Democracy is working just as it should in the EU's newest member state, argues the country's prime minister.
The political situation in Romania has made global headlines ever since Parliament decided to impeach President Traian Basescu earlier this month. But much of the commentary is based on a misreading of events. The rule of law is said to be under threat. Romania’s commitment to constitutional government and democratic standards has been questioned. The president’s supporters make it sound as if a small group of conspirators were seizing power against the wishes of the people.
This description bears no relation to the reality on the ground in Romania, the origins of our political crisis, or the steps that have been taken to resolve it. Impeachment proceedings have been carried out in strict accordance with the law, as confirmed by the Constitutional Court. The proceedings themselves are a response to Basescu’s repeated abuses of power, again confirmed by the Constitutional Court. The vote for impeachment passed Parliament by a two-thirds majority, and 70 percent of voters now oppose Basescu, according to opinion polls. The final word now rests with the Romanian people, who will vote in a free and fair referendum on Sunday, July 29.
Yes, both the government and Parliament have certainly made mistakes in handling this crisis, and should have communicated better with our international partners. This has given rise to understandable concerns among our European partners that need to be addressed as a matter of priority. But I want to be clear that we are fully committed to respecting the rule of law. We want our referendum to be a textbook example of democracy in action.
That is why, this Sunday, I urge all Romanian voters who genuinely value democracy to come out and make their voices heard. Basescu’s call for a boycott is an anti-democratic step designed to avoid impeachment at any cost.
The removal of an elected president is of course an exceptional act that can only be justified in the most exceptional circumstances. But these are exceptional times. Basescu has refused to permit peaceful political cohabitation; it’s no surprise that Romania has seen three prime ministers in the last six months alone. Parliament’s impeachment vote was a clear indication of the legislative branch’s desire to end this political stalemate.
Romania made good progress in meeting its European commitments in the years leading up to its European Union accession in 2007, but the country has gone into reverse during the last five years of Basescu’s leadership. Democratic standards have declined, according to the NGO Freedom House, and corruption has not been tackled, according to Transparency International. The Romanian people are fed up with stagnation and poverty. They want change.
Although Basescu has lost the authority to govern, he has not given up the power to disrupt. Instead of accepting the will of the Parliament and the people, he has chosen to wage a campaign of obstruction designed to stall reform and paralyze the functioning of government. He refused to confirm Parliament’s choice of prime minister, attempted to overrule the reform policies of my government, and engaged in an unconstitutional power grab described by the Constitutional Court as an attempt to "diminish the role and prerogatives of the prime minister." As the court found, Basescu usurped powers reserved for the prime minister and violated his constitutional responsibility to act as a mediator between state institutions.
For the sake of Romania, this situation cannot be allowed to persist. We face extremely difficult economic and political challenges that cannot be tackled in the midst of a political crisis and can only be addressed by a government willing to take difficult and decisive action. Far from being an attack on democratic values, the government’s actions are designed to achieve the democratic reset Romania needs to restore the proper functioning of government and allow the country to move forward.
Exercising its proper role as the guardian of democratic standards under the EU treaty, the European Commission published a report last week seeking assurances about respect for the rule of law and constitutional principles in Romania. I am happy to give the commission the assurances it seeks.
During the course of the referendum campaign, the caretaker president and I will ensure that Romania remains a stable country. The judiciary and Constitutional Court will be protected and their decisions respected. The government of Romania will without delay take all necessary steps to accomplish the obligations related to the EU Cooperation and Verification Mechanism to further improve the effectiveness of the administrative and judicial systems.
The Romanian government will also ensure the independence of the country’s General Prosecution Office, National Anti-Corruption Department, and National Integrity Agency. No pardons will be issued under the acting president, who will serve only as a caretaker until the people’s voice has been heard.
The Romanian constitution as interpreted by the Constitutional Court will be respected and complied with meticulously during this process and beyond. The government will seek the advice of the court as much as practicable and honor its jurisdiction so that the transitional period will be above any criticism.
Now that the specific concerns of the European Commission have been addressed, I hope that the impeachment referendum will take place in a climate free of concern and misunderstanding about its intended purpose.
Romania wants nothing more than to be a normal democratic country. Everything that I and my government are doing is aimed at realizing that goal. We are acting with full respect for our constitutional obligations and the will of our people.