King Mihai meets President Iliescu
Former King Mihai of Romania is making a private visit to the country this week. He was welcomed by President Ion Iliescu at the Cotroceni Palace where King Mihai was introduced to Prime Minister Adrian Năstase and members of the presidential team. The Romanian press covered the historic meeting in detail with headlines announcing, "A historical moment at the Cotroceni Palace on the long road of return to normality. The meeting between two worlds." (Curierul National, 21 May 2001)
However, the disparity between the royalists and republican Iliescu was emphasised in many of the journals. Romania Libera reported "One single contrast was noticed during the meeting at the Cotroceni Palace: a gleaming Iliescu and a very sober Michael I. Wounds of the past are forgiven, but they cannot be forgotten." (Romania Libera, 21 May 2001)
Representatives of Central and Southeast European countries, European Union member states, the USA, the European Commission and the Southeast European Stability Pact met in Bucharest. They were there at the initiative of Prime Minister Năstase to co-ordinate the battle against illegal immigration and trafficking in humans. At the meeting it was agreed that cross border co-operation and the strengthening of border controls was the key to controlling this issue. The participants were in favour of joint forces of border police to focus on key crossings points.
They also agreed to greater cooperation between law enforcement, government and inter-governmental agencies. Foreign Minister Mircea Geoană said: "Any effort targeting these phenomena will have a positive impact first at a regional level and second on Romania, especially in as far as the regulation of the mandatory visa regime is applicable to Romanian nationals." (Nine o'clock, 23 May 2001)
Democratic Party decides
The Democratic Party (PD) have elected a new leader. At an extraordinary meeting of the PD National Convention, Trăian Băsescu, mayor of Bucharest and transport minister in the previous government, was elected with 653 votes. Former leader, and foreign minister in the previous government, Petre Roman trailed a distant second with 304 votes while third candidate Simona Marinescu received 64 votes.
Roman confirmed that he will now withdraw as leader of the PD group in the Senate but denied that he would leave the party. There have been rumours that disaffected members of the PD would ally themselves with Roman in a move to establish a new party or to join the Humanist Party of Romania (PUR). The National Liberal Party has let it be known that Marinescu will be welcomed into their party as will any other members of PD unhappy with the thought of the Băsescu leadership. By the end of the week, two senior party members had resigned from PD.
Băsescu's vision is that PD, as a social democratic party, will gain at least 25 per cent of the vote at the next general elections. He is determined that the party will not split following the leadership elections but believes that it needs to change its focus. He has called for the party priority to be politics for the benefit of the citizens of Romania. Băsescu's election has been welcomed by most political leaders. However, Corneliu Vadim Tudor of the Greater Romania Party (PRM) has vowed never to shake his hand. Tudor said, "Trăian Băsescu's election as head of PD reveals the baseness of political mores in Romania." (Nine o'clock, 22 May 2001)
Privatisation bill rethink
The Government is having second thoughts about their new privatisation bill following criticism from the European Union (EU). Ovidiu Muşetescu, Minister responsible for the Authority for Privatization and Administration of State Participations (APAPS), told the Senate that the proposed bill would be seen as a sign of instability in the country given the number of changes made to privatisation legislation since December 1989.
The Government is to make a decision following discussions with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Public Administration Law
The Public Administration Law came into effect this week moving decision making away from centralised control and giving local and county councils greater local power. The provision in the law which continues to cause controversy relates to the use of minority languages where an ethnic minority exceeds 20 per cent of a local population. Local administrations are now required to communicate with citizens, in these situations, in both languages. The law requires bilingual signs to be used in 1342 places in Romania—1062 of the signs will use Hungarian as the second language.
PRM leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor has demanded a meeting with the Prime Minister to discuss what he calls the unconstitutional actions of the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR). Tudor claims that the UDMR are changing signs in areas of Transylvania where there is not a 20 per cent minority representation. Senator György Frunda responded for the UDMR by suggesting that PRM were creating a false problem, their comments being typically extremist.
During a visit to Covasna and Harghita counties President Iliescu took the opportunity to speak about the new law. He said, "The time has come for us to get back to our senses, to look into one another's eyes and deal with problems together. Extremist acts fuel each other. It's high time we got past such primitive mentalities which have nothing in common with the 21st Century. Let us become humans. Let us respect each other." (Nine o'clock, 25 May 2001)
The PNL and PD motion of no confidence in the government's economic policy was debated in the Chamber of Deputies. The motion was proposed by PNL leader Valeriu Stoica who argued that the positive aspects of the economy only exist because of the actions of the previous government. This was rejected by government Minister of Development and Forecast Leonard Cazan who emphasised that the EU report on the previous government's economic policy gave a negative assessment. He continued by highlighting the role of the PNL and PD in the previous government which was responsible for a decline in the credibility of Romania internationally.
When the vote was taken 52 votes were cast in favour of the motion, 157 against with 56 abstentions. The Party for Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) and the UDMR voted against the motion while the PRM abstained. After the vote PNL representatives criticised the hidden alliance between the PDSR and UDMR and suggested that the PRM hid their role in this alliance by abstaining.
A Romanian Association for Transparency survey has revealed the extent to which corruption is endemic in Romania's civil service. The survey of Bucharest residents revealed that the equivalent of 34,000 average salaries was paid in bribes to civil servants last year. Ninety per cent of those questioned said that they believed that civil servants in the capital city took bribes while 84 per cent confirmed that bribe taking took place in other parts of the country. Although most of those questioned disapproved in the level of corruption 47 per cent said they would pay a bribe to ensure that, for example, they were allocated a house.
The residents of Bucharest who took part in the survey said that they believed that the police, the health service and local public administration were the organisations most affected by corruption.
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