ECONOMY

Romania paralyzed by crisis in gov’t

BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Romania’s government is on the verge of collapse just three weeks after Bucharest joined the European Union, threatening the country’s hopes of reaping any quick benefits from joining the wealthy club. Romania risks being isolated within the 27-member bloc if the two-year-old centrist coalition falls apart and the reforms it has overseen dry up, especially its drive against far-reaching corruption. «The question is whether this country is being governed at all,» said one EU country diplomat in Bucharest. After pushing through deep reforms that won Romania an invitation to join the EU, the country’s president and prime minister are locked in a battle of personalities which analysts say has lead to a policy paralysis. Charismatic President Traian Basescu looks set on trying to force out Prime Minister Calin Tariceanu. However, the premier refuses to bow out, deepening divisions between two main governing parties which are tied to the two politicians. Much is at stake for the poor Black Sea state of 22 million, which needs to modernize its inept public administration to be able to absorb billions of euros in EU aid and help local firms and an outdated farming sector compete within the wealthy bloc. Observers warn Bucharest is struggling to define a policy agenda to follow in Brussels and needs to revive progress in justice reforms. «They are not visionaries, they are improvisers,» said the diplomat. «They are not prepared to go to Brussels and negotiate. Their post-accession strategy is too late. They need to define what they want.» The former communist PSD opposition party is threatening to bring a vote of no confidence against Tariceanu’s government. «We are getting signatures, (this week) we should be ready,» PSD head Mircea Geoana told Reuters. «The alliance is dead.» Some analysts believe a no-confidence vote will fail because many politicians would fear losing power in a snap general election which could follow. «We should think of early elections as an opportunity, because we are at a dead end,» said Adrian Moraru, analyst with the Institute for Public Policies. The latest coalition crisis, dubbed by newspapers as «total war» or «group suicide» started after Basescu accused Tariceanu of having tried to influence the judiciary in a high-profile investigation into energy sector privatization. The prime minister, who runs the governing alliance’s Liberal party, struck back saying Basescu was involved in murky infrastructure deals using his position as president. Both politicians deny any wrongdoing. The centrists have won much praise for overhauling Romania’s corrupt justice system. They have introduced mechanisms to ensure judicial independence and a system of checks on politicians to curb peddling of influence once rife in Romania. But according to Transparency International’s corruption perception index, Romania remains the EU’s most corrupt member. The row has also encouraged the ex-communist opposition to step up attacks against the centrists in a bid to boost their own public ratings, shattered by corruption scandals.