Friday, August 31, 2012

Struggling Romanians yearn for communism

Nostalgia rises for Ceausescu regime
By Vlad Odobescu - Special to The Washington Times
Thursday, August 30, 2012


BUCHAREST, ROMANIA — An ongoing battle between the prime minister and the president amid a tanking economy has left many Romanians longing for a return to communism because they think the democratic and free-market reforms of the past two decades have failed.

They view communism as a system that guaranteed stability and safety, said Lucian Boia, author of the book "History and Myth in the Romanian Consciousness."

"Today, Romania has become unpredictable. Those who care more about safety than about freedom end up looking back nostalgically," he said.

More than 53 percent of Romanians last month told the Public Affairs polling agency that they would prefer to live once again under the regime of Nicolae Ceausescu. The dictator, who terrorized Romanians for 24 years, was toppled and executed with his wife, Elena, on Christmas Day in 1989.

Two years ago, the polling firm found that 44 percent of Romanians favored a restoration of the communist regime.

The increasing disenchantment with democracy and market capitalism follows years of economic and political turmoil.

After Ceausescu's demise, a democratic government led by Ion Iliescu of the Social Democratic Party took control in the 1990s. But Mr. Iliescu tarnished his image as a reformer after imposing heavy-handed policies, such as summoning miners from the countryside to crush opposition protests.

From 2000 to 2004, the government of Adrian Nastase, Mr. Iliescu's socialist disciple, ushered in a period of suffocating political corruption. Nastase was sentenced to two years in prison on corruption charges this summer.

Impeachment mess

President Traian Basescu, elected in 2004 and also known for his authoritarian manner, was nearly ousted in 2007 and again in July after Prime Minister Victor Ponta made a power grab that involved removing both speakers of parliament, weakening the power of the judiciary and impeaching the president.

Mr. Basescu survived an impeachment referendum July 29 because of a quirky election law that required an absolute majority of all eligible voters to cast ballots to remove a president. Although 87.5 percent of Romanians who voted in the referendum wanted Mr. Basescu impeached, the percentage of those who voted fell short of the threshold required for removing him.

In the four decades prior to the 1989 revolution that toppled Ceausescu, the communist regime guaranteed citizens a job and a home.

But the centrally planned economy with its industrial plants geared for export to the Eastern bloc and its collectivized farms spread all over the country defied economic logic. Many of them were crWeated to employ as many people as possible rather than to create competitive products.

Once capitalism was ushered in at the end of 1989, the industrial mammoths of Ceausescu's era collapsed quickly, leaving more than 1 million people jobless.

After recovering slightly, Romania underwent several years of steady growth in the mid-2000s before its economy collapsed in 2009.

The country received a substantial loan from the International Monetary Fund, which in turn has imposed harsh economic austerity measures that include public-sector wage cuts of 25 percent and taxes on pensions for the first time.

Culture of corruption

Ioan Ivascu, 59, a computer scientist in Bucharest, is one of those who remembers the past and says the situation is far worse today.

"Now, young people have no idea what will happen with them after they finish school," he said. "We never had such problems. We had a future perspective. We knew from the first year what we would do."

With the fall of communism, a free-market economy offered opportunities to create wealth, but it also spawned a culture of capitalist corruption.

"Everyone tried to recover the lost time, to fend for themselves and make a fortune at the expense of others, who remained in poverty," said Mr. Boia, whose book deals with how Romanians view the history of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Analysts say that across the former Soviet bloc, corruption of a new order took hold. It was not the petty exchange of gifts and bribes to access goods and services that were not freely available under the communist regime. The new graft began with newly formed political parties doling out public contracts in exchange for campaign funding.

"People feel that economic growth and transformation benefited only a few -- those who are close to the decision-making circles," said Miklos Marschall, deputy director of Transparency International.

"The elites – with a few exceptions – were too short-sighted, were busy in power struggles, and some key reforms have not been introduced. Some privatizations [of state-owned enterprises] have been done in a corrupt manner, not openly and not based on competition."

The corruption has contributed to a sharp divide between rich and poor, visible everywhere, especially on the country roads where luxury cars encounter old horse-drawn carriages.

New glass buildings rise next to half-collapsed houses. The capital, Bucharest, boasts dozens of high-end designer stores, although the country's gross domestic product per capita is $12,600 annually.

Backlash at EU

Many were enthusiastic when Romania joined the European Union in 2007, but recent EU criticism of Romania, especially over the messy impeachment referendum, has created a backlash.

Protesters in Bucharest can be seen holding signs telling the EU, "Remember, this is not your country."

Confidence in the European Union decreased sharply in 2011, with just 46 percent of Romanians expressing trust in the 27-nation alliance. That is a drop of 14 percentage points from the previous year, according to a Eurobarometer poll.

Some analysts say these political and economic ups and downs are caused by growing pains that Romania will overcome.

In the meantime, the political and economical instability are causing the country's communist past to seem particularly attractive.

"It's most visible among two groups: the very old, who remember the positive aspects of Romanian communism, and the very young, born after the fall of the regime and who don't have a very clear picture of it," said Ruxandra Ivan, a political science lecturer at the University of Bucharest.

Cristina Dan, 27, an archivist in Bucharest, likened the sentiment to a failed love affair.

"Nostalgia for the past is like when you break up with a girlfriend that you fought with all the time. You date another woman after, and the relationship is even worse," she said. "In that situation, it's normal to be nostalgic for that first girlfriend."

Even if they are disappointed by democracy, Ms. Dan said, Romanians need to work together to build a better future.

She runs a project in which she asks passers-by to complete a sentence: "Romanians are " One person recently answered: "undecided."

Read more: Struggling Romanians yearn for communism - Washington Times

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Romania’s Economic Growth Will Slow To 0.7% This Year, BCR Says

By Andra Timu - Aug 30, 2012 

Romania’s economic  growth will slow this year as the crisis in the euro area, the country’s main trading partner, and domestic political turmoil hold back investors, Banca Comerciala Romana SA said.

Total output will expand about 0.7 percent this year, slower than last year’s advance of 2.5 percent, analysts at Romania’s largest bank wrote in a report released today in Bucharest. Erste Group Bank AG (EBS) ’s Romanian unit cut its outlook for next year to 1.9 percent from 2.9 percent.

“The patchy recovery Romania has seen so far, coupled with treacherous market conditions, both domestic and external, have led us to lower the growth outlook for the country in the short and medium term,” BCR said. “The European context remains torn apart by the sovereign debt crisis and, what is more worrisome, there is no light at the end of the tunnel, at least as yet.”

The crisis, which pushed the economy of the 17-nation euro area into a contraction in the second quarter after stalling in first, is sapping demand for exports from central and eastern Europe and stalling growth in the post-communist region. Poland’s economy slowed more than economists forecast in the second quarter to 2.4 percent, while Hungary’s recession is deepening.

Romania’s economy rebounded in the second quarter after two consecutive quarters of decline and gross domestic product for April through June grew 0.5 percent from the previous three months and 1.2 percent from the same period a year earlier.
Political Turmoil

The country has been embroiled in political turmoil over the past two months as a power struggle between its top leaders led to a 52-day suspension of President Traian Basescu, pushed the currency to record lows and boosted borrowing costs.

Basescu returned to office this week after a court ruling invalidated a July 29 impeachment referendum because of lower- than-required turnout. His feud with Prime Minister Victor Ponta may continue before parliamentary elections in December.

“The recent political turmoil is expected to eat away at foreign investors’ confidence, which is already affected by the European crisis,” BCR said in the report.

The bank also increased its inflation outlook for this year to 4 percent and said it doesn’t rule out the rate exceeding the central bank’s target of between 2 percent and 4 percent because of a drought-impacted harvest and a weaker currency.

“Parliamentary elections are just around the corner, and we see fiscal slippage of around 0.8 percentage points from the agreed target of 3 percent of GDP,” BCR said.

The government pledged to the International Monetary Fund and the European Union to cut a budget deficit to below 3 percent of GDP this year to exit a European Commission excessive deficit procedure.

