Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 2, No 5
7 February 2000

Catherine Lovatt C E N T R A L   E U R O P E A N   N E W S:
Romanian News Round-up
News from Romania since 31 January 2000

Catherine and David Lovatt

Austrian Ambassador, Karl von der Lillie, held wide-ranging discussions on Wednesday with Romanian Foreign Minister Petre Roman. Roman was given details of the political commitments of the proposed ruling coalition. He was assured that the new Austrian government would support the enlargement of the European Union (EU) and would co-operate with the candidate countries. Roman used the opportunity to remind the Austrian Ambassador of the words used by Jörg Haider, leader of the Freedom Party - "In Austria there are two kinds of immigrants: the Romanian pickpockets and others."

Steps to establish the right for Romanian nationals to travel without visas throughout the EU have been taken by Foreign Minister Roman. Roman announced to the cabinet that he was to establish a task group which would establish both short-term and medium-term measures to bring Romania into line with EU border policy. The group which includes representatives from the intelligence service and the ministries of justice, foreign affairs and the interior will develop further strategies to fight organised crime and illegal immigration. Roman expects that this action will minimise the opposition to removing EU visa requirements from Romania. (see Catherine Lovatt's article in this week's CER)

However Roman went on to say that he did not believe that Romania should impose its own visa requirements on the Moldovan Republic. "The Republic of Moldova will have to assure a better control of its frontiers," said Roman (Monitorul - 5 February 2000). The EU has demanded that Romania improves customs and immigration controls on its eastern borders with states that have not been included in EU accession talks by April this year.

The Agriculture Ministry has banned the import of pork and beef from the Moldovan Republic. Inspectors have found that the quality control systems in Moldova are flawed with meat being issued with a certificate of quality without it actually being examined. The Ministry believes that meat that is unfit for human consumption has been imported by Romania.

Education Minister Andrei Marga has said that he will give a decision as to whether he will resign from his post on Friday. He let it be known on Wednesday that if four percent of the Gross Domestic Product of Romania were allocated to education he may not resign. He said that if the fund set for education was as low as in 1999 he would have no option but to go, as he was not prepared to allow last years problems to be repeated in the coming year. Marga is supported in his stand by the National Christian Democratic Peasant Party (PNŢCD).

Former Prime Minister Radu Vasile has been setting out the objectives of the Romanian Popular Party (PPR) during the week. The PPR is to be based on Social-Christian principles and appears to be centre-left in standing although Vasile says that he sees the party as centre-right and has based its tenets on those of the UK Conservative Party. Vasile has proposed that there should be a Monetary Board which will control prices, incomes and inflation through state intervention. Vasile has called for the greater involvement of women in the political process and has announced that 40 percent of the party's leading group would be women.

On Monday Reuters reported that Ion Iliescu, the leader of the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR), thought that the Popular Party could possibly develop links with his party as their platforms had some common ground. However, on Wednesday it was announced by the 11 members of the Chamber of Deputies who left the PNŢCD that they were to join the Romanian Right Wing Party to avoid the procedures in establishing a new party. They would be known as the Popular Party and it is thought that Radu Vasile would become the party leader. The Romanian Right Wing Party is not represented in parliament at this time but this course of action will enable the party to be registered for the General Election in November.

The number of promised defections from the PNŢCD could mean more problems for the senior partner in the ruling coalition. Popular Party spokesperson Sorin Lepsa has said that their information shows that as many as 6000 members of the PNŢCD from local parties have announced that they will join the Popular Party, including Mayors and Councillors. However, Vasile told Mediafax on Thursday that he wanted to encourage the young and the specialists from all fields to join the new party - getting members of the PNŢCD to transfer to the Popular Party was not his aim.. He said, "I am definitely not interested to transfer them, together with their misbehaviors."

Other problems seem to be developing for the PNŢCD with discussions beginning on Friday to negotiate a new series of protocols for the ruling Democratic Convention (CDR). The National Liberal Party (PNL) believes that this step must be taken as the Romanian Alternative Party (PAR) have left the coalition and now exist as an re-named independent party, the Union of Right Wing Forces. The PNL have let it be known that they intend to stand in the local elections on separate lists and not on a joint ticket as the CDR. Quintus said, "We have already prepared the electoral campaign, filling lists of candidates who are to run for City Hall positions." (Mediafax - 2 February 2000) According to PNL leader Mircea Ionescu-Quintus they also want to have the right of veto within the CDR and want to have shared rotational leadership of the alliance with the PNŢCD.

