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Vol 2, No 14
10 April 2000

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Catherine Lovatt News from Romania
All the important news
since 1 April 2000

Catherine and
David Lovatt

The Prime Minister, Mugur Isărescu, has expressed his dismay and frustration at the way in which the coalition parties are preventing government progress. He specifically referred to the restructuring of government departments which has be requested by the European Union as part of the accession arrangements. The leaders of the coalition parties have suggested that it is not a good thing to do in an election year as there will be job losses. Isărescu is angry at the delay which has already put the restructuring six weeks behind schedule and at the infighting between the parties who are jealously protecting their own power bases in government.

Another effect of the forthcoming elections is that already the Chamber of Deputies cannot muster a quorum to enable them to transact business. On Thursday the session had to be abandoned as only 72 of the 343 Deputies were present in the Chamber. Deputies and Senators appear to be choosing to spend time in their constituencies in preparation for the elections. Chamber of Deputies deputy Chairman Miron Mitrea said that he intended to propose that the Parliamentary timetable be adjusted. He said, "We might work at least 1-2 days a week. I understand that MP's are going to stay longer in their constituencies and this is why we have to adjust the program." (Nine o'clock - 7 April 2000)

Next week the budget bill is to be debated by both houses of Parliament in a joint session. National Liberal Party (PNL) representative Puiu Hasotti has made it clear that the absenteeism is against the interests of the state and is totally unacceptable. But National Christian Democratic Peasants Party (PNŢCD) Deputy Gavril Dejeu has said that his expectations are that fewer and fewer members of his party, the senior partner in the ruling coalition, will turn up for Parliamentary debates. He believes that Parliament should be suspended during both election campaigns and that they should sit during the summer recess.

One has to wonder what impression of Romanian politics, government and democracy these stories will give to the potential partners in the European Union and NATO and to the bankers at the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

Defence Minister Sorin Frunzaverde announced on Wednesday that the defence budget of USD 710 million would be used for maintenance, personnel, infrastructure development and reform. He went on to say that 19 of the 34 proposed procurement programmes would be set aside. The reforms to the defence service would create armed forces which were 75 percent professional based. However, together with the reorganisation of the Ministry of Defence (MApN), they would also lead to up 2000 civilian and 4500 military staff being made redundant.

The reform package is intended to bring the military into line with NATO requirements as part of the Membership Action Plan. Deputy Head of the General Staff, Division General Eugen Balaban said that the programme to ensure that the organisation of the Romanian army correlated with that of other NATO armed forces began in 1 April. He gave details of disbanding the army corps and establishing a series of operational brigades and regional headquarters which would be in place at the end of the year.

The Director of the Royal Institute for Strategic Studies, Jonathan Eyals told the British Broadcasting Corporation on Monday that he believes that Romania's accession to NATO will be on shaky ground if Ion Iliescu is returned as President. He also suggested that Romania needed to improve its economic performance if NATO membership were to become a reality. Eyals said that NATO expansion proposals must be maintained as those who did not join would remain under the influence of Moscow.

Education Minister Andrei Marga presented the government's strategy for dealing with institutionalised children to the European Commission on Tuesday. The Commission made it clear that greater efforts were expected on the part of the National Agency for the Protection of Children's Rights. Eneko Landaburu, the European Union's chief negotiator in the accession talks said, "We have to admit that the situation is still serious, still worrying in the (EU) Commission's eyes, that's clear." (Reuters - 5 April 2000) He particularly highlighted the need to ensure that greater controls were in place over the use of funds and to prepare measure to prevent families from abandoning their children. Latest official figures show that there has been a reduction of the number of children in institutions over the past two years but they also show that there have been about 3000 children have recently been abandoned. The Commission also demanded a precise timetable of action linking the success of reform to the availability of euro 25 million additional funding.

The Constitutional Court published a decision which decreed that an emergency ordinance passed by the Radu Vasile government in July 1998 was in contravention of the Constitution. The ordinance effectively returned Magyar House in Timişoara, which was seized by the communist regime, to its previous owners. The Court ruled that the ordinance was illegal as it contravened the property rights of the company which currently owned Magyar House. The Constitution clearly says that the state must protect the property rights of owners. As the Constitution does not permit nationalisation the government cannot order the transfer of an asset which is not its property.

The Constitutional Court President also emphasised the rights of previous owners of property. He said, "The Court retained in the first place that the right of the Romanian Magyar community is indisputable - as well as the right of the other ethnic communities - to have injustices done by the communist regime's abusive seizure of some buildings of symbolic value for these communities, such as the Magyars House." (Nine o'clock - 6 April 2000). He further advised that the government must amend of repeal the law which has been identified as unconstitutional and suggested an alternative method of returning property that was wrongfully seized from previous owners.

The Arad Court has ordered that Savirsin Castle be returned to its former owner King Michael of Romania. The State Patrimony and Protocol Administration (RAAPPS)which has control of the castle has 15 days to appeal against the decision. The King has laid claim to the castle and its associated park land but not to the whole estate. If the ruling stands it will be used as a precedent it the King's claim for the return of three houses in Bucharest. RAAPPS have asked that the court to order the new owner to repay the maintenance and modernisation costs which have been funded by the state since 1990. The castle was seized by the communists when they took power and has had a chequered history being used as a hospital, government building and residence of Nicolae Ceauşescu.

