Vol 1, No 23
29 November 1999
C E N T R A L E U R O P E A N N E W S:
Romanian News Round-up
News from Romania since 20 November 1999
Catherine and David Lovatt
President Emil Constantinescu has recently praised Romania’s foreign policy - this week this policy has continued to bring success to the country against the backdrop of internal dissatisfaction with the government and its economic policies at home.
Gunter Verheugen, European Union commissioner for enlargement, announced in Brussels that the Helsinki summit is expected to open membership talks with the six new candidate states - Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia, Bulgaria, Romania and Malta - by the end of March 2000.
Last weekend, President Constantinescu met with President of the European Commission Romano Prodi. The main area of discussion was the proposal made by Gunter Verheugen to create a group of EU, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank experts to assist the Romanian government with its reform programme. Constantinescu agreed that his government would co-operate and work with this group to develop and monitor a medium term economic plan for Romania.
Next week, this group is expected to present an initial report on strategy for the medium term development of Romania. Victor Chiujdea, the secretary to the group of experts, said that the economic development programme will be in place by March 2000 and that the Romanian people will begin to feel the benefits in their everyday lives towards the end of next year. The EU are to provide a grant, which is not repayable, of Euro 240 million for the first year of the medium term strategy. This will bring the total grant aid from the EU to about Euro one billion for the year 2000. Chiujdea also reported that the relaxation of the overall tax regime was an integral part of the medium term strategy. Simplification of taxes, encouragement of foreign investment and improved social protection will all be included in the strategy as well.
The EU is requiring that the Romanian government enact specific elements of legislation prior to beginning accession talks. One of these elements concerns the status of civil servants. Justice Minister Valeriu Stoica announced on Wednesday that the government would use the accelerated procedures to ensure the passage of this item of legislation. The bill is designed to prevent civil servants being chosen on the basis of their political commitment following each general election. The text of the bill defines "public servants as politically neutral professionals who make up a body of technocrats similar to structures existing in well-established democracies."
The leaders of the coalition parties have also agreed to use the same accelerated procedures to deal with other important elements of legislation so that they are in place prior to the Helsinki EU summit. The pensions bill, restoration of rights to former owners of [to] property seized by the Communist regime [to former owners] and the privatisation of state farms are to have a fast track through parliament.
Prime Minister Radu Vasile, accompanied by a team of ministers and secretaries of state, flew to Moscow on Thursday for discussions with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The agenda for the two day visit includes discussions on education, trade, sport and agriculture. The Romanian ambassador to Moscow, Ion Diaconu, said that the visit could go a long way towards establishing better trading relations between the two countries. He went on to say that Romania was particularly interested in developing co-operation in the construction, gas and oil sectors of the economy.
Everything associated with foreign policy is, however, not perfect and it appeared that Vasile was flying into a problematical situation in Moscow. Mediafax reported on Wednesday that the Russians had seized a plane in transit from Romania to Georgia, which was allegedly loaded with weapons. The Russians believe that the weapons were destined for the Chechen rebels. General Decebal Ilina of the Army Equipment Department said that such a shipment had not originated in Romania and that neither the Defence Ministry nor the regulated private arms dealers had been authorised to make any such shipment.
Romania and Bulgaria have agreed to co-operate in a range of environmental projects linked to their geographical location on either side of the Danube. At a meeting between the Romanian Environment Minister Romica Tomescu and his Bulgarian counterpart, Evdokia Maneva, it was proposed that the two countries should approach western creditors to seek the wiping out of debts. The two countries would then spend the debt equivalent on environmental projects. Suggested projects include dealing with the pollution of the Danube and reductions in industrial pollution. Tomescu said, "We are appealing to developed countries to forgive us parts of our debts against environmental projects." (Reuters - 23 November)
The Supreme Defence Council (CSAT) met on Thursday to discuss preparations for the Romanian chairmanship of the Organisation of Security and Co-operation in Europe in 2001. The council also discussed accession talks with the EU, membership and co-operation with NATO and the programme for reform up to 2005.
The Romanian government has, this week, continued to face further demonstrations and disruption across the country. On Monday, a protest march against the number of lay-offs in the city of Iasi ended in clashes with the police. Trade unions have promised an autumn of discontent in protest against the government’s failures on the economic front. Workers are calling for an end to rising prices, falling wages and unemployment. The average wage in the country is now equivalent to about USD 80 per week. Pavel Todoran of the CNSLR-Fratia trade union federation said, "The aim of these rallies is to determine a change of government. People have lost confidence in this government team. A new government might defuse the tensions and help us weather the expected harsh winter ahead." (Reuters - 23 November 1999)
On Tuesday, demonstrations were held in Bucharest where riot police ringed protesters, who cheered their union leaders as they called for an end to the present coalition government. However, the strike leaders were disappointed by the low number of demonstrators who turned out. Only approximately 5000 demonstrators took part, although the trade unions had forecast that up to 50,000 protestors would be coming to Bucharest. Speaking about the reasons for the protest march, a trade union spokesperson said, "If the ministers to remain in functions refuse to increase the salaries and stop the rise of prices, the state of discontent will grow up to violent street demonstrations that will be impossible to control." (Monitorul - 25 November 1999)
The pressure on the government was also relieved when student leaders announced that their protest would be suspended until the spring. This was in spite of the announcement that the doubling of student grants was unlikely to be implemented during the present academic year.
