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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!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Is the Rule of Law under attack in Romania??

A couple of weeks ago, my blogpost heading read that Bucharest was becoming more like Budapest - in the insidious and autocratic way the new prime Minister (Ponta) was removing possible sources of challenge to his authority. This trend has now become positively unconstitutional - with, for example, procedures being altered overnight to allow the President to be impeached on a simple majority of citizens actually voting (rather than a majority of those entitled to vote) - and the Constitutional Court no longer being allowed to comment on parliamentary decisions. Parliament is now being invited to impeach the President - with a referendum scheduled on the matter for later this month (Basescu has already survived one such attempt a few years back). 
On the face of it, this is the replacement of politics by thuggery on a scale we haven't really seen since the 1930s
However, there is another point of view - that President Basescu's egotistical hyperactivity is preventing government; that institutions such as the Constitutional Court are still inhabited with a mixture of "place-men" (placed to do the bidding of those who placed them) and of old-Communists who are available to the highest bidder; and that, with the summer holiday almost upon us emergency decisions are needed to get rid of the President and allow some government.......It was, I am told, Basescu himself who changed the law to require a Presidential impeachment to have the support of 50% of citizens entitled to vote.
Another expat living in Romanian has done the "devil's advocate" bit much better than me.
So far we seen only a few people on the streets - compared with the numbers in the early months of the year (it's 40 degrees anyway) - but at least some prestigious organisations have been active in their protests. The following letter describing the most recent attacks has been sent to the Secretary General of the European Commission, Ms. Catherine Day

Bucharest, July 3rd , 2012
Civil society warning: the rule of law under unprecedented attack in Romania

Dear Mr President
Dear Commissioners
This is the third warning in less than two months, issued by a list of reputable Romanian civil society organizations, since the current Socialist-Liberal ruling coalition took power. The drift towards a non-democratic regime has continued, with serious steps taken in the last few days which will potentially affect the independence of institutions and the separation of powers.
  • There were open threats to dismiss and replace the judges of the Constitutional Court, which by Constitution are irremovable during their term of office, coming from the top government officials (the Prime Minister, the Minister of Justice). On July 3rd all the judges of the Constitutional Court have signed an open letter and sent a protest to the Venice Commission, signaling the political pressures on the institution.
  • The ruling coalition has dismissed the independent Ombudsman during the parliament plenary of July 3rd , without due cause. The Ombudsman is the only Romanian institution entitled to challenge the emergency ordinances of the Government before the Constitutional Court. Presumably, it is by emergency decree that the dismissal of the Constitutional Court judges before the end of their mandates will take place. Though by law the Ombudsman may be replaced only if s/he breaches the Constitution or the laws, the speedy proceedings used in the present case show that no consideration was given to the legal requirements. The Ombudsman is an essential institution in any rule of law country.
  • In the notorious case of the ex-prime minister Adrian Nastase, who was convicted to two years in jail for corruption, the Minister of Internal Affairs, Mr. Rus, unusually called Mr Nastase after the verdict to negotiate with him the terms of the imprisonment. Political pressure was put on the police and the medical authorities in the hospital were Mr Nastase was taken after his failed suicide attempt, to extend his stay in the emergency hospital for about a week, with no medical reason, as the court has established subsequently. The prosecutors have started criminal investigations against three police officers and one doctor (who happens to be a former Socialist senator and under criminal investigation for corruption himself). The Minister of Justice called upon the Superior Council of Magistracy, the guarantor of the independence of justice, to refrain from taking position against the threats of Social-Liberal politicians to the judges and prosecutors. Fortunately, the Superior Council of Magistracy took a firm position against all interferences in the justice system.
  • The Prime Minister acted against the Constitutional Court decision which stated clearly that the prerogatives of external representation of Romania belongs to the President, not to the Prime Minister. This equals contempt of the constitutional court which in itself undermines the basis of democracy and the separation of powers.
  • The Official Gazette was shifted also by emergency ordinance, from Parliament to Government’s control, for the first time in Romania’s modern history. It cannot be a coincidence that among the first acts published in the Official Gazzette was the resignation of Mr. Voiculescu (one of the leaders of the ruling coalition) from the Senate, so that the High Court lost competence to judge upon his criminal file regarding graft allegations. The Government is known for its appetite for speedy legislation, when all acts enter in effect upon publication. This is why the legislator intended to put the Official Gazzette under the Parliament as a form of control between powers. Since the change, the relevant documents are published overnight in the Official Gazzette.
  • Two members of the Parliament from the ruling coalition were declared by final court decision as incompatible with their mandate, because of conflicts of interests. In spite of this, they refuse to step down. Their colleagues from the Standing Legal Committee of the parliament seem to protect them, without offering any plausible explanation.
  • On top of all, Mr Crin Antonescu, senator, president of the National Liberal Party and co-president of the ruling coalition, has declared publicly on July 2nd that all institutions that are “blocking the coalition from ruling”, and in particular the Constitutional Court, must be changed.
These are serious threats against the underlining elements of a rule of law state. Therefore we, Romanian civil society organizations, ask the European Commission to strongly urge the Romanian government and ruling coalition to stop their current actions against the rule of law and separation of powers.
We emphasize that the EU institutions have vigorously reacted previously, in the case of Hungary. We believe similar actions are necessary in our case. One such action would be to consider starting infringement procedures against Romania, based on the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, Art. 47.
We also want express our strong belief that the Mechanism for Cooperation and Verification (MCV) should continue, as an effective instrument for preserving democracy in Romania.

