A new parliament amid fears of a financially difficult 2009
The main issue in today’s Romania is that related to the current financial and economic crisis that haunts the world economy. The effects of the crisis are beginning to be felt also in Romania, and the government; the main political parties and the social partners are trying to figure out how to resist the crisis while maintaining as many jobs as possible. To put it in a simple way, the main dilemma is how to fulfil all obligations while keeping the budgetary deficit under control, in a time where the budgetary revenues are going down.
It all began with the elections of 30 November 2008. The result was a close one as there was no definite winner. Thus, last year ended with a tumultuous December that was marked by intense negotiations between the two main Romanian political parties, the PD-L and the PSD, that resulted in the formation of a coalition government – a government needed to help the country to overcome the crisis. After the political turmoil generated by the nomination of Theodor Stolojan (PD-L) as Prime Minister by the Romanian President and his sudden retreat a couple of days later, followed by his replacement with Emil Boc (PD-L president) and the inherent political negotiations for government positions, the new government came into place in mid December. It was a surprise alliance for many political commentators who saw in it something impossible. Yet, as the President said in the speech at the inauguration ceremony: “[…] taking into consideration the political tradition of the two parties, I would dare to say that maybe from ’92 until nowadays being in a continuous dispute, they have succeed to exhaust any resources of staying in dispute with each other, to hate or to wish evil one to one another.”
It was a tough decision, yet a decision that had to be taken due to the economic crisis: “It was a compromise made to overcome a difficult period and I want to believe that this government will fulfil its mission until 2012, with the period of economic difficulty overcome. It is probably the strongest government from the post-revolution period from the point of view of the parliamentary support. I don’t believe that there ever was a government with such a support”.
This alliance had a difficult start from the beginning. Many could not comprehend this choice and spoke about it as a sad but inevitable choice while everyone tries to support his or her favourite party while criticizing the others. The resentment from a part of the media was so great that a political commentator, Adrian Ursu, when referring to this alliance, spoke about what he calls “the partnership with the devil”: “Twenty five points listed on five pages. The pact signed last night by PD-L with the PSD is this long, and it establishes the new fraternity with the devil, after 16 years since [former Romanian President] Ion Iliescu joined [the nationalist party leader] Corneliu Vadim Tudor in the Red Quadrangle, under the same excuse of the national interest.”
Yet, all those previous critics seem to pale if we think of the severity of the current situation. The government finds itself in a difficult position being forced to cut down public spending on salaries. By blocking all new hiring in the public sector and trying to eliminate the possibility for a retiree to work in publicly-financed institutions (thus cumulating both the pension and the salary), the government tries to promote a rigorous regime of public spending while trying to invest in infrastructure and to attract European Union funds. During that process, the decision, to eliminate the possibility to cumulate the pension and a salary paid from public money, that the government took through an emergency ordinance of 23 December 2008, led to a serious controversy. For many public figures, it was a decision taken in a hurry, without any detailed analysis of the social effects; an indiscriminate measure designed to cast away useful public employees such as teachers or doctors. The former Romanian President, Ion Iliescu, declared on his blog that from his point of view: “mechanically applied, this rule generates serious problems, in various domains. […] I believe that it was acted hastily, without a serious analysis of all the consequences.” The entire debate continued into the month of January and finally the constitutional court declared the emergency ordinance unconstitutional.
The seriousness of the situation also resulted from the Commission’s interim economic forecast of January 2009 for the Romanian economy: 1.75 percent economic growth and a budget deficit of 7.5 percent of GDP. These figures have been contested by the Romanian officials, such as the Finance Minister Gheorghe Pogea, who declared that “the prognosis of the European Commission regarding the budgetary deficits of 7.5 percent in 2009 and 7.9 percent in 2010 is not correct” and that the government wants to reduce the budget deficit to only 2 percent in 2009.
