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…All the President’s people

Traian Basescu started off as a President with a huge capital of trust. Almost as high as Ion Iliescu’s in 1990 or Emil Constantinescu’s in 1996. With one notable difference however: he won voters’ confidence 15 years after the revolution, at a time when citizens were less willing than ever to invest their confidence in a politician, given the accruing disappointment with and distrust in the political class.

Whereas Ion Iliescu managed to preserve, after 15 years in the political arena, some of his initial capital, the other forerunner of Traian Băsescu went out the stage in a pathetic way for a politician.

Emil Constantinescu “owes” much of his failure to the governance of a coalition he was never able to control. But to an equal extent he was responsible for his own fiasco, given his choices of collaborators in thePalace-. Unlike Ion Iliescu, Mr. Constantinescu preferred to gather wound him scholars, university professors or theorists with sound expertise in certain areas, but whose expertise proved useless for the offices they held. They often threw the presidential administration to the front page of newspapers because of palace plotting and corruption suspicions.

Unfortunately – or fortunately – for Traian Băsescu, Romania’s presidents so far have also been judged against the governments whose premiers they appointed. Ion Iliescu has paid for underachievements of the Văcăroiu governance, just as E. Constantinescu can blame part of his own underachievement on the endless conflicts in the ruling coalition – which he could never mediate, and even less control.

Traian Băsescu is less liable to stand accused for the results of the coalition made up of the D.A. Alliance, UDMR and PUR. Not because the electorate has fundamentally changed either structure or reaction patterns, but because, just as he managed to deny liability for 1997-2000, although a member of the respective coalition, he will do it again now, and much easier given he is a mere “arbitrator” of political life.

For Premier Tăriceanu – if he still has any hope in this respect – the clearest sign that he, along with the Liberal Party, will be the only one to pay the “governmental bill” was the recent reprimanding by the President for delays in drafting legislative proposals on economic criminality. And because at this point he only has available few levers to control the Executive, unlike Ion Iliescu in 1990-1996, Traian Băsescu will be very careful in playing his presidential trump card, trying either to directly break his ties with the Government, or to draw up his own agenda, sufficiently active and interesting to take the public’s mind off the daily concerns to the political battle.

But for this latter move to succeed, Traian Băsescu must play without mistake. Persistent and rigorous as he may have been in pursuing his own political goals, this time the President plays a game that could prove too difficult even for him. And the victory in this game depends, to an even higher extent than Traian Băsescu himself suspects, on the people around him. On those who have direct access to him, who represent him and, not last, who filter the information on which he has to operate.

President’s People

We accessed the www.presidency.ro web site to attempt a review of those with whom Traian Băsescu chose to “play” as a President in the years to come. Conclusions were… interesting, and in some cases puzzling altogether.

And I will begin with the puzzling ones: almost three months since confirmation, the President still couldn’t find a Presidential Adviser for the National Security Department. Perhaps Traian Băsescu can still do the job himself. However, maybe a security adviser would have inform him, before the visit to Moscow, that American military basis will be located in Romania, and not NATO ones, as our player misinformed Mr. Putin.

Traian Băsescu is still looking for a confidante to manage the huge amount of information coming from the army, secret services and other strategic fields. Is there really nobody in the President’s close circle, except for Vasile Blaga, who meets requirements in the “job description,” Băsescu version? Or is the office to stay vacand until the first governmental reshuffling, to avoid complications?

But since we brought up confidence – which seems to be the main criterion in selecting collaborators in Cotroceni – we should mention that as many as six State advisers of the Ion Iliescu “era” have been kept. And, while it is not hard to understand why advisers in technical departments such as personnel or logistics were kept, it’s not at all obvious why is the former manager of Rocar still there. and I mean Dan Vuerich, who, according to his own resume, headed (into bankruptcy) Autorbuzul Bucharest, later on Rocar, “poor” (as he rates himself) speaker of three foreign languages, who nonetheless became, during the Iliescu regime, a little Mesia of the Palace-.

Whereas friendship with Ion Iliescu or the common revolutionary experience was enough to push one into such offices prior to November 2004, I wonder why this continues to be a sufficient criterion in the Băsescu administration.

But let’s come back to the people Traian Băsescu brought to Cotroceni, and who fall into two categories: the experts, and the president’s confidantes.

