Throughout the week Romanian parliamentarians have been battling amongst themselves over the vote to increase MPs' wages. On Monday the Permanent Bureau of the Chamber of Deputies agreed to resume voting on the wage increase stipulated in the draft budget for 2000. However, the two chambers of parliament (Senate and Chamber of Deputies) rejected the Bureau's proposal. They reconfirmed their pay rise in a tight vote, 118 against, 97 for and 34 abstentions. (RFE, 18 April 2000) The draft budget is set to continue the "period of austerity," something from which Romanian parliamentarians consider themselves exempt. Bianca Guruita, writing for Nine o'clock summed up the public attitude aptly: "Their refusal to reconsider their raises makes us, the non-parliamentary citizens of this country, feel so very stupid when we pay our taxes." (Nine o'clock, 19 April 2000)
On Thursday, the electoral campaign for the Romanian local elections, scheduled for 4 June 2000, was officially launched. Despite a prolonged period of electoral bickering, authorised procedures can now begin including the designation of candidates and the establishment of electoral commissions and policy programmes. Also, the President of the Supreme Court of Justice has until 23 April to appoint seven judges to the Central Electoral Bureau (BEC). The BEC will oversee the local election campaign: updating electoral lists, receiving and settling complaints, receiving all county exit poll minutes, counting the results. The BEC will control electoral fraud complaints and will be empowered to cancel the ballot. The government will publish a tract to be distributed to all prefects by 5 May 2000 outlining electoral regulations. All candidates for County Counsellors and Mayors should also be received by this date. Any opposition to candidates is to be resolved by 13 May 2000.
Teodor Melescanu, leader of the Alliance for Romania (ApR), and Ion Iliescu, leader of the Party for Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR), have been at loggerheads. On Saturday 15 April Melescanu stated at the party National Council that the return of PDSR rule would be "a step back." (Mediafax, 17 April 2000) He continued to argue that "all the bad realities we're coming against now, all the negative phenomena which the future governance will have to face, originate from the PDSR governance, but it is also true that the current coalition completed them, bringing us where we are now." (Mediafax, 17 April 2000) Iliescu retorted saying that for the time being, any post electoral co-operation with ApR is redundant. He also criticised Melescanu for his lack of self-respect for criticising a cabinet (Vacaroiu Cabinet) in which he, himself, had held a ministerial post: "This is a lack of respect to one's own dignity, a lack of decency, hypocrisy and duplicitous behaviour." (Mediafax, 17 April 2000)
On Tuesday, Melescanu replied that he was not surprised by Iliescu's exclusion of negotiations but he couldn't understand why Iliescu was so angry: "Mr Iliescu's attitude of not admitting the mistakes is a tradition of the Romanian policy. We must accept the fact that in the last ten years the population has become very poor and that each post-revolutionary government has contributed to this. But I don't understand why Iliescu was so angry." (Monitorul, 20 April 2000) Despite antagonisms, Melescanu does not reject the possibility of negotiations with the PDSR at a future date. Iliescu has also turned his statements around commenting on Thursday that: "We cannot speak about a break in PDSR-ApR relations."(Nine o'clock, 20 April 2000)
Further disagreements have been witnessed in the Romanian Intelligence Services. Adrian Nastase, vice-president of the PDSR, has openly accused the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) of watching him on a recent visit to Constanţa. He revealed the claim in a letter to SRI head Constantin Georgescu and to the committee overseeing SRI activity. Nastase is demanding the SRI explain their actions. Nastase also criticised President Emil Constantinescu saying: "To the best of our knowledge Mr Emil Constantinescu [during the SRI balance meeting on 25 March] insisted on the SRI to deal more closely with the main danger presently threatening national security, 'that is the manipulation of the population also by political groups speculating on the poverty this country lives in'." (Nine o'clock, 17 April 2000) However, although free with his criticisms, Nastase cleverly avoided questions as to the origins of his knowledge of SRI members involved in the incident.
The Romanian Foreign Intelligence Service (SIE) are also facing political backlash. The parliamentary commission overseeing the activity of the SIE has called for the confirmation of the identity of retreat General Petre Ionel Gavrilescu. Under a presidential order published in the Official Gazette Gacvrilescu returned to a position in the SIE. There is now doubt over his "real" identity. Gavrilescu is suspected of being the defector, General Mihai Pacepa and former head of the foreign intelligence department of the Securitate (political police). The investigation was initiated in response to a statement made by Adrian Nastase suggesting that Pacepa had secretly returned to service. George Serban, former head of the SIE committee, has accused Nastase of deliberately falsifying the statement. Nastase responded saying that Serban was merely bitter about being removed from his position of head of the SIE committee.
The Hungarian Premier, Victor Orbán, met with Mugur Isărescu, the Romanian Premier, on 14 April. The two premiers met in Romania to discuss trade links between Hungary and Romania. Orbán complemented the Constantinescu administration declaring that Hungarian-Romanian relations had improved throughout his term in office. Orbán also encouraged Isărescu to ratify a treaty on the environment which states that countries affected by environmental disasters are entitled to receive compensation from the country where the accident originated.
A recent United Nations report has attributed the cause of the disastrous cyanide spill in January to technical problems and bad weather. The spill from the Aurul SA Gold smelting plant in Baia Mare, northwest Romania poisoned and killed much wildlife in the River Danube and its tributary, the River Tisza. The UN Environmental Program (UNEP) stated "a combination of inherent design deficiencies in the industrial processes involved, inadequate operating conditions and bad weather" (Reuters, 20 April 2000) probably caused the environmental degradation.
Despite its problems, the Romanian economy saw a glimmer of hope with the discovery of a huge gold deposit in central Romania. The US Pinock Allen and Holt Company, AFP reported on 18 April that the deposit was found in Roşia Montana and is believed to hold over 250 tons of gold and 1370 tons of silver. (RFE, 19 April 2000) The head of the Canadian mining Company (Gabriel Resources) which holds 65 percent of the joint venture, released proposals to invest USD 250 million in the project. The gold deposit is a valuable discovery for the region where unemployment is high. The project hopes to employ 2000 local workers.
The economy has seen further boosts recently. Data released by the national statistics board (CNS) revealed that February achieved the highest monthly volume of exports since 1990. The volume of exports rose by 20.6 percent in comparison with previous months and rose by more than 34 percent in comparison with the same period last year. The banking solvency rate increased by three percent and average pensions are set to rise to 1.2 million lei.
Thursday saw Romania and Moldova complete talks on a political bilateral treaty. The treaty is to establish a "privileged partnership" (Mediafax, 20 April 2000) between the neighbouring nations. The treaty, due to be ratified within two months, comes at a time when Moldova is facing severe internal problems. Romania has already established treaties with Bulgaria, Ukraine and the Yugoslav Federation.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) will be in Romania next week to discuss the extension of the stand-by agreement. Initial discussions began in Washington during the annual spring meeting of the IMF and World Bank (15 April to 17 April). Romania had received a first loan instalment from the IMF, which was due to be returned in March 2000. The IMF have already agreed to a temporary extension of the loan to allow Romania to pass its "Budget 2000." Further extensions may then need to be agreed.
Catherine Lovatt, 21 April 2000
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