Romania moves to address EU criticism of impeachment referendum

Written by on July 13, 2012 in Europe, News - No comments
Photo: George M. Groutas/flickr.com

Romania’s two houses of parliament will meet on July 17 and July 18 to discuss legislative initiatives that would clarify the framework for the presidential impeachment referendum scheduled for July 29.

Parliament voted on July 6 to suspend president Traian Basescu, the culmination of long-standing animosity between the president and the parties that make up the parliamentary majority and control the cabinet.

Before parliament held the vote, it made several moves that would shut down different avenues to challenge the impeachment, including replacing the speakers of the two houses (in violation of the parliament’s statutes), appointing a new ombudsman and also pushing through legislation that made it easier for the referendum to be declared valid.

These developments, in addition to causing controversy at home, have stirred spirits in Western European capitals and European Union institutions, with a number of statements issued about the unease with which the unfolding events were being watched.

Prime minister Victor Ponta travelled to Brussels on July 11-12 to meet with a number of officials, including European Parliament president Martin Schulz, European Council president Herman van Rompuy and European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso, to assuage any fears that the rule of law was under threat.

Prior to Ponta’s trip, Schulz said that European Parliament was watching closely the developments, describing them as a “political fight of a surprising intensity between two irreconcilable camps.”

“Should there be any breaches of European rules and standards, the European Commission should take action immediately,” he said.

According to the reports from Brussels, the meetings failed to go as well as Ponta might have hoped. In a statement, the European Commission said that Barroso made clear that a system of checks and balances had to be in place.

“President Barroso made clear that the Romanian government must respect the full independence of the judiciary, restore the powers of the constitutional court and ensure that its decisions are observed, appoint an ombudsman enjoying cross-party support, ensure a new open and transparent procedure for appointing a general prosecutor and director of the anti-corruption directorate and make integrity a political priority,” the EC’s statement said.

The powers of the constitutional court have been severely curtailed by the cabinet as the two institutions clashed over what conditions were required to be met in order for the referendum to be declared valid.

The constitutional court has ruled that only a plebiscite with 50 per cent turnout should be considered valid, while the cabinet has put in place an ordinance that removed the turnout requirement. So far, officials said that the referendum would be held on the terms of the ordinance, raising the prospect that the constitutional court would not validate the results.

To solve the conundrum, Ponta wrote a letter to the two houses, asking for the extraordinary sessions next week “to correlate all legal texts concerning to the referendum to the constitutional court’s decision.”

The turnout requirement is important because a failed referendum is seen as the only way Basescu – whose popularity has plunged after overseeing three years of austerity measures imposed by a bail-out agreement with the EU and the International Monetary Fund – can keep his job. Supporters of impeachment are expected to outnumber opponents at the voting booths.

(Photo: George M. Groutas/flickr.com)

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Alex Bivol is the news editor of The Sofia Globe.