Monday, November 26, 2012

FT: Romanian leaders signal truce

By James Fontanella-Khan in Brussels

Romania’s prime minister has vowed not to reignite a power struggle with the president that had sparked international concerns over threats to democracy in one of the EU’s newest members

Victor Ponta ruled out any new attempt to impeach President Traian Basescu if his centre-left coalition wins next month’s general elections in a move aimed at restoring confidence after months of political instability.

“I think that the fight with Basescu is a closed chapter,” Mr Ponta said in an interview with the Financial Times. “I think that both of us will do our best to avoid any more conflict . . . because right now . . . the one who breaks the peace is going to be held responsible.”

Mr Ponta tried to impeach Mr Basescu in July after accusing the centre-right president of exceeding his powers and interfering in the government’s effort to push through key economic reforms. Mr Basescu rejected the prime minister’s accusations.

The dispute came to an end after Romania’s constitutional court said that despite an overwhelming majority voting to impeach Mr Basescu in a referendum, the poll would be annulled as fewer than 50 per cent of registered voters had participated.

However, the fight between the two leaders exposed broader problems about the solidity of Romania’s democracy and respect for the rule of law in the country.

The EU urged Mr Ponta to take swift action to safeguard the independence of the judiciary and respect the constitution after several judges complained of rising pressure – including death threats– as they were caught in the middle of an increasingly bitter political feud between the premier and president.

Since Mr Basescu was reinstated , the two political leaders have sought to co-operate more, said Mr Ponta. “We have been working together after the summer crisis and I think that in the interest of the country both of us drew the necessary lessons from what happened,” he said.

The prime minister said that the two reached four key agreements this month, including a new deal with the International Monetary Fund over financial guarantees that will allow them to borrow money from the private sector and the country’s 2013 budget.

The IMF has praised Romania for undertaking tough austerity measures to restore the country’s finances – the budget deficit is expected to halve to 2.2 per cent of gross domestic product in 2012. But there are fears that such achievements may be reversed by populist political promises ahead of elections scheduled for December 9.

“Strong commitment to achieving fiscal sustainability and judicious implementation of the structural reform agenda remain crucial to anchor policy credibility, ensure macroeconomic stability and boost inclusive growth,” the IMF said in its most recent assessment of Romania’s economic performance.

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