Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 2, No 7
21 February 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 14 February 2000

Catherine and David Lovatt

The cyanide spillage into the river Tisza from the Romanian gold smelting plant, Aurul, has brought mixed reactions. The Romanian government are accepting part of the responsibility for the disaster but their partners, the Australian company, Esmeralda Exploration, are determined to prove their innocence. In Hungary, the government is appreciative of Romanian co-operation but tensions are increasing as the extent of the ecological damage is realised. The Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, announced on Thursday that Hungary is considering whether to sue the Australian-Romanian firm, the Australian owner and the Romanian state. Petre Roman, the Romanian Foreign Affairs Minister reported to Monitorul that Hungary's intention to sue the Romanian state represents a "regrettable political act." (Monitorul, 17 February 2000)

Hungarian-Romanian relations were further strained on Thursday when tins of herring were thrown at the Romanian Embassy in Budapest in retaliation for the cyanide spill. The attack smashed windows in the building and came alongside threats of fire damage. The Hungarian Foreign Ministry have commented that they suspect the incidents represent "isolated attitudes." (Reuters, 17 February 2000)

Fokion Fotiadis, leader of the European Union (EU) Standing Delegation to Romania offered expert support to both the Romanian and Hungarian Governments. The European Commissioner for the Environment, Margot Wallström, visited the Baia Mare site on Thursday to ensure that the two countries were cooperating and to discuss ways the EU can assist in the clean up operation. She said the EU was prepared to give financial help to the two countries through the PHARE (Poland and Hungary Assistance for Economic Restructuring Programme) and ISPA (Instrument for Structural Policies for Pre-accession) programmes. She went on to comment about the manner in which the disaster has been commented on by the Australian partner. Wallström said that, "there could be no denying about what had happened," (Nine o'clock -18 February 2000) and went on to comment on how serious the environmental disaster was.

Victor Babiuc, the Minister of Defence, resigned on Wednesday from the Democratic Party (PD) and has let it be known that he is prepared to give up his post. Babiuc explained that he felt, "ever more lonely in the leadership of a party whose policies no longer represent his own. To put an end to this disastrous situation for me, I decided to quit the Democratic Party." (Nine o'clock - 17 February 2000) It has also been suggested that Babiuc had a poor relationship with Petre Roman, the Foreign Minister and President of the PD.

Although this will prove a major problem for the PD coming in the week of their National Conference it will also present the government with a difficult situation. The PD are planning to nominate a member of their party to fill this portfolio. However the Prime Minister, Mugur Isărescu, may choose to ignore their representations. If Isărescu leaves Babiuc in office he will have created another minister who is independent of any party (Isărescu has no party affiliation). Leaders of the National Christian Democratic Peasants Party (PNȚCD), senior partner in the ruling coalition, are clear that they do not want to have another independent minister. It is believed that Babiuc intends to join the National Liberal Party (PNL).

On Thursday Babiuc took part in Government meetings as normal. Valeriu Stoica, leader of the PNL, said that, "it would very useful for Babiuc to remain at the helm of the defense ministry, taking into account his essential contribution to the efforts made by Romania in view of the integration into NATO." (Nine o'clock - 18 February 2000) It is believed that President Emil Constantinescu would prefer Babiuc to retain his office.

This week saw the beginning of the European Union accession negotiations. Fokion Fotiadis together with the Ambassadors of France and Portugal heard Foreign Minister Petre Roman state that Romania would be ready for accession to the EU by 1 January 2007. Fotiadis said that the EU accession would take time but Romania would be helped in every possible way. He set out a timetable for negotiation which would begin on 8 March 2000.

Günther Verheugen, European Commissioner for Enlargement, said that until its admission into the EU Romania will receive Euro 600 million annually to develop agriculture and transportation systems and to support environmental protection. Verheugen went on to stress that both the macro-economic programmes and the proposals for dealing with institutionalised children were acceptable to the EU. However, he warned that there was a difficult and complicated road ahead and that Romania was just at the beginning.

More good news came with the announcement from the government that the criteria for Private Sector Adjustment Loan (PSAL) agreement with the World Bank had been met. As a result the second phase of the loan worth USD 150 million will be released when the International Monetary Fund stand by loan is confirmed in March. The Prime Minister commented that the key aims this year were to ensure economic growth and to halve inflation. The coordinator of this programme, Transport Minister Traian Băsescu, has announced that now that this part of the PSAL programme is complete he would be resigning from the post. Băsescu said that his redefined Transport role does not have a logical link to the PSAL work, and that the election year will see him taking a higher political profile. He proposed Mircea Ciumara, Chairman of the Economic-Financial Coordination Council, as an appropriate minister to continue this work.

