciary and the fight against corruption," a spokesman for Mr Frattini said.

Ms Macovei's dismissal would be a potentially unpopular move for the prime minister.

Aware that her sacking could provoke a storm, Mr Tariceanu portrayed his government's achievements as the result of a combined effort by his entire cabinet, not by any individual ministers.

"The efforts of a single person are not enough if they are not backed by the whole government, including the prime minister," he said.

A spokeswoman for Ms Macovei said the justice minister had simply insisted on upholding the law, and that the prime minister should punish instead those who sought to break the law.

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