Five months back, when Victor Ponta [PM since May] and Crin Antonescu, respective leaders at the time of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), travelled to Brussels [while angry Romanians were demonstrating against austerity] to complain about violations of the rule of law, the Public Relations department of the USL [the governing coalition of those same two parties since May 7, 2012] was declaring loudly that “the situation in Romania has drawn Europe’s attention.” At the time it was a message meant for internal consumption, without consequences at the European level.
But that is exactly what is happening now: in just a few days the executive in Bucharest has sacked or suspendedthe People's Advocate, the Speakers of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, and finally the President the country [Antonescu is now interim President]. (The decision is to be confirmed by referendum on July 29.) Meanwhile rumours are spreading and panic taking hold that Romania is a “step away” from having its right to vote in the European Council suspended or from even being evicted from the European Union. Let's be serious!
Under Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty, the Commission has first to ascertain a risk of serious breaches in the rule of law in a Member State. It ascertained no such risk in Hungary under Viktor Orban, nor in theabuses of Roma in France by Nicolas Sarkozy – although EU Justice Commissioner, Viviane Reding, did have a severe personal reaction to the latter.
Political responses have been difficult
Nor did the Commission ascertain any risk when Silvio Berlusconi drew up a law to grant himself immunity from justice. Where was the former Commissioner for Justice Franco Frattini, who gave us lessons in fighting corruption, then? Ah, he was Berlusconi’s minister!
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Even if the members of the Commission wanted to start with Romania, there would have to be a vote in the European Parliament – that same Parliament that has just refused the request of the EPP (European People's Party, right) to debate the situation in Bucharest; the Social Democrats and Liberals support the Romanian government.
And even if the balance of power came to be reversed, it would require a four-fifths majority of the Council – not to punish Bucharest, but merely to make recommendations. And, if these recommendations were not followed, the Council, with a qualified majority, could decide to suspend the voting rights or impose another sanction. That process is a long one and full of pitfalls.
True, political responses have been difficult. But the clear-cut position of the German government is also a blow to the President of the European Parliament, the German Social Democrat Martin Schulz, a defender of the Bucharest government. In losing Traian Băsescu, Germany would lose a key ally on the European Council, while the “southern camp" would gain, in the person of Victor Ponta.
Romanians have made great efforts
In parliament, the positions seem reversed compared to those held in the case of Hungary. After so many silences and compromises, the responses in Brussels are taking on more realpolitik.
Would it also be realpolitik in the letter sent by the Romanian NGOs to the European Commission, asking that sanction proceedings be brought against Bucharest? Perhaps, although it is strange at the least to ask for sanctions against one’s own country. Regardless of their convictions, the Romanians have made great efforts to join the EU. These efforts do not deserve to be wiped out in a war over internal policy.
In terms of realpolitik, it would be better for us to learn to play in the major negotiations in Brussels, rather than go there to wash our dirty linen in public.
Political categories are meaningless
The Romanian people "need leaders that are compelled to meet democratic principles at the European level," says German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung. The Munich daily advises political parties in Brussels to be careful, when they criticise events in Romania, to avoid partisan conclusions.
Thus conservatives must avoid showing too much solidarity with President Băsescu. And social-democrats must make sure that they are not too indulgent towards Prime Minister Victor Ponta —
"Do not believe that certain political parties in Central and Eastern Europe are social-democrats, free-market or conservative just because they bear the name. Western patterns do not serve much purpose in these cases. Twenty years after the fall of communism, achieving power is more important than ideological orientation. Often cronyism, string pulling and a thirst for recognition dominate over principals. Romania is a good example."
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