Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 2, No 10
13 March 2000

Catherine Lovatt C E N T R A L   E U R O P E A N   N E W S:
News Review for Romania
News from Romania since 6 March 2000

Catherine and David Lovatt

The crisis in the ruling coalition which began with the resignation of Victor Babiuc from the Democratic Party (PD) continued to develop throughout the week. PD president Petre Roman blamed his coalition colleagues in the National Liberal Party (PNL) for the crisis and referred to the accord signed in 1998 between Emil Constantinescu representing the Democratic Convention (CDR) and Roman who represented the Social Democratic Union (USD) - an alliance of the PD and Social Democrat Party of Romania (PSDR). The accord set out that the Minister of Defence would be a member of the USD.

PD remain determined to retain what they believe to be their right and have clearly stated that their understanding is that PNL have reneged on the alliance and so have advised their Members of the Chamber of Deputies and Senators to focus only on legislation which involves the budget or European Union (EU) accession. Roman said, "Our parliamentarians will analyse each excerpts of the laws in turn and would further appropriate some of them. This is a normal consequence of the lack of consideration expressed towards us as a coalition partner." (Nine o'clock - 6 March 2000) Roman also rounded on Prime Minister Mugur Isărescu suggesting that his role had exacerbated the crisis and had turned him from "an independent PM into a partisan PM."

Monday saw President Emil Constantinescu demanding that the leaders of the senior partner in the ruling coalition, the National Christian Democratic Peasants Party (PNŢCD), and the PNL solve the problem created by the resignation of Babiuc. He further demanded that both Houses of Parliament subsequently expedite the passage of the budget, the property bills and the establishment of the council to oversee the disclosure of Securitate records. Ion Diaconescu (PNŢCD), and Mircea Ionescu-Quintus (PNL) agreed that they would support the replacement of Babiuc, providing they received the support of PD in passing the property laws.

On Thursday members of the PD stormed out of a meeting where the ruling coalition parties were discussing the replacement of the Minister of Defence. The PD refused to link the agreement to replace Babiuc with their support in parliament for a raft of reforms. A PD spokesperson said, "Our party firmly refuses to be part of such an immoral trade-off." (Reuters - 10 March 2000) The PD subsequently did not take part in a scheduled cabinet meeting causing questions to be asked about the survival of the Isărescu government.

The question of survival did not disappear when Defence Minister Babiuc tendered his resignation later on Thursday. Ionut Popescu, speaking for the Prime Minister, said that the resignation would become effective when PD accepted the accord that they would support the reforms as required by their partners in the coalition. Foreign Minister Roman, speaking as leader of the PD, indicated that the matter had gone beyond Babiuc and was now a question of the government's credibility. PD would decide whether or not they would remain a partner in government at the end of next week. Until then they will opt out of governmental duties. EvZ report that PNL vice president Valeriu Stoica believes that the government will be able to come to agreements with other parties to ensure the passage of the important legislation.

The potential collapse of the government could not have come at a worse time. The negotiations for accession to the EU begin very soon and the government still has much to do, particularly with regard to the completion of their medium term economic strategy.

The European Commission have identified the five areas which will be discussed with the Romanian team when accession negotiations begin at the end of this month. Negotiations concerning, science and research, education and training, external relations, foreign and security policy and business enterprise will be on the agenda. Romania's fellow candidates Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Malta will begin negotiations on more areas as they have made greater progress in their preparation for accession. Under European Commission policy, negotiations can proceed at a rate and pace suitable to each candidate nation. This could allow Romania to catch up not only with the other five new candidates but also with the original group of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia.

The President of Portugal, Jorge Sampaio, made a state visit to Romania last weekend. A meeting with President Emil Constantinescu gave Sampaio the opportunity to offer Portugal's support to Romania in the accession process. He said, "We have a great experience in democratization, reconciliation between citizens and the start of development." (Monitorul - 7 March 2000) Sampaio continued by thanking Romania for its support during the Kosovo war. Constantinescu recognised that Portugal joined the EU following a long period of dictatorship and that their experience would be invaluable to Romania. He emphasised his determination that Romania would make full membership by 2007.

Foreign Minister Petre Roman was in the UK at the beginning of this week on an official visit. In a meeting with Robin Cook, the British foreign secretary, a wide-ranging agenda covered EU accession, NATO enlargement, visa requirements for Romanian citizens and the Balkan Stability Pact. At a press conference Roman stressed the importance that Romania attached to the support given to his country by the UK. He added that there were many opportunities in Romania for investment and growth and looked forward to the participation of British companies in his country's development.