Funding for the modernisation of the Bucharest-Constanta railway line and the upgrading of the natural gas pipeline, the national electricity grid and Bucharest's water supply are some of the items that will get funding through the European Investment Bank under the terms of the South-East European Stability Pact. Funds worth Euro 370 million will be made available.

Another source of positive support for Romania came from Eduard Buckley, NATO Assistant Secretary General. He said that there were real signs that the Romanian economy was beginning to move forward but suggested that the military reforms needed prior to Romania joining NATO would be expensive. Buckley is in Bucharest to discuss Romanian involvement in peacekeeping missions and operational links between the Romanian military and their NATO counterparts. He also used the opportunity to discuss Romania's role in the Partnership for Peace and to set out the goals that needed to be achieved prior to NATO membership. Buckley took pleasure in acknowledging the gratitude of member countries to Romania for the support given during the Kosovo conflict.

The Government decided on Thursday that the Jiu Valley would get some much needed financial help. USD 35,000 from the National Solidarity Fund has been allocated to help 423 families. However, the only real solution to the poverty in the Jiu Valley is the creation of new jobs. A Government consultant said, "An example in this regard is the program for building forest roads. The laidoff miners will have therefore the possibility to work in a similar field. The Government will take into account other programs as well." (Mediafax - 17 February 2000)

The teacher's strike has continued throughout the week although there appears to be a chance of an agreement being reached. On Tuesday the Minister of Education, Andrei Marga, told the Senate that the minimum wage for teachers was to rise from USD 35 per month to USD 64 per month. He also announced that the government would be allocating four percent of Gross Domestic Product to education spending in the coming year. On Thursday a government spokesperson indicated that this amount had risen to 4.3 percent. Cabinet discussions on the teachers' demands were however put off until Monday of next week. It is now thought that the summer term will need to be extended to enable syllabuses to be completed and examination taken although inspectors have indicated that they would prefer to see missed classes rescheduled for weekends. It seems as if the strike will continue for some time yet.

The education sector is faced with another strike. The Alma Mater Federation of Trade Unions which represent University lecturers are to go on strike from 21 February 2000 following the governments failure to implement the agreement reached with then in negotiations regarding salaries of teaching and support staff.

The Romanian National Unity Party (PUNR) presented a proposal to the Chamber of Deputies on Thursday which asked the government to take action in the teachers' dispute and to use the emergency ordinance procedure to improve the salaries of teachers. They also called for clarification of the role of Andrei Marga who has announced his resignation as Minister of Education but appears to be continuing in that role.

The lawyers strike is causing havoc to the Romania process of justice. Their protest is against the government ruling that they must add VAT to the fees they charge clients. Lawyers believe that this decision is in contravention of the Constitution as citizens no longer have free access to justice. The effect of the protest has been that trials have been suspended or postponed and no arrest warrants have been issued. Even the legal action taken by the Ministry of Education against the trade unions representing teaching staff has been postponed as a result of the lawyers strike.

But the case of defamation filed against the leader of the Greater Romania Party (PRM), Corneliu Vadim Tudor, by Minister of Justice Valeriu Stoica has reached a conclusion. A ruling was made on Tuesday that Tudor should pay damages amounting to USD 23,500 to the Minister. Outstanding law suits filed by President Constantinescu, Foreign Minister Petre Roman and Defence Minister Victor Babiuc and others are still to be ruled on by the court.

An Insomar opinion poll conducted between 8 February and 10 February puts the leader of the Social Democracy Party of Romania (PDSR) ahead in the race for the Presidency. Ion Iliescu was the choice of 43 percent of those questioned with Teodor Melenescu (Alliance for Romania Party) receiving 19 percent and present incumbent Emil Constantinescu in third place with 18 percent.

As for the political parties, the PDSR have a clear lead with 43.7 percent while the Democratic Convention (CDR), the present ruling coalition, were the choice of only 12.2 percent of the sample.

Catherine Lovatt and David Lovatt, 19 February 2000

Archive of Catherine Lovatt's articles on Romania and Moldova


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