Prime Minister Radu Vasile is determined that his reforms will continue and has promised that the restructuring of inefficient state controlled industries will continue, however unpopular his government becomes.
Attacks on Vasile have also come from an unexpected direction. National Christian Democratic Peasants Party (PNTCD) vice-president Remus Opris has criticised the Prime Minister for being mediocre. In a startling rebuke, Opris expressed the hope that Vasile would be remembered as an important Romanian poet (Vasile writes under the name of Radu Mischiu). Opris referred to Radu Vasile as "a historian, a poet and occasionally premier." (EvZ - 23 November 1999)
However, the leader of the PNTCD, Ion Diaconescu, has said that the removal of Vasile from power is not an option. The only result of taking such a step would be to signal to the rest of the world that Romania was politically unstable and would damage the country’s image, particularly to the EU, IMF and World Bank.
Prime Minister Vasile did not miss the opportunity to attack the Social Democracy Party of Romania (PDSR) at the weekend. In a speech to a rally of PNTCD youth members, he placed the blame for the economic problems of the last three years firmly on the shoulders of the previous government. He said, "The so-called macro-stabilization from the years 1994-1995 was based on the Ceausist manner of contracting external credits to be paid afterwards in the years 1994-2000." (Monitorul - 23 November 1999)
The response to these accusations came from PDSR representative Florin Georgescu, who was a former Minister of Finance. He said the Vacaroiu government used the bulk of all foreign loans to develop the infrastructure, encourage technological advance and for investment. He went on to criticise the current government as being responsible for increasing the foreign debt of Romania because of its incompetence, and not because of problems inherited from previous governments.
The continuing demonstrations of workers and students across the country have given rise to rumours of a rift between President Constantinescu and Prime Minister Vasile. This became evident following an appeal by the Economic and Social Council (CES) to the President for his support. CES is made up of representatives of trade unions, government and employers' organisations and has a mediation role when strikes and demonstrations are proposed so that conflict can be avoided. Chairman of CES Norica Nicolai said, "We call on CES partners to consult with them in situations of crisis so that we should go with acceptable solutions to talks with the Government. It is an obvious communication gap between the Government and the other partners. Many conflicts could have been diffused had CES been consulted in advance." (Nine o’clock - 25 November 1999)
The president has let it be known that he will openly and publicly become involved when communication between the government and the other partners breaks down. Constantinescu has requested that CES be involved in the creation of the year 2000 budget and that it be involved with the group of experts proposed by EU Commissioner Verheugen as well. The President has further warned both Parliament and Prime Minister Vasile that he will not ratify any new laws, unless they are sanctioned by the CES.
In an interview with the daily Ziua, Vasile denied that there was any conflict between himself and the President. The Prime Minister said, "As far as my relations with President Constantinescu are concerned, I consider them as very good and normal. I consider that the cooperation between the two institutions is a good one." (Nine o’clock - 25 November 1999)
The Premier also used the opportunity of his interview to call for unity between the parties which constitute the governing coalition, - as the general elections of November 2000 are approaching. He urged the parties to put the country before their own self interest. "It is high time to close the ranks and to understand that, only by being united, we shall succeed either to reduce the gap with those who have ranked first in the opinion polls today or to maintain the cohesion necessary for the further continuity in the domain of reform."
Investigation into the events of December 1989 will be virtually completed in the next six months. As a result of studying military files, the chief military prosecutor has indicted 244 people. These were members of the communist Militia and Securitate - the political police. During the past year, military prosecutors have re-opened investigations into events which occurred during the revolution in Sibiu, Cluj, Timisoara, Tirgu-Mures, Oradea, Ploiesti, and Bucharest. The outcome of these investigations is to be announced in the near future. Petre Roman, leader of the Democratic Party, and Ion Iliescu, leader of the PDSR, are to be called as witnesses to the events in December 1989, before the on-going investigations are complete.
The "dedication and professionalism" and "exceptional performance" of the 26 Romanian police officers who are on duty in Kosovo as part of the United Nations Peace Keeping Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) has led the UN to request that the number of serving officers be increased to 70.
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