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17 iun. 2012

Politicization of administration by the new Romanian government continues

Alert from the Romanian civil society, issued by
Freedom House Romania
Expert Forum (EFOR)
Romanian Center for European Policies (CRPE)
Group for Social Dialogue (GDS)
Center for Independent Journalism (CJI)
Timisoara Society
Resource Center for Public Participation (CeRe)

Bucharest, June 16th 2012 

Politicization of administration by the new Romanian government continues

The new center-left coalition led by Prime Minister Victor Ponta continues to take revenge on independent voices, apply pressure on the public TV and independent agencies, in total contrast with what they were preaching just three months ago, when in opposition After losing three cabinet members over integrity issues in its first month in office; adopting a first-pass-the-post electoral system that risks creating artificial super-majorities after the November 2012 elections; and replacing all prefects and heads of territorial agencies (formally civil servants) in just a few weeks, the new center-left coalition led by prime minister Ponta has continued unabated with its pressures exerted on institutions which should be nominally independent, judiciary included. In the first half of June, the following developments took place:
The President and Board of the public TV were dismissed and a low-key columnist with no media management experience and a penchant for adulatory commentary was appointed as interim director.

State institutions which are nominally independent have awkwardly intervened in the high-profile corruption court case of former Prime Minister Adrian Năstase, in which a final decision is expected this month. Mr Năstase was convicted to two years in jail in the first instance. In late May the Civil Construction Inspectorate, taken under the direct subordination by the new PM, attempted to help the defendant by dropping its claims. This tactic failed among public uproar, as Mr Năstase was proved to have spoken on the phone with the head of the Inspectorate at 5.00 am in the day when this institution suddenly realized they had no reason to be part in this case, after all. Then, in mid-June, the Ombudsman office intervened with a procedural complaint the very day when the final hearings were held before the Supreme Court, claiming that one of the judges was not properly appointed on her job. All these happen after eight long years of trial in which these institutions have raised no objection – but just one-and-a-half month after mr Năstase political protégées, Victor Ponta and Titus Corlăţean, have become Prime Minister and Minister of Justice, respectively.

The status of the Romanian Cultural Institute (ICR), independent agency promoting the Romanian culture abroad (similar to British Council) was shifted overnight from one of relative independence under the Presidency, to subordination to the Senate. The lesser objection to this change is that it was done through emergency ordinance of the government, and it is not clear what was the emergency here. The frequent use of emergency ordinances was exactly what the current coalition leaders were criticizing while in opposition, only a few months ago. The more important objection is that the move is a transparent attempt to eliminate Horia Roman Patapievici, a respected writer and philosopher, who has successfully led ICR in the last years, raising it from its post-communist mediocrity to an international profile. The committee of culture in the Romanian Senate, which is now to control ICR, is known as a rock bed of backward-looking nationalism and has repeatedly criticized the cosmopolitan direction of ICR under Patapievici. Writers and intellectuals with both rightist and leftist leanings have issued protests against the government, pointing out that under this leadership ICR has for the first time promoted cultural products based on objective criteria, not personal whims of its bosses.

The fact that such things occurred in the first months of the new mandate betrays, if not a carefully orchestrated plan, then at least an irrepressible desire of the new power to silence critical voices, interfere in court cases and colonize the independent state agencies, before and after the November 2012 parliamentary elections, at an unprecedented speed. This is a dramatic U-turn from the position expressed by the same people until two months ago. The independent civil society is determined to continue unabated its watchdog efforts. We count on the support of PSE and ALDE groups in the European Parliament, who may help by persuading their Romanian colleagues to stop such excesses unworthy of a modern, European center-left administration. We believe that the difficult responsibility to steer the country through the economic crisis and safeguard Romania’s macro balances do not justify the politicization of public bodies and stifling of the societal voices.

Cristina Guseth, Freedom House Romania
Sorin Ioniţă, Expert Forum (EFOR)
Cristian Ghinea, Romanian Center for European Policies (CRPE)
Magda Cârneci, Grupul pentru Dialog Social (GDS)
Ioana Avădani, Center for Independent Journalism (CJI)
Florian Mihalcea, Societatea Timisoara
Roxana Wring, ProDoMo
Oana Preda, CeRe

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