The IMF also cut its economic growth forecast for Romania to 0.9 percent in 2012, down from the earlier forecast of 1.5 percent.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andra Timu in Bucharest at atimu@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James M. Gomez at jagomez@bloomberg.net

Romania's center-right parties to form electoral alliance

BUCHAREST - The leaders of Romania's five political formations on Wednesday decided to setup soon a center-right alliance in view of the parliamentary elections at the end of this year.

The main parliamentary opposition Democratic Liberal Party, together with other four extra-parliamentary political organizations, the Christian-Democratic National Peasants' Party, theNew Republic Party, the Right of Center Civic Initiative and the Christian-DemocraticFoundation, signed a joint manifesto in this respect, proposing the "Romanian society a politicalplatform articulated around center-right values".

According to the manifesto, the immediate goal of the alliance is to win parliamentary elections,and in the medium and long term, the mission of the "united Right" is the consolidation of therule of law, "justice for all and prosperity for everyone".

Democratic Liberal leader Vasile Blaga pointed the finger at "the irresponsible actions" (impeachment request against the president) of the ruling Social Liberal Union which sent"Romania into the worst political and economic crisis after 1989".

Former Prime Minister Mihai Razvan Ungureanu, leader of the Right of Center Civic Initiative,said that the signing of this manifesto is the "first response" to the "challenge" launched by theSocial Liberal Union, marking "the beginning of the real battle for a win of the Right" in theparliamentary elections due at the end of this year.

President Traian Basescu survived his second impeachment referendum and returned to theCotroceni Presidential Palace on Tuesday.

A national referendum was held on July 29 to oust the head of state, but failed to produce therequired minimum 50-percent voter turnout. Basescu and his main supporter, the DemocratLiberal Party, called for a boycott of the referendum.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Romanian businessman acquitted of corruption

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — A Romanian court has acquitted a businessman and 11 other people of defrauding the state of $85 million (€68 million) by money laundering and illegally manipulating markets to financially benefit a major oil company.

The trial against Dinu Patriciu — general manager of Rompetrol SA and a onetime rival of President Traian Basescu — began in 2006.

Magistrates on Tuesday dismissed all the charges but did not present their arguments for the ruling.

Prosecutors had charged that from September 1999 to November 2001, Patriciu siphoned off money using a network of insiders and a former government minister, and transferred it to his company funds. They demanded a 20-year sentence for Patriciu.

The ruling can be appealed, but there was no immediate comment from prosecutors or the defendants.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Why corruption will last in Romania


By Valeriu Nicolae - 27.08.2012
http://www.europeanvoice.com


This summer has shown up the nature of Romania's entire political class.

Early this summer, there were signs that this would be a good summer for Romania.

A former prime minister, Adrian Năstase, a man recognised even by party colleagues as one of Romania's most corrupt politicians, had just received a two-year prison sentence. A government that had been completely unable to curb the corruption rampant among the political elite was removed from power. Several of the most controversial ex-ministers had resigned or had been forced to resign after their parties had lost local elections in early June by a large margin. The new prime minister – a smart young man – had nominated a number of well-known experts and public personalities as his advisers. The transition government was led, for the most part, by people with good records. All in all, it looked much better than previous governments.

What followed was a surprise even for the most sceptical of us.

Năstase tried (or, at least, made a good show of trying) to kill himself, but failed. The reaction was a show of incompetence that could also be interpreted as a clever attempt to manipulate public opinion towards a presidential pardon of Năstase. Fortunately, President Traian Băsescu resisted the huge pressure in the first days following the suicide attempt. Slowly but surely, the mass media started to ask some uncomfortable questions about what really happened to Năstase. Some appalling decisions were exposed, people were investigated. Finally, Năstase ended up in prison.

Then, predictably but still somewhat surprisingly, politicians migrated in large numbers towards the centre-left government, reversing a migration that happened when the Democratic Liberal Party (PDL) was in charge of the government. This happened even though both the party leaders now in charge of the government – Prime Minister Victor Ponta, of the Socialist Democrats (PSD), and Crin Antonescu of the National Liberal Party (PNL) – had in the past come out strongly against such practices, calling for a ban on ‘political migration'.

Throughout this torrid political summer, the rhetoric has been vitriolic. Senior politicians regularly call each other thieves, crooks, and Mafiosi.

Very quickly, the new ruling coalition absorbed some of the most corrupt, but low-profile, members of parliament, people happy to jump boat if doing so meant staying in power – a sine qua non condition of retaining access to state contracts. As for the coalition, it needed them to exert convincing control of the both chambers of parliament.

Once this happened, the coalition quickly moved to take complete control of the state institutions, then managed to suspend the president and initiated a referendum to impeach him – a process accompanied by so many questionable legal and political steps that the European Commission intervened.

On top of everything else, Ponta was proven to have lied about a master's degree and to have plagiarised much of his doctoral thesis. The accusation came from the camp of President Băsescu, who seems oddly unaware that himself exaggerated his own daughter academic credentials in 2009 when defending her nomination for a place in the European Parliament. (Some of Basescu's closest, and most powerful, allies are doctors in science without any peer-reviewed scientific publication.) Two of the ministers appointed by Ponta proved to have serious problems – one was dismissed as he plagiarised the other presented herself falsely as a graduate of a prestigious US university. Ponta resolved the issue by dismissing the governing body of the expert group that had accused him of plagiarism, claiming that it was staffed by Băsescu's supporters.

The run-up and aftermath of the referendum were shameful to a European democracy. Băsescu and his party called for a boycott of the referendum, advocating a rejection of a democratic process in the knowledge that his only chance of staying in power was to invalidate the referendum, by helping to ensure the turnout was below 50%. That is what happened: just 46% of voters turned out. That low turn-out should not disguise the fact that over 7.5 million Romanians voted against Băsescu, well above the number (a little under 5.3 million) that voted him back into office in 2009.

Then the government tried to pressurise the constitutional court into declaring the referendum to be valid, arguing that the electoral lists were full of errors. Băsescu's PDL is also alleged to have applied serious pressure. (The court on August 21 ruled that fewer than 50% of the electorate had voted, rendering the referendum invalid and ending Băsescu's suspension as president.)

In addition, scandals engulfed both camps. In a leak that suggests that Băsescu and his supporters control much of the secret services, transcripts of a number of phone calls were leaked that demonstrated that serious pressure was being exerted on two ministers – Ioan Rus, minister of the interior, and Paul Dobre, minister for public administration – to ensure the referendum's result was validated. (Citing that pressure, both later resigned from the government.)

For its part, the government made public a number of documents showing that Băsescu had spent sizeable sums of public money preparing a luxurious villa for his retirement while advocating strong austerity measures for ordinary Romanians.

As for Crin Antonescu, he made a series of mistakes that made him appear unfit for his temporary post as president. He accused the US ambassador of being an ally of Băsescu and Romanian Hungarians and, thereby, of being responsible for the refereundum's failure (the counties in which ethnic Hungarians had the lowest turn-out in the vote). A video of him talking to a delegation from the International Monetary Fund showed Antonescu incapable to be in charge of Romania's foreign affairs – and to be unable to see his limitations.


A dysfunctional system

Throughout this torrid political summer, the rhetoric has been vitriolic. Senior politicians regularly call each other thieves, crooks, and Mafiosi. Romanian society is dangerously polarised and the public's disgust for the political class has reached a dangerous point.

The situation has become so critical that the US even sent a special envoy to Romania to signal how seriously it was concerned about the state of democracy.

How did we get into such a mess in such a short time?

Simple: our political system and our society are profoundly dysfunctional.

Most members of the political elite enter politics with a poor record: most of the older politicians were closely connected to the Communist Party before 1989; while most of the younger politicians have no experience of work beyond jobs that they received due to their political affiliations.

No political leader – Ponta, Antonescu, Băsescu and many others – can enjoy credibility in the eyes of the public when they inveigh against nepotism. Daciana Sârbu, Ponta's 35-year-old wife, had little on her curriculum vitae when she entered politics, but immediately became an adviser to the Năstase government – in which her father served as a minister. She is now a member of the European Parliament – one of the best-paid jobs possible for a Romanian politician. So too is Adina-Ioana Vălean, Antonescu's wife.