The strike by employees in the finance sector, which has affected Romania for the past two weeks, appears to be getting worse. The strike move followed demands for improved conditions of service, higher salaries and amendment of state legislation on the rights and duties of financial sector workers. It was expected that formal proposals to enact the change in legislation would be adopted by the cabinet on Monday but this did not happen. As a result the trade union representing the workers has announced that budget revenues will not be cashed in the hope that central government will accede to the strikers' demands

The National Statistics office has issued figures relating to Romania's economy during 1999. They show that the gross domestic product fell by three percent per capita of the population during last year. Industrial output, purchasing power and consumption all fell when compared with the previous year but farming production rose by 5.5 percent. Imports fell by 12.2 percent while exports rose, even so there was a trade deficit of about USD 1.9 billion.

It appears there are early signs of the beginnings of a recovery, however slight. The Romanian leu was reduced in value against the US dollar by 6.5 percent in the first three months of this year. In the same period last year devaluation against the US dollar was at about 36 percent. The exchange rate towards the end of this year is expected to be about 23,500 lei to the dollar which indicates a yearly devaluation of about 27 percent which falls into line with this year's budget.

The Minister of Transport, Traian Băsescu, announced this week that contracts worth USD three billion could be available over the next ten years to upgrade the transport infrastructure. Băsescu said, "The Romanian market will offer opportunities to earn money to the Romanian and foreign contractors, provided they perform quality works. Romania can no longer accept doubtful quality." (Mediafax - 7 March 2000) The work to develop 4000 kilometres of roads and motorways is expected to be completed by 2004 while the railway development work will take until 2010. The projects are funded by credits from the World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the European Investment Bank (EIB).

The Return to Romania programme is designed to encourage Romanians who are studying abroad - especially in the US - to return home after their studies are complete. The project is funded through the United States Agency for International Development. One student said, "If we, those who have another perspective on some similar problems, also chose to remain where the standards are already high instead of coming back home to try to raise the present standards, then the hopes 'for a better life in Romania' will be never met." (Nine o'clock - 6 March 2000) Another student suggested that the Romanian Government could do much more to encourage students to return to their home country and to find suitable jobs when there.

A poll conducted by CURS shows that the Social Democracy Party of Romania, (PDSR) hold a substantial lead with 43 percent of the sample saying that they would vote for the party in a general election. The Democratic Convention were a distant second with 19 percent while the PD were only preferred by seven percent of the sample. Perhaps of more significance was the fact that 33 percent of those questioned are still undecided. The results related to the local elections showed similar findings.

The presidential election preferences indicated a substantial lead for Ion Iliescu (PDSR) with 43 percent ahead of Teodor Melanescu (Alliance for Romania) with 20 percent while President Emil Constantinescu was in third place with 19 percent. Again 30 percent of the sample said that they were either not going to exercise their right to vote or had not yet decided

The poll asked the sample of 1237 people to respond to other issues other than election preferences. 21 percent believed that Romania was following the right course in its development. 27 percent indicated that they were very dissatisfied with their standard of living while 52 percent believe that their standard of living will either stay the same or get better during the coming year. 64 percent said that Communism was a good thing but had been implemented in the wrong way in Romania while 71 percent believe that democracy is the best form of government. The contradictions are evident.

The Greater Romania Party (PRM) made Corneliu Vadim Tudor their candidate for the Presidential elections at a party meeting last weekend. Although strongly nationalistic, Tudor believes that Romania's future lies with integration into the EU. He believes, however, that negotiations should preserve Romania's national identity within the EU and not lead to Romania being a "colony" of a foreign power.

The Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR) has come under criticism from within the party. Gábor Kolumbán, Leader of Harghita City Council has suggested that the party is Hungarian only in name and that it has become a Romanian led party. Honorary President of UDMR Bishop László Tőkés took a similar line when he said, "In vain does the Magyar community deceive itself with more or less accomplishments in Bucharest. Until they admit they are still trying to romanianize Transylvania.... they will deceive themselves." (Monitorul - 7 March 2000)

And finally.... Prime Minister Isărescu announced on Thursday that there had been a rise in the standard of living but then went on to say that not all Romanians would experience the benefits until the second part of the year at the earliest. He continued, "Until then the population will feel the burden of the every day life. I think the economic situation will recover, but as we have no more an egalitarian society, the economic growth will be not felt by certain groups of people, while this whole economic background will be corrupted spoiled by the political fight specific to an electoral year." (Monitorul - 11 March 2000)

Catherine Lovatt and David Lovatt, 11 March 2000

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