Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Romania Still Under EU Scrutiny After Ponta Visit

Prime Minister Victor Ponta's visit to Brussels has not entirely eased EU concerns about Romania’s respect for the rule of law

Marian Chiriac 
Bucharest
Balkan Insight

Prime Minister Victor Ponta on Tuesday claimed that Romanian-EU relations, strained by the bitter political infighting between the government and the President, were back on track. They “have become normal," he said. "Furthermore, Romania is keen to stay firm on its European path," he added.

Ponta’s optimistic statement came a day after he met the President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barosso, and when, Ponta said, “Romania received positive feedback” regarding the country’s continuing commitment the rule of law.

But an official statement from Brussels was more reserved in tone, underlining the need for Romania to “promote all European values, the values of justice and freedom and all the features of a truly pluralistic society”.

The European Commission also told Romania to step up reforms of the civil service and its administrative rules or risk losing EU funding.

It also called on Romania's political elite “to set their focus very firmly on the urgent need to restore institutional and political stability” ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for November.

Ponta sought the meeting in response to a decision by his political rival, President Traian Basescu, to seek meetings of his own with Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy, the European Council President. Basescu met the two EU leaders last Friday.

A harsh dispute between Ponta and Basescu included a referendum on the impeachment of President on July 29, in which most voters favoured impeaching him.

Basescu has remained in his post, however, as the turnout was only at 46 per cent, which was below the 50-per-cent threshold needed for the result to be validated by the Constitutional Court.

Ponta's leftist ruling coalition challenged the result, arguing that the lists of eligible voters was out of date. But late last month the court ruled that the referendum was not valid and Basescu returned to his post.

Since then Ponta has said that he is ready to cohabit with Basescu as long as the President “follows his constitutional powers…. Which are not very wide”.

Ponta’s battles with the President raised concerns in Brussels about Romania’s commitment to the rule of law, especially when the government used emergency decrees to limit the Constitutonal Court’s powers and replace the speakers of both houses of parliament and the national ombudsman.

Basescu accused Ponta of organising “a coup”, a point of view that enjoys some sympathy in European Commission and among some members of European Parliament.

Following the political crisis in Romania, Barroso has obliged the Ponta government to make 11 pledges of concrete action to reassure the EU that his government is committed to the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary.

It has also led the Commission to bring forward the next report on Romania's progress since EU accession in 2007 to the end of this year.

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