As I’ve written about before, on the surface of things it seems a little strange that the USL is in such a rush to dominate the levers of power and effect this coup d’etat to steamroller their political opponents. A slower and more nuanced strategy would’ve avoided all of the condemnation (and now direct intervention) from the European Union and would’ve garnered more popular and more sustained support from the Romanian public.
Besides a few USL leaders having a personal hated for Basescu, why all the rush? The answer lies many years ago in a document signed in 1995.
In those days, Romania was a lot different. Ion Iliescu was serving his first term as the first post-revolution president and was at the height of his powers. Romanians (and most people in eastern Europe) were still quite excited about their future. And one of the primary goals for Iliescu as well as all other politicians in Romania was joining the European Union.
To that end, a meeting was held with all 14 political parties in the town of Snagov and a document was signed called the “Declaration of Snagov”.
I managed to find a copy (PDF) of this document, the key paragraph being:
Obiectivul strategic naţional al aderării României la Uniunea Europeană constituie un punct nodal al solidarităţilor şi convergenţelor forţelor politice şi sociale ale ţării, reprezentând o şansă istorică de a promova idealurile şi interesele fundamentale ale poporului român.
This document basically says that joining the EU is a goal that the Romanian people and all political parties agree is extremely important. If you look at the signatories to this document you will see Adrian Nastase signing there twice, once as head of the PDSR (today’s PSD) and once as the Speaker of the House.
Later under Iliescu’s second term as president, Adrian Nastase (2000-2004) rose to the post of Prime Minister and played a fundamental role in Romania’s progress towards becoming a member of the EU. In the 2004 presidential race, he initially won the first round of voting but failed to achieve an absolute majority. In the run-off election, he lost a very close race to Traian Basescu. And thus the first seeds of the “problem” were planted.
Many years later, on January 1, 2007 Romania did officially become a member of the European Union. The “problem” that is motivating the coup in 2012 is because of the documents and agreements that Romania had to enter into in order to be accepted as a member of the EU, particularly what is called the MCV or “Mechanism for Cooperation and Verification”. I managed to find a copy of these documents (English or Romanian) back from 2007 of this MCV.
The MCV is designed to make sure that Romania (and Bulgaria) as a new member of the EU follow all of the policies and norms of the Union, i.e. that they have a fair, impartial and democratic legal system. Even in 2012 Romania is still “progressing” towards full integration in the EU on these topics but the links above are from the original 2007 report and what I want to focus on.
A few choice quotes:
Reform of the judiciary and the fight against corruption has been closely monitored under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism. The follow up provides a summary analysis and a detailed explanation of progress in relation to the benchmarks under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism. The detailed explanation is structured on actions which were used as indicators of progress towards meeting benchmarks.
Deeply rooted problems, notably corruption require the irreversible establishment and effective functioning of sustainable structures at investigative and enforcement level capable of sending strong dissuasive signals.
In March 2006, the Romanian Parliament ratified law n. 54/06 that restored the competence of the “National Anti-corruption Department” to investigate all cases of high-level corruption. The office is now named the National Anti-corruption Directorate (DNA). It is established as a legal entity within the Prosecutor’s Office at the HCCJ. The General Prosecutor of the Prosecutor’s Office attached to the HCCJ directs the DNA through the Chief Prosecutor of the matter. DNA has a budget and a staff of its own.
The commitment and capacity of the DNA in prosecuting high level corruption cases continued. The number and profile of the new investigations initiated by the DNA in this period contributed to a good track record of non-partisan investigations into high level corruption.
Let’s review. In 1995, Iliescu and Nastase sign the Snagov Declaration which commits Romania to doing whatever is takes to join the EU. As part of the pre-accession requirements, in 2006 Romania modifies its judicial system to include an independent organization which investigations and prosecutes crimes of corruption. Not quoted above is that the ANI (integrity agency) is also created for the same reasons to prosecute crimes of influence trafficking, etc.