The ascent of Băsescu's daughter Elena to a similar position in the European Parliament was appalling even by Romanian standards. In an incredibly short time, she moved from being a model to being leader of the PDL's youth wing and then to the European Parliament. (The job that Băsescu's other daughter, Ioana, has – as a notary – may to non-Romanians seem unlikely to raise suspicions, but in Romania being a notary is one of the best jobs and almost impossible to get without very good connections.)

So how could anybody in the leading Romanian political parties dare to talk about nepotism? The sinecures enjoyed by their family members suggest to voters that our political leaders are nepotistic. Ponta now says that his wife will not hold another political post (at the EU or national level) as long as he is leader of the Social Democrats. But he also said that he would quit his position as prime minister if his thesis was proven to be a fraud. The University of Bucharest says that it is, yet he remains in his post. Antonescu also promised he will quit Romanian politics if Basescu will come back to Cotroceni – now as it is clear that will happen he decided to “continue fighting”.

A culture of cheating

Ponta's plagiarism scandal highlights a deep flaw in Romania: its politicians are adept at cutting corners. Like Ponta, many others, in all parties, have cheated the educational system. In fact, plagiarism is rife among recent generations of students.

That is just another symptom of how normal cheating is within Romanian society. Almost everyone cheats or accepts cheating. Bribery is widespread. Indeed, it may be that Romanian society currently needs corrupt politicians in order to function. An honest political elite working to reform society would lead to a collapse of the current system, since a significant number of leading business people, journalists, judges, teachers, academics, leaders of civic society and syndicates would have to be dismissed (and some imprisoned). The higher-educational degrees of many major politicians would have to be reviewed (and in many cases annulled).

In attacking politicians as corrupt, the media risk hypocrisy. Most advertising comes from the state or from companies connected, tightly or loosely, to politics. There is no truly independent media outlet in Romania and journalists are viewed as buyable. Certainly, a bad record is no impediment to success: a proven collaborator of the communist-era security services, Horia Rosca Stanescu, is a close adviser to Antonescu.

A powerful politician once told me – in what I think was a moment of truth (he was inebriated at the time and incapable of realising that I was not a member of his party) – that the only possible way anyone becomes the leader of a party is if he “can be blackmailed. Otherwise, he could fuck us all up.”

No need for that: it appears we are already there.

Valeriu Nicolae is a leading figure in Romanian civil society and runs the Policy Centre for Roma and Minorities, a non-governmental organisation.

Romanian Ruling Coalition Loses Support on Failed Impeachment

Romania’s governing coalition lost public support after a failed attempt to oust suspended President Traian Basescu because of a low turnout at a nationwide referendum on July 29, a survey showed.

The Social Democrats and the Liberals, which now form the Social-Liberal Union and will run together in parliamentary elections later this year, would win 54 percent of the votes if an election were held now, according to an Aug. 22 survey by polling company IRES, Evenimentul Zilei newspaper reported. That compares with 61.4 percent in an IMAS poll published on Aug. 9.

The Liberal Democratic Party, which backs Basescu, would win 23 percent up from 16.3 percent of votes, in the previous poll, the survey of 1,547 people showed. It had a error margin of 2.7 percentage points. The new People’s Party, founded by media owner Dan Diaconescu, would get 10 percent, the same as in the previous poll.

A political feud between Prime Minister Victor Ponta and Basescu, which led to the president’s suspension on July 6, may continue as the Constitutional Court invalidated an ouster referendum, allowing Basescu to return to his office. The power struggle pushed the currency to a record low and boosted the government’s borrowing costs.

Romania will probably hold parliamentary elections on Dec. 2, Mircea Dusa, the minister in charge of relations with parliament, told private television station Realitatea TV. The opposition Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania, an ethnic minority party, would get 5 percent down from 6.2 percent, according to the survey.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andra Timu in Bucharest at atimu@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James M. Gomez at jagomez@bloomberg.net

Romania parliament clears president's return to office

(Reuters) - Romania's parliament accepted on Monday a court ruling to return the country's suspended president to office, drawing a line under a political row that has brought international criticism and punishment from financial markets.

The country's ruling leftist alliance, led by Prime Minister Victor Ponta, had fought a long and often bitter campaign to oust its main political opponent, rightist President Traian Basescu, provoking condemnation from Brussels and Washington.

Parliament voted to suspend Basescu last month and an overwhelming majority of voters chose to impeach him in a referendum.

But Romania's Constitutional Court last week struck down the referendum because turnout was less than the required half the electorate.

Parliamentary speaker Valeriu Zgonea told reporters on Monday the leftist-dominated lower house recognized the ruling. "We cannot interfere (with), block or ... alter Constitutional Court decisions," he said.

The end of the political battle over Basescu's immediate political future will please international critics, who had accused the government of failing to respect the rule of law during its campaign.

But it sets the stage for a power struggle between the still bitterly opposed rightist president and leftist government in the countdown to a parliamentary election later this year.

POWER STRUGGLE

Once Basescu, a bluff former oil tanker captain, returns to office he will reclaim his ability to delay, but not block, legislation.

The president also has the job of appointing prime ministers after an election. That could put him in a powerful position if Ponta's Social Liberal Union (USL) fails to win an outright parliamentary majority.

Basescu has been in office since 2004 and is unpopular because of his association with austerity measures, including salary cuts and raising sales tax, and perceptions of cronyism.

Ponta's government has lost some support over its failed attempt to remove Basescu, polls have shown. But it is still on course to win the vote.

The court's ruling must now be published in Romania's official record before Basescu can return to office, possibly as soon as Monday evening.

During the political struggle, the government had threatened to remove Constitutional Court judges or limit its powers, before backing down under pressure from Brussels.

Analysts said the battle reflected a broader struggle for power and control of the judicial system in a country where corruption is rampant and 19 members of parliament from Ponta's alliance are under investigation.

The leu currency has recovered some ground from all-time lows hit during the failed impeachment process, but is still weaker than its regional peers.

The widespread international criticism also raised doubts over Romania's 5 billion euro ($6.26 billion)International Monetary Fund-led aid deal.

($1 = 0.7990 euros)

(Additional reporting by Sam Cage)

Monday, August 27, 2012

Political spat erodes Romania government popularity: poll

Published: Sunday, 26 Aug 2012

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania's leftist government has lost support over its failed attempt to remove the country's president from office, but is still on course to win parliamentary elections later this year, an opinion poll showed on Sunday.

The survey, conducted by pollster IRES after Romania's Constitutional Court ruled a referendum to impeach President Traian Basescu was invalid, showed the ruling Social-Liberal Union (USL) had 54 percent support.

The USL had 64 percent in a previous IRES survey conducted in late July, just after it suspended Basescu pending the national referendum on whether to remove him from office permanently.

The battle pitting the president against Prime Minister Victor Ponta has raised questions over the government's commitment to the rule-of-law and could flare again in coming months as one of the European Union's poorest states faces pressure to stick to cost controls under a 5 billion euro International Monetary Fund-led aid deal.

The poll, published in newspaper Evenimentul Zilei, showed the opposition Democrat-Liberal Party (PDL), unpopular for its austerity policies while in government until earlier this year and with which Basescu has close links, would win 23 percent of the vote.

The populist Dan Diaconescu, whose new party advocates steep tax cuts, had 10 percent support.


