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Is Mr. Tăriceanu cut out for politics?


Premier Tăriceanu thus finds himself in a position to slalom among idiosyncrasies in Cotroceni, the incompetence in counties affected by floods and the public policies imposed by Brussels. Undeniably, the Premier's task is ever more difficult, and he is probably beginning to regret the well-off businessman's life, which definitely requires far less effort.

Facing a political test of paramount importance, proposed and announced as post-1989 Romania's most reforming government, the Tăriceanu Cabinet is already plunging into difficulty. And difficulty doesn't come, at least apparently, from the economic sector, but from the more sensitive ones: the political and social areas. In fact, decades of poverty and incompetence, of corruption and carelessness look for a scapegoat in the incumbent Government. So that, put aside until the twelfth hour, Romania's structural problems fall within the attributions of the Tăriceanu Government, which lacks any outstanding parliamentary support. This is why it is only now that Premier Tăriceanu is to prove whether he is cut out for top level politics or not.

At the moment Tăriceanu is pushed to defence on all fronts, and not always because of his own mistakes (although he's had his share of mistakes, undeniably), but more often because of mistakes made by others, in particular by members of his Cabinet, some of them incompetent altogether. Nonetheless, this is not the worst thing that could have happened to Tăriceanu, but the fact that his relationship with President Băsescu is worse and worsening. Romania's governments have had before, and very likely will continue to have plenty of incompetent and corrupt ministers, yet for the past fifteen years the country has hardly had strong Prime Ministers, able to impose a coherent programme and to withstand all political problems, regardless of their cause.




The issues facing the Government at present are quite serious, but none of them insuperable, if there is a will and faith that the chosen path is the reasonable one. Only that, apparently, there is no will, since so far the Prime Minister has not taken any measure to release from office those ministers whose worthlessness becomes evident. First of all, the Environment Minister has proved a striking ignorance of the field which with too little grace she is coordinating. The flooding is an issue the entire world is confronted with, and these are accidents that, to some extent, can be avoided. And when they can't or they aren't avoided, they must be handled as crises, i.e. adequate measures must be taken immediately. However, Mrs. Sulfina Barbu, instead of launching a quick damage assessment and limitation process, started to look for the guilty ones and resorted to the politicising, heavy-burden-of-the-past commonplace. What she did is known as setting the cart before the horse: the guilty ones should have been looked for in the end, after having taken the necessary measures. On the contrary, the Minister chaired the meeting with the media, in which her spokesperson, currently her private adviser, was putting her foot in her mouth, while nobody knew exactly what the country's flood combating potential was (and, as we saw, there are some things that we can do in this respect). The existing pumps, insufficient as they may have been, should have already been there the moment the equipment from Hungary and Germany arrived.

It's true, the Environment Minister is one of the Cabinet's poorest members, according to the health statement, but poverty and honesty cannot replace competence, particularly when one builds a system of subordinates in the country strictly against political and friendship-related criteria, rather than on worthiness criteria. Floods always bring to light the dirt swept under the carpet, and the dirt in the Environment Ministry, a Ministry which was supposed to initiate the reform process in view of the EU integration, makes up a pile as big as Romania.

Not only has the Prime Minister not released Mrs. Barbu instantly, but instead he proved that he lacks communication skills in addressing the people left by the flooding with no homes and no assets. He should have come to Timiș, the Environment Minister on his right, to show her the country she deserved. Particularly since living in the same country are people such as the Minister of Defence, of Public Health, or other dignitaries of superb ethic value such as Mr. Copos or Seculici. Naturally, our lady minister meditates, it's such a pity that in the very first spring of the Tăriceanu Cabinet nature (i.e. the environment) seems to have risen against politicians, exposing some of the incumbent Government members' unscrupulous ambition and cowardice.