The experts

The first category is made up of a number of persons (unfortunately not many) whose professional background recommends them for the respective positions. I feel quite safe mentioning here presidential advisers Renate Weber and Theodor Stolojan and State advisers Stefan Deaconu and Bogdan Chiriţoiu. The first two are public figures, who have proved they master the fields they are in charge with at Cotroceni, namely constitutional-legislative and economic and social strategies and analysis respectively, not only in Romania but also internationally – scholarships and jobs with reputed research institutions in Europe and the United States. The two young State advisers are not as reputed as the presidential advisers, but their professional experience and works published, according to their resumes, recommend them as good specialists, with an additional advantage: youth. Unfortunately one cannot say the same about another two State advisers, Anca Ileana Ilinoiu, and Sorin Cătălin Dumitru, who either did not post their resumes, or offered very restricted information.

I have deliberately left one name out of the experts’ category: that of Mr. Andrei Pleşu. One of the highest appreciated names of the Romanian culture, with a resume which one colleague of mine once described, only half jokingly, as a veritable treatise in itself, Andrei Pleşu can hardly be labelled as a technician. Apart from the office of Foreign Minister held in 1997-1999, nothing in his personal or cultural past endorses him for this office. We may even say that Andrei Pleşu is some sort of fad of the Democrat Party, which twice preferred the prestige of the former Minister of Culture over a person with proven expertise in international relations. Undoubtedly, Mr. Pleşu can handle any diplomatic meetings or talks with outstanding refinement and self-possession. But contemporary diplomacy has little in common with exquisite salon talk; it is rather dealt with by technicians, within the strict parameters of in-depth detail knowledge and drastic negotiations. Though I hope to be wrong, I hardly expect Mr. Pleşu to start learning, at his age and status, to adjust to requirements in current international relations.

General Degeratu, State adviser for security matters, is, without doubt, one of the best Romanian specialists in the military field. The reason for my reluctance to including him in the experts’ category has to do with a much too biased stand as to his own position. Beyond Mr. Degeratu’s public stands a few years ago, the way he filled in his resume on the Presidency web site proves that in almost 10 years he still hasn’t managed to get over certain political frustration (two mentions in his resume relate his entire professional career to Romania’s political life). Probably Traian Băsescu has made a very good choice when appointing Gen. Degeratu, but for a correct reading of materials coming from him, Traian Băsescu is likely to have to read between the lines, avoiding prospective resentful reactions.

The confidantes

Falling in this category are those who stood by Traian Băsescu in recent years, who helped his political rise, and to whom he appears to be paying certain debts at present.

The trusted advisers category may include the two Săftoius, Claudiu and Adriana who, apart from their professional skills, have the great merit of having helped Traian Băsescu build the image of a politician “who gets things done”. Claudiu Săftoiu was, by chance or not, the one who took the interview with Traian Băsescu which blew up the Ciorbea government and pushed Traian Băsescu to the forefront of the political arena.

His wife has managed the Democrat Party’s communication for three years, and in the meantime made her contribution to Traian Băsescu’s rise, managing to turn the “town hall party” of 2001-2002 into a governing party.

So far, Traian Băsescu seems to have a good, although perfectible team, with chances to succeed in completing an ambitious project: that of a successful 5-year (or even 10-year) presidency.

But unfortunately this is not the end of it. Much to the annoyance of many journalists who backed him during his electoral campaign, Traian Băsescu appointed as State advisers, on the same day, two ladies whose background and profile suggest the President sees the current administration as the check he can use to pay the debts he accrued in the electoral campaign and over the past years of politics. Which raises a question mark also on the reason behind appointing people such as Stolojan, Weber or Pleşu – perhaps this was also an instance of debt payment, and not a recognition of expertise. And it is not at all difficult to remember what Traian Băsescu owes to each of them.

More difficult to account for is why Mr. Băsescu chose to throw well-known and trusted names in the same boat (be it presidential) with two characters about whom the president says “they have done it through their own forces.” Mr. Băsescu’s feminism would be touching, (and is honest, in my opinion) were the media not emphasising the business relations the incumbent President had with Mrs. Elena Udrea and Steluţa Anghelescu’s husbands. I will not refer to the other types of relations discussed by the media, because, generally speaking and up to this point, Traian Băsescu has proved political intelligence.

These are some of the “President’s people”. The choice was exclusively his, and what is most puzzling is that it was made as if this was the end, and not a stage in a political career. Traian Băsescu is paying some of his debts much too early, at the risk of making mistakes or even irredeemable errors.

Publicat în : English  de la numărul 23
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