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The EU Can't Ignore Its Romania Problem
Brussels still has cards to play against Bucharest's corruption and cronyism.
Prime Minister Victor Ponta.
ASSOCIATED PRESS/VADIM GHIRDA
By Tom Gallagher
Aug. 9, 2012 3:49 pm ET
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Romania has been the object of growing investor interest in the last few years, as Bucharest has worked to trim the bloated state sector and improve competitiveness. But ongoing corruption and the eruption of a tangled political crisis now threaten to plunge the country back into the economic danger zone.
The new government of Prime Minister Victor Ponta, unhappy that some leading leftist supporters have been jailed on corruption charges, is now determined to remove the centrist President Traian Basescu from office. Ponta officials accuse Mr. Basescu of interfering in the justice system. The Ponta government's complex procedural moves, for which the term byzantine seems inadequate, caused the European Union to warn last month that the prime minister might be abusing Romanian constitutional checks and balances to secure Mr. Basescu's impeachment.
The Ponta government plowed ahead anyway, holding a referendum last month to finalize Mr. Basescu's impeachment. But it failed to obtain the necessary 50% turnout—only 46% voted, amid a boycott by the president's supporters and claims of ballot-stuffing in Ponta strongholds. The Constitutional Court is set to rule next month on the validity of the referendum.
Meanwhile, the government's continued efforts to keep Mr. Basescu out of office have now dominated the last two weeks of Romanian political life. After public outcry, Bucharest has just abandoned a bizarre attempt to hold a census to show that the electorate is actually two million votes smaller than previously thought. This week Mr. Ponta's interior minister resigned, citing political pressure ahead of the court's decision. Mr. Ponta promptly replaced him, along with his ministers of foreign affairs, justice and parliamentary relations.
It's easy to view all this, and Romanian politics generally, in terms of personality quarrels taken to excess. Many people—Romanians, overwhelmingly—complain that the country lacks some sort of social gene that would enable a democratic society to function normally. This attitude is understandable, given Romania's long history of disastrous foreign invasions and unjust and capricious rulers.
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