Latest row exposes rifts in Romania’s ruling coalition

Written by on May 20, 2013 in Europe, News - No comments

The two largest parties in Romania’s ruling coalition are set to re-negotiate their alliance agreement after a row last week threatened to split the coalition, prime minister Victor Ponta said on May 20.

The two parties – Ponta’s leftist social-democrats and the centre-right National-Liberals – have had a tense relationship since their social-liberal alliance USL won the parliamentary elections in December 2012.

Low-key clashes escalated last week when a liberal senator criticised Ponta and his party, in breach of one of the points in USL’s coalition agreement. His party did not reprimand him, giving rise to heightened speculation in local media concerning an impending coalition break-up, but following a meeting between Ponta and liberal leader Crin Antonescu on May 17, the two announced that they had no intention to break off their agreement.

Relations between the two parties, however, were far from great – a coalition meeting of the executive bodies of two parties on May 20 was called off, instead holding their separate meetings.

Leaked recordings from internal top-level meetings of National-Liberal politicians, quoted by local media, showed growing discontent among the party’s officials, who claimed that the social-democrats were giving preferential treatment to their own projects in central and local government. One such recording had liberal health minister Eugen Nicolaescu accusing Ponta of “blocking the health reform for the past two months”.

On May 20, Ponta said that the coalition agreement was “suspended” and that the National-Liberal party should show its solidarity with the social-democrats “with actions”.

“The issue of breaking off the agreement was not discussed for one second. The issue is that obviously we will have to designate a negotiation team and discuss the agreement to update it,” he said, as quoted by local station Realitatea TV.

Since USL’s inception in 2010, it has maintained unwavering unity both in opposition and during the six months it governed prior to the December 2012 elections, when it won 399 of 588 seats in the country’s bi-cameral parliament.

But negotiations on the line-up of the new cabinet showed the first signs of a fraying relationship – having won an overwhelming majority in parliament, the two parties rendered president Traian Basescu a lame duck. (Dislike of Basescu was the main reason such an ideologically-disparate entity as USL even came into being, and it remains the glue holding the coalition together, but it now appears that other issues are testing the strength of that bond.)

The two parties were likely to hold the coalition agreement negotiations once Ponta returns from the European Council meeting in Brussels this week, daily Romania Libera reported.

At the same time, Ponta said, his party did not have a back-up plan if the liberals failed to “show their solidarity in government” – but only because the social-democrats were counting on governing together with their partners until the current legislature’s term expires in 2016.

(Romanian prime minister-designate Victor Ponta. Photo: gov.ro)

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Alex Bivol is the news editor of The Sofia Globe.