Another hot topic on the Romanian agenda is the constitutional issue. A commission of constitutional experts presented on 14 January 2009 a report on the status of the current Romanian constitution. It is a complex document that tackles what are perceived as being the current flaws of the current constitution. President Traian Băsescu, in a speech given on that occasion, presented what he thought to be the best solutions for Romania’s constitutional system: 1) the political regime – Romania needs a semi presidential regime; 2) the mechanism for dissolving the parliament should be put in accord with the new regime; 3) as for the parliament, the best solution may be a unicameral parliament; 4) the immunity of the officials elected should be rethought – thus it should refer only to their political actions and not criminal acts; 5) we should restore the parliament’s credibility; 6) the current departments should be reorganised, we should have only 9-12 regions that would be easier to manage; 7) a new status and importance for the constitutional court; 8) the compulsory character of a referendum – the parliament should be obliged to adopt a law that was supported by the citizens in a referendum; 9) the new role and structure of the superior council of magistracy; 10) citizen’s rights – the economic and social rights should be defined as fundamental rights.
As any such grand scale initiative, this proposal has generated a division between those who are in favour of it (such as the Romanian President) and those who oppose it. Leaving aside the legal arguments regarding those provisions, there is also the moment of timing. Is it really the best moment, as the President claimed, or should we wait until the economic crisis passes away? For Adrian Năstase, a former Prime Minister of Romania, the timing is wrong: “I don’t believe that revising the constitution represents, this year, a priority for the Romanians, even if it is on the personal agenda of Băsescu, in the idea that the referendum for its approval should take place at the same time with the presidential elections. In this period, I consider that the political leaders and the government should concentrate on finding solutions to the serious economic and social issues determined by the economic crisis and the increase of the unemployment.”
Finally, another important topic in Romania’s public life was the new gas crisis generated by the commercial conflict between Russia and Ukraine. While many European Union countries (such as Bulgaria) suffered greatly from the lack of the natural gas, Romania’s authorities took a softer stance as the availability of domestic supplies guaranteed a safer position. Thus, the Romanian Prime Minister, Emil Boc, made reassuring statements at the beginning of January: “I can assure you that we have the situation under control and that no domestic user is going to be affected because of this situation that exists between Russia and Ukraine.”
The following negotiations turned out to be successful ones and the gas flow started once more. The problem remains open as it is a serious issue that needs a profound analysis based on facts and on the European Union strategy in the sector of energy resources.
 According to the final data offered by the central electoral office, the centre-right Partidul Democrat-Liberal (PDL) won the parliamentary elections. Thus, for the “Chamber of Deputies”, the PDL obtained 115 mandates, the Partidul Social Democrat (PSD)-Partidul Conservator (PC) alliance obtained 114 mandates of deputy, the Partidul Naţional Liberal (PNL), 65, and the Uniunea Democrată Maghiară din România (UDMR), 22 mandates.
For the “Senate” the PD-L obtained 51 mandates, the PSD-PC Alliance 49, while the PNL obtained 28 and the UDMR 9 mandates. See: http://www.realitatea.net/bec–rezultate-finale–pd-l-a-castigat-cele-mai-multe-mandate-de-parlamentar_406976.html (last access: 19 January 2009).
 See: http://www.presidency.ro/?_RID=det&tb=date&id=10559&_PRID=ag (last access: 19 January 2009).
 See: http://www.presidency.ro/?_RID=det&tb=date&id=10559&_PRID=ag (last access: 19 January 2009).
 See: http://www.cotidianul.ro/s_a_semnat_parteneriatul_cu_dracu-67640.html (last access: 20 January 2009).
 See: http://ioniliescu.wordpress.com/2009/01/02/inceput-de-an-2009/ (last access: 13 March 2009).
 See: http://www.euractiv.ro/index.html/articles%7cdisplayArticle?articleID=16104 (last access: 20 January 2009).
 See: http://www.zf.ro/zf-24/pogea-prognoza-ce-privind-deficitele-bugetare-2009-si-2010-nu-este-corecta-3770918/ (last access: 20 January 2009).
 See: http://cparpc.presidency.ro/upload/Raport_CPARPCR.pdf (last access: 20 January 2009).
 See: http://www.evz.ro/articole/detalii-articol/835671/O-noua-constitutie-pentru-Basescu/ (last access: 21 January 2009). For the full text of the speech see: http://www.presidency.ro/?_RID=det&tb=date&id=10586&_PRID=lazi (last access: 21 January 2009).
 See: http://nastase.wordpress.com/2009/01/15/constitutia-lui-basescu/ (last access: 21 January 2009).
 See: http://www.ziua.ro/news.php?data=2009-01-06&id=18740&kword=criza+gazelor (last access: 21 January 2009).