Friday, May 29, 2009

EU elections in Romania: Searching for a 'captain'

EurActiv.com

Thursday 28 May 2009   

EU elections will take place in Romania on 7 June, but Romanian politicians and commentators admit that debates are being hijacked by disputes over the upcoming presidential poll, which is due in the autumn.

MILESTONES:

  • 28 Nov. 2004: Presidential elections were held in Romania alongside legislative elections, but Romania has since abandoned this practice. Centre-right candidate Traian Basescu, a former mayor of Bucharest and a ship captain by profession, emerged victorious. 
  • 25 Nov. 2007: After its accession on 1 January 2007, Romania held its first European elections, sending 35 MEPs to Strasbourg. A referendum on a new voting system for parliamentary elections (introducing the majority vote in two rounds) was held on the same day. 
  • 30 Nov. 2008: Legislative elections were held in Romania, ending up in a coalition government between former foes the Democratic Liberal Party (PDL), to which Basescu is close, and the Social Democratic Party (PSD). 

Policy Summary 

Romania will elect 33 MEPs, two less than in 2007. This is because the number of MEPs will have to be reduced from 785 to 736 in the 2009 elections, which will be held under the terms of the Nice Treaty. Should the Lisbon Treaty come into force in 2010, Romania will still have 33 MEPs, from a total of 751. 

Recent surveys paint a grim picture when it comes to expected turnout. During the first EU elections in Romania in 2007, turnout was 29.46%, and according to the latest Eurobarometer poll (EurActiv 15/04/09), 34% of Romanians will vote in the June ballot, which is coincidentally the exact average figure for the EU 27 as a whole. 

Average turnout among the 25 countries in the 2004 poll was 45.5%. 

ISSUES:

Unemployment and social protection are big issues in Romania, which has fallen from being one of Europe's fastest-growing economies to become a recipient of international rescue loans (EurActiv 26/03/09). 

Romania will vote on 7 June to elect 33 MEPs. Although Romanians are enthusiastic supporters of EU membership and their awareness about the EU elections is among the bloc's highest, they are not expected to vote in huge numbers. In comparison, turnout at presidential elections in the country is usually well above 50%. 

The last presidential elections in Romania were held on 28 November 2004, and took place alongside legislative elections. Centre-right candidate Traian Basescu, a former mayor of Bucharest and a ship captain by profession, emerged as the winner. 

A 2003 amendment to the country's constitution extended the term of the presidential mandate from four to five years, and the two polls will no longer coincide. 

As politicians and commentators have pointed out (EurActiv 22/05/09), debate around the EU elections has been hijacked by disputes over the presidential poll, which is due in the autumn. 

Incumbent Traian Basescu is widely expected to run for re-election, although he has not formally announced his intention to do so yet. Other candidates are Mircea Geoana, leader of the Social Democrats (PSD), Crin Antonescu, leader of the National Liberal Party (PNL) and Prince Radu of Hohenzollern-Veringen, born in 1960 as Radu Duda, a non-dynastic member of the Romanian royal family. 

A recent poll showed that if presidential elections were to be held now, Traian Basescu would come first (37% of the vote), followed by PSD leader Mircea Geoana with 23% and PNL leader Crin Antonescu with 16%. 

Romania has a tradition of nepotism. Elena, one of Basescu's daughters, is running for election to the European Parliament as an independent candidate. Her ticket is considered a winning one (EurActiv 27/02/09). 

The major players 

According to analysts, the political landscape has not changed much since the 2007 by-elections to the EU assembly. 

After the 25 November 2007 poll in Romania, the following parties succeeded in sending MEPs to Strasbourg: 

  • The Democratic Liberal Party (PDL), to which president Traian Basescu is close (EPP-ED group-affiliated) – 16 seats; 
  • The Social Democratic Party (PSD), led by Mircea Geoana (PES-affiliated) – 10 seats. 
  • The National Liberal Party (PNL) of then-prime minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu and now led by Crin Antonescu (ELDR affiliated) – six seats; 
  • The Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR, EPP-ED group-affiliated) – two seats, and; 
  • Independent MEP László Tőkés, an ethnic Hungarian politician – one seat. 

The Greater Romania Party (PRM) of ultranationalist Corneliu Vadim Tudor obtained 4.15% of the vote, which is below the 5% threshold, and thus PRM did not manage to send a MEP. 

Not many new faces 

Among PDL's first 12 MEP candidates, six are current MEPs. Eight of the 12 first PSD candidates are presently MEPs, as are four of the first six PNL candidates and the top three UDMR candidates. The best-known of the new faces is Monica Macovei, who is number two on the PDL list. A former justice minister (2004-2007), Macovei is highly respected in Brussels for her efforts to combat corruption. 