The bridge


Obviously, natural calamities cannot be blamed on anyone, yet the fact that the State proves so weak every time nature gets out of control, be it rain, snow, drought or God knows what other disasters are registered with the Environment Ministry, testifies that Romanian decision-makers can hardly boast being creatures able to tame nature. It is more than absurd for a NATO Member country to be unable to build at least a pontoon bridge on which cars and lorries can travel, although this type of pontoons were used back in the World War I, whereas in World War II even tanks could travel on such things, unless the Discovery Channel lies. And on top of it all, the Premier goes to Buzău to congratulate the military who built a bridge only able to carry pedestrians and an ambulance every now and then, while an entire region of the country - Moldavia - is cut off from Bucharest. Because, since we are no longer building motorways, the least we can show old Europe- is a wooden footbridge, right?


The healthcare system


Financial accidents on the other hand cannot be blamed on mother nature, but directly on the ones in charge, particularly when it comes to the money in the healthcare sector, i.e. to people's lives (which again has to do with the environment). The fact that Minister Cinteză must needs wage a war which he is sure to lose proves that, as it happened all so often, the healthcare system and the education system are fields in which ego clashes overrule the most basic and oldest political principles - if you can't beat them, join them. Otherwise, you may well harm others as well. What good did it serve to Unifarm to have all those reporters coming over to show the world that in case of natural disaster (environment again) or, God forbid! in case of war, Romanians are sure to die off by the hundreds for want of medicines and first aid. There is no doubt that some poor manager in Unifarm will be beheaded in the war between Cinteză and medicine producers, although eventually, as it always happens, the State will pay to foreign companies.

And just as health and nature are tied to the environment, so is corruption tied to the business environment, but also to politics, when governmental connections allow you to illegally buy the Hilton, as it happened with Mr. Copos, who could at least have his revenge on his eternal competitor Gigi Becali. And as Mr. Seculici, President Băsescu's relative by marriage, saw fit, he tied business and politics by a splendid friendship and kinship bond, together with his son-in-law Falcă. After hearing such news, one can hardly claim PSD is the party of the corrupt, and that it was only because of them that the country went to the dogs (part of the environment, too).

All of the above seem to some extent to be occurrences inherent to any Romanian government: natural calamities, health crises and corruption are the acid tests for each cabinet. Only that this time, apart from nature, President Băsescu himself has his revenge on Mr. Tăriceanu, reprimanding him as if he was a mediocre pupil. Only in this respect can Tăriceanu fight back - obviously, through a drastic reshuffling - reminding the President that some of the ministers in the Cabinet come from the Democratic Party. Not only the Premier, but the entire Liberal Party was offended when the President said the incumbent Government needed the "troops, listen to my command" system, proving that Liberal democracy was a mere phrase devoid of meaning for the President of the country, the one who sees himself as the puppet master in Romania's home affairs. Embarrassed by his own ministers, being in a rather uncomfortable financial and budgetary state after introduction of the flat tax rate, having limited parliamentary support, the Premier is now abandoned by Băsescu as well.

In this awkward predicament, the Premier only has two alternatives: he either withdraws, to Băsescu's satisfaction, who can now see his early election dream come true, or check the President, in a daring move to push Băsescu out of the executive process.

It is clear that the President is making a forceful comeback after solving the hostage crisis, after his image got affected by more than weird foreign policy statements, which raised questions with respect to the country's EU accession in 2007. As a result, Mr. Andrei Pleșu left the Palace-, making hardly appreciative statements, through third parties, on a President who surrounds himself with the like of Mrs. Udrea at the expense of valuable advisers.

Failing at a foreign policy level - which too many of us feared - Băsescu remembered the part of player-president (some sort of a forward-goalkeeper) that he promised in the electoral campaign. Which is why he started pressing the Government, to prove his might and muscles after having his spinach serving. Only that the ball is in Premier Tăriceanu's court to break this bizarre relationship, if indeed he is cut out for top level politics, particularly since the 2003 Constitution clearly stipulates that the president cannot release the premier from office. By building a new governmental team, Tăriceanu can fight back at the President and can urge him to confine his actions to presidential attributions - which very likely will not agree with Băsescu. And if blackmail is attempted, via the Democratic Party, Tăriceanu will have to resort to his capacity as president of the Liberal Party and respond through new political alliances, even with Opposition parties, or to undertake a minority government role.

But all this depends on the extent to which PM Tăriceanu is cut out for politics...

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