A power struggle that has caused political turmoil in Romania intensified on Wednesday as prime minister Victor Ponta’s governing alliance took steps towards potential impeachment of president Traian Basescu.
The feud between the two men has raised concerns over the rule of law in the 22m-strong country that joined the European Union in 2007. It has also put pressure on Romania’s currency, the leu, amid concerns that it could knock economic reforms off track.
Mr Ponta became Romania’s third prime minister this year in May, after two previous austerity-minded premiers ministers with links to Mr Basescu were ousted. Together with his leftist Social Liberal Union (USL), Mr Ponta has since tried to consolidate his power – while dodging calls for him to resign over allegations that he plagiarised a doctoral thesis.
The USL on Wednesday filed a proposal in parliament to suspend Mr Basescu, which if passed would trigger a referendum within 30 days on whether the president should remain in office. The motion could be voted on as early as Friday.
The political stand-off is raising international alarm. Viviane Reding, the European Union’s justice and home affairs commissioner, said on Twitter on Tuesday she was “seriously concerned” about recent attacks on the independence of Romania’s constitutional court.
The court accused Mr Ponta and his party of trying to dismantle it, after the prime minister ignored a ruling that Mr Basescu should represent Romania at last week’s EU summit in Brussels.
Mr Ponta, who had claimed that was the prime minister’s role, travelled to Brussels in any case, saying he was following a parliament ruling. His party has threatened to replace some of the court’s judges.
“All the recent attacks are the equivalent of dismantling the constitutional court in its current membership,” the court said in a statement. “We are asking both parliament and the Romanian president to take action against the planned measures, which are blatantly against the constitution, democratic norms and principles of rule of law.”
The constitutional court must also now rule on a new law passed by parliament making it easier to impeach the president.
Romania has pushed through some of the toughest austerity measures in Europe after agreeing an International Monetary Fund and EU bailout during the 2009 financial crisis. The measures including cutting public sector wages 25 per cent and slashing benefits.
A centre-right government headed by Emil Boc survived 10 confidence votes during the austerity programme, but finally resigned after mass protests in January. It was succeeded by a short-lived government headed by Mihai Razvan Ungureanu.
Mr Basescu as president has a largely ceremonial role under Romania’s constitution but was seen by opponents as exerting too much political influence.
Romania secured a further €5bn precautionary credit line from the IMF last year, but has committed to lower its budget deficit to 2.2 per cent of output.
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