The week has seen rumours and denials of electoral alliances from the political parties in the run up to local elections. Social Democracy Party of Romania (PDSR) Vice President Adrian Nastase has admitted that his party is prepared to explore links with the Alliance for Romania Party (ApR), the Democratic Party (PD) and the Social Democrat Party of Romania (PSDR). Nastase said, "The only party we want to isolate is the Christian Democratic Party (PNŢCD) which is a calamity and destroyed the country over the last four years." (EvZ - 12 April 2000)
Vice president of the ApR, Adrian Balanescu, told a news conference that his party and the National Liberal Party (PNL) could operate together in a ruling coalition as their policies were compatible. Valeriu Stoica of the PNL said he thought links with ApR could help prevent power falling into the hands of extremist parties. To add to the confusion, Adrian Nastase of PDSR expressed his criticism of a potential partner by saying, "ApR has entered the Parliament by force. It will try to legitimate its position with the elections of this year." (Monitorul - 13 April 2000) Teodor Melescanu told EvZ on Friday that although ApR had discussed electoral alliances with most parties they were unlikely to enter into an arrangement with PDSR.
Parties that are led by former members of the PNŢCD have already agreed to cooperate. Viorel Lis, the mayor of Bucharest and leader of the New Generation Party (PNG), and Radu Vasile, leader of the Populist Party (PPDR), have reached an accord for the local elections.
On 10 April, the Bucharest Appeals Court ruled that the PPDR could be registered, and hence be formally recognised, as a political party. The Court overturned the decision made earlier this year by the Bucharest Municipal Tribunal.
A poll carried out by the Centre for Research on Inter-ethnic Relations (CCRIT) revealed the views of ethnic Hungarians living in Romania. Their findings showed that in the presidential race Emil Constantinescu was preferred by 43.6 percent of the sample, with Ion Iliescu receiving only 1.1 percent. Not surprisingly PDSR was distrusted by 78 percent of those questioned whereas 66.5 percent said that they believed the government had improved the standing of the Hungarian minority. 82.6 percent of the sample said that they wanted the Hungarian Democratic Union of Romania (UDMR) to remain in government after the next elections. Marko Bela, the President of UDMR, said the poll revealed that the concerns of the Hungarian community were the same as those put forward by the rest of Romanian society. He said, "The fact that Magyars' opinions do not contradict the general concerns is important." (Mediafax - 13 April 2000)
PDSR Vice President Adrian Nastase has called for the Supreme Defence Council to investigate reports that the local authorities in Harghiţa and Covasna counties are replacing the Romanian names of streets, cultural centres and educational buildings with Hungarian names. He also alleges that these authorities are acting in contravention of the Constitution and are discriminating against Romanians.
On Thursday, in the town of Sfîntul Gheorge, a demonstration took place when about 1000 ethnic Romanians protested against the council's policies which, the crowd believed, were against the interests of the Romanian minority living in this area of Transylvania. Albert Almos, the town Mayor, met the demonstrators but rejected their allegations. Meanwhile in Tîrgu Mureş the Mayor, Hungarian Imre Fodor, was taken to the Prosecutors Office to answer allegations that he had abused his office. UDMR representatives dismissed the allegations believing them to be part of a political conspiracy in this election year.
Foreign Minister Petre Roman has prevented the opening of a Hungarian consulate in the Transylvanian town of Miercurea Ciuc, the centre of a region with a large ethnic Hungarian population. He has, however, agreed to a consulate in the Black Sea port of Constanţa. Hungarian radio reported that when Prime Minister Isărescu met with his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orbán in March it was agreed that the two consulates should be established.
Orbán met with President Constantinescu in Bucharest on Friday as part of an official visit. Following wide ranging discussions Orbán spoke of the improvement in relations between Hungary and Romania during Constantinescu's presidency. He said that Hungary would support Romania in their accession talks with the Euro-Atlantic institution and expected that the relationship between the two countries could be maintained at least at the present high level.
Orbán held further talks with Prime Minister Isărescu. Their agenda covered environmental issues, following the pollution incidents affecting the River Tisa, trade, joint infrastructure projects and regional development. The Chairman of the Chamber of Deputies and president of PNŢCD, Ion Diaconescu, also held talks with Orbán. After the talks he revealed that Orbán was concerned that the Romanian policy of friendship towards Hungary would change if the present coalition government should fall.