DATE POLLSTER USL PDL PPDD UDMR
Aug 2012 IRES 54.0% 23.0% 10.0% 5.0%
July 2012 CURS 63.0% 19.0% 9.0% 6.0%
March 2012 IMAS 48.4% 18.6% 16.6% 7.0%
Feb 2012 CSOP 47.0% 20.0% 18.0% 5.0%
Feb 2012 CCSB 57.0% 18.0% 12.0% 4.0%
Jan 2012 IMAS 53.4% 15.8% 13.9% 5.8%
Notes:
USL - The ruling Social-Liberal Union alliance
PDL - the rightist opposition Democrat-Liberal Party
PPDD - Populist People's Party of media tycoon Dan Diaconescu
UDMR - Ethnic Hungarian party, junior ruling coalition party

(Reporting by Sam Cage; editing by Patrick Graham)
(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2012. Check for restrictions at: http://about.reuters.com/fulllegal.asp

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Economist: Romanian politics

The fight over the judiciary
Romania’s president is to be reinstated, but this won’t end the political battle

Aug 25th 2012 | BUCHAREST AND LONDON | from the print edition


TRAIAN BASESCU, Romania’s president, has won a battle. But the political war between the head of state and the country’s prime minister is likely to continue. On August 21st the Constitutional Court declared invalid a referendum on Mr Basescu’s impeachment that was held on July 29th. Even though 88% of those who voted wanted Mr Basescu to go, the court ruled that the turnout was below the minimum 50% of registered voters required by the constitution.

In theory, Mr Basescu can now return to his duties. In practice, the majority in parliament will make it as hard as possible for the president to do his job. They can still play tricks, warns Sorin Ionita of Expert Forum, a think-tank in Bucharest.

Romania’s political crisis has dragged on for two months and is likely to intensify in the run-up to a parliamentary election in November. Crin Antonescu, leader of the National Liberal Party, who was the country’s interim president during Mr Basescu’s suspension, has said that his party is unwilling to cohabit with Mr Basescu after he returns to office. Victor Ponta, the prime minister, a close ally of Mr Antonescu’s, has also vowed to continue the fight with Mr Basescu until the president and his regime are removed.

Mr Basescu has survived an impeachment referendum for the second time since he took office eight years ago. He has repeatedly said that Mr Ponta’s efforts to take him down are linked to the government’s attempts to take control of the judiciary and other public institutions. “The ultimate battle is about control of the judiciary,” says Mr Ionita. Members of the old political guard are worried about the increasing independence of the general prosecutor and the anti-corruption office, who might go after them. Their wake-up call was the conviction on corruption charges of Adrian Nastase, a former prime minister, who is now in jail. They seem to be using Mr Ponta (who has become vulnerable after allegations of plagiarism against him surfaced recently) as an instrument in their power grab.

The key to the success or failure of the impeachment referendum was the turnout. Mr Ponta said a day ahead of the court’s ruling that more than 3m Romanians are living abroad and that the Romanian identity cards of more than half a million of them had expired. The opposition criticised the government for trying to disqualify these voters (which would have lowered the threshold to make the referendum valid), arguing that the ruling alliance had no legal right to do this. A Council of Europe official spoke of the “shocking” political pressures that the Constitutional Court faced ahead of its ruling. Some of the court’s judges said they had received death threats and appealed to European institutions for protection.

Some of the more moderate ministers in Mr Ponta’s government resigned shortly after the referendum. Ioan Rus, the interior minister, quit on August 6th. Mr Rus said he was under pressure from politicians, including Mr Basescu and Mr Antonescu. The next to go was Paul Dobre, a junior minister in charge of public administration, whose ministry was involved in organising the referendum.

Romania’s currency fell to its lowest level against the euro due to the political crisis. The IMF is alarmed. Following a €5 billion ($6.2 billion) standby loan agreement, it is urging the government to implement a series of austerity and privatisation measures by the end of September.

The European Union and the United States are closely monitoring Romania’s political crisis. Questions have been raised in Brussels about whether it was a mistake to admit Romania to the EU. It is now up to Romania’s leaders to show the West that they are eager to transform the country into a fully functioning democracy. The events of the past few months give the impression of a country regressing in almost every way.

from the print edition | Europe

Leu Gains as Stimulus Bets Outweigh Romania Political Turmoil

The leu strengthened as increased global appetite for riskier assets on bets the U.S. Federal Reserve will provide monetary stimulus outweighed concern that Romania’s political turmoil will intensify.

The leu appreciated as much as 0.3 percent to 4.4952 per and traded 0.1 percent higher at 4.4863 by 5:30 p.m. in Bucharest after weakening 0.3 percent yesterday. Yields on Romania’s dollar-denominated bond maturing in 2022 fell three basis points, or 0.03 percentage point, to 5.69 percent today from 5.72 yesterday.

European and emerging-market stocks rallied after minutes of the Fed’s last meeting showed many members favored more stimulus unless the pace of the economic recovery picks up. The power struggle between President Traian Basescu, whose impeachment referendum was invalidated by a Constitutional Court on Aug. 21, and Prime Minister Victor Ponta may continue until general elections are held in the fourth quarter. Ponta has in the past said future collaboration with Basescu is “impossible.”

“The market mood has improved overnight with the release of Federal Reserve’s minutes,” Vlad Muscalu, a senior economist at ING Groep NV in Bucharest, wrote in a report to clients today. “The leu has moved back to 4.48 per euro and looks to firm a bit more. For the moment, it looks to be lacking the vigor needed to clearly break past the 4.47 percent recent high.”

The leu has lost 3.6 percent against the euro this year, the third-worst performer among emerging-market currencies tracked by Bloomberg.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andra Timu in Bucharest at atimu@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James M. Gomez at jagomez@bloomberg.net

Romania to Sell Eurobonds Abroad in Next 2 Months, Jiru Says

Romania seeks to sell bonds abroad in the next two months to finance its budget deficit after failing to sell debt at home three times this month because a political power struggle boosted domestic borrowing costs.

The Finance Ministry is watching the markets on a weekly basis to sell euro-denominated bonds abroad, Deputy Finance Minister Enache Jiru said in a phone interview today. The ministry rejected all bids for the 200 million lei ($56 million) in four-year bonds it had planned to sell today, citing “unacceptable yield offers.”

“With a certain safety margin, I would say we’ll definitely issue Eurobonds in the next two months,” Jiru said. “We’re monitoring markets on a weekly basis and holding constant talks with investors, whose interest is starting to increase.”

Romania has been selling less debt than planned since June because of the political feud between Prime Minister Victor Ponta and suspended President Traian Basescu. The power struggle plunged the currency to a record low, led to higher yields and a failed presidential impeachment referendum.

Basescu will probably return to office next week, after the Constitutional Court reads a ruling invalidating a referendum in Parliament on Aug. 27. He was suspended from office by Ponta’s governing coalition on July 6 on accusations that he overstepped his duties when announcing austerity measures in 2010.
Rejected Bids

The country rejected bids on Aug. 9, when it had planned to sell 400 million lei in two-year bonds, and on Aug. 20 at an auction for one-year bills. It has raised 1.4 billion lei this month from a planned 2.5 billion lei and about 39 billion lei on the domestic market this year. It borrowed an additional $2.25 billion abroad this year.

“The pressure on domestic yields will probably continue until the political situation returns to normal and until the government sells Eurobonds,” Eugen Sinca a Bucharest-based economist at Banca Comerciala Romana SA, said by phone today. “We think the ministry will issue Eurobonds this autumn to take advantage of the global central banks’ stimulus and a normalization of the domestic political situation.”

The International Monetary Fund urged Romania to bow to market pressure and pay higher yields on government debt to rebuild fiscal buffers, Erik de Vrijer, the head of an IMF mission to the country, said on Aug. 14.
IMF Program

The country needs to avoid rejecting bids at domestic auctions and should try to sell international bonds this year if market conditions allow it and if the government keeps its 5 billion-euro ($6.3 billion) precautionary program with the IMF and the European Union on track, de Vrijer said at the time.

The government has used almost half of its reserves until the end of July from May to fund a budget deficit and repay debt before general elections later this year. The foreign-exchange stockpile shrank to about 3.3 billion euros from 4.9 billion euros at the end of April, the Finance Ministry said on July 25.

“The fact that we rejected the bids doesn’t impact the financing of the budget deficit or that of the public debt,” Jiru also said. “We continue to have an adequate funding buffer and it’s our commitment to preserve it on the short term.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Irina Savu in Bucharest at isavu@bloomberg.net; Andra Timu in Bucharest at atimu@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James M. Gomez at jagomez@bloomberg.net

Thursday, August 23, 2012

After camp closures, France loosening job restrictions on Roma from Eastern Europe

By Associated Press, Published: August 22


PARIS — The French government is making it easier for Roma from Eastern Europe to gain employment and stay in France, amid criticism of police raids that have dismantled ramshackle camps and left hundreds of people without shelter.

