Will Romania give up on its anti-corruption fight?

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Liviu Dragnea and Klaus Iohannis (foto: CC BY-SA 2.0, CC BY-SA 3.0)

After Donald Trump entered the White House the northern neighbour is one of the territories of global fight between pro-German and anti-German powers

Vladimir Mitev

This article was published on 5 June 2018 on the site and in the paper ”Word”. 

Has the end of the Romanian anti-corruption fight come? The question has probably passed through the head of many people, as the Constitutional Court of Romania (CCR) stipulated on 30 May 2018 that the urge of the minister of justice Tudorel Toader for resignation of the chief of the anti-corruption fight DNA is legitimate (because according to the court prosecutors are subordinated to its ministry). The CCR also defined the president Klaus Iohannis` rejection to sign the order for Laura Koveşi`s resignation as unconstitutional deed. In other words the Constitutional Court said that Iohannis, who is considered a pillar of anticorruption, must literally cut a part of his political body, signing the order for Koveşi`s resignation.

According to popular faces of Romanian anti-corruption, such as the judge Cristi Danileţ, the CCR`s decision returns Romania back to 2004, when the political system controlled the judicial one. Earlier in 2018 the CCR decided that prosecutors are appointed by the minister of justice, in other words – by a politician, and now it added that the same person has the right to ask for the resignation of the heads of prosecution.

The institution – predecessor to DNA is established in 2004, as the anti-corruption department of the general prosecution is reestablished as a separate institution. In the heat of the entrance in the EU and after Traian Băsescu`s election as a president Brussels proposes to help with the judicial reform. Monica Macovei becomes the minister of justice and important legislative changes are introduced. The essence of those years` reforms are described by Romanian anti-corruption experts in a very simple way: judges receive guarantees that they don`t owe explications and are not dependent on politicians and that if their professionalism is put into doubt, their work will be reviewed by other magistrates and not by political factors.

This independence of the judicial system led to many convicted politicians after 2012 and made the Romanian anti-corruption an export model in the region. Romanian media used to write that the fight against corruption is a way to change the political elite, to modernise the country in a western way and to cleanse the landscape from the dinosaurs of transition. After the transition, which made few chosen people rich and impoverished a large part of the population, Romanians approved seeing public persons, famous for dirty past and cynical behaviour, handcuffed and behind bars.

All the time there was criticism going on against anti-corruption. E.g. that it takes place under the guidance of the secret services and leads to cleansing only of their opponents. It was said that anti-corruption doesn`t focus on foreign capital`s corruption, but only removes the representatives of national business and local political leaders. Another criticism was that Romania has become „the country of prosecutors“, where many heads of public institutions fear to take responsibility and to sign documents, because a corruption file can be opened against them. It was also claimed that in spite of the many sentences, the level of stolen money`s recuperation was insignificant – around 5%. In other words, anti-corruption was presented by its opponents as a spectacle, that includes showing handcuffed people on the television, but doesn`t lead to real justice in financial plan, as those who stole money remained rich after they left prison.

All the arguments in support or against the anti-corruption in Romania in the last year and a half are reduced to the clash „for“ and „against“ its leader – Laura Koveşi. The CCR decision on 30 May is a culmination of the fight against the supporters and the opponents of anti-corruption in its present form. But before seeing what could follow from now on, it is worty having a look once again on the context – not of anti-corruption fight, but of Romanian politics.

After Donald Trump entered the White House, a clear geopolitical front between supporters and opponents of Germany (and the EU) appeared in many places around the world. The American president has been distancing his country from the privileged connection that EU once has with the United States. Under the influence of the pro-Israeli forces in the USA and the world Trump took Washington away from the nuclear agreement with the group of six (USA, Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China) with Iran and introduced new sanctions against the Islamic Republic. The EU showed that it is not going to follow the American policy towards Iran and will seek possibilities for its companies to develop relations with the state, where Persian language is spoken.

