Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 17
18 October 1999

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

Catherine and David Lovatt

Romanian News Review for the week beginning 10 October 1999

The European Commission proposed on Wednesday that accession negotiations should begin with Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Romania and Slovakia. Negotiations with this group of countries, however, would be differentiated to take account of the candidate country’s progress towards meeting the "Copenhagen Criteria". Commissioner for Enlargement Gunter Verheugen said, "This strategy will help strike the right balance between two potentially conflicting objectives in the enlargement process : speed and quality. Speed is of the essence because there is a window of opportunity for enhanced momentum in the preparations for enlargement, in accordance with the expectations of the candidate countries. Quality is vital because the EU does not want partial membership, but new members exercising full rights and responsibilities". (EC Report summary)

The opening of negotiations for Romania in 2000 are linked to two principal conditions. Firstly, the European Union have to be sure that the Romanian government have taken effective steps to reform their childcare institutions. There is a requirement that "adequate budgetary resources" be provided and structural reforms be implemented before the end of this year. The European Commission’s report highlights the deterioration in the circumstances of over 100,000 children in care homes and links this to the failure of the Romanian government to ensure adequate funding. This issue is seen as one of human rights and hence it must be given priority.

Secondly, there has to be yet another assessment of the economic situation in Romania. There is an expectation on the part of the Commission that measures will have been taken to begin to deal with the macro-economic situation. Romania is seen as not having met the two key economic criteria. The Commission believes that, as yet, it does not have a fully functioning market economy and neither is its economy in a position to be able to cope with competitive pressure. The report expresses the view that the country’s economic situation is "very worrying." It continues, "Regrettably, the situation in Romania has, at best, stabilised compared with last year."

Once over these two immediate hurdles Romania has to deal with more general issues. The reform of the judicial system has to continue together with the fight against corruption. The place and treatment of minorities in society needs to be improved with particular emphasis required in overcoming discrimination against the Roma. Romania also has to continue to bring its laws and legislative programmes parallel with those of the EU and to put in place systems to monitor programmes of public aid. Finally, there is the issue of establishing environmental laws together with ensuring a high standard of safety in the nuclear power industry.

In his initial response, Romanian President Emil Constantinescu said that this was a major success for the country’s foreign policy, "Romania will solve the problems imposed by the European Union. I’m optimistic." (Reuters - 13 October 1999)

Fokion Fotiadis the leader of the European Commission delegation to Romania gave his positive support saying, "We hope that the Romanian government will grasp this unique opportunity and move ahead with a coherent and ambitious economic and structural reform policy." (Reuters - 13 October 1999)

Richard Ralph, Great Britain’s Ambassador to Romania, has offered his country’s support at the Helsinki summit when accession arrangements for candidate nations will be discussed by the European Union. He emphasised, however, that Romania needed to look critically at some aspects of its society and economic performance. Ralph drew attention to the need for Romania to adopt some laws which would bring it into line with European legislation. He said, "The British Government will insist that Romania and other countries start accession negotiations without delay. It is in your interest, our interest and [the] entire Europe’s interest." (Nine o'clock - 10 October 1999)

The Romanian Social Democracy Party (PDSR) elected Ion Iliescu, the former President, as their candidate for the presidential elections which will take place next year. Iliescu told the party’s national conference, "We must turn our [political] programme into a real contract with the citizens and this means that we have to win next year's elections." (Reuters - 9 October 1999) Iliescu, who has a substantial lead in opinion polls over his nearest rival, went on to say, "Once, the electorate was wrong, it was deceived by chimeras, but now the people know the facts and they will judge for themselves with lucidity and realism, they will choose certitudes, and not chimeras." (Mediafax - 10 October 1999)

During the conference the PDSR emphasised that they proposed a "social market" economy which would continue the necessary reforms. However, they will institute systems to protect the general public from being disadvantaged by the effects of those reforms. The conference also took the step of amending the party’s official line on private property - it is now acceptable to the PDSR.

The PDSR and the Rroms Party have signed an agreement for co-operation. The Rroms will support the PDSR in the presidential elections and there will be support from either side for the best placed candidate in the second round of mayoral elections. The agreement also outlines proposals for the long-term objective of improving the standard of living and the standing of the Rrom population in Romanian society.

