Monday, May 25, 2009

In Romania, presidential race eclipses EU poll

Published: Friday 22 May 2009   

On the eve of the European elections, Romanian politicians admitted that debates were being hijacked by disputes over the presidential poll which is due in the autumn. EurActiv Romania reports.

Background:

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

Romania will vote on 7 June to elect 33 MEPs, two less than in 2007. Although Romanians are enthusiastic supporters of EU membership, the turnout then was 29.46%, among the lowest EU-wide. 

The last presidential elections in Romania were held on 28 November 2004, simultaneously with legislative elections. The 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. 

Train Basescu is widely expected to run for re-election, although he has not announced his intention 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. 

Elena, one of Basescu’s daughters, runs for MEP as an independent candidate. Her ticket is seen as the winning one (EurActiv 27/02/09). 

The European Parliament office in Bucharest said that, judging by an April Eurobarometer survey, voter turnout in Romania could be estimated at around 34%, or similar to the European average. 

Average turnout at the 2004 elections held across the 25 countries which then made up the EU stood at 45.6%. 

Gabriela Cretu, a Socialist MEP who is a sociologist by background, gave her explanation for the expected low turnout: "It is the mobilisation and not the interest that is essential. At the local elections there are 43,000 local counsellors to be elected. There is a bigger emulation”. 

Cretu also explained that people won't come out to vote because she saw in this campaign “an attempt to divert the attention towards the presidential elections”. She also stressed that, as the stakes of the presidential poll grow, "unfortunately the debate falls on second place." 

However Cretu warned against the presumption that the turnout will be low, as people might become comfortable with the abstention idea. 

Renate Weber, a liberal MEP (ALDE) and candidate for the election, also admitted that the abstention rate at EU level is likely to be high. “I think the answer lies in good information and in the activity of MEPs during their term. If we haven't convinced you in five years, it will be hard to do that now, during the campaign”. 

Asked about the EU campaign being hijacked by the presidential elections rhetoric, Weber said: "I can only adapt to this reality." 

Bucharest wants ‘more important commissioner portfolio’ 

The Romanian press reported that Basescu had asked French help to secure a more important portfolio in the next European Commission. On 20 May, Basescu was received by his French colleague Nicolas Sarkozy in the Elysée Palace. 

“We had an extremely substantial discussion on Romania’s aspirations to hold an important portfolio in the future European Commission as well as in connection with Romania’s wish that an important EU agency be headquartered in Bucharest,” Basescu was quoted as saying. 

Romania appeared to be disappointed by the multilingualism portfolio assigned to its commissioner Leonard Orban (EurActiv 31/10/07), after a previous nominee, Varujan Vosganian, retracted his candidature following controversies. 

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