Comment: Of Romania, mice, men and money

As I write Mr Victor Ponta, the Prime Minister of Romania, and Mr José Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Commission, are preparing for their meeting on Thursday. For Mr Barroso this will be a special treat for no matter which version of recent events in Romania Mr Ponta presents to him, it is unlikely that Mr Barroso will have heard anything like it before.

In explaining his recent attack on the Romanian constitution in general and the incumbent president in particular Mr Ponta has two options. The first is to stick to the official party narrative which is as follows.

Mr Basescu and his supporters had abused the constitution and its institutions over a number of years in order to consolidate their political power and gain access to all the state’s assets for their own benefit. Mr Basescu had neglected his duties as President including, most recently, failing to attend the recent meeting of the Council of the European Union (loud gasps!). In addition, Mr Basescu had initiated a series of targeted prosecutions of his political opponents while allowing his supporters to create an imaginative network of corruption, including the morphing of the nation’s tax authority into an agency for blackmailing Romanian businessmen.

The argument is Mr Ponta and his friends were forced to abuse the constitution in order to end Mr Basecu’s more extreme abuse of the constitution as soon as possible. Mr Barroso may be forgiven for wondering if there is any constitution left in Romania but he must also consider if the Constitutional Court has ever been independent, as most international commentators assume it has and should be. His conclusion must certainly be ‘no’.

The USL narrative may be exaggerated and designed to serve the needs of its leaders but it is not wholly untrue. However it allows Mr Basescu to appear as the innocent and honorable defender of constitutional democracy in Romania, faced by a gang of unscrupulous authoritarians. This will be a problem for the USL in the coming referendum because they must stick to their narrative and not reveal the truth behind their campaign of the past three months. That truth, which is option two for Mr Ponta in his meeting with Mr Barroso, is as follows.

Mr Basescu was investigating and prosecuting past PSD leaders and he had to be stopped. The Nastase fiasco shows just how difficult it is for these issues to be dealt with in a rational way in Romania and also gives an insight into the sense of entitlement that dominates the culture of Romania’s political elite. Now we will see the investigation and prosecution of Mr Basescu’s supporters for corruption.

Mr Basescu appears to have been working to reduce the power, influence and privileges of certain elements within the security services. This can be seen as committing political suicide in Eastern Europe as a whole and again, Mr Basescu had to be stopped.

Perhaps most importantly, we are approaching the time when remaining state enterprises and licenses will undergo the process of privatization. Both the IMF and EU are pushing for this to happen as soon as possible as a condition of continuing to support Romania financially. The USL leaders, past and present, certainly do not want Mr Basescu and his supporters to be in charge of this last great bonanza. They would much prefer to control the awarding of tenders and contracts, take their commissions and ensure that trusted partners and associates benefit from the sell-off and future profit-taking.

Of course Mr Barroso will have to work this out for himself and perhaps he has, but will he ask any important questions? Will he, for example, ask why Mr Ponta has agreed to accept the economic advice of retired US General Wesley Clark? Does anyone, including Mr Barroso, seriously believe that General Clark is uniquely qualified to offer sound advice on sustainable economic development to the Prime Minister of Romania?

General Clark represents some very powerful US investment interests, including those of Mr George Soros and there will shortly be some serious money to be made in Romania in energy, in mineral extraction, in high-return agriculture and in infrastructure development. When they meet, General Clark, Mr Ponta and Mr Antonescu will be representing the business interests of their investors and sponsors respectively. The stakes are high, there is a lot of money involved and neither side in the negotiations will be bothered by Mr Basescu and his friends, Mr Barroso’s demands for an explanation, Mrs Merkel’s disapproval and a few weeks of negative international media coverage. The only variable is the referendum on the issue of Mr Basescu’s impeachment and we can expect every effort to be made to ensure that the USL wins.

The fog partially cleared with the announcement of General Clark’s appointment and there is more to come. Watch this space.

By Ronnie Smith, Guest Writer 

 Ronnie Smith is Scottish and now lives in Romania, working as a professional training business consultant and communication coach. He is also a teacher of political science, a political and social commentator and a writer of fiction. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Romania


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