Protection of state secrets
A joint session of Parliament has approved a law that protects state secrets. Although Prime Minister Adrian Năstase told Parliament that this law was required to bring Romania into line with other NATO member states, it has faced much criticism both at home and abroad. EvZ reports that this law is also required by the European Union as a prerequisite to the removal of Romania from the visa black list.
The criticism began as a result of the way that the legislation was presented to Parliament. The government had no parliamentary time available to present a bill in the normal way, and they were also not able to impose the legislation under an emergency decree. Therefore, the executive body presented its own version of the law to a joint session of Parliament—a method that appears to go against procedures laid down for the operation of the legislature. However, the law will come into force 120 days after it has been published in the Official Gazette.
The law makes it the duty of all citizens of Romania to protect state secrets, including NATO information. Critics argue that the law is open to wide interpretation, and hence abuse, thus creating a negative effect on the hard-won freedoms of the Romanian people. For example, Article 6 refers to "information whose disclosure can prejudice the national security, defence or other fundamental interests of the country."
Information that falls outside the definition of a state secret also falls within the remit of the law. This can be seen in Article 14, which refers to the disclosure of information that "can damage the interests of state institutions." The bill allows the government to determine the information that falls within the confines of the law. Jail sentences of up to ten years can be imposed for securing, publishing, disclosing or destroying classified information.
Within Romania, the Democratic Party (PD) have warned that, without a Freedom of Information Act, journalists, for example, will be open to charges of making classified information available to the public. Internationally, the organisation ARTICLE 19, The Global Campaign for Free Expression, has said that the draft law will "put a chill on freedom of expression and seriously restrict the free flow of information in Romania," and that it goes "far beyond what is necessary to protect state secrets in a democratic society," (ARTICLE 19, February 2001).
Another law closer to EU accession?
A law that sets out the status of foreigners has also been implemented by Parliament. The law, which Prime Minister Năstase says is necessary to bring Romania into line with the EU, requires Romanian citizens to inform the police of any foreign visitor who stays with them for more than 15 days. The law also prevents foreigners from organising or taking part in demonstrations or public meetings that could affect national security or cause a breach of the peace.
Agreements in Bucharest and London
The political parties represented in Parliament have signed a joint declaration supporting the government intention to achieve NATO membership in 2002. The PD, Party for Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR), Hungarian Democratic Union of Romania, (UDMR), Greater Romania Party (PRM), National Liberal Party (PNL) the Social Democratic Party of Romania (PSDR) and the Humanist Romanian Party (PUR) pledged that, "By concerted efforts and by the unflinching solidarity of the political forces, we can create a solid basis for Romania to be invited to join NATO at the Prague summit." (Agence France Presse, 8 March 2001)
NATO accession will stand at the core of Romania's foreign policy, while increased funding and further reforms will ensure that the armed forces meet NATO standards. Leader of PD Petre Roman praised the government for this "genuine consensus exercise," (Monitorul, 8 March 2001) in which amendments from other parties were included in the final documentation.
While a NATO delegation arrived in Bucharest to review preparation for accession, Foreign Minister Mircea Geoană was visiting the UK. He told the media that he is convinced that Romania will be invited to join NATO at the Prague summit of 2002 and emphasised his country's commitment to membership in the European Union (EU).
Following a meeting with UK Foreign Office Minister Keith Vaz, the UK/Romania Action Plan was inaugurated. The plan sets out initiatives through which the UK will help Romania move towards its goal of EU accession.
In Bucharest, the Prime Minister announced that he hoped visa restrictions on the movement of Romanian nationals within the EU could be removed by the end of the year. He emphasised that three criteria had to be met: creating more stringent border control, developing a passport that is impossible to forge and dealing with the problems caused by Romanian asylum-seekers abroad.
Tension with Hungary
Prime Minister Adrian Năstase has criticised Hungary for allowing ministerial visits to the Covasna and Harghita regions of Romania to go ahead without the proper procedures being followed. Hungarian Junior Foreign Minister Zsolt Németh and Justice Minister Ibolya Dávid allegedly held meetings on Romanian territory with UDMR, without Bucharest being informed. Representative of the Hungarian Foreign Ministry Gábor Horváth said, "Hungary's ambassador to Bucharest had officially informed the Romanian Foreign Ministry about both visits during program co-ordination." (Agence France Presse, 6 March 2001)
Romanian President Ion Iliescu said that, in these matters, it was important that protocol was followed. He added that he was not surprised at the reaction from the government but emphasised that there was no fundamental disharmony between the two countries. UDMR President Markó Béla said that such disputes should be discussed directly by the two governments and not be allowed to grow out of proportion as a result of media exploitation.
Floods hit Romania
The extreme weather conditions, which are causing flooding across Eastern Europe, have had their effect on Romania. Eight northern counties have been severely hit and over 1000 homes, 7000 hectares of farmland and many kilometres of roads and railway lines being affected.
Troops were called in to help evacuate 81 villages in the worst hit parts of the region and to help repair disrupted services. Prime Minister Năstase used his prerogative to release USD seven billion from state reserves to provide aid for the devastated area. Minister of Water and Environment Aurel Constantin Ilie said that the priority was to provide clean drinking water, medicines and food for the population.
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