Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 2, No 11
20 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 13 March 2000

Catherine and David Lovatt

The crisis surrounding the Minister of Defence appeared to come to reach a conclusion during the week but not without further threats and recriminations. The Democratic Party have maintained the stance that until their nominee for the defence portfolio, Sorin Frunzăverde, is confirmed they will take no part in meetings of the ruling coalition. At the start of the week they were considering their position both as coalition partner and as a member of the government.

Over the weekend Prime Minister Mugur Isărescu let it be known that if the crisis is not settled he will consider his position as he is not prepared to lead a minority government. Traian Băsescu, vice-president of PD, added to the pressure on the Isărescu administration when he criticised their failure to secure the second phase of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) stand-by loan. He did not miss the opportunity to emphasise the role of National Liberal Party (PNL) Finance Minister Decebal Traian Remeş in the failure of government. The IMF loan is vital. Without it other substantial loans from the World Bank and European Union, which are dependent on the IMF loan, will not be forthcoming.

By Monday things appeared clearer as Frunzăverde was sworn into office by President Emil Constantinescu. Support immediately came from the National Christian Democratic Peasants Party (PNŢCD) and the PNL who saw the move as in both the ruling coalition and Romania's best interests. Former Defence Minister Victor Babiuc said, "I think that the Ministry of National Defence is lucky because Sorin Frunzăverde is a young and energetic person. I think he would adjust himself to this assignment very well and that things will further go on smoothly." (Nine o'clock - 15 march 2000) On Friday the PD National Coordination Council decided that the party would remain in government, 414 out of 513 delegates voting in favour. This round of the crisis in the coalition government appears to be over.

The political stalemate which has surrounded the Ministry of Defence portfolio has had a significant and detrimental effect on Romania's relationship with the European Union. A government spokesperson said, "Practically, Romania's relations with the European Commission are still on stand-by. The Commission is in expectation, and the contacts have been reduced to the minimum." (Monitorul - 16 March 2000)

Even so there remains no unity within the coalition about the property and justice reform legislation which could still lead to PD leaving the government. One has to question whether this is based on a matter of principle or is merely a personality conflict between representatives of PD and PNL. However Social Democracy Party of Romania (PDSR) President Ion Iliescu has warned against the government taking direct responsibility for the passage of the justice reform legislation. He is prepared to propose a motion of no confidence in Justice Minister Valeriu Stoica (PNL) if the administration of Mugur Isărescu follows this route.

The argument has continued with PNŢCD President Ion Diaconescu expressing the opinion that his party, the senior member in the ruling coalition, believe that the justice bill make so many changes to Romanian law and subsequently to the people's rights and responsibilities that it should be discussed by parliament and not be dealt with through government responsibility procedures. PD complain further about Justice Minister Stoica who they say has not debated his 700-page legislation with the coalition parties.

As the dust begins to settle the PNL see themselves as being the "fall guys" with total victory being ascribed by the media to the PD. The reaction of members of the ruling coalition to the Stoica justice reforms and a sense of seemingly being abandoned by the Presidency have caused a furious response from within the PNL. Some sort of action seems inevitable. Reports have indicated a possibility that the PNL will choose to leave the government or that Stoica himself will resign in protest against the rejection of his bill by the partners in the coalition. The party are so incensed at the attitude of President Constantinescu that it is likely they will change their allegiance in the run up to the Presidential elections - to ApR candidate Teodor Melescanu.

In the Senate the PD decided to, at last, support and vote for the government legislation concerned with the privatisation of the former state farms (IAS). The affirmative vote brought into being the State Domain Agency, which will manage, administer and support former state farms both now and when they are initially taken into private ownership. The Ministry of Agriculture will be responsible for the privatisation process.

