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Turmoil in Romania

July 10, 2012

Romania's parliament suspended its President Traian Basescu - with a July 29 referendum set to decide whether he loses his job completely. European Parliamentarian Elmar Brok says the move violates EU principles.

Elmar Brok
Image: dapd

Elmar Brok is Chairman of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs. In Germany, he is a member of the ruling center-right CDU party. In the European Parliament, he is a member of the European People's Party. He spoke with radio broadcaster Deutschlandfunk about the political power struggle in Romania, and DW presents selections from the interview below.

Dirk-Oliver Heckmann: So what is it that we're seeing here? Is it essentially a coup in Romania?

Elmar Brok: Yes, it is really a bit like a coup. I have never seen something quite like this in a country that calls itself a democracy. Against all the rules, the key positions in the country are quickly being taken over by elements of the government. It is a violation of law, and there seems to be no understanding for the fact that the rule of law should prevent people from doing certain things. And one must accept that a separation of powers means that posts will be occupied by different people at different times.

The worst thing, though, is that the government has legal authority to issue an emergency decree suspending the powers of the constitutional court.

To what extent is such a law in violation of EU agreements?

It is a clear violation of the principles of the European Union. The rule of law and democracy are anchored in Article 7 of the Treaty on the European Union, and that article allows the EU to move against states in violation of those principles.

European Social Democrats have a broader view. President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz said he does not believe Romania violated the treaty, and Hannes Swoboda, chairman of the Social Democrats in the European Parliament, said that the constitution allows for a procedure to dismiss the president from his post. How do you explain the Social Democrats' reservations?

Well, of course, because they are Socialist brothers. It may be true that there is a procedure for dismissing someone from his post, but it is not acceptable that a constitutional court's ruling and significance for this procedure can simply be nullified through a decree from the government - and not even by way of a parliamentary resolution. You cannot cast aside a constitutional court with a simple majority or with a governmental decree. That is a clear violation of the constitution. And it is being done in this case to reach political goals.

Where was your opposition when President Basescu, who is in the conservative camp, began gaining more and more power? It sounds as though you view him solely as a victim, but that is probably not the case, right?

It is not relevant whether one thinks he is good or bad; he never gained power in a way that violated the constitution. Whether he's doing good or bad politics, whether one likes him - all of that plays no role in questions about respecting the rule of law. Those are questions of politics. And political evaluations cannot trump constitutional law. When this foundation is not firm, then democracy and the rule of law are not possible.

There is now supposed to be a referendum in Romania about Basescu's dismissal. If it turns out that the majority say that his dismissal was acceptable, then can we say that everything is OK?

No, that does not make everything OK because you cannot simply set aside a constitution. If you take a democratic poll to see whether or not someone is popular in a democracy, then you cannot annul the constitution ahead of it. It is through the constitution that such a procedure is possible at all.

What tools does Brussels have to put the government in Romania under pressure? German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle mentioned blocking Romania's entry into the Schengen area.

I don't consider it possible for a country to join the Schengen area when that country does not completely respect the rule of law. I also think that other procedures from Article 7 of the Treaty on the European Union must be set in motion, which could lead to the suspension of Romania's right to vote within the European Union.

Is there a sense in which it was a mistake to accept Romania into the European Union?

The Socialists were already doing terrible things in the 1990s in Romania, and now they are at it again with this action. I think - mentally - they have not really made the transition from the old dictatorship toward democracy.

It was not an error to include Romania, but we must show that we want to make sure that commitments are being kept. And if that is not going to be done, then it will be a sad affair for Romania. But we cannot allow that in the European Union.

Interview: Dirk-Oliver Heckmann / gsw
Editor: Joanna Impey

MPs voting
Romania will hold a referendum on the issue on July 29Image: AP
Romanian President Traian Basescu
President Basescu's duties have been suspendedImage: picture alliance/dpa