As if this is not enough the PNŢCD have been accused by Adrian Nastase of the PDSR of lauching a dirty tricks campaign. Press reports earlier in the week suggested that Nastase was at odds with his party and intended to leave. In response Nastase said, "the launch of a dirty campaign aimed at rigging the elections is the only method of the ruling coalition to divert attention from the serious crisis facing the parties in power, particularly the PNŢCD." (EvZ - 3 February 2000)

On Wednesday Prime Minister Mugur Isărescu, in a broadcast to the Nation, outlined his plans for EU accession. He told Romanians that the strategy for medium term development would be presented to the Cabinet on Thursday along with the draft budget for 2000. He emphasised that the process of integration into the EU would not be easy and highlighted the agriculture, steel and petrochemical industries as being problem areas. Isărescu said, "Some sectors will have to go. Others will be developed. The signals from the market will be decisive for that... plus the demands for EU integration and the resources we can count on." (Reuters - 3 Feb 2000) Isărescu went on to talk about the need to reduce bureaucracy and indicated that he would give a lead in this process by reducing government staff by half. He went on to say that the reforms which were to be set in place were accepted by the political parties who were prepared to see them through. Isărescu presented economic targets for the next few years saying that the government was determined to get inflation down to 27 percent in 2000 with single figure inflation being predicted for 2003. The prime Minister also indicated that the government would be looking for economic growth of about six percent each year.

During Thursday's cabinet meeting, led by President Emil Constantinescu, the medium-term reform strategy and the 2000 budget were approved. Constantinescu said, "now the budget is not drafted casually, starting from each ministry's requests of expenses. It is the first time when we changed the philosophy, placing first revenues and then according to them the expenses."

The National Statistics Board have issued figures which show the extent of the task which is facing the government in its attempt to improve the economic situation in Romania. The figures which compares data from 1999 with that of 1998 show that the lei showed a devaluation of 66.7 percent against the US dollar, inflation reached 54.8 percent and industrial output decreased by eight percent. The purchasing power of the average Romanian fell by 5.5 percent.

A Euro 200 million loan arrangement between the government and the EU was accepted by the Cabinet on Sunday. The loan is part of a macro-economic programme which should enable Romania to balance its trade gap. At the moment Romania imports more than it exports. A further grant of Euro 2 million is to be given by the EU to help establish strategies to assist the Rrom communities throughout the country.

The government adopted an ordinance during a special meeting on Sunday, which will lead to a reduction in excise duty on a range of commodities. This step in the governments tax reform process has the added benefit that it will undermine the black economy that is thriving on illegally selling goods that carry a high rate of duty. Finance Minister Decebel Traian Remeş said, "By taking less from more people, we shall encourage both the consumption and the production." (Nine o'clock 1 February 2000) The goods and commodities which will have a 20 percent reduction in excise duty include, alcohol and oil based products. Some items which do not have duty payable, such as crude alcohol and engine oil would now attract duty. The Government believe that this will help eliminate fraudulent non-payment of duty. The new rates of excise rates of duty will come into effect on 15 February.

Petrol and diesel fuel prices are to be cut by Petrom, the national oil company on 15 February in line with the reduction of excise duty on fuels. The average reduction will be about eight percent with price of lead-free petrol falling by 13 percent.

Talks which took place last week between representatives of the governments of Romania and Bulgaria ended with little progress being made. The discussions focussed on transit fees for Russian gas, which crossed Romanian to reach Bulgaria, and for Romanian produced electricity crossing Bulgaria to reach Greece and Turkey. Romanian Transport Minister Traian Băsescu criticised the Bugarians for creating problems rather than dealing with the economic difficulties which existed between the two countries. He said that Bulgaria, "always raises the issue of a second bridge over the [River] Danube." (RFE - 3 February 2000)

Defence Minister Victor Babiuc gave details of military reforms this week. Changes to training procedures, working time directives and home rent allowances were all identified. Babiuc also highlighted proposed environmental protection legislation which would specifically apply to the military. This legislation is designed to prohibit the dumping of military waste at sea, to prevent pollution associated with armament storage facilities and military trial grounds and to eliminate items of equipment which could have a detrimental long-term effect on the environment.

The Senate appointed Mircea Ionescu-Quintus (PNL) as its chairman this week, taking 72 of the available votes. Quintus was supported by PNŢCD, The Hungarian Democratic Union of Romania (UDMR) and the majority of the PDSR Senators. He defeated Democratic Party (PD) candidate Dan Vasiliu in the election. On Thursday Quintus announced that he did not intend to take up the villa set aside for the use of the Chairman of the Senate and would continue to live in hotel accommodation when in Bucharest. He added that neither he nor his wife wished to take up the security protection that his post entitled them to. Quintus said, "This would mean I would willingly deprive my wife from the freedom that any woman and any wife in general needs." (Mediafax 3 February 2000) Following the defection of members linked to Radu Vasile's new party the CDR no longer has a majority in the Senate.

The Public Health Authorities in Bucharest have issued notice that an influenza epidemic is affecting the capital. Quarantine regulations have been imposed on all hospitals, children's homes and retirement home with effect from 2 February. Representatives of the Authority have advised that the number of cases of influenza, respiratory infections and pneumonia have far exceeded the expected number for this time of the year.

Flooding has followed the heavy snowfalls which have affected Romania throughout January. In many areas the water levels have risen to danger levels. In Bihor County over 100 oil derricks have been affected causing a production loss of 98 tons of crude oil each day. The greatest problems are in Transylvania where river levels are likely to rise even more because of the unseasonably warm weather and the large quantity of lying snow.

Catherine Lovatt and David Lovatt, 4 February 2000

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