PDL candidates: 

 

  • Theodor Stolojan, a former prime minister and current MEP; 
  • Monica Macovei, a former justice minister; 
  • Traian Ungureanu, a journalist and columnist; 
  • Dan Preda, a counsellor to the president of Romania; 
  • Jean Marinescu, a former MP and current MEP; 
  • Iosif Matula, a former district council president and current MEP; 
  • Valentin Bodu, a former lawyer and current MEP; 
  • Constantin Luhan, a local authority official; 
  • Rares-Lucian Niculescu, a former national parliamentary advisor and current MEP; 
  • Elena Oana Antonescu, a counsellor in the European Parliament; 
  • Constantin Dumitru, a local authority official, and; 
  • Florin Dragos, a former manager and current MEP. 

PSD candidates: 

  • Adrian Severin, a former foreign minister and current MEP; 
  • Rovana Plumb, president of the PSD women's organisation and current MEP; 
  • Ion Mircea Pascu, former defence minister and current MEP; 
  • Silvia-Adriana Ticau, a former communications and IT minister and current MEP; 
  • Daciana-Octavia Sarbu, a lawyer, party activist and current MEP; 
  • Corina Cretu, a former journalist and MP, and current MEP; 
  • Victor Bostinaru, a former university professor and current MEP; 
  • Sabin George Cutas, a former engineer and member of a smaller grouping close to the PSD; 
  • Catalin-Sorin Ivan, an economist; 
  • Ioan Enciu, an economist; 
  • Vasilica-Viorica Dancila, an engineer, political activist and current MEP, and; 
  • Minodora Cliveti, a lawyer. 

PNL candidates 

  • Norica Nicolai, an MP and Senate vice-president; 
  • Adina Valean, a mathematician and current MEP; 
  • Renate Weber, a lawyer and current MEP; 
  • Ramona Manescu, a lawyer and current MEP; 
  • Cristian Busoi, a doctor and current MEP, and; 
  • Beni-On Ardelean, a university scholar. 

UDMR candidates: 

  • László Tőkés, a priest and current independent MEP; 
  • Iuliu Winkler, an engineer, economist and current MEP, and; 
  • Csaba Sogor, a priest and current MEP. 

PRM candidates: 

  • Corneliu Vadim Tudor, party leader, and; 
  • George Becali, businessman and owner of Steaua football club; 

Debate of ideas? 

Prime Minister and PDL Chairman Emil Boc said on 22 May that the Liberal Democrats were the only ones with a European programme for the elections. He added that his political rivals merely attacked President Basescu and offered only controversy on domestic issues. 

However, his main rival and coalition partner, the PSD, has published a 16-page 'Political Offer for the European Elections' on its website, while PNL, his other big rival, also put texts with a similar scope on its site. 

In its programme, PSD rejects a "rightist and egoistic vision of Europe," blames the centre-right for the world economic crisis and wants a European commissioner of Romanian nationality from the PSD. Romanian sources told EurActiv that current MEP Adrian Severin was an obvious candidate for the post. The name of Rovana Plumb is also being mulled in this context.

The PNL focuses on the need to remove existing labour restrictions on Romanians in EU countries, and the need for more European engagement in Moldova and Ukraine. 

For its part, PDL is calling for the administrative burden on firms to be eased and the Lisbon Strategy for Growth and Jobs to be relaunched. 

Ultranationalist arrangements 

On 7 May, the leader of the ultranationalist Greater Romania Party (PRM), Corneliu Vadim Tudor, announced that business tycoon Gigi Becali had joined his party and would run for a seat in the European Parliament in second position on the PRM ticket. Both men have a realistic chance of being elected. 

George Becali, commonly known as Gigi Becali, is a controversial Romanian businessman and politician (EurActiv 27/03/09), primarily known for his involvement in football. Becali claims he is a follower of the fascist Romanian Legionnaire Movement.

One of his favourite targets are homosexuals, and he even threatened to "finish" them if he is given the power to do so. In the November 2007 European Parliament elections, his party (PNG-CD) obtained 4.86% of the popular vote, just under the 5% threshold. 

Vadim Tudor's PRM is in decline after winning almost 20% of the vote in the national legislative elections in 2000. In the most recent elections, PRM was unable to enter parliament, after only receiving 3.15% of the vote and failing to reach the 5% threshold. Tudor, once a Communist propagandist and now reborn into nationalism, mainly draws his inspiration from anti-Hungarian conspiracy theories. 

Parliamentary immunity may be another motivation for Becali to run for election. He was arrested and imprisoned on 3 April after a gang stole his car, and he sent armed bodyguards to recover it. They attacked the thieves and took them to Becali, who then carried his own inquiries. This attempt at private justice led to criminal charges. 

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