Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 2, No 8
28 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 21 February 2000

Catherine and David Lovatt

The Democratic Party (PD) held its annual convention last weekend among the fallout from the Victor Babiuc controversy. Babiuc resigned from the PD last week but he is still operating as Defence Minister in the Isărescu government even though the PD believe that the post should be filled by their party as part of the coalition agreement.

Although the convention elected Petre Roman as PD president and leader there appears to be the beginning of a split within the party as considerable differences seem to be developing between the leading figures in the party; Roman, Traian Băsescu (the Romanian Transport Minister) and Radu Berceanu (the Minister of Trade and Industry).

In his presidential speech Roman set out the policy of the PD for the coming elections and said that the party needed to ensure that the population had confidence to see through the reforms that the government had begun. Roman referred to the party's fall in opinion polls but called for continued loyalty within a framework of social democracy. In his speech he mentioned Babiuc indirectly when saying, "There are people who still leave us. They are a few. And they left alone. And they are still alone." (Nine o'clock - 21 February 2000)

There appear to be problems surrounding the PD nominee for the roll of Defence Minister, if in fact the post becomes available. The initial PD nominee, Traian Băsescu, said that he would prefer to remain at the Ministry of Transport and decline the nomination.

In the confusion Train Băsescu accused President Emil Constantinescu of interfering with the internal party matters of the PD so as to keep Babiuc in office. He also made similar criticism of the National Liberal Party (PNL) Basescu said, "PD will not cause a government crisis...we hope the problem will be settled in the parliament." (EvZ - 24 February 2000) Even so, the PD walked out of parliament and refused to vote until the matter was settled. Prime Minister Mugur Isărescu said that as Babiuc had not resigned as Minister of Defence he would maintain his office.

The situation developed further with reports on Tuesday which indicated that Babiuc had lost the support of the ruling coalition. His replacement was however linked to Băsescu making formal apologies to both the President and the PNL. However, the confusion returned when a statement from presidential spokesperson Rasvan Popescu on Wednesday said that President Constantinescu did not expect an apology neither did he ask for one. Popescu went on to say the President demanded that the coalition make a quick decision about the position of Minister of Defence. It is now believed that the PD will nominate Radu Berceanu, the present Minister of Trade and Industry, as successor to Babiuc.

Augustin Lazar, the head of the anti-corruption branch of the General Prosecutors Office decided on Wednesday that a previous decision not to prosecute Radu Berceanu, Nicolae Staiculescu, Corneliu Ruse and Gheorghe Albu of the PD be reversed. EvZ reported on Thursday 24 February that they would answer charges of concerning their involvement in fraud and bribe-taking in the Sunoil case.

Social Democratic Party of Romania (PDSR) vice-chairman of the Chamber of Deputies is another politician taking court action. Miron Mitrea is suing Remus Opris of the National Christian Democratic Peasants Party (PNŢCD) for damages following accusations made by Opris that the PDSR leadership was instrumental in creating the bankruptcy of Bancorex.

A poll conducted by Metro Media Transylvania in Cluj between 1 February and 10 February 2000 showed a significant lead for the PDSR. PDSR were preferred by 29 percent of the sample of 1998 people followed by the Alliance for Romania (ApR) with 14.4 percent and Greater Romania Party (PRM) with 12 percent. The poll showed that 10 percent of those questioned had decided they would not vote under any circumstances while 10.3 percent had not decided whom to vote for.

The poll findings related to the presidential election showed that President Emil Constantinescu was closer to Ion Iliescu of the PDSR. Iliescu still leads as the preference of 30.7 percent of the sample with Constantinescu polling 23.8 percent. Teodor Melescanu (ApR) closely follows with 21.8 percent. Again almost 10 percent of those sampled said they did not intend to vote.

A question asking which party or alliance those asked trust revealed that over 23.2 percent trusted none of the parties. A further query showed the National Christian PNŢCD were given a vote of no confidence by 28.4 percent of the poll, followed by the Democratic Convention (CDR) with 13.1 percent and the PDSR with 12.8 percent. The opinion poll was instituted by the PDSR.

The President met with representatives of the European Green Parties Federation last weekend to discuss environmental issues. Wide ranging discussions took in EU accession, privatisation and pollution and the cyanide pollution of the Danube tributaries.

