Wednesday

24th Aug 2016

Romanian PM ignores court, heads to EU summit

  • Victor Ponta (c) rushing through the corridors of power (Photo: Kancelaria Prezesa Rady Ministrów)

EU leaders may be at odds over what to say at today's key summit, but Romanian politicians cannot even decide who should attend.

A court ruling was supposed to end the matter. But the dispute between the president and the premier is tumbling along despite the verdict.

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The country's top judges said the president should attend the two-day meeting in Brussels. However Prime Minister Victor Ponta has already left for the EU capital, claiming the judges are the president's "men."

Ponta insists that most countries are represented by their heads of government at EU summits. But Romania is a semi-presidential republic where the president has the ultimate say in foreign and security matters.

The current dispute is a repeat of the 2004-2008 period when Basescu also had to share powers with a prime minister from a different party. Calin Popescu Tariceanu, the then PM, insisted on coming to EU summits too. The duo were often at odds during joint press conferences.

But it is the first time a Romanian official openly ignores a ruling of the Constitutional Court.

"I will go to Brussels tomorrow. I am backed by the legitimacy given to me not by five judges appointed on political criteria, but by the Romanian Parliament," Ponta said, pledging to appoint apolitical judges.

Meanwhile, his government - a coalition of the new Social-Liberal majority formed in the parliament - took over the office of the Official Journal - so far under the authority of the parliament.

This meant the Official Journal had not published the Constitutional Court's ruling by Thursday morning.

EU officials are looking on with some bemusement. "This is will definitely not help Romania in getting rid of its monitoring in justice and corruption matters," said one senior official

Romania, along with its southern neighbour Bulgaria, are the only EU members still being monitored by the EU commission in a bid to keep anti-corruption reforms on track.

Plagiarism

Meanwhile Romanians are also gripped by another saga - this time involving plagiarism claims.

Former Prime Minister Adrian Nastase was jailed on Wednesday for corruption, the first time a top official goes behind bars for embezzling public funds.

Still a heavyweight in the Social-Democrat Party Ponta chairs, Nastase was first put in hospital for a week after having tried to shoot himself upon receiving the verdict. A court ruling on Thursday may still take him out of jail until an appeal is ruled upon.

Nastase was also Ponta's professor for his PhD thesis - a thesis Nature magazine earlier this month said was largely plagiarised.

But Ponta has no intention of stepping down. "The only reproach I have is that I did not list authors at the bottom of each page, but put them in the bibliography at the end. If this is a mistake, then I am willing to pay for it."

Meanwhile President Basescu decided to stay in Bucharest. He was due to hold a press conference later in the afternoon. Romanian media were citing sources indicating he may file a court case against Ponta for a power grab.

As in 2007, the anti-Basescu majority in the parliament will try to impeach him. Back then, he was suspended for a month and risked to be ousted from power. A referendum on the matter reconfirmed him as president, however.

Parliamentary elections are due this fall, with the Ponta majority likely to win. Basescu's mandate ends in 2014.

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