Between the final week of campaigning, the vote itself and the setting up of the new government, the parliamentary elections took up most of December. Elsewhere, there was another even bigger banking fraud and Romania’s richest man was in the courts for divorce proceedings.
Romania’s Asphalt King ran into trouble in December when he was charged with embezzling EU funds for road construction projects. As well as construction company Romstrade, Businessman Nelu Iordache also owns low cost airline Blue Air.
German rail transport giant Deutsche Bahn made a further investment in Romania in December, taking over a 70 percent share package in regional train company Regiotrans Brasov with an option to buy the remaining shares later. Deutsche Bahn already owned a goods train company in Romania.
Using EU funds has been a bugbear for Romania and the country has only accessed a tiny fraction of the money available. After having funding for four Operational Programmes blocked due to irregularities in administration at one point, there was finally some good news in December. At the end of November 2012, the absorption rate had nearly doubled from the end of 2011. But at only a 9.72 percent absorption rate, the figure was still painfully low.
The parliamentary elections on December 9 gave the Social Liberal Union (USL) a huge majority and before all the votes had been officially counted it was clear that the USL had won a landslide victory. The results matched the figures suggested by opinion polls before the election with the USL taking nearly 60 percent of the vote and the Right Romania Alliance, which included the President’s party the Democratic Liberal Union (PDL), only getting a little above 15 percent. Immediately after the elections, when the scale of the USL victory became clear, the Right Romania Alliance was disbanded.
Romania’s richest man Dinu Patriciu was back in the news in what could turn out to be a billion dollar divorce. Mrs Patriciu accused her husband, the only Romanian billionaire on the Forbes rich list, of giving away some of the family fortune to his mistress and demanded half the assets from their 18 years of marriage.
Sinaia’s town council won a court battle to keep control of the cable car that takes skiers and tourists to the top of the mountains above the town. It was an important case and set a precedent for companies under public ownership involved in hostile takeovers. A leasing company attempted to gain control of the cable car operation via a forced execution procedure, but the court ruled in Sinaia’s favor.
After a EUR 22 million bank fraud case in the previous month, news of an even bigger banking fraud broke in December. This time the fraud was valued at EUR 85 million and involved major banks and real estate investors.
After the elections, the winning USL had to form a new Romanian Government. The first step was to gain presidential approval of the party’s choice for prime minister – Victor Ponta. There had been speculation in the media and some comments from President Traian Basescu before the elections that suggested he wouldn’t necessarily approve his bitter political opponent Victor Ponta. In the end, however, the approval went smoothly; first a meeting between President and politicians, and next, although he may not have been happy about it, President Basescu OK-ed Mr Ponta as PM.
After being officially named as Prime Minister, Victor Ponta had to propose a cabinet for parliamentary approval. The big news was perhaps not who was in but who wasn’t; for the first time in many years, the Magyar Union was not part of the new government. The party, which represents ethnic Hungarians in Romania, usually gets included as a coalition member in Romanian governments.
A story that illustrated the nature of the relationship between President Traian Basescu and PM Victor Ponta emerged in the second half of December. They signed an agreement to refrain from publicly insulting one another, using derogatory nicknames or comparing each other to animals.
Dubbed the Ponta II cabinet, the new Romanian government was sworn in on December 21. There had been some tweaking in the previous week or two, a larger cabinet was put forward and then slimmed down, but in the end, Parliament approved the new ministry heads with a clear majority and without any fuss.