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault’s office announced Wednesday that it will expand the number of sectors where residents of Romania and Bulgaria — where most of the thousands of Roma in France originate from — can seek work. The decision was made after it held a meeting to rethink France’s policy towards the ethnic group, following consultations with Roma representatives.

The government also abolished a tax that employers must pay to employ people from the two countries instead of hiring French workers.

The decision comes in the wake of raids this month in Paris and other French cities that echoed a crackdown on Roma two years ago under conservative former President Nicolas Sarkozy that drew Europe-wide ire.

While no official figures are available, activists say at least a dozen camps were dismantled, displacing hundreds of Roma. Some fled into nearby woods when they heard the police were coming, or went out looking for a new abandoned area to set up camp. Others took the government’s offer of €300 ($373) to go home to Romania in a “voluntary return.”

The government said Wednesday that it would continue dismantling camps, however, if they are deemed unsanitary or dangerous.

Roma are Europe’s most marginalized minority. In France, they live on the edges of cities, in cars or in makeshift structures in abandoned industrial zones without running water. They are cut off from mainstream society, speak little French, and some beg at tourist sites such as the Eiffel Tower.

Ionut Tranca, a 22-year-old from the Craiova region of Romania who now lives in a camp in the shadow of Paris’ Orly Airport, expressed frustration Wednesday at limitations on Romanians and Bulgarians in France. “We are Europeans,” he said.

“If we find work, we can find an apartment and pay rent. If we don’t, how can we pay rent?” he asked. “The police come here often, they don’t like us.”

Easier access to France’s job market might not make a huge dent, as the country faces 10 percent unemployment and a stagnant economy. But Ayrault called the new measures a “question of humanity and respect.”

He said the government would continue to fight exploitation of children by Roma populations, and said any court orders to clear out camps would be honored. A new system will be put in place to offer other housing options to families.

In Romania, Andrei Zaharescu, spokesman for Prime Minister Victor Ponta, told the AP that the government would be “delighted to hear about a relaxing of labor laws.” He said there would be an official statement once the government sees the official statement from the French government.

The French government stopped short of lifting all residency and labor restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians that France and some other European Union countries imposed when the two countries joined the EU. Many have called the restrictions discriminatory, and they are slated to expire Dec. 31, 2013, making Romania and Bulgaria EU members like any other. Ayrault said the French government would consider lifting them ahead of the deadline.

The Council of Europe, the continent’s main human rights body, called Wednesday’s meeting “a welcome step towards finding long-lasting solutions.”

“Simply moving Roma families around within or between states merely worsens their conditions,” it said.

___

Alison Mutler in Bucharest, Romania, contributed to this report.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

FT: Romania: reprieve for Basescu


Romanian president Traian Basescu has narrowly escaped the chop.

August 21, 2012 1:04 pm by Stefan Wagstyl

The constitutional court ruled on Tuesday that the referendum vote to impeach Basescu was invalid because the turnout was less than 50 per cent. So, by a majority of 6-3, the judges ruled that Basescu could remain in office even though 87.6 per cent of those who voted in the July 29 poll wanted him out.

The combative Basescu will quickly throw himself back into the political fray, resuming his battles with the centre-left government of Victor Ponta. But the court decision should appease European Union partners anxious about Romania’s democratic stability. So, the verdict should be mildly positive for investors.

The leu barely moved against the euro on the news, trading 0.3 per cent up at 4.483. It is is now comfortably stronger than the record weak level of 4.652 hit in early August at the peak of the referendum crisis. But the currency is considerably weaker that the 4.31 level where it started the year.

Dan Bucsa, chief economist of Unicredit in Romania, said in a note that markets would welcome the news and expect progress on Romania’s relationship with the International Monetary Fund:

We believe that the decision could be positive for the [leu] in the near term, but it doesn’t solve the political stalemate … Right now, there is a consensus among Romanian political parties in favour of maintaining a good relationship with international financial institutions (IFIs). Going forward, the political and economic costs of renouncing the loan agreement are too high and Romanian politicians should try to avoid a repeat of the situation in Hungary.

But, as Bucsa argues in his note, one battle may be over but the political war will go on. Basescu and the government could fight over the appointment of judges and prosecutors where the president has to approve parliamentary nominations; the ruling social democrats (Ponta’s PSD) and the national liberal (PNL), which united to try to overthrow Baescu, could not fall out over economic policy; and there could be budgetary fights between the central government and local barons as budgets are squeezed to meet IMF targets.

And overshadowing everything are the October parliamentary elections. Ponta expects to do well, blaming Basescu’s centre-right parliamentary allies for the austerity programmes of recent years. But, as he has recognised, economic reality demands that Romania keeps in place its precautionary IMF loan. And the economic outlook in Europe isn’t getting any better as Weinerberger, the brickmaker, warned today (Tuesday).


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Romania Stocks Hit Three-Month High as Ouster Vote Invalidated

Romania’s benchmark stock index rallied to the highest level in more than three months after a Constitutional Court ruling invalidated an impeachment vote against President Traian Basescu.

The Bucharest Exchange Trading Index (BET) climbed 0.4 percent to close at 4,864.05, the highest since May 11, after earlier retreating as much as 0.5 percent. Gains were led by Fondul Proprietatea SA (FP) and OMV Petrom SA (SNP), which both added 0.8 percent.

Six of nine judges voted to invalidate a July 29 presidential impeachment vote as less than half of the eligible voters participated in the referendum, the Bucharest-based court said today.

The ruling, once published in the official journal, allows Basescu to return to his office and may prolong a feud between him and Prime Minister Victor Ponta, who said today that Basescu will be an “illegitimate president.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Andra Timu in Bucharest at atimu@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James M. Gomez at jagomez@bloomberg.net

Romania's acting president says will heed ruling on referendum

(Reuters) - Romania's acting president Crin Antonescu said on Tuesday he would respect a ruling by the Constitutional Court that invalidated a referendum to oust President Traian Basescu, a foe of the leftist ruling coalition that Antonescu is part of.

"I took note of the court decision and as previously announced, we will obey the decision," Antonescu, who is co-leader of Prime Minister Victor Ponta's ruling alliance, told reporters.

The court ruled earlier on Tuesday that a July 29 referendum to remove Basescu was invalid because turnout failed to meet the required 50 percent threshold, despite the government's argument that an update to voter lists may lower the threshold.

(Reporting by Radu Marinas, writing by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Pravin Char)

Romania court says vote on president invalid due to low turnout, letting him return to post

By Associated Press, Published: August 21

BUCHAREST, Romania — Romania’s constitutional court ruled Tuesday that a referendum on whether to oust the country’s president had failed because the minimum voter threshold was not reached, clearing the way for Traian Basescu to return to his post. But comments from a top government official calling Basescu “an illegitimate president” suggested that the power struggles in the eastern European country were by no means over.

Basescu was suspended by parliament in July on grounds that he had overstepped his authority by meddling in government business and the country’s judicial system. He denied any committing any serious violation of the ex-communist nation’s constitution.

The national referendum on whether the president could stay in power was held July 29, and while most voters wanted to oust him, the court ruled that the 50 percent turnout threshold was not achieved.

The court’s ruling came after the left-leaning government argued that the electorate had shrunk and thus the necessary threshold for the vote was reached. A few hundred people gathered in a main Bucharest square Tuesday evening to protest the ruling.

Basescu’s rival, Prime Minister Victor Ponta, said the government would respect the court’s decision. “I want to send a signal of stability to Romanians,” he said.

But the country’s acting president, Crin Antonescu, said that despite the respect for the decision, Basescu “returns as an illegitimate president.”

The U.S and the European Union have expressed concern about Romania’s commitment to the rule of law and the independence of judicial institutions during the impeachment procedure. Romania, which threw off communism during a bloody revolt more than 20 years ago, joined the EU in 2007.

The U.S. Embassy said the court’s decision “speaks for itself.”

