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Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Archive for the ‘European Union’ Category

NYT: The Curse of Corruption in Europe’s East

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BUCHAREST — This summer, after the police arrived at the handsome villa of the former Romanian prime minister Adrian Nastase to arrest him on corruption charges, he apparently pulled out a revolver and tried to kill himself. Millions of Romanians watched on television as Mr. Nastase, 62, was carried off on a stretcher, a Burberry scarf wrapped around his neck. He survived, and one week later was behind bars. But this is Romania, where everything, it seems, is a matter of dispute.

Anti-corruption advocates hailed Mr. Nastase’s downfall as a seminal moment in the evolution of a young democracy. Others have called his conviction for siphoning $2 million in state funds for his presidential campaign a show trial. Mr. Nastase’s opponents now allege that he faked a suicide attempt in an effort to avoid prison. His son Andrei Nastase, who was at the house at the time, said the accusation was absurd.

Whatever the truth, Adrian Nastase now occupies a cell measuring 4 square meters, or 43 square feet. On his jailhouse blog, he recently recounted how prisoners ate cabbage and potatoes, braved rats and had hot water for two hours twice a week.

Today, analysts here and abroad say the Nastase case has come to reveal as much about Romania’s political polarization and dysfunction as its halting steps toward greater democracy. It comes amid heightened fears in the European Union that its newest and weakest members are not up to the task of rooting out corruption that is a legacy of decades of Communist rule and, indeed, of weak governance before that.

Across Eastern and Central Europe and the Balkans, countries are experiencing a surge of instability that, analysts say, stems almost in equal parts from endemic corruption and the sometimes ham-fisted efforts to combat it in the context of bitter political rivalries.

The European Union, with 27 member nations, is so concerned about creeping lawlessness among its new members that Romania and its neighbor Bulgaria, which both entered in 2007, have not joined the bloc’s passport/visa-free travel area. On Thursday, the European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, said concerns about corruption and fraud in Romania had prompted it to block E.U. development aid, potentially worth billions of euros.

In Croatia, which is set to join the European Union next year, former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader has been charged with embezzlement.

Romania, in particular, has struggled to overcome the aftermath of the ruthless, corrupt dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu. Over the past six years, 4,700 people have gone to trial on corruption charges, including 15 ministers and secretaries of state, 23 members of Parliament and more than 500 police officers.

To many, Mr. Nastase, a former member of the Communist elite who was prime minister from 2000 to 2004, is emblematic of a generation of still active politicians who assumed that power and influence could shelter them from the law. Once asked to account for his apparent wealth, he defiantly roared, “Count my eggs!” a Romanian slang word for genitals.

Monica Macovei, a former justice minister who is close to Mr. Nastase’s archrival President Traian Basescu, said that “There are too many people from the Communist era like Nastase who are still in power, and this has polluted the political class.” Read more in The New York Times.

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Aggressive opportunist

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Romania’s Prime Minister Victor Ponta risks all.

Victor Ponta has a taste for the political ambush. In 2010, he won the leadership of Romania’s Social Democrats (PSD) within five days of announcing his candidacy. This summer, in the space of four days, he used his position as his country’s stop-gap prime minister to suspend the president and remove the speakers of parliament and the national ombudsman.

Ponta is clearly a man who strikes fast and effectively. To have become a prime minister at 39 also suggests an astute, calculating brain. Yet within weeks of President Traian Basescu’s suspension, the European Commission – and, crucially, Germany’s Social Democrats – forced him to issue a mea culpa in the form of 11 promises of corrective action. Somehow, a man who has a decade of political contacts with the European Union, and whose wife is a member of the European Parliament, had misjudged the EU.

A polyglot who speaks English, French and Italian, Ponta comes from a modest family that had moved from southern Romania to Bucharest. Vladimir Tismaneanu, a professor at the University of Maryland, recalls Ponta as the leader of the PSD’s youth wing as a “flamboyant leftist militant with an unabashed admiration for Che Guevera” and some admiration for Chinese communism. “I thought he was a relatively naïve east European leftist”, he says, though Ponta was already the head of the Government Audit Agency. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Theophyle

October 24, 2012 at 11:25 am

Borderlands Europe (1)

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Geopolitical Journey, Part 2: Borderlands is republished with permission of  STRATFOR.

By George Friedman

A borderland is a region where history is constant: Everything is in flux. The countries we are visiting on this trip (Turkey, Romania, Moldova, Ukraine and Poland) occupy the borderland between Islam, Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity. Roman Catholic Hapsburg Austria struggled with the Islamic Ottoman Empire for centuries, with the Ottomans extending northwest until a climactic battle in Vienna in 1683. Beginning in the 18th century, Orthodox Russia expanded from the east, through Belarus and Ukraine. For more than two centuries, the belt of countries stretching from the Baltic to the Black seas was the borderland over which three empires fought. Read the rest of this entry »

Financial Markets, Politics and the New Reality

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Financial Markets, Politics and the New Reality is republished with permission of Stratfor.”

