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.[1] 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.”[2]

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”.[3]

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.”[4]

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.”[5] 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.[6] 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.[7]

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.[8] 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.[9]

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.”[10]

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.”[11]

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.




[1] 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).
[2] See: http://www.presidency.ro/?_RID=det&tb=date&id=10559&_PRID=ag (last access: 19 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[3] See: http://www.presidency.ro/?_RID=det&tb=date&id=10559&_PRID=ag (last access: 19 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[4] See: http://www.cotidianul.ro/s_a_semnat_parteneriatul_cu_dracu-67640.html (last access: 20 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[5] See: http://ioniliescu.wordpress.com/2009/01/02/inceput-de-an-2009/ (last access: 13 March 2009).
[6] See: http://www.euractiv.ro/index.html/articles%7cdisplayArticle?articleID=16104 (last access: 20 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[7] 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).
[8] See: http://cparpc.presidency.ro/upload/Raport_CPARPCR.pdf (last access: 20 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[9] 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).
[10] See: http://nastase.wordpress.com/2009/01/15/constitutia-lui-basescu/ (last access: 21 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[11] See: http://www.ziua.ro/news.php?data=2009–01-06&id=18740&kword=criza+gazelor (last access: 21 Jan­u­ary 2009).