Razvan Popescu, spokesperson for President Constantinescu, has responded to comments made by PDSR leader Ion Illiescu that Constantinescu insulted the heroes of December 1989. Popescu said, "President Emil Constantinescu was in the street during the Revolution, together with his students and children. Nobody saw Ion Iliescu in the street, but on TV, and only after the dictator fled and he took the power." (EvZ - 12 October 1999)

The President of the PNTCD, Ion Diaconescu, criticised the PDSR and their new policy document. Diaconescu wonders how the costs of tax cuts, increased salaries and pensions are going to be met. He suggests that as these "wonders" were not achieved during the seven years of PDSR government how would they be achieved now. He also commented on the implications of the PDSR abandoning the reform process and moving away from links with the international community. He said, "It would be a real disaster if Romania had stopped the reform process." (EvZ 13 October 1999)

The Christian Democratic Peasant Party (PNTCD) is seeking an alliance with the Union of Right Wing Forces (UFD). The proposed alliance promotes mutual support to the candidate who has the best chance in the local and the presidential elections. The party is also seeking alliances with other centre-right groups.

The leader of the Alliance for Romania Party (APR), Teodor Melescanu, is hoping to establish links with the PDSR and the Democratic Party (PD). However, Melescanu emphasised that this would not lead to a formal alliance. He spoke of the APR as being a leader in a move towards the "third way" as exemplified by Prime Minister Tony Blair of Great Britain. He said, "It is useless to try to build another economic development than the liberal one. Classical social-democracy does not correspond to Romania today." (Nine o'clock - 11 October 1999)

Investigations which have been proposed by the PD into the activities of four PNTCD ministers in the ruling coalition could bring down the government. Ion Diaconescu, leader of the PNTCD, has made it clear that his party will leave the centrist coalition if the investigations continue. The Senate approved the proposed investigations on Monday. The PD have also proposed that its MPs should join the opposition in voting against Finance Minister Traian Remes’ (National Liberal Party - PNL) proposals on taxation. They are also demanding that a special commission is established to investigate whether conditions for EU membership are being achieved by the Environment Ministry.

Other partners in the ruling coalition the PNL and the PD are also in dispute. It began when the President of the National Agency for Communication and Information (ANCI), a PNL member, dismissed the Head of the Board of Administrators of the Romanian Postal Service, a PD member. The newly appointed head of the Romanian Postal Service is a PNL member and the son of the President of the Supreme Court of Justice. Hence the dispute.

The PD itself is experiencing problems. Three members of the Chamber of Deputies have resigned their membership. Two weeks ago two other members resigned. Romeo Trifu is leaving the party because of its arrogance while Liviu Spataru resigned because he believes the party has lost its social-democratic roots. Rumours are rife that a further six members of the party will resign, including Defence Minister Victor Babiuc, but this has been denied.

Fortunately for the stability of the government, an agreement was reached on a way forward at a meeting of all the coalition parties which took place on 13 October. The investigations instituted by the PD were suspended until after the Helsinki summit. All parties are to fully support the government programme with the Cabinet being given the responsibility to deal with the civil servant law and the land reforms. It appears that the decision of the European Commission to open membership of the EU to Romania was the catalyst in this reconciliation.

Prime Minister Radu Vasile appealed to the Senate on 12 October to speed up the debate on the status of civil servants. The proposals give the civil servants a professional organisation and removes the political uncertainty which surrounds their appointment. The bill is designed to bring Romania into line with the EU and is opposed by the opposition parties.

Three weeks ago, inspectors from the Romanian Copyright Office accompanied by police caught one Bogdan Ghinescu of Ploiesti selling illegally copied computer software. As a result of the ensuing court case Ghinescu was imprisoned for six months and fined USD 1575. About 85 percent of all software sold in Romania is pirated leading to losses of USD 25 million for the official production companies. On top of this Romania loses an estimated USD 10 million in tax income as a result of illegal sales.