There was no immediate word from Basescu, a center-right president whose popularity has sunk in recent years as Romania’s economy has struggled. His five-year term expires in 2014, while parliamentary elections are set for November.

The national currency, the leu, which has plummeted to record lows during the six-week political crisis, recovered slightly after the court’s ruling.

Romanian PM Ponta says will implement court ruling on referendum

BUCHAREST | Tue Aug 21, 2012

Aug 21 (Reuters) - Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta said on Tuesday he would respect and implement a ruling by the Contitutional Court that struck down a referendum to oust his rival, President Traian Basescu.

"I want to send a signal of stability to Romanians: The court decision will be respected and implemented," Ponta told a news conference.

The court ruled earlier on Tuesday that a July 29 government-sponsored referendum to remove Basescu was invalid because turnout failed ot meet the required 50 percent threshold, despite the goverment's argument that an update to voter lists may lower the quorum.

WSJ: Romania Court Quells Bid to Oust President

By GORDON FAIRCLOUGH

BUCHAREST—Romania's Constitutional Court ruled that a referendum aimed at ousting the country's president was invalid, clearing the way for his return and setting the stage for further political conflict in this young Eastern European democracy.

The tribunal's finding in favor of President Traian Basescu also marked a victory for the European Union, which had criticized efforts to remove the unpopular center-right politician as a serious threat to the rule of law here.

In a 6-3 decision, the court on Tuesday said that turnout for the July 29 recall was below the 50% threshold required for it to be legally binding. Election officials said 46% of voters cast ballots; Mr. Basescu's opponents questioned the accuracy of the voter lists.

Parliament—which suspended Mr. Basescu in early July, saying he had overstepped constitutional bounds—must now formally approve his reinstatement. Analysts expect that to happen soon.

Mr. Basescu, a 60-year-old former ship captain, has described the effort to eject him from office as an attempted coup by the left-leaning governing coalition led by Prime Minister Victor Ponta, a 39-year-old Social Democrat.

On Tuesday, Mr. Ponta said he would respect the ruling, but said the referendum results showed Mr. Basescu was "an illegitimate president." He said he would propose constitutional amendments to improve "checks and balances" on presidential power.

More than 85% of those who participated in the referendum voted against Mr. Basescu, whose standing with the public has suffered because of his support for painful steps to cut the budget deficit and allegations of cronyism.

The EU said Tuesday it would closely monitor adherence to the court decision and called on "all political forces to respect European values, to act with responsibility and to work constructively in overcoming divisions."

Intense partisan feuding has consumed Romanian politics for months, sparking fears among investors that needed economic measures won't move ahead and pushing the Romanian currency, the leu, to record lows against the euro this summer.

"Continued tension is the most likely outcome" of Mr. Basescu's return, said Otilia Simkova, a London-based analyst for political risk consultancy Eurasia Group. Ms. Simkova predicted a heated campaign ahead of parliamentary elections, due by November.

The battle between Mr. Ponta's left-leaning government, which took power in May after the fall of two previous center-right premiers, and the president escalated in June, after a major victory in local elections by Mr. Ponta's camp.

A series of maneuvers by Mr. Ponta and his allies—including emergency decrees and other steps that would make it easier to get rid of Mr. Basescu, drew fire from the EU and U.S., which said they threatened democratic checks and balances.

Under pressure from the EU, Mr. Ponta agreed, against the wishes of some in his coalition, to enact as law a requirement that a majority of registered voters participate in the recall referendum in order for it to be valid.

That change proved critical for the outcome. Mr. Basescu urged his supporters to stay away from the poll. That, combined with the large number of Romanians living and working abroad, made the turnout standard very difficult to meet.

"Sometimes the EU needs a very big stick" to prevent democratic backsliding among members, said Sorin Ionita, a political analyst at Bucharest-based public-policy think tank Expert Forum.

Mr. Ionita said he believes that at the heart of the efforts to unseat Mr. Basescu is a desire by politicians to thwart changes aimed at cracking down on corruption. Mr. Basescu has backed antigraft prosecutions.

Former leftist Prime Minister Adrian Nastase was recently sentenced to prison after being convicted on corruption charges.

Write to Gordon Fairclough at gordon.fairclough@wsj.com

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Romanian court rules to reinstate suspended president


Tue Aug 21, 2012 7:09pm IST

* Basescu can return to power after court voids referendum

* Govt accepts decision but battle with president to rage on

* Dispute has raised EU concern for rule of law in Romania

By Ioana Patran

BUCHAREST, Aug 21 (Reuters) - Romania's Constitutional Court on Tuesday struck down a referendum to impeach President Traian Basescu, foiling a drive by the country's leftist government to oust its chief political opponent just months before a parliamentary election.

The government said it would accept the decision but the acting president said Basescu was now an "illegitimate" leader.

Two decades after the fall of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, the battle pitting Basescu against Prime Minister Victor Ponta has raised rule-of-law issues and could flare again in coming months as one of the European Union's poorest states faces tough austerity demands from international lenders.

The court, as expected, ruled that a July 29 referendum called by the government to remove the political veteran Basescu was invalid because turnout fell short of the required 50 percent of the 18.3 million electorate.

"We stated that the referendum quorum condition was not met," Chief Judge Augustin Zegrean told reporters. He said Basescu, suspended by parliament before the referendum which was needed to confirm the impeachment, could now return to power.

The crisis has crippled policymaking, depressed the leu currency to record lows last month and angered the EU, which accused Ponta of undermining democracy and intimidating judges in the country long been criticised for graft and weak justice.

It shed light on weaknesses in Romania's institutional set- up, a wider problem in former communist EU member states as shown in Hungary earlier this year where Prime Minister Viktor Orban clashed with the EU over constitutional changes.

Basescu could return to office within days, pending rubber-stamping of the court decision by parliament, possibly on Thursday. The right-wing president's term expires in 2014.

Ponta said he would respect and implement the ruling. "I want to send a signal of stability to Romanians: The court decision will be respected and implemented," the premier told a news conference.

His government had maintained that the referendum should stand based on updated electoral lists that stripped out voters who live abroad or have died.

NO RESPITE IN POLITICAL BATTLE

But acting President Crin Antonescu, a co-leader of the USL, he made clear there would be no lasting peace between Ponta, who became Europe's youngest prime minister in May at 39, and the political veteran Basescu, 60, a former oil tanker captain who has been president since 2004.

"We do respect the court decision and Traian Basescu will again become a president. But he returns as an illegitimate president," Antonescu said.

"The court refused to see that at least 2 million Romanians shouldn't have been taken into account for the referendum quorum." There was no immediate statement from Ponta or Basescu.

Basescu has the power to appoint prime ministers and heads of security services, and to temporarily veto legislation.

Tensions will prevail ahead of the November parliamentary elections, which are likely to be won by Ponta's USL coalition.

The Balkan country needs to focus on austerity policies to keep a 5 billion euro IMF stand-by agreement on track.

"Continuing political tension and forthcoming elections are not conducive to coherent policymaking, especially regarding adherence to the tight targets of the EU/IMF bailout agreement," said Otilia Simkova, an analyst at Eurasia group.

The leu strengthened by 0.4 percent after the decision and Antonescu's statements to 4.4722 to the euro.

Ponta has accused Basescu of blocking government policies and turning a blind eye to corruption while starting a witch-hunt against rival politicians.

But Ponta himself has been bruised by findings by an academic panel that his doctoral thesis in law was plagiarism.

Analysts said the battle reflected a broader struggle for power and the justice system in the country where corruption is rampant and 19 members of parliament from Ponta's coalition are under investigation.

Officials in Ponta's party have denounced Basescu, saying he orchestrated the June conviction of Ponta's mentor, former prime minister Adrian Nastase, on charges of improper party funding.

In the July 29 referendum, 88 percent of those who cast ballots voted to impeach Basescu - but only 46 percent of registered voters took part.

Court seen reinstating Romanian president in referendum ruling

Radu Marinas
August 20, 2012


BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania's Constitutional Court is expected to rule on Tuesday that a referendum on whether to impeach suspended President Traian Basescu is invalid - a decision that would return him to office and probably prolong his power struggle with the prime minister.