By George Friedman

Louis M. Bacon is the head of Moore Capital Management, one of the largest and most influential hedge funds in the world. Last week, he announced that he was returning one quarter of his largest fund, about $2 billion, to his investors. The reason he gave to The New York Times was that he had found it difficult to invest given the impossibility of predicting the European situation. He was quoted as saying, “The political involvement is so extreme — we have not seen this since the postwar era. What they are doing is trying to thwart natural market outcomes. It is amazing how important the decision-making of one person, Angela Merkel, has become to world markets.” Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Theophyle

August 10, 2012 at 9:14 am

Between east and west, a gulf of stereotypes

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In the Netherlands, Eastern Europeans have replaced Muslims as a target of the far right. The hostility is fed by clichés widespread throughout Western Europe, regrets a Lithuanian journalist, who admits that his own countrymen are not free from prejudice.

Rasa Navickaité

“Are you having trouble with immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe? We want to hear!” The website of the far-right Dutch party welcomes visitors with this question spiced with encouragement. Geert Wilders, leader of the Freedom Party and known for his diatribes against Islam and Muslims, has discovered a new vein to mine for the backing of the average Dutch voter. In February his party launched a website designed to gather evidence on the problems caused by “the Poles, Bulgarians, Romanians and other eastern Europeans.”

According to the National Statistics Office of the Netherlands, about 200,000 eastern Europeans settled in the country legally in 2011. The 136,000 Poles make up the majority, followed by 2,708 Lithuanians, 1,885 Latvians and 665 Estonians. In a country of 17 million, this represents just over one percent.

It is intriguing that the far right’s hatred for immigrants who do not respect Western values has switched target. After September 11, Islam and Muslims became the scapegoats for all the ills of society; today, it’s the eastern Europeans who play this role. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Theophyle

July 23, 2012 at 9:24 am

Krugman NYT : Separating Law and Politics in Romania

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Another post from my Princeton colleague Kim Lane Scheppele, after the jump:

 Separating Law and Politics in Romania

Kim Lane Scheppele (Princeton University) and Vlad Perju (Boston College Law School)
12 July 2012

As the Romanian political crisis spirals into dangerous territory, it helps to understand what is legal, what is political, and where the line between the two is blurred. Ordinary party politics is a contact sport that can generate much public passion, but it is perfectly legal. Constitution-smashing conduct crosses the line into revolutionary territory. The actions of the Ponta government combine polarized party politics with a constitution-smashing revolution.

Since the last post on this subject, the Romanian parliament voted Friday by 256 to 114 to remove President Basescu from office. On 29 July, the Romanian electorate will be able to confirm or reject the parliamentary vote. If the people vote to oust Basescu, which the polls predict they will, he must go. In the meantime, he is suspended from office.

Ponta and his allies have been so intent on removing Basescu that they have stopped at nothing to achieve this result. They changed the referendum law to make it easier to rid themselves of Basescu. They have fired the ombudsman, the only person who could challenge the government’s decrees before the Constitutional Court. They have ousted the presidents of both chambers of parliament in order to bring the line of succession for the presidency into their party alliance. They threatened to remove justices of the Constitutional Court who had sided with Basescu in the past and – when international criticism roared about the threats to the judges – instead cut the jurisdiction of the Constitutional Court. The prime minister’s allies also seized control of the official gazette in which all legal documents must be published before they can take effect, which theoretically gives them the power to delay the publication, and thus the entering into force, of decisions contrary to their political interests. Read the rest of this entry »

Der Spiegel: Democracy Loses as Romania Spins out of Control – by Andrei Plesu

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No longer is the government in Romania characterized merely by mistakes, excesses and professional incompetence. Prime Minister Victor Ponta has launched a brutal attack on the country’s institutions, democratic principles and the rule of law.

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Newly installed Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta, 39, and his political allies are attempting to consolidate their power in Romania. After replacing the parliamentary president and restricting the powers of the country’s Constitutional Court , the coalition led by Ponta, a Social Democrat, is now seeking to impeach President Traian Basescu. The parliament began proceedings last Friday, suspending the president. A nationwide referendum is to be held at the end of the month. The opposition is calling it a “coup,” and Romanian philosopher and art historian Andrei Pleu, 63, is also concerned. He is viewed as an intellectual authority both in Romania and abroad. Prior to the fall of Communism Pleu was a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bucharest, but was forced to give up teaching when he was banished to a village for associating with dissidents shortly before the overthrow of then dictator Nicolae Ceauescu. Pleu served as minister of culture after 1989 before working as a philosophy professor. From 1997 to 1999 he was Romania ‘s foreign minister as an independent. He currently heads the New Europe College in Bucharest . Read the rest of this entry »