Following the regression of democracy in Hungary, it is now Romania that it taking unacceptable backward strides. The power struggle between the Romanian president, the conservative Traian Basescu, and the new prime minister, the social democrat Victor Ponta, could drag the Romanian political system toward an abyss of the kind that has not been witnessed since the fall of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989. Alarm bells are sounding in Brussels, Paris, Berlin and even Washington. The European Union must act swiftly to avoid this latest altercation from descending into insanity.
Ponta, who is at the head of a coalition of Socialists and liberals that has attracted turncoats from the right, is the third leader of the government this year in a country that has carried out one of the most severe budget adjustments anywhere in the EU. The struggle for supremacy between Ponta on one hand, and the head of state and the Constitutional Court on the other, appears to have no quarter.
The prime minister has attempted to change the rules of the game, forcing the naming of new presidents in Congress and the Senate, as well as a new ombudsman, while trying to manipulate the election of judges to the Constitutional Court. Ponta on Friday was expected to set in motion in parliament the process of paving the way for the president’s removal through a change to the Constitution, with a referendum to be called within 30 days.
After another legal alteration pushed through by Ponta and his allies, more than half of the votes cast on the day will suffice for victory, instead of the necessity to win the backing of half the entire census as before.
The prime minister also enjoys a somewhat murky profile. The accusation, printed in an article in Nature magazine, that Ponta had plagiarized large parts of his doctoral thesis was ratified by the Ministry of Education’s Ethics Committee (whose department chief was forced to resign a few days after assuming the post after also being found to have cut and paste several of his scientific articles).
What did Ponta, who in an interview with EL PAÍS had previously promised to resign if the commission upheld the accusation, subsequently do? He dissolved the panel and replaced with it a more amenable one.
In a country with a tough past, which is dominated by corruption and power struggles, the Romanian people do not seem overly concerned but the most democratic thing to do, in this situation, would be bring forward the parliamentary elections slated for autumn. Romania must respond with more democracy to face down the critics who now state that the country was not ready to join the EU in 2007.
And Brussels must stand firm and not accept a single backward step.