The battle pitting Basescu against Prime Minister Victor Ponta, who has led a campaign to unseat the president, is testing democracy in Romania two decades after the overthrow of communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu.

The crisis has stalled policymaking, sent the leu currency to record lows and raised concern in the European Union, which accused Ponta of undermining the rule of law and intimidating judges.

Parliament suspended Basescu in a decision backed by Ponta's Social Liberal Union (USL) last month.

In the July 29 referendum, 88 percent of those who cast ballots voted to impeach Basescu, but only 46 percent of registered voters took part, fewer than the required threshold of 50 percent of the electorate.

The Constitutional Court has to validate the outcome in a politically-charged decision that was originally due on August 2 but has since been postponed.

The court has asked to see revised voter lists after coming under pressure by the government, which says turnout may have been sufficient if data from a 2011 census were used and people who have died or live abroad were taken off the lists.

Many political analysts say they expect the court to reject the government's argument.

"I see a majority of judges voting for the invalidation of the impeachment referendum," said Sergiu Miscoiu, the director of the CESPRI Centre For Political Studies think-tank.

"The government may further try to push with its validation drive and to try to further keep Basescu out of the post but it would be very difficult."

Ponta, who took over three months ago to become Europe's youngest prime minister at 39, has accused Basescu of blocking government policies and turning a blind eye to graft.

Ponta said he hoped the political impasse would end.

"I wish a decision is taken tomorrow and this will practically help close any talk about the political crisis," he said on Monday.

The Council of Europe said the court had come under "shocking" political pressure ahead of its ruling and had appealed to the council for protection.

"I've lost my trust in the Constitutional Court because each and every member is placed there based on various political interests," said Alexandru Mirica, a 62-year-old pensioner In Bucharest.

"If we had laws in place we wouldn't need those people anymore. I'm pretty sure that Basescu will return."

POWER STRUGGLE TO LAST

Basescu, a former oil tanker captain and president since 2004, has grown unpopular due to wage cuts and tax hikes he backed under two financing deals with the International Monetary Fund, signed in 2009 and 2011.

The country of 19.5 million, the EU's second-poorest member, briefly dipped into a recession in the first quarter and the political turmoil has further hurt investor confidence.

The IMF has said the government needs to take a string of austerity and privatization measures by the end of September to keep a 5 billion euro stand-by loan deal on course.

Ponta said he would accept a decision made by at least six members of the nine-strong court, but did not elaborate on other possible scenarios. "If six decide to declare the referendum invalid ... then Basescu returns to his post," he said.

However, analysts said the court is more likely to make a 5-4 decision in Basescu's favor.

A decision to reinstate Basescu may end the immediate impasse but the power struggle may last until parliamentary elections in November. Most analysts expect Ponta's leftist USL alliance to win the vote.

Basescu, a conservative, accused the USL of trying to stage a coup and take control of independent institutions.

Basescu and anti-graft experts say Ponta's campaign to drive the president out of power may be linked to a string of corruption investigations, including the conviction of Adrian Nastase, a former prime minister and mentor to Ponta.

(Addtional reporting by Andreea Birsan; Writing by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Alessandra Rizzo)

Monday, August 20, 2012

Romanian Cabinet to Send Voter Lists to Court Today, Ponta Says

Romania’s government will send updated voter lists on the July 29 presidential impeachment referendum to the Constitutional Court today, Prime Minister Victor Ponta said.

The cabinet has collected data from local administrations to determine the number of eligible voters in the country, Ponta told reporters in Bucharest today. He didn’t mention whether the updated lists include a different number of voters than the 18.3 million people who were on the lists at the July 29 referendum.

The nine-judge panel will meet tomorrow to debate whether the vote to oust President Traian Basescu was valid or not, depending on the turnout.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andra Timu in Bucharest at atimu@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James M. Gomez at jagomez@bloomberg.net

For Romania's Orphans, Adoption Is Still A Rarity

August 19, 2012
by MEGHAN COLLINS SULLIVAN
NPR

First of two stories

The 1989 overthrow and execution of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu provided the first glimpse of a country that had been mostly closed to the outside world — and many of the scenes were appalling.

Among the most disturbing were images of tens of thousands of abandoned children suffering abuse and neglect in Romania's orphanages. Many were confined to cribs, wallowing in their own filth and facing mental health issues.

There was outrage in the West. Foreign charities came in to help. Europeans and Americans adopted thousands of children.

Nearly a quarter-century later, the fate of Romania's abandoned children is an unresolved issue. While the orphanages, in general, have improved, the number of children in state care — more than 70,000 — is nearly the same as it was in 1989. Many in the field say there are tens of thousands more on the streets who are not being counted.

Romania remains a relatively poor country, and the legacy of Ceausescu's policies has not been completely erased.

Complicated Laws

Romania's adoption laws are complex and are seen as one of several reasons there are relatively few adoptions domestically. Annually, between 700 and 900 children are adopted of the 1,200 to 1,400 considered adoptable. Foreign adoptions, which were common during the 1990s, were halted a decade ago.

Under Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu, handicapped and orphaned children were neglected, unbathed and malnourished in orphanages throughout the country. This photo shows orphans at a state institution in Grandinari, Romania in 1989, the year Ceaucescu was overthrown and killed.

A revision of Romania's adoption law, which went into effect in April, aims to make more children eligible for adoption and more quickly. But many involved in child protection doubt that the new law alone will significantly improve the lives of these abandoned kids.

Bogdan Panait, head of Romania's Office for Adoptions, says he hopes the new law can bump the number of children considered adoptable to 2,000. But this number would still be less than 3 percent of the children in state care and less than 9 percent of those residing in non-family situations.

"It's not a system for children's rights. It's a system for parents' rights," says Bogdan Simion, executive director of SERA Romania, a nonprofit foundation that is one of the largest financial contributors to Romania's child welfare system.

Consider the case of Tatiana. She spent two years in a baby ward at a Romanian hospital because she had no birth certificate, her caregivers say. But the law states a birth certificate should be issued within 45 days, even if it means listing the mother and father as "unknown."

In Romania, to be considered "adoptable," a child's biological parents must be deceased or indicate that they have no interest in having a relationship with the child. But beyond this, all relatives as distant as siblings of grandparents also must sign away rights to the child. The aim to reintegrate a child into his biological family, for better or worse, is considered the ultimate goal.

Defining Relationships

The biggest change in the new law is a child's eligibility for adoption should be considered after a year without a parental relationship.

But what a "relationship" is, exactly, is unclear. How frequent must contact be to constitute a relationship?

"As often as possible," says Ramona Popa, ROA's cabinet director. "It depends. There are possibilities because sometimes it is very hard for them to come."

Romanian orphanages were routinely overcrowded and children often lacked toys, as was the case at Bucharest's Number One Orphanage in 1991. A new law should make adoptions a bit easier. However, adoptions remain relatively rare.

Many children now linger in the system because their mothers express interest by stopping by once a year.

Mothers have the option of leaving their newborns at the hospital when they go home. They do not have to give up the rights to the child at this point –- or ever. Some kids are lucky enough to get moved into foster care, which is required prior to adoption eligibility. Others remain at the hospital until they are 2, and are then moved to orphanages.

One foster mother living in Eastern Romania says she considers the two children she fosters her own. But she's unlikely to adopt them. She worries what would happen if she brought the idea up to the children's mother at this point. She's afraid the mother, an alcoholic and victim of domestic violence, would block the adoption and, possibly, take the kids back.

"It's a hard situation because they are not legally adopted," says the foster mother's biological daughter, Cristina. "But they are so much a part of my family. But they are not legally abandoned and they are not adopted either."

For Panait, there are many challenges. Any new approach not only requires the buy-in of a separate-but-intertwined child welfare system – but also relies on changing the minds of a people.

"This is a first step," he says of the revised law. "We are trying, after we are finalizing this first step, to find a solution for all the children. And after we will try all the possibilities. Probably we will have to find other solutions."

Ceausescu's Legacy

Many of the problems today can still be traced back to Ceausescu. When he came to power in the mid-1960s, he aimed to create a race of Romanian worker bees. He instructed all women to have at least five children, and outlawed abortion and birth control.

