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Friday, December 28, 2012

José Manuel Barroso: Picking Romania’s Government?

On December 9, 2012, Romanian voters approved of the coalition of the then-current Prime Minister Victor Ponta, by a two-thirds majority. However, because Ponta had been in a bitter political feud with President Traian Basescu—Ponta’s coalition tried and failed to impeach the president—it was not clear that the president would nominate Ponta for prime minister even though that post must be approved by the parliament. Basescu did wind up nominating Ponta. The interesting point here is that President Barroso of the European Commission publicly waded into the choice on behalf of Ponta. This is interesting because in a federal system, the internal politics of the state governments are, or should be, off limits to federal officials. Otherwise, the risk is that the state governments might become creatures of the federal government. In the E.U., however, this risk was at the time negligible.
                                                                                               Prime Minister Ponta of Romania: Propped up by Barroso?           exclusivnews.ro
In a statement that came after the official election results were published, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso sent a clear signal that Brussels believed Mr. Ponta should remain head of government. “President Barroso congratulates Victor Ponta for his electoral victory and that of the USL coalition. The Romanian people have made a clear choice in a democratic way,” he said. Barroso said he “looks forward to working with Prime Minister Victor Ponta and President Basescu, during the coming challenging years.” One EU official said that the statement was indeed a warning from Brussels that Basescu should not throw Romania back into a political crisis. Ponta won an “overwhelming victory” last weekend, the person said. Barroso “is essentially saying you now should nominate this person.” To be sure, there was a warning for Mr. Ponta too. Barroso said he welcomed “the commitment by all Romania’s political actors to consolidating the rule of law and respecting democratic checks and balances.”
The European Union has a legitimate interest in the state governments being based on the rule of law and having a democratic basis. In the U.S., each state must be a republic. Whether in the basic law or de facto, this requirement also applies in the E.U. The assumption is that a dictator running a state would hardly put up with “meddling” from the federal level. Also, the state leaders have a powerful role at the federal level, so the processes by which the states select their leaders are important from the E.U.’s standpoint. Moreover, both the E.U. and U.S. are ensconced in democratic values, and the respective unions have a legitimate role in cementing this basis. Even so, for Barroso to “remind” the president of a state of his duty to nominate a particular person as prime minister is too invasive. Barroso would have been wiser to watch from the side and make the statement after Basescu’s decision. Since Ponta’s coalition had won two-thirds of the vote, another person being nominated would probably have simply been rejected by the parliament and the president would have to nominate someone else. If at that point Basescu would have decided to ignore the parliament’s vote, then the “rule of law” and “democratic basis” interests of the E.U. would have given Barroso ample legitimacy to pressure Basescu.

Laurence Norman, “Barroso Wades Into Romania,” The Wall Street Journal, December 24, 2012.