Group for Social Dialogue (GDS); Expert Forum (EFOR); Freedom House, Romania; Romanian Center for European Policy (CRPE); Romanian Helsinki Committee (APADOR-CH); ActiveWatch – Media Monitoring Agency (MMA); Romanian Independent Journalists’ Association (AZIR); Center for Independent Journalism (CJI); Center for NGO Assistance (CENTRAS); and Resource Center for Public Participation (CeRe)

One thing is for sure, Ponta (the PM) doe not seem to understand that, in the absence of a coherent statement to the external world about his actions, we are bound to believe that he is undermining the rule of law. 
The outside world does not properly understand the extent to which Romanian institutions which, in the old member states, are bastions of freedom are here sinecures occupied by placemen. For example who can respect a body which, asked to judge the constitutionality of a 25% cut in the salaries of public servants, ruled that it was legal - apart, that is, from itself!!

2 comments:

  1. I'm appalled at what I'm seeing and hearing from Bucharest - appalled at the trampling over laws and regulations, appalled at the very real attacks on state institutions and appalled at the very grave threat to democracy.

    I've been sick and tired these last few days of people accusing me of being pro-Basescu because I am so against what is happening in Romania today. Stupid people consider that you have to be either USL or PDL... I am neither and will be as glad as the next person when Basescu is removed - but in a democratic, legal and constitutional way.

    I too posted the above letter on my blog and got some pretty rude emails in response. "Unprecedented?" asked someone. "It's not unprecedented!" Um...yes, it's unprecedented in a democracy but obviously not unprecedented in Romania. Other criticisms of this letter too... Someone even told me that everything is totally democratically done which kind of makes you wonder what people actually understand of the word.

    Bravo for posting this - I'll share it on Facebook and on my blogpost also containing the same letter.

    I hear there will be a referendum on July 27th. May God help the Romanian people since they don't seem to be doing anything to help themselves - except for a tiny few last night at Pta Uni and Pta Revolutiei last night.... Inertia, 'merge si asa' ca de obicei.

    "Never before", said Lucian Mindruta, "have I seen a country which relies so much on its stupid population." Well said.

    Sarah

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  2. Dear Sarah
    I appreciate the comment - and value so much your blog!
    In the spirit of the balanced approach you mention (quite correctly) as missing in the highly polarised Romanian political discourse, I have added some comments to the original post. These try to understand the motives behind the frenetic emergency regulations and reflect discussions with some of my Romanian friends who are no friend of Ponta but do feel that many external comments assume too easily that bodies such as the Constitutional Court operate like those in other places.

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