Politics completely dominated the Romanian news in July, the President was suspended and the question of whether or not he should be indicted was put to a referendum. However it was more a question of how it happened than what politicians did that raised an international outcry and led the European Commission to intervene.
At the beginning of July, Romania’s ruling Social Liberal Party (USL) moved quickly to bring about impeachment proceedings against President Traian Basescu.
The first step was to replace the heads of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, positions both still held by politicians allied with the President from the Democratic Liberal Party (PDL). Once this had been achieved, a request to open impeachment proceedings was submitted to Parliament.
The first concerns among the international community over the goings on in Romania were also raised as the USL got busy with impeaching Basescu.
The Venice Commission head said he had “learned with deep concern of various attempts to exercise pressure on the Constitutional Court of Romania.”
While still in the first week of July, several key events occurred that were to have lasting effects over the summer. Perhaps most significant of all was a rushed and constitutionally highly dubious attempt to change the law governing referendums. The aim was to make it easier to secure the President’s impeachment in a referendum. Next, Parliament approved the indictment attempt and President Basescu was suspended pending a referendum. National Liberal Party (PNL) leader and USL member Crin Antonescu became interim president, as planned by the USL.
In the case of a president being suspended, the head of the Senate takes over as interim. A few days later, PM Victor Ponta was summoned to Brussels to face questions over what was going on in Romania as more and more voices joined a chorus of international concern over the USL’s actions.
The exchange rate of Romania’s currency, the leu, took a tumble due to the political machinations, dropping to record low after record low.
After continued pressure from the European Commission and amid an international outcry, Romania’s government reversed the changes made to the law governing referendums. This improved suspended President Basescu’s odds of surviving the referendum. On signing the motion to reverse the decision, interim President Crin Antonescu made one of the stranger comments to come out of the whole impeachment saga. He suggested that the reversal of the changes “ignores or violates” recommendations from the Venice Commission, which seemed odd as it was the Venice Commission that first raised concerns over the undermining of democracy and the rule of law in the impeachment process.
Although it might not have felt like it, there was other news in July apart from the political theater. News of another corruption case broke, which involved money laundering and tax evasion. Senior politicians and top management from the country’s tax administration office were eventually implicated in scam said to be worth some EUR 40 million.
Temperatures were high in Romania in July and towards the end of the month it started to become clear that drought was seriously affecting the nation’s farmers. The drought had destroyed many crops and representatives of the farming community said that they were facing a disaster.
The referendum to impeach the President was held on July 29. But before all the votes were counted, it became clear that the turnout was not big enough to validate the result. In the end, the majority of those who voted were in favor of indicting Traian Basescu, but it was a moot point: the result was invalid.