The Bucharest Chief of Police, Mircea Bot, announced at the beginning of the week that he had established teams of officers who will operate from 135 points in the capital. The teams of three will be responsible for maintaining public order throughout the city. They will be positioned at assigned places and will be available to respond to public anxieties. They will have access to translators to help foreign visitors.

The Supreme Defence Council of Romania was expected to be summoned this week as a result of the view taken by President Constantinescu of last week’s disturbances in Brasov. The President wished to discuss the elimination of corruption in the Interior Ministry and amongst magistrates.

Romania is to change its rules with regard to visas for foreign visitors. From 1 January 2000 visas will no longer be available at the border, they will have to be obtained in advance from Romanian consulates abroad. The law brings Romania into line with EU standards and should help the fight against smuggling, organised crime and illegal entry.

At the Senate investigation into the activities of Bancorex, Paul Pacurara, the vice-president of the National Liberal Party (PNL) said, "Bancorex was a political bank and the preferential credits granted during 1993-1996 emphasized an institutionalised corruption" (Monitorul 9 October 1999) He spoke of lists of those to whom preferential credit was offered and how these lists only contained representatives of government institutions. He concluded with the fact that the loses incurred by Bancorex are costing one third of all revenues to the Romanian exchequer each year.

World Bank director Andrew Vorkink was in Bucharest this week to have discussions with the government about the National Action Plan which is to set Romania’s development priorities. The World Bank believes that Romania needs to establish long-term plans for its development programme. Vorkink presented a Comprehensive Development Framework (CDF) to the cabinet on Thursday to form the basis of this programme. It included targets for health, education, law and order, the infrastructure and the reform of institutions. Earlier this year a team from the World Bank held discussion with a range of people to create an image of the whole society’s concerns and hence could create a definitive programme of priorities.

The World Bank came in for some stinging criticism from Mircea Stoita, the former manager of Europe’s largest pork processing factory. Stoita puts blame for the liquidation and proposed sale of the factory, which has huge debts, firmly at the door of the World Bank. "The World Bank has done more damage in Romania than any other institution since the end of Communism," said Stoita. Emilian Radu of Price Waterhouse Coopers who are supervising the liquidation process replied by saying, "What we are dealing with in Romania are management issues. We have wonderful people from a technical standpoint, in pigs, in steel, in textiles. But we need financial and marketing expertise too." (Reuters - 14 October 1999)

Romanian and Ukrainian representatives will meet in Bucharest in November to continue discussions about their common border. This is expected to be the last round of discussions, which began in 1995, prior to the establishment of a formal treaty in December. The discussion will focus on defining the border, particularly in terms of river boundaries. It is hoped that border controls will enable the prevention of smuggling and illegal immigration

Romanian Defence Minister Victor Babiuc met with his counterpart from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Nikola Kjusev, at the beginning of the week. They discussed the problems of southeastern Europe, the expansion of NATO and co-operation between the armies of the two countries.

Petru Lucinschi, President of the Moldovan Republic, made a private visit to Iasi at the weekend. Discussions centred around building a bridge over the River Prut, which would save about 45km when travelling from Iasi to the Moldovan capital, Chisinau. In a speech Lucinschi spoke of the common perspective of both countries for a range of national and international issues. Lucinschi said, "Let us remain as we are and live in a common Europe, on a background of pragmatic co-operation in all sectors, for the mutual benefit of our countries." (Nine o'clock - 11 October 1999)

The row over the year 12 history textbook continued throughout the week. The criticisms of the book have ranged widely, yet predictably. The protests of the Romanian Academy, the PDSR, the Greater Romania Party (PRM) and the Party of Romanian National Unity (PUNR) have been joined by the editor of the daily, Adevarul. He argues that the text is the result of links between Hungary and a US ethnic relations project. This is believed to be because the book questions the Romanian myths, such as Vlad the Impaler and the Roman-Dacian origin of the country, which were used by the Ceausescu regime to promote national unity.

As we celebrate last weekend's victory by Romania over the US in the Rugby World Cup we look forward to the creation of another myth - Romania’s victory over Ireland?

Catherine Lovatt and David Lovatt, 16 October 1999


Evenimentul zilei / EvZ online





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