This conflict with pro-Israeli and pro-German forces appeared in Romania too, after the powerful figure behind the government – the social democratic leader Liviu Dragnea, announced his intention to move the Romanian embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The government in Bucharest and the Israeli state signed a memorandum in this sense without taking into consideration and even asking the president Klaus Iohannis. Iohannis is an ethnic German and is the pro-European face of Romanian politics, while the government and Liviu Dragnea use anti-European rhetorics.

This spring the leader of the oppposition National-Liberal Party Ludovic Orban filed a complaint in the Romanian prosecutor`s office, accusing Dragnea and the prime minister Viorica Dăncilă în ”high treason”, because they have signed the memorandum with Israel, which ”does harm to the fundamental interests of Romania”. In his turn, in the end of April and the beginning of May Iohannis asked for the resignation of Dăncilă, so that in his words ”competent” officials come to office. Dăncilă is often an object of irony in the social networks, because of her incorrect Romanian language and because of her lack of qualities. But Iohannis is also criticised over political and personal deficits.

In this context it is very interesting what follows. Is it possible that Iohannis alone would score a goal in its footbal gate, realising the will of the Constitutional Court? Will the fight against corruption end, if Koveşi is fired or to the contrary – anti-corruption will go on, but the fight is who will guide it and against whom will be directed? Is it possible that a final resolution of the fight between pro-German and pro-Israeli forces is reached, given that on international level it still hasn`t reached its peak?

The last questions seems to be the easiest one to answer. Such geopolitical conflicts can`t reach easily a final resolution in a separate country, provided that they go on on global level. It is interesting to what extent Romanians are in conflict with themselves and to what extent these are simply international conflicts taking place on their territory.

Even the greatest anti-corruption experts – such as Codru Vrabie, can`t make a categoric judgement what the future of anti-corruption will be. There is however an opinioin that anti-corruption has its deep roots in Romanian society and state and would be difficult to stop it completely. In an interview for the site „The Barricade“ Vrabie says: ”I don’t think that predictions can be made about the new direction of the Romanian anti-corruption fight. We only see that we are at a crossroads… It is possible that the fight against corruption in Romania could take a new form, but I don`t think that it will cease. The role of DNA (the anti-corruption prosecution) may be diminished, because the ongoing modification of the penal legislation will make the work of an anti-corruption prosecutor much more difficult.”

The actions of Iohannis as leader of the pro-European forces in Romania is worthy to be observed closer in the next days and weeks. He received the award ”Franz Josef Strauss” of the Hans Seidel Foundation – the political foudnation of the Cristian Social Union in Bavaria, on 2 June in Munhcen. His return to Romania and following moves are awaited with interest. In my view the Romanian president wouldn`t let himself go against his electorate and to fire against his political allies (such as Koveşi).

The hypothess about semi-constitutional – semi-anti-constitutional actions of Iohannis. Some people advice him to attempt using various juridical procedures and to convene a referendum in order to neutralise the decision of the Constitutional Court on 30 May. There is a hyptothesis, that if he doesn`t realise the CCR decision, there is no sanction that can be imposed on him. Of course, it is possible that in such a case the ruling social democrats try to move forward an impeachment procedure and to organise a referendum for or against the president`s resignation. Such activies will take more time and it is not quite likely that they will lead to a categoric resolution of the contradictions between the camp of Iohannis and the camp of Dragnea.

The message from the American embassy on the CCR decision must be noted. The embassy said that it followed the situation close, but it will not intefere in Romanian internal affairs.

Social democrats seem to feel themselves empowered and in attacking mode as Trump stands in the White House. Nevertheless, they try various intiatives to weaken the anti-corrutpion fight, even though they move forwards very slow. The safest prognosis is that the Romanian political contradiction will be resolved only when a solution at global level is found, because it is a function of international ballances. Koveşi has had a modest media presence for many months. If Romanians do change or eliminate their anti-corruption model, it will certainly influcence the fans of this model in Bulgaria. The good news is that in the last years Bulgarians started to follow closer what happens in the norther neighbour. As we understand the processes there, we might obtain the instruments that will help us understand better our own political conflicts…

Read in Romanian language!

Read in Bulgarian language!

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