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What Romanians want

At a time where my fellow European members of the Conservative party have just gathered in Bucharest for the European People’s Party (EPP) Congress summit, it is important to establish some facts around the context in which this meeting took  place. 

Romania is a young democracy with a constitution forged from the lessons we learned after Ceausescu’s dictatorship. The constitution is specifically designed to avoid giving one person too much power and to ensure proper checks and balances are in place. Having keenly felt the inherent danger of the emergence of a strongman within the country the Romanian constitution also allows for the suspension of the President – a rarity amongst other European countries.

In the eight years of his presidency, Traian Băsescu – a former member of the communist party nomenclatura under Ceausescu and a socialist leader until 2005 – has progressively taken more power than any of his predecessors – including myself. To this end, he has not shown a respect for the spirit of the constitution and its legal terms. Earlier this year the constitutional court made it clear that he had abused his position as president, therefore legally justifying the procedure for his suspension which was initiated by the ruling coalition of liberals and socialists (USL).

I am a Christian Democrat, not a Socialist, so you should not expect me to defend Victor Ponta, the Romanian Prime Minister. But as an anti-communist and freedom fighter, I cannot accept the systematic abuse of the constitution by President Băsescu, his rejection of cohabitation, his determination to block real reforms, his repeated intervention in the judiciary and his efforts to stymy the fight against corruption. This view is also shared by an immense popular majority that supported his suspension in the hope that it would open the doors for the modernisation of a country in much need of change.

Anticipating this sentiment, Băsescu changed the law of the referendum and introduced an artificial threshold of 50 per cent of registered voters to validate its result. Although 87.52 per cent of those that voted in the referendum agreed with his suspension, the threshold was not met because Băsescu publically asked for a boycott – something which contradicts basic democratic standards. Furthermore, his strongest ally in Europe the Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán did the same. As a result of which there was a significant abstention from the Hungarian community living in Romania, which accounts for 11 per cent of the total population. The overwhelming choice of the people was thus invalidated.

The EPP Congress which takes place this week does so in the midst as the political campaign for Romania’s parliamentary elections on 9th December starts to gather pace. Although much can always change in an election campaign the early signs are that the ruling coalition will remain in government. According to an IRES opinion poll taken last month, 63 per cent of Romanians believe the coalition will win the elections, with only 24 per cent believing that Băsescu PDL party is capable of winning.[1] The party is paying the price for the poor performance of Basescu’s governments.

The European Conservative movement must act responsibly in these circumstances. President Băsescu must respect the will of the Romanian people, and he must also cooperate with the coalition and the Prime Minister to ensure that this political crisis does not endure. Regardless of whether we, Conservatives, agree with the government’s political agenda or not, we cannot allow personal feelings to get the better of our democratic principles. There is surely no better time or place to make this heard than at the EPP Congress in Bucharest.

The past political crisis has led to a substantial depreciation of the Romanian currency and created uncertainty for investors. Euro-scepticism and anti-German sentiments also rose very substantially this summer in Romania when both Brussels and German conservative leaders decided to side with Băsescu. This is not conducive to a prosperous, strong and united Europe and I sincerely hope that it will not happen again. Romania is a pro-Europe country and we have long-standing economic and social ties with Germany. We must all play our part in reinforcing these historic ties and fostering economic development, but we can only achieve this by respecting the will of the Romanian people.

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