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Between integration and constitutional reform

Arthur SUCIU

Traian Băsescu put forth the unicameral parliament topic during his visit to Washington. Apparently at least, the President's message was not calculated. Băsescu expressed his position in favour of the shift to the unicameral parliamentary system, when answering a question asked by the Romania language media in the USA. Taking no time to think it over, Premier Călin Popescu Tăriceanu, while in the country, make a point of replying, stating he did not agree with it.

The Head of Government's quick rebuff irritated the President. He shortly initiated consultations with all political parties in Cotroceni, and threatened to call a referendum. Băsescu himself was not particularly sure of all the details entailed by an institutional reform. But since Tăriceanu saw fit to go up against him, out of the blue, well then...

In his turn, the Premier looked for a way to hamper the President's initiative. Once again without much thinking, he convened leaders of parliamentary parties to the Because of the floods, which required the Administration's involvement to solve the problems, the President's meetings in Cotroceni with PSD, PD, PRM, PC and UDMR were postponed. Băsescu was only visited by the Liberals. They proposed, instead of the unicameral parliament, the election of the President by Parliament.

After a one-week duel, Băsescu called on Tariceanu at the Government offices and then the two left together for the Bridge-. The last blow was again dealt by the President, who took part in a meeting of the Emergency Response Committee, uninvited and in the Premier's absence.


The speaker-replacement circus show


One week before the President - PM swordfight, the main political issue had been the ruling coalition's inability to remove from the helm of Parliament Chambers the two PSD leaders, Adrian Năstase and Nicolae Văcăroiu. The absence of a strategy for reaching this objective was self-evident. PSD managed to close off the bills, first in the Standing Bureaus, and then deferred their inclusion in the working agenda, and then postponed the plenary meeting debates. The public had already started to get annoyed with the circus show in Parliament, as voters no longer saw in Năstase and Văcăroiu's replacement an anti-PSD revolution, but rather a political war of attrition, waged over some offices.

The Prime Minister had initially announced that, if the deadlines for the two Chamber Speakers' replacement are not met, as decided in a Coalition meeting, then snap elections would be organised. Later on, Traian Băsescu stated that replacement of the two speakers was no longer a priority. In other words, Năstase and Văcăroiu cannot be reasons enough to call early elections. Eventually, Tăriceanu got to share the President's opinion.


A topic for the Alliance's image


The debate in Parliament was threatening to impact the Alliance's public image. The President's idea about the unicameral parliament nonetheless took discussions to a more general and neutral field. The President had long been in search for a solution to the Parliament deadlock. He didn't find one, but at least he launched another one to cover it. A champion of crisis situations, Traian Băsescu knows that, in order to hide a problem, one only needs to invent an even more serious one. Therefore, from the debates in Parliament, the President moved to Parliament itself, as an institution, and to its role as such.


Băsescu and Geoană, backing unicameralism


At the same time, the President seized the PSD initiative of introducing the unicameral parliament. This involves a change in the structure of the most important institution in the State, which may open the gate to further changes, at the same level. And one of the new president's intentions is precisely to revise the current system. Therefore it makes perfect sense for PSD and Traian Băsescu to agree on this initiative. Both Mircea Geoană, the incumbent president of PSD, and Traian Băsescu seek to change the constitutional system adopted in 1991 (an additional argument is the PSD leaders' sanctioning "Constitution father" Antonie Iorgovan, who labelled Băsescu's unicameral parliament proposal as an"imbecility"). This system bears the signature of the political vision of the first president since the 1989 revolution, Ion Iliescu, and essentially expresses Iliescu's form of action. From different positions, Băsescu and Geoană are Ion Iliescu's heirs, but they mean to change the system, to adjust it to their own political objectives. Virtually, this means laying the constitutional basis for a new era in the Romanian politics. This is why it's critical to see who will have the initiative. At the moment, it is evident that Traian Băsescu can be seen as the flagship of the idea of institutional change, although Geoană was the first to make this proposal.


Tăriceanu and Năstase count on integration


Why was Tăriceanu so quick in turning down the President's proposal? First of all, because Traian Băsescu once again cautioned the public on an important issue. The meeting organised at the  

Iliescu, against Constitution modification


The debate on the unicameral parliament is yet to be settled. It was launched without prior preparation. The civil society criticised the President's initiative, not as being absurd, but as being a non-emergency. There is some sense of urgency however, within the political community, and it takes the form of the will to change Iliescu's Constitution. It is worth mentioning that the former president has boldly stood up against the Constitution modification, against the unicameral parliament and has defended Antonie Iorgovan.


PNL: President, elected by Parliament


Eventually, one should not overlook (and in fact this is even a more serious issue than the aforesaid) PNL's proposal to have the President elected by Parliament. In the 1992-1996 constitutional mandate, the then-powerful and popular Ion Iliescu had a representative of his own party at the helm of the government: Nicolae Văcăroiu. The latter fully complied with the President's recommendations. Problems only emerged in the 2001-2004 mandate, when PSD Premier Adrian Năstase proved some independence as to Iliescu. It was at that point that it became obvious that a weaker Iliescu may lead to problems between the Presidential Administration and Government. Things are quite different now. Traian Băsescu is a strong president, but the Head of Government is a member of another political party. Had Emil Boc been the Premier, then very likely the relationships in 1992-1996 would have been reiterated. The current Constitution is operational in cases in which the President is able to control the ruling party, but not in other cases. With such a proposal, Liberals draw on Adrian Năstase's attempts to turn the Presidency into a symbolic institution.


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