Károly Szabó of the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR) said, "Here resides the essence of the modification requested by the Government. Rejecting it would mean that we have nothing in common with market economy and we would make an important step backward." (Nine o'clock - 15 March 2000) Senators rejected the proposals of the Senate Agriculture Commission which is chaired by Trita Fanita (PD). Fanita, along with the PDSR, wanted the State Domain Agency to centrally control agriculture on IAS lands.

Béla Markó, leader of the UDMR, spoke at celebrations marking the Revolution of 1848 about the praise received by Romania for its minority policies. He rejected praise from the European Union and US as being ill founded as the Hungarian minority in Romania is still discriminated against. Markó said, "We need the free use of language, the right to independent decision-making and autonomy here, in our homeland." (RFE - 16 March 2000)

Another potential environmental disaster hit the country at the weekend when a dam at the Baia Borşa mine broke, releasing 40,000 tons of heavy metal residues into the River Vaser - a tributary of the Tisza. Minister of Water, Forests and the Environment, Romică Tomescu, reported that the only metal that exceeded limits set by the Romanian-Hungarian Hydro-technical Bilateral Convention was zinc. Its concentration was approaching 10 times greater than allowed. Tomescu attacked the role taken by the Ministry of Trade and Industry for its lack of action in dealing with potential problems which could have a major effect on the environment. Tomescu added that the law would be used against companies which threatened the environment.

Tomescu continued his assault on other companies where there was the potential for pollution on Tuesday. He confirmed that his ministry had identified as many as 55 such companies and went on to say that "accidental" pollution from old and worn out plant would have to be dealt with before EU accession could take place. He went on to say that his ministry would no longer take any account of the social importance of industries which would not or could not adhere to environmental protection plans. They would be closed down. Files on the potential polluters have been sent to Prime Minister Isărescu who has called on the EU to help Romania in its search for a solution to the industrial pollution which is a left over of the Communist era.

This leak again brings Romania into conflict with its neighbours. Hungary fired the first salvo when their Environment Minister suggested that Romania intended to hide the incident but were prevented from doing so by international press comment. The Hungarian authorities have order that water from the Tisza, and from wells close to the watercourse, must not be used for consumption under any circumstances.

An agreement was reached between Hungary, Ukraine and Romania on Wednesday, which is aimed at preventing further environmental disasters. Representatives of the three countries agreed to improve communication and information exchange about potential pollution sources which could affect their neighbours. A commission comprised of three officials from each country, following and operating under EU regulations, will produce an inventory of the sites of greatest risk to the environment

Tomescu also announced this week that the Ministry of Water Forestry and the Environment's programme of environmental protection projects has had to be drastically cut. The Ministry has only been allocated 16.7 percent of the requested funds from this year's budget package. The axe has principally fallen on flood protection work linked to dams.

A consolidation of left-wing parties seems to be gathering pace. A meeting of the Humanitarian Party of Romania (PUR) National Council confirmed, in the presence of representatives of a number of political parties, that they would form an alliance with the Social Democracy Party of Romania (PDSR). Ion Iliescu, President of the PDSR, responded by commenting that this was the beginning of a contract which would be founded on, "democracy, social market economy, economic development and social progress." (Nine o'clock - 13 March 2000) Teodor Melescanu, President of the Alliance for Romania (ApR), Tudor Mohora, President of the Socialist Party, and Traian Băsescu, Vice-President of PD, who were all guests at the meeting spoke positively of a Social Democratic alliance. It was also noted that Valeriu Stoica (PNL) the Minister of Justice had been invited to attend the meeting.

Each week now brings a new opinion poll as Romanian politics focuses on this year's elections. A poll taken from a nation-wide sample by the Centre for Studying Public Opinion (CSOP) asked some additional, interesting questions. The poll showed a considerable advantage to the PDSR in the parliamentary elections. They would receive 40.5% of the vote while the Democratic Convention (CDR) were a distant third with 15.2%. The poll went on to examine the parties within the CDR and found that 37.2% stated that PNL was their preferred party. Senior member of the ruling coalition National Christian Democratic Peasants Party (PNŢCD) was more than 3% adrift.