In 2004 Nastase clearly expected to win the presidency. It is indeed the president who can nominate both the chief magistrate of the ICCJ (Romania’s highest criminal court) as well as the head of the DNA (anti-corruption agency). The president can also nominate certain other judges as well (such as for the CCR constitutional court). It’s quite obvious that the president being able to name the chief prosecutor and head judge which handle corruption cases is a very important lever of power in Romania. And since 2004, it’s been held by Basescu despite now four attempts to get rid of him (two suspensions and two hotly contested presidential elections).
Back to the January 1, 2007 EU report on this:
The timeframes in which DNA conducts and concludes its investigations continues to illustrate a high level of professionalism in the Department’s multi-disciplinary investigating teams. 84 new indictments have been filed since September 2006, concerning 195 defendants.
Not only did Nastase lose his 2004 presidential bid but it was shortly thereafter when the DNA opened a corruption case against him for the “Quality in Construction Trophy” case. Despite presenting literally 1,000 witnesses and having an entire phalanx of lawyers, Nastase was convicted in 2012 and then came all the circus of the “suicide attempt” (now officially three minor superficial wounds on the back of his neck according to prison officials) and the rest. You can be damn sure that had he been president in 2004, he would’ve named a DNA chief that would’ve turned a blind eye to Nastase’s criminal past.
It’s also worth noting that Nastase also still has pending cases including the “China Goods” case and the “Aunt Tamara” case (all big corruption cases in Romania get a nickname).
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. The problem for the USL is that many of its biggest backers are either facing multiple criminal prosecutions or else have already received multiple sanctions (particularly by the ANI) and face being removed from the corridors of power.
One of these is Dan Voiculescu. When the USL seized control of the Monitorul Oficial earlier this month, one of their first acts was to expedite Voiculescu’s resignation as senator in order to force one of his cases to be transferred (and thus delayed) to a different court. Another powerful backer of the USL is Catalin Voicu, also facing multiple serious cases of corruption and criminal activity. And there are many more.
Although they deny it now, USL leaders initially had attempted to replace two members of the Constitutional Court earlier this month (they withdrew the motion after sharp criticism and intervention of the EU). There is a brand-new DNA case against two judges who were caught talking about using their friendship with PM Ponta to get interim president Antonescu to nominate them (the judges) for positions in the DNA. And so on and so forth.
And thus Adrian Nastase, a double signatory to the 1995 Snagov Declaration, found himself hung by a rope of his own making when after he lost the 2004 presidential election he became the target of prosecution (receiving one guilty verdict so far) by judicial institutions that were mandated by Romania joining the European Union.
Seeing their once untouchable leader behind bars, the leaders of the USL and their backers are in a terrible bind. On one hand, they want to do whatever they can to protect themselves from criminal prosecution. On the other hand, Romania being a member of the EU means that they cannot violate democratic norms (especially the independence of the judiciary) without sanction from the same European Union that 12 years ago they were so eager to join.
It is expected that the MCV will publish another interim report on Romania some time very soon (this month). Unable to remove DNA chief Morar and “Attorney General” Laura Kovesi (both supported by Basescu) in order not to completely derail the MCV, the USL has little they can do now except to try and swing for the fences.
If they can find some way to get this July 29 referendum to be considered valid and thus remove Basescu from office without bringing down the wrath of the EU then they can install their own man as president, naming a new DNA chief, a new “Attorney General” and other important judges in other courts. For those of their allies (including Nastase) who have been unable to avoid criminal prosecution, the office of the president of Romania can issue pardons.
So that’s why the game is in play right now and why all the hurry to seize the organs of state. The USL could’ve played the slow but surer game, winning local elections in June and then national elections in November and built up momentum to a suspension and removal of Basescu at the end of this year. They couldn’t wait however as the threat of convictions, bans from holding office and jail terms of too many of their most important members are approaching zero hour and so they had to go for broke, breaking every rule, norm and law in order to try and get away with their coup before anyone could stop them.
I guess by the end of this month we’ll find out whether or not they’ve succeeded.