Is Romania’s democracy in danger?

Romania’s government today began impeachment proceedings against President Traian Basescu, who has been locked in a bitter feud with Prime Minister Victor Ponta. The move seems to be the latest in a move by Ponta and his allies to purge opponents from the government: Friday’s vote means Basescu will be suspended for a month and ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
ANDREI PUNGOVSCHI/AFP/GettyImages
ANDREI PUNGOVSCHI/AFP/GettyImages
ANDREI PUNGOVSCHI/AFP/GettyImages

Romania's government today began impeachment proceedings against President Traian Basescu, who has been locked in a bitter feud with Prime Minister Victor Ponta. The move seems to be the latest in a move by Ponta and his allies to purge opponents from the government:

Friday's vote means Basescu will be suspended for a month and the country will hold a referendum within 30 days on whether he should remain in office. During the suspension, National Liberal Party leader Crin Antonescu, who is also the president of the Senate, will assume the interim presidency. The ruling alliance of Social Democrats and Liberals this week passed a law making it easier for the coalition to impeach Basescu.

In addition, the prime minister accused some Constitutional Court judges of political bias and incompatibility, and suggested that they be replaced. The ruling coalition this week sacked the heads of both chambers of parliament, who were Basescu allies, and replaced them with politicians close to the prime minister. It also dismissed the country's ombudsman, whom it accused of political bias. The newly appointed ombudsman, Valer Dorneanu, is a former Social Democrat member of parliament.

Romania’s government today began impeachment proceedings against President Traian Basescu, who has been locked in a bitter feud with Prime Minister Victor Ponta. The move seems to be the latest in a move by Ponta and his allies to purge opponents from the government:

Friday’s vote means Basescu will be suspended for a month and the country will hold a referendum within 30 days on whether he should remain in office. During the suspension, National Liberal Party leader Crin Antonescu, who is also the president of the Senate, will assume the interim presidency. The ruling alliance of Social Democrats and Liberals this week passed a law making it easier for the coalition to impeach Basescu.

In addition, the prime minister accused some Constitutional Court judges of political bias and incompatibility, and suggested that they be replaced. The ruling coalition this week sacked the heads of both chambers of parliament, who were Basescu allies, and replaced them with politicians close to the prime minister. It also dismissed the country’s ombudsman, whom it accused of political bias. The newly appointed ombudsman, Valer Dorneanu, is a former Social Democrat member of parliament.

The U.S. ambassador says he is "deeply concerned" about the future independence of the EU member state’s institutions. There are worries in Brussels as well: 

"The commission is concerned about current developments in Romania, especially regarding actions that appear to reduce the effective powers of independent institutions like the Constitutional Court," EU commission spokesman Olivier Bailly told press in Brussels on Friday (6 July).

He said the situation puts "at risk all the progress made over the past five years in having more respect for the rule of law and democratic checks and balances and independence of the judiciary in this country."

He added that commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso has personally called Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta to "express his concerns" and that Ponta will visit the EU capital next week to explain what is going on.

A strange side plot here is an investigation into whether Ponta plagiarized his doctoral thesis, which he described as a political attack by Basescu. (He’s one of a number of prominent European politicians who have recently faced that charge.) Ponta has now dismissed the official committee in charge of issuing diplomas. 

The impeachment motion is based on accusations that Basescu abused his power while his party was in government, but the speed with which Ponta is purging his enemies feels a bit like Paraguay’s recent "golpeachment." 

Given last year’s troubling developments in Hungary, EU leaders can’t be thrilled about democratic institutions falling by the wayside in another recent member state. 

 

 

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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