The poll then looked at those politicians who were the most and least trusted. Most trusted is Melescanu (ApR) followed closely by Iliescu (PDSR), with current President Emil Constantinescu lying in eighth place. The person the sample said was least trusted was Ion Diaconescu (President of PNŢCD), closely followed by Finance Minister Decebal Traian Remeş (PNL).

This poll also considered the second ballot in the Presidential election. It looked at the possible outcomes in a contests between Iliescu and Melescanu and between Melescanu and Constantinescu. The results showed that in the first option Iliescu would gain victory by less than 10% whereas in the second Melescanu would win by a staggering advantage of 36%.

A story from the Moscow journal Zavtra Gazeta Gosudarstva Rossiiskogo that negotiations took place between 1993 and 1995 to establish an "Iliescu-Kremlin" (EvZ - 14 March 2000) hotline have been denounced by the PDSR President as being yet another tactic to discredit him in the run up to the Presidential elections. Romania's two intelligence services are to investigate the allegations.

Zavtra also suggests there could be more formal links between Bucharest and Moscow in the future. Aleksandr Prohanov said in the article, "Sources from Bucharest say the spirits in Romania can make possible the return of the left-wing to power. Therefore, Russia has new chances to consolidate its influence in the Balkans." (Monitorul - 16 March 2000)

Isărescu has come under pressure from the trade unions to delay the privatisation of the public utilities for at least ten years. In their discussions with the Prime Minister the National Syndicate Bloc (BNS) made clear that they agreed with privatisation but not for the electricity and gas utilities or the railways. The believe that a long-term privatisation strategy for these industries is needed that will not bring them to the point of private ownership for at least ten years. Dumitru Costin, leader of BNS expressed his fears for society if privatisation led to a private monopoly in the utility sector. He said, "A state monopoly on utilities is to be preferred to a private one." (EvZ - 16 March 2000)

The National Commission for Statistics gave the government a much needed boost with the presentation of the January economic figures. They showed a rise of 18 percent in exports while imports only increased by 1.3 percent when compared with the same period during last year. The trade deficit for January 2000 is USD 76.9 million, compared to USD 172.3 million in January 1999. The forecast economic growth could see a less stringent hold on the standard of living as the year progresses.

IMF representative Gerwin Bell met with government officials to discuss the apparent discrepancy between the Fund's required target for the budget deficit and that set out in the budget. IMF have forecast that their three percent of GDP deficit limit will be exceeded by up to one percent as a result of the government agreeing to increase the wages of the military and the teachers. If Romania exceeds this limit they will fail to be eligible for the second phase of the IMF stand-by loan. Finance Minister Remeş will tell Bell that additional revenues will be gained from excise duty and debt adjustments. Bell's team will compare and contrast the IMF understanding of Romania's economic state with that of the Isărescu government.

Romania's medium term development plan is to be presented to the European Union next week. The strategy sets out key targets to be achieved by 2004. These include a reduction in unemployment to 8.6 percent of the working population and a drop in the rate of inflation to 10.1 percent. These targets will be supported by ongoing economic growth with gross domestic product achieving a per capita rate of euro 8400. Exports are expected to rise while the state owned utilities will be sold into the private sector. Monthly average wages are expected to rise to USD 150 and the strategy plans for an increase in value of the Romanian leu against the US dollar.

On Thursday the Government approved the strategy and it was subsequently signed by the President. A letter of support for the strategy has been signed by all sixteen political parties which are represented in Parliament. Constantinescu praised the signatories for their vision in setting aside political differences for the benefit of the Nation. He went on to say, "Persevering efforts and a real solidarity of the social forces will help Romania meet the essential accession requirements by the year 2007. Romania will have a positive contribution to creating a united, stable and prosperous Europe." (Mediafax - 17 March 2000)

Catherine Lovatt and David Lovatt, 17 March 2000

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