Romania, the 2007 addition to the European Union along with its neighbor Bulgaria, is still far from being seen as “European.” It began the transition to democracy and a capitalist economy after the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989 and, for a while, experienced such a successful turnaround that it was dubbed the “Tiger or Eastern Europe.” However, in recent years economic conditions have declined and a political crisis and deadlock now have Romania in their grip. More ominous still, its hopes for access to the passport-free Schengen zone may now be dashed.
A wave of political turmoil brought on by corruption washed over Romania this summer, as its second government of the year was plagued by scandal. Early in the summer there seemed to be a breakthrough when former Prime Minister Adrian Nastase was convicted of corruption—the highest ranking politician to face the charge since the fall of communism in 1989. This could have been a turning point for Romania. It usually ranks high on lists of the European Union’s most corrupt countries and has been blocked from the Schengen area as a result. The imprisonment of Nastase seemed to be a big step in the right direction.
However, around the same time, the science magazine Nature accused the current Prime Minister Victor Ponta, member of the Social Democratic Party, of plagiarizing his doctoral thesis. Facing a similar situation a few years ago, the Hungarian president resigned to respect the code of ethics, but Ponta, on the other hand, denied the charges and remained in office. These events damaged Romania’s credibility, already unstable over the years, quelling conversation about allowing Romania into the Schengen area.
But Romania’s political issues do not end here. Traian Basescu, the president and member of the Democratic Liberal Party, has the constitutional right to attend the European Council in Brussels. However, Ponta attended, ignoring a ruling by the Romanian Constitutional Court to the contrary and instead accused Basescu of manipulating the court and other public institutions. Furthermore, Ponta started proceedings to suspend Basescu for his own political gain. Court rulings on Ponta’s illegal actions were conveniently not published as the office journal came under parliamentary control—and the court lost power with respect to parliament.
Ponta blatantly undermined the authority of the Constitutional Court, thereby upsetting the respect for rule of law and democratic checks and balances. Although the referendum against Basescu failed because of low voter turnout, the rate at which Ponta and his ruling alliance were able to sweep multiple public institutions under their control is alarming.
Besides Romania’s likely exclusion from the Schengen Zone, Romania’s inability to deal with corruption appears to confirm the thoughts of many—that it was never ready to be an EU member to begin with. It seems to imply that Romania was, and is, a frail democracy at best, and now threatens the rest of Europe with its political turmoil. What’s more, with the rise of right wing, extremist parties in Europe, this gives is yet another argument that the EU is too weak and divided, and should even be broken apart.
Presently, Romania is dealing with the economic crisis, as is the rest of Europe. In a sense, the clash between Ponta and Basescu also has to do with austerity measures meant to tackle the crisis, set up by Basescu but hated by Ponta. Ponta claims that the president has “lost any legitimacy” and “clings to power” when in fact he ought to be speaking of himself—or Romania as a whole.
Romania’s economy remains fragile, with its own recession on top of the global crisis. It’s Schengen entry remains fragile. The clash between Ponta and Basescu only intensifies and creates a deadlock in government, providing fodder to the extremist parties. The general election in November is expected to favor Ponta staying in power—flabbergasting the rest of Europe, alarmed at his tactics to consolidate power when all factors point to him staying in power anyway.
The European Union motto is “United in diversity.” A beacon of democracy, it stands for spreading prosperity, uniting East and West, and security. Perhaps the European economic crisis is overshadowing the events in Romania. But Romania, for better or worse, is now a EU member. And to keep Europe together, Europe must stand for its core values and oppose those who threaten them. Only then can it uphold true justice.
Dilia Zwart ’15 is a sophomore in Quincy House.