20th Mar 2018

Romanians prepare for divisive referendum

  • Banner urging Romanians to oust President Traian Basescu from office because he 'stole' their wages (Photo: Valentina Pop)

The Romanian government's political campaign ahead of a referendum on Sunday (29 July) on removing the president from office resembles a personal vendetta, amid EU worries about democracy eroding rapidly in the country.

Romanians are being asked whether they agree that President Traian Basescu overstepped his powers - as the Parliament voted earlier this month.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

But billboards asking Romanians to vote in favour of Basescu being ousted have nothing to do with the constitutional debate. Pictures of old people saying "He stole my pension," a young mother with a baby behind bars claiming "He destroyed my health", a teacher deploring his wage being cut, litter the countryside.

The centre-right government led by Emil Boc, Basescu's close ally, resigned in February after weeks of protests sparked by the resignation of a respected health care official who publicly disagreed with Basescu and his planned health care reform. The official was re-hired and the reform put on hold, but public anger at other austerity measures, persistent corruption and Basescu's own abrasive style spilled over.

"Romanians, let's go to the referendum. Basescu, good bye" banners are seen in most villages and towns. The ruling Social-Liberal Union in June won close to 50 percent of the vote and made Basescu's removal their top priority - he would normally have two more years in office.

The Constitutional Court gave a non-binding opinion saying there were no serious grounds to impeach him. The parliament, with its newly formed Social-Liberal majority amid mass defections from the Democratic-Liberal Party supporting Basescu, voted for the impeachment anyway.

"Basescu is on his knees, let's give him the lethal blow," Daniel Constantin, leader of a minor party within the Social-Liberal alliance said earlier this week.

Prime Minister Victor Ponta - who has admitted not having time for anything else until the referendum is over - invited journalists for a tour of a state-owned villa he claims Basescu was refurbishing for himself for live in from 2014. Basescu called him a "liar."

On Sunday, despite a ban on campaigning, the villa will be open for public from 10.00-20.00 local time.

Basescu's strategy is to ask people not to go vote, as at least half of registered voters need to turn up in order for the referendum to be valid.

The centre-right PDL party also is campaigning on the boycott idea and claims that Ponta's government will rig the vote after it initially issued a decree abolishing the minimum turnout, despite a constitutional court ruling.

After unprecedented warnings from EU leaders and the European Commission, Ponta changed course and the Parliament last week restored the minimum turnout. But it also extended the voting time by four hours and reserved its right to "decide on the steps to follow" in case the referendum is invalid.

The EU commission earlier this week again warned the Ponta government that it expects an 11-point to do list to be implemented and that it will look at "facts", not promises.

But an agreement signed by Ponta with a trade union of fired military officials agrees "in principle" with the "dismantling of Stalinist political police structures" such as the Constitutional Court, the integrity agency, the anti-corruption directorate and a body revealing if public officials had collaborated with the Securitate, the former Communist secret police.

The interim president, Liberal leader Crin Antonescu, said Friday he was part of the talks that led to this agreement, but said there was room for negotiation and no institution would be dismantled.

The political turmoil means that no matter what the result of Sunday's referendum is, infighting is likely to continue until general elections in November.

EU commission still 'very worried' about Romanian democracy

EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding on Wednesday said she remains "very much worried" about the state of democracy in Romania. Meanwhile, there is intense political infighting in Romania ahead of Sunday's impeachment referendum.

Romania defies European Commission and weakens court

Romania’s parliament passed a law on Wednesday limiting the jurisdiction of its constitutional court in an apparent contradiction to promises made to the European Commission by Romania’s prime minister.

Romania and Bulgaria continue to flout rule of law

Contract killings in Bulgaria and a direct affront to the rule of law in Romania are some of the major concerns underlined by the European Commission in its progress reports adopted on Wednesday.


Romania: Will strong words be enough?

European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso has condemned the Romanian government for undermining trust in the rule of law but there is little Brussels can do.


Something is rotten in the state of Romania

The view of ruling politicians that public institutions - be they cultural institutes, media, or, more worryingly, the judiciary - need to obey the ruling party has never been completely eradicated since Communism fell.


The populists may have won, but Italy won't leave the euro

The situation as Rome tries to form a government is turbulent and unpredictable. However, the most extreme eurosceptic policies floated during the election campaign are unlikely to happen - not least due to the precarious state of the Italian banks.


Why has central Europe turned so eurosceptic?

Faced with poorer infrastructure, dual food standards and what can seem like hectoring from western Europe it is not surprising some central and eastern European member states are rebelling.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EUobserverHiring - Sales Associate With 2+ Years Experience - Apply Now!
  2. EUobserverHiring - Finance Officer With Accounting Degree or Experience - Apply Now!
  3. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  4. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  5. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  6. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  7. Martens CentreEuropean Defence Union: Time to Aim High?
  8. UNESDAWatch UNESDA’s President Toast Its 60th Anniversary Year
  9. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Condemns MEP Ana Gomes’s Anti-Semitic Remark, Calls for Disciplinary Action
  10. EPSUEU Commissioners Deny 9.8 Million Workers Legal Minimum Standards on Information Rights
  11. ACCAAppropriate Risk Management is Crucial for Effective Strategic Leadership
  12. EPSUWill the Circular Economy be an Economy With no Workers?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressThe 2018 European Medal of Tolerance Goes to Prince Albert II of Monaco
  2. FiscalNoteGlobal Policy Trends: What to Watch in 2018
  3. Human Rights and Democracy NetworkPromoting Human Rights and Democracy in the Next Eu Multiannual Financial Framework
  4. Mission of China to the EUDigital Cooperation a Priority for China-EU Relations
  5. ECTACompetition must prevail in the quest for telecoms investment
  6. European Friends of ArmeniaTaking Stock of 30 Years of EU Policy on the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: How Can the EU Contribute to Peace?
  7. ILGA EuropeCongratulations Finland!
  8. UNICEFCyclone Season Looms Over 720,000 Rohingya Children in Myanmar & Bangladesh
  9. European Gaming & Betting AssociationEU Court: EU Commission Correct to Issue Guidelines for Online Gambling Services
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina Hopes for More Exchanges With Nordic, Baltic Countries
  11. Macedonian Human Rights MovementCondemns Facebook for Actively Promoting Anti-Macedonian Racism
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersGlobal Seed Vault: Gene Banks Gather to Celebrate 1 Million Seed Collections