But many parents couldn't afford to feed and clothe families of seven or more, and children were abandoned in the thousands each year and the state orphanage system grew.

Many thought the state would be able to do a better job of taking care of their kids than they could. And this mentality, especially among the poor, remains today.

Most of those who apply to adopt children are couples who have been unable to have children on their own. Yet few Romanian couples are open to adopting children with disabilities or those of Roma descent.

Meanwhile, studies by the U.S.-funded Bucharest Early Intervention Project and other groups show that mental, physical and emotional issues that result from living in a non-family setting, such as anxiety and attachment disorders, have a much better chance of reversal if the child moves into a family setting before they turn 2.

But within the current structure, it's difficult to get children into the arms of a couple before this small window of opportunity slips away.

Tatiana, the 2-year-old toddler left at a Romanian hospital, was lucky enough to form an attachment to a caregiver who took a special interest in her.

"To get to adoptability you will need a period of 18 months, which is huge. For the child this is huge. For the small child it is huge," Simion says. "It touches the very soul of its brain development. So this has to stop."

Meghan Collins Sullivan is a former supervising editor at NPR. Her reporting in Romania is supported in part by a Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism.

Friday, August 3, 2012

NYT: Bringing Romania Back From the Brink

By MIRCEA GEOANA

BUCHAREST, Romania

ROMANIANS are even more tired, frustrated and angry than many other Europeans. Romania, the seventh most populous country in the European Union, ranks at the very bottom of almost all European human development measures. Its poorest citizens are paying the harshest price for the current fiscal tightening and years of negative or slow economic growth. Five years after Romanians acceded to the European Union, their hopes have been shattered, the promises made to them have been repeatedly broken, and their quest for dignity at home and in Europe has been denied.

On Sunday, Romania’s president, Traian Basescu, narrowly survived a referendum calling for his impeachment, despite the fact that more than 80 percent of those voting supported his dismissal. His lifeline, a last-minute legal maneuver introduced by the Constitutional Court and accepted by Parliament, required an absolute majority of eligible voters to participate for the referendum to be considered valid. Although more than seven million people voted against him — more than the number that elected him in a narrow 2009 presidential runoff election — they did not constitute more than 50 percent of the electorate.

To further complicate matters, the court has postponed until Sept. 12 a decision on whether the referendum was valid, throwing the country into a prolonged period of political uncertainty.

The partisan divide, which reached its pinnacle in Sunday’s referendum, has been managed clumsily by all sides. The majority in Parliament, an alliance of the Social Democratic Party and the National Liberal Party, were angered by Mr. Basescu’s interference in the legislative process and went on a blitzkrieg, changing laws and institutions and replacing the leaders of both chambers of Parliament. With Parliamentary elections only a few months away, the escalating drama called into question the country’s democratic, economic and political stability.

Romania’s plight is closely connected to Europe’s current troubles. In the middle of an economic and political predicament that they did not create and had no control over, citizens all over Europe feel cheated. Governments they voted for have failed to protect them.

While Mr. Basescu held the fiscal austerity card high as a sign of Romania’s commitments to Europe, the country was sliding into poverty and chaos. Austerity is creating room for extremism on both the left and right, and now an adversarial and acrimonious style of politics is making Romania’s European partners doubt its democratic strengths and question its commitment to shared European values.

Strident voices steal the stage while the democratic mainstream of Europe is busy fighting the debt crisis. Frustrated with the limits of their own policies, European officials have now vigorously reacted to Parliament’s ham-handed attempts to create a clear political playing field. Europe wants to contain anti-democratic trends, but Romania’s citizens should not be forced to foot the bill for democratic lapses elsewhere in Europe. Creating an artificial set of ostracized countries on the continent’s geographic and political periphery will put us on the slippery slope toward a redivided Europe.

The crisis has been brewing for many years while observers largely ignored it. Focusing mostly on corruption and the justice system, critics rarely addressed Romania’s core problem: the profoundly dysfunctional political process.

For two decades, politicians in Romania have walked a tightrope between public priorities and the vested economic interests. Many businesses seek lucrative government contracts, and too many politicians are interested only in the spoils — a practice that perverts the political process. Boycotted elections, won or lost by a small number of votes, and suspicion of fraud have been trademarks of the past decade.

A vitriolic political environment emerged, one that lacks actual debate. The political parties are blamed, concealing the reality of the corrupt political system plagued by nepotism and fiefs pushing agendas that have little to do with the citizens’ priorities. The justice system cannot be independent as long as political forces systematically use it as a battleground and tool of influence. Parts of the news media and nongovernmental organizations have been made economically vulnerable and increasingly partisan.

I know how hard it is to bring about meaningful and lasting reform. But I have seen it happen before. As foreign minister from 2000 to 2004, I was involved in the effort to bring Romania to the point of joining NATO and the European Union. Now we must undertake bold reforms once again and act in solidarity for the public interest despite our political differences.

The agenda is clear: legal checks and balances must be strengthened; the fight for social justice and equal opportunity must become a central task of government; competing politicians must tone down the rhetoric and actually talk to one another. Without a functional and independent justice system, the country will not be able to escape the vicious nexus of private economic interest and politics. And that, in turn, will require a review of Parliament’s role and the financing of the political parties and elections.

It is now up to all of the country’s politicians to come up with a new plan to answer the slap Romania’s citizens delivered to them in Sunday’s referendum.


Mircea Geoana, a Romanian senator, has served as Romania’s ambassador to the United States and its foreign minister and ran for president in 2009.

NYT: Court Decides Not to Certify Ouster Vote in Romania

By DAN BILEFSKY

PARIS — Romanian voters may have succeeded in ousting their president after all.

The country’s Constitutional Court said Thursday that it could not certify the results of Sunday’s referendum to remove the president, which initially failed for lack of sufficient turnout, even though the overwhelming majority of ballots were cast in favor. The court said that it had received contradictory data from different agencies on the number of eligible voters, and that it would take until Sept. 12 for it to resolve the issue. The announcement plunged the country into further political turmoil.

“The referendum should have been annulled,” Aspazia Cojocaru, one of nine judges on the court, said after the court announced its decision. “Everything was based on false data.”

Final counts released by the Central Election Bureau on Wednesday said that only 46.24 percent of the country’s eligible voters had cast ballots; more than half of all eligible voters are needed for the result to be valid. Of those who did participate, about 87.5 percent voted to remove President Traian Basescu.

But the court said the figures from the election bureau, the Internal Affairs Ministry and the National Statistics Institute were conflicting. It said it intended to review the voter rolls, and called on the government to provide an updated set by the end of August.

Officials said there were concerns that the rolls included many people who were dead, in prison or otherwise ineligible. If the figures are altered after the deliberations, the turnout in the referendum may prove to have been greater than 50 percent.

The governing coalition of Prime Minister Victor Ponta, which instigated the referendum, has complained publicly that the voting roll figures were outdated. “We consider the court’s decision as correct, and we will respect it,” Mr. Ponta said Thursday.

With Mr. Basescu’s fate once again in doubt, analysts said the court’s decision had intensified the battle between him and Mr. Ponta, who called for Mr. Basescu to resign despite the turnout. Mr. Basescu was suspended before the referendum, and that suspension will continue.

Mr. Ponta has in recent weeks come under international criticism for flouting the law in his determination to unseat Mr. Basescu. But the prime minister’s defenders accuse Mr. Basescu of abusing his power by refusing to appoint ministers selected by the prime minister and by using the secret service against rivals.

Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, a political analyst who is president of the Romanian Academic Society, said that the court’s decision on Thursday was itself a breach, since the same court ruled in June that the referendum be conducted using the electoral rolls that are now being contested.

She said it appeared that after the referendum revealed how unpopular Mr. Basescu was, the court decided to rule in line with public opinion rather than adhere to the letter of the law.

“Everyone has known for months that the voting lists are bad and outdated,” Ms. Mungiu-Pippidi said. “But that has always been the case in Romania, and by that logic we would have to nullify the election results for the past 20 years.”


George Calin contributed reporting from Bucharest.