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This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Hypocritical Europe?

Today's previous post tried simply to describe the latest developments here in Romania. This second post today reflects conversations with local people and is a comment.
European input to Romania’s ongoing political crisis is a delicate matter. It can all too easily become counter-productive. There are many educated Romanians - and they are highly intelligent, proud and touchy – and can quickly spot apparent inconsistencies if not hypocrisies in comments from Brussels and BerlinFor example -
  • Italy and Greece have been hotbeds of corruption, blatant disregard of rule of law and conflicts of interest for decades - and yet Europe took action only recently when its own financial stability was threatened. 
  • Romania’s (suspended) President has been overstepping his role for several years, acting unconstitutionally on several occasions and yet Europe said nothing. This week’s judgement of the Constitutional Court apparently agreed that Basescu has been usurping the Prime Minister's role - although most newspaper reports focus only on their agreement that due procedures were observed. 
People with no axe to grind in the present stand-off are asking why Romania is being picked on in this way. A lot of people believe that Europe is so hostile to Romania that it is looking for a reason to kick them out.
Europe therefore needs to tread carefully – and spell out clearly the basis for its concerns. Officially, Romania obtained membership of the European Union in 2007 only because it was judged to have satisfied certain basic conditions – ie of being a functioning democracy and market economy. Any sign that the rule of law is not being respected is a more worrying signal in a new state than an old member state – since such things take time to bed down. In that sense all member states are not equal (Can one take seriously a Constitutional Court which has taken three different positions in 3 years about the rules for a referendum to impeach the President???). Why else is Romania subject to these 6 monthly tests???
A year ago I drew attention to an important distinction a Czech discussant made  -
between democracy understood as institutions and democracy understood as culture. It’s been much easier to create a democratic regime, a democratic system as a set of institutions and procedures and mechanism, than to create democracy as a kind of culture – that is, an environment in which people are actually democrats
My old neighbour will be voting for the impeachment – most old villagers follow the socialist party line. But he does not appreciate constitutional niceties – for example, removing the next in line for the Presidency a few days before the removal of the President may not be unconstitutional in the strict sense - but it is in fact a profound undermining of the essence of constitutionality. If the beef is with Basescu's behaviour, then why not accept the next in line - also a PDL member? Removing him before he could take up the interim position demonstrates the attack is a wider political one - concerned to pack all institutions with yea-sayers. That's a coup d'etat! I'm surprised more commentators have not focussed on that.
Independent analysts such as Tom Gallagher and Alina Mungiu-Pippidi have spelled out in many papers and books over the years just how deviant the political class is here (Tom's latest in his 2009 book Romania and the European Union - how the weak vanquished the strong; Alina's in her chapter in the 2009 book Democracy’s plight in the European Neighbourhood).
The issue is how Europe explains to the Romanian voters that they are still under assessment - without driving them into the arms of the ultra nationalists???
So far, I've had no response from my brief letter to David Martin MEP. And the European Parliament seems to be splitting on political lines - with the Head of the Socialists and also of the Liberals siding with Ponta
The painting is one of Belgian painter's - James Ensor

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