Politics of Europe: Romania seems to stumble in three-legged race with Bulgaria

Written by on September 3, 2012 in Bulgaria, Europe, News - No comments

The pollsters have it that Romanian prime minister Victor Ponta’s leftist Social Democratic Party will win the largest share of votes in parliamentary elections to be held on December 9 2012, but Ponta is hardly having the most comfortable time with the European Union or even with his party’s political partners.

The drought – literal, not political – over which Ponta and Romania’s authorities are presiding appears to symbolise the sense of isolation that has been deepened by the failed attempt to impeach president Traian Basescu.

A total 8.46 million Romanians voted on July 29 in the plebiscite called by parliament to impeach Basescu, with about 87.5 per cent voting in favour of impeachment. But a turnout of about 46.2 per cent of registered voters resulted in the constitutional court invalidating the referendum, which required 50 per cent turnout to be considered valid.

The anti-Basescu move could have a sequel, considering the continuing tensions between the president and the government social democrat and national-liberal coalition, but it is also clear that the high-profile feud is having political costs outside the country.

One vulnerable area is admission to the EU’s Schengen visa zone. Bulgaria and Romania, which generally have been in a three-legged race since joining the EU simultaneously in 2007, and which have been expected to join Schengen together, may be pulling apart because of the Romanian scandal.

Sofia and Bucharest both have been criticised by the European Commission for failing to do enough to come up to EU justice and home affairs standards. This issue has been seized on by those countries, notably the Netherlands, that have been adamant that Bulgaria and Romania are not up to the task of securing EU outer borders – even though Sofia and Bucharest continually have insisted (not without several supporting voices in the bloc) that they meet the Schengen criteria and should be admitted.

Bulgaria, even with its day of pride in opening a new metro underground railway line – construction was made possible by EU funding and Sofia named one of the stations in the bloc’s honour – still got a reminder from EC President Jose Barroso that it needed to push further towards the goals of effective action against organised crime and corruption.

Remarks by European Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding were of sterner stuff, however. Just a few days after the photo-op inSofiain which Barroso grinned along with leading figures in Bulgaria’s centre-right government, Reding was quoted as having told France’s Le Monde that “it would not be a surprise if the Schengen countries decide not to integrate Romania immediately”.

Romania’s foreign ministry reacted with “surprise” to Reding’s reported remarks, saying that in June 2011 EU interior ministers had recognised that Romania had met all the criteria and, in the same month, the European Parliament had voted its opinion in favour of Romanian accession to Schengen.

Ponta otherwise has seen his party spoilt.

Blaming the move on what he portrayed as the Basescu media machine and the centre-right bloc-wide European People’s Party as having misled the international media about his country’s serious political crisis, Ponta wrote to European socialist leaders Sergei Stanishev and Philip Cordery proposing that plans to hold the Party of European Socialists congress in autumn in Bucharest should be dropped in favour of holding the congress in Brussels.

“I believe that the PES image, the PES relation with the European news media and its major political goals are more important than the interest of a member party such as the PSD. This way we will avoid the unjust attacks of the EPP and of some newspapers on our political family,” Ponta said in an open letter to the two European socialist senior leaders.

Meanwhile, even though – as noted – opinion polls indicate that Ponta’s party could get the largest, if albeit reduced, share of votes in the December 9 election, the past week saw the establishment of a centre-right coalition to take on the social democrats.

The Democratic Liberal Party, which currently is the main opposition party in parliament, is to stand together with centre-right parties now not in parliament, the Christian-Democratic National Peasants’ Party, the New Republic Party, the Right of Center Civic Initiative and the Christian-Democratic Foundation, on a platform of rule-of-law, economic prosperity and which makes much of the government coalition versus Basescu saga.

Ahead of elections, another challenge remains for Romania’s current government, to which – along with Bulgaria’s – blame is in effect being passed by the socialist government in France. Like its predecessors, French president Francois Hollande’s socialist government is acting against Roma camps, and has been direct in saying that part of the problem is that Bulgaria and Romania are not doing enough to integrate Roma communities in those countries. The issue is to be discussed directly in mid-September at governmental level between Paris and, respectively, Bucharest and Sofia.

(Photo of Victor Ponta: gov.ro)

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