Members of the Chamber of Deputies and of the Senate met in a joint session of Parliament on Wednesday to discuss the budget for the year 2000. The adoption of the budget, without substantial modification by Parliament, is critical this year because it is connected with the government being able to secure an extension of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) stand-by loan. This is compounded by the fact that external financing from the World Bank and European Union will only become available if the IMF loan is approved.
The government face a difficult task; they are asking the Deputies and Senators to approve an austerity budget in election year. Finance Minister Decebal Traian Remeş said, "I hope the budget is voted within the parameters agreed upon so that in May the IMF Board approves the extension of the stand-by agreement until February 2001." (Nine O'clock - 12 April 2000) Main opposition party PDSR says that it intends to vote against the budget proposals.
The Prime Minister, Mugur Isărescu, told the joint session of Parliament that his government's budget for the year 2000 aimed to bring inflation down to 27 percent, to give 1.3 percent growth and to maintain the deficit at three percent of gross domestic product. Isărescu continued by warning that any increase in expenditure above the proposed level would lead to Romania missing out on essential foreign finance and loosing credibility in the world financial markets.
One of the government's key financial strategies involves rationalising the number of government agencies with a consequent reduction in the numbers of people that they employ. The first steps in this controversial move were announced on Thursday. The offices of state are shared between the parties which constitute the ruling coalition, as is control of government agencies. Appropriately, the senior partner in the coalition, PNŢCD, is to take the lead with the merger of four agencies controlled by their representatives. The Romanian Agency for Development, the National Agency for the Small and Medium-sized Companies, the Agency for the Development and Implementation of the Reconstruction Programmes in Mining Areas and the National Agency for Regional Development are being combined to form the Agency for Regional Development (ANDR). The new agency will be led by PNŢCD.
The Board of the National Council to Examine the Securitate Records (CNSAS) has produced regulations which will lead to the publication in the Official Gazette of the names and responsibilities of former Securitate officers. CNSAS have also created procedures for checking and investigating the political past of those who aspire to public office. Additionally, the regulations provide for access to Securitate files either on an individual or public interest basis. (see related story in this week's CER)
The Parliamentary representatives of the PNL and the UDMR have opposed a bill concerning secret information because they say it infringes on civil liberties. The bill has appeared in Parliament again following its introduction in February 1999 when it was approved by the Deputies but rejected by the Senate. Once again the Deputies have approved the revised bill which is due to be heard and voted on in the Senate later this month.
The bill refers to the need for all citizens of Romania to protect state secrets without defining what is meant by a state secret. Persons 'coming into possession' of secret information can be imprisoned with greater penalties being imposed if the secret is then published. There is also the requirement for employees to report any breach of security to their superiors. The senior manager must subsequently inform the Intelligence Service (SRI) who have been given the right to impose fines where they believe there has been negligence in securing the secret information.
President Emil Constantinescu has announced the provision of some much needed financial help to the areas of western Romania which have been affected by last week's floods. The Solidaritea National Fund will commit USD 305,000 to the flooded region. Prime Minister Mugur Isărescu also revealed that funding for dam construction would be provided for the area and the Supreme Defence Council (CSAT) authorised the use of the humanitarian purposes fund which is held by the Finance Ministry. CSAT decided that full assessment of damage to housing is to be completed in 15 days with funds to cover infrastructure repair being made available within 30 days. Even so, the government has come in for criticism as a result of its slow reaction to the crisis which occurred over a week ago.
Foreign aid for the flood affected areas has also been coming into Romania during this week. The European Union has granted USD 10 million in emergency aid with individual contributions coming from other EU countries. Holland has offered USD 500,000 in emergency relief and has offered support in establishing a flood "early warning" system. The UK Embassy has allotted USD 8000 from its Emergency Aid Fund to Rastolnita County where there has been considerable devastation.
The European Union has allocated EUR 18 million for development projects in Romania. The 148 projects will result in the creation of over 3000 jobs. Fokion Fotiadis, who leads the European Commission delegation to Romania, believes that in the long term these projects will create 10,000 permanent jobs. He said, "We want these jobs to be permanent, in the sense of preserving their necessity even after the completion of the projects." (Mediafax - 13 April 2000)
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