Last weekend saw the cyanide levels in the Romanian section of the Danube much reduced but still in excess of the 0.01mg peer litre of water permitted by Romanian law. As well as support from the EU, the US ambassador to Romania has pledged US support both in expertise and funding to help clean the polluted waterways.

The main area of pollution had moved towards the Danube Delta by the end of the week. The prefect of Calarasi county has instructed riverside communities to close down their water intake valves and to provide clean drinking water for the population from alternative sources.

Meanwhile the Prosecutors Office in Mamureş county has instigated investigations into the pollution caused by the release of cyanide into the environment and any negligence which may have caused this. Other legal action linked to the case was announced this week at a joint press conference of the Ministers of Justice of Romania and Hungary. Hungarian Justice Minister Ibolya Dávid said that Hungary had taken out writs that could lead to the sequestration of the assets of Romanian Aurul gold smelters and the Australian Esmeralda Exploration Ltd. These cases will open shortly in Baia-Mare and in Australia. Hungary is also to sue Romania for damages caused by the pollution of their river system due to the cyanide overflow from the Aurul smelting plant.

The topic of teachers' salaries was the main discussion point at a meeting held on Monday between President Constantinescu, Prime Minister Mugur Isărescu and Finance Minister Decebal Traian Remeş. A positive statement issued by the presidency said, "we have found solutions for raising the teachers' wages from now on, but also for some older claims." (Mediafax - 21 February 2000) Even so the protest action continued with marches, and rallies disrupting life across the country. Monday also saw the extent of the crisis deepened as professors from institutes across Romania attended rallies and protest marches. They were joined by students and other University employees.

On Tuesday it was announced that the government had issued an emergency ordinance raising the salaries of teachers in two increments in April and September. The pre-university education budget is to be increased by 56.7 percent in the new financial year. The Education Free Trade Union Federation have indicated that as a result their members will be back at work by the end of this week. The Spiru Haret Trade Union members will return to work on Monday. Further discussions will be held to consider when missed classes will be held.

Employees in the financial sector began an indefinite strike on Wednesday. They are calling for increased salaries and defined conditions of service. A key issue with the workers is that promotion and disciplinary procedures should be based on objective criteria. The finance sector includes customs officers who will, during the dispute, work exactly to rule which will have the effect of slowing down cross border traffic.

A strike that was suspended last weekend was that of the lawyers. This followed promises made by the government to review the application of VAT to legal fees. The strike resulted in over 70 persons who had been arrested and held in custody being released without charge.

The government discussed the draft 2000 budget on Tuesday. The budget is thought to include austerity measures which will drastically cut inflation but at the price of job losses throughout government departments with substantial cuts in these departments and in public spending. Prime Minister Isărescu said, "We must get rid of the drug of the inflation. After ten years of inflation we are addicted to it as it is an extremely perfidious disease that has struck roots in Romanian society." (Nine o'clock - 23 February 2000)

Prime Minister Isărescu was insistent that Romania's financial credibility abroad was directly linked to the International Monetary Fund. He said that the delay in finalising the next stage of the stand-by loan was attributable to the decision of Radu Vasile's government to divert funds from the loan to pay increased salaries to the military. The Premier indicated that the loan was no longer at risk.

The Energy Regulating Authority (ANRE) has revealed that electricity prices will rise to take account of the value of the Romanian Leu since October 1999. Rises of 14.5% will increase the cost of electricity form USD 40 per Megawatt hour to USD 45.8. The price rise fall well below the 50.1% demanded by electricity producer Conel.

Romanian Foreign Minister Petre Roman said at the weekend that Romania did not intend to further disadvantage the people of the Republic of Moldova by imposing severe visa restriction on them. However, he clearly set out that Romania was required to strengthen and secure its borders as a precursor to EU accession and he called upon the Moldovan Republic to take suitable measures to secure their own borders. The Romanian embassy in Kishinev has announced that the current agreement remains in place for the foreseeable future - that is that Moldovan citizens do not require a visa to enter Romania.

Aurel Ciobanu-Dordea, Romania's senior negotiator in the EU accession talks has indicated that the admission deadline of 2007 will encourage all elements of the country's administration to get to grips with issues associated with integration. He emphasised that all negotiations will be dealt with having due consideration for Romania's budgetary planning and resources. Ciobanu-Dordea expects the industry portfolio to be negotiated from the middle of this year while agriculture and the environment will be dealt with in 2002.

Catherine Lovatt and David Lovatt, 26 February 2000

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