The "Red Line" scandal has continued and developed throughout the week with accusations being made concerning the disappearance of documents from the Foreign Ministry (MAE) archives. Teodor Melescanu, the leader of the Alliance for Romania Party (ApR), stated that when he was Foreign Minister during Ion Iliescu's presidency he had responsibility for allowing access to the records of his Ministry. He put on record that Dumitru Ciausu who is Romania's Ambassador to France was at that time the person in charge of granting access to documents in the MAE. Melescanu said, "We can even suspect Dumitru Ciausu of having done this," (Monitorul - 7 April 2000), but continued to say that he had no evidence to support any accusation that Ciausu leaked documents. Ciausu has informed the MAE that he denies these allegations and added that he was not responsible for removing the documents from the archives. At the end of the week he filed a formal legal complaint against Melescanu.

Melescanu clearly stated that while he was Foreign Minister he acted within Romania's official policy and only took part in negotiations which dealt with the closing down of the government's encrypted communication system. Melescanu continued by demanding that the relevant committees of Parliament examine the case of the stolen documents especially how they came into the hands of President Emil Constantinescu before the 1996 elections. Melescanu suggested that Constantinescu is trying to maintain the issue in high public profile so that he can influence the electorate for the forthcoming presidential elections. He said, "It is absolutely necessary for the investigation to elucidate the conduct of some current Romanian senior officials as well, in connection with this scandal and the way in which the classified documents of the Romanian state were used in the 1996 electoral campaign and are being used in the current electoral campaign." (Nine o'clock - 6 April 2000) In response presidential spokesman Rasvan Popescu said, "The only persons potentially interested in removing documents so that they will never be made public are those who until the 1996 elections had conducted compromising negotiations." (EvZ - 6 April 2000)

In a further link with the past National Christian Democratic Peasants Party (PNŢCD) Senator Petru Caraman has been asking his colleagues to sign a document to say that they did not cooperate with the Securitate, the secret police operating during the communist era. Caraman has reported that only 45 of the 143 senators have signed. EvZ reported on Wednesday that Social Democracy Party of Romania (PDSR) Senator Oliviu Gherman said that he had made reports to the Securitate but was obliged to do so because of his work.

Another continuing debate is that which concerns the allocation of housing stock by the Bucharest City Council. Viorel Lis, Bucharest's mayor, told EvZ that the council has a duty to allocate accommodation to those employed in the national interest and to those having social needs. A report by the council shows that 633 apartments out of a total stock of 1499 have been allocated to dignitaries, government employees and journalists. The report goes on to show that only ten apartments have been allocated to the disabled or former residents of children's institutions who have reached the age of 18.

President Emil Constantinescu publicly criticised the utility companies on Thursday in a speech made to the nation on television. He said that the price increases that the public faced were onerous and excessive. The increases appeared to be used principally to increase the salaries of staff working for the utility companies. He compared the salary of the general manager of CONEL, the national electricity company, to that of the head of state - he earns four times more than the President. He also denounced the utilities for their personnel, recruitment and discipline policies. Constantinescu called on Prime Minister Mugur Isărescu to place stricter controls on the utilities and promised unconditional support for any such measures.

Ferenc Szecs, the Hungarian Ambassador to Romania, met with Gheorghe Mihai Birlea, the Prefect of Maramureş, to discuss the pollution of the River Tisza and to visit the site of the Aurul operation in Baia Mare. The Ambassador was seeking the view of the local authority, the companies involved and environmental experts as to the effects of the environmental pollution that took place in the area earlier this year. During the discussions the Ambassador suggested that there had been some exaggerations as to the effect of the pollution at the time of the accident. The Prefect and the Ambassador agreed that, "the relations between the two countries must not be affected by the two ecological accidents. There must be taken into account instead the relations of economic co-operation with benefits for the both parts." (Monitorul - 7 April 2000)

The Romanian Supreme Court has ruled that the creation of the Petőfi-Schiller multicultural university can go ahead. The Court overturned a previous ruling made by the Bucharest Appeals Court which decreed, following representation from the PDSR and the Party of Romanian National Unity that the setting up of such a university was illegal. The leader of the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR), Béla Markó said, "This decision makes it clear that such a university is possible and legal." (Mediafax - 5 April 2000) The Department for National Minorities is to look at the action that need to be taken to make the university a reality.

Heavy rain, floods, high winds and snow brought chaos to some areas of the country on Thursday and Friday. Seven counties have been affected by floods with homes and farmland under water. High winds have caused power failures and snow has blocked roads or slowed down traffic. Temperatures are expected to fall over the next few days whereas river levels in Western, Central and Northern districts of Romania are expected to rise. Prime Minister Isărescu has asked for a full report on the flood damage which has affected 150 regions of the country and has promised to take action to provide relief.

Catherine Lovatt and David Lovatt,
8 April 2000

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