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European elections, an important test for the Romanian parties

Cristian BANU

Now that parties have wrapped up their candidate lists, we can see how they relate to both the European Parliament, and their own voters. At first sight, both the Democrats, and the Social Democrats seem to have been professional about it: they have come up with relatively balanced lists, with top names that are domestically and internationally relevant. Moreover, the Democrats have skilfully dodged the troubles that the candidacy of the President’s daughter might have triggered. This makes the Liberals’ approach all the more surprising—and a vexation to their own electorate.

The Social Democrats open their list with Adrian Severin, a politician of some reputation at home (as an ex-Foreign Minister) and with a valuable activity in the Euro­pean Parliament. The list goes on with rather bland politicians like Rovana Plumb and Daciana Sârbu-Ponta, but also with Adriana Țicău, Gabriela Crețu and Corina Crețu, who boast com­mendable European achievements. We add Ioan Mircea Pașcu and Victor Boștinaru, possibly Codruț Șereș and a representative of trade unions, and we get a worthy, though not spectacular list.
The Social Democrats are under­mi­ned by the petty scandal over Lavinia Șandru — a surprising blunder that nevertheless grabbed media attention. Although he is “on Vântu’s payroll“, the loser Gușă is in no position to impose conditions on a party like SDP. But then again, the same holds true for Dan Voiculescu. Șandru, a member of the National Initiative Party, and one who only managed to get a handful of votes last autumn, had the unexpected ho­nour of being retorted to by Adrian Năs­tase himself, and her dispute with Iliescu made the old man ask the party to choose between him and the poli­tical migrant. And with things getting out of control in the Ministry of Administration and the Interior, SDP finds itself under media pressure on topics that are largely marginal.
SDP must stay as close as possible to the Democratic Party, ahead of this autumn’s presidential election, but also in order to keep the balance of power in the coalition.
DP came up with a European “dream team”. Although Theodor Stolojan is an obsolete domestic poli­tics item and he is yet to prove his worth in the EP, he remains the most credible and popular of the Democratic politicians at home. He is followed by Monica Macovei, a possible candidate for a European Commissioner post, and also highly appreciated by Demo­cratic voters. Next comes presidential adviser Cristian Preda, who adds sig­nificant value to the future Roma­nian parliamentary group. But the “golden trio“ is spoiled by Traian Răzvan Ungu­reanu, the charity-monger who only stands out in his brazen praises of President Băsescu. Marian Jean Mari­nescu and Iosif Matula, the next on the list, have had good performances in the current legislature, and are well worth their places in the list. A surprise is the non-eligible position assigned to Nicolae Vlad Popa, one of the appre­ciated MEPs.
The Democrats have also adequately handled Elena Basescu’s candidacy, re-branded as independent, although she benefits from massive party support. We see the same strategy that worked in the previous election to the EP, this time with Elena Băsescu replacing the Liberal dissi­dents. With a little effort on the part of the Democrats, the electoral damage can be minimised, and profits maxi­mised. This is for the first time that DP acts as a truly mature party: it displays a reasonable dose of polyphony (con­sidering the personnel shortage facing all Romanian political parties) and acceptable distance from Traian Bă­sescu. A good score will strengthen its position and will boost Traian Băses­cu’s presidential campaign (in case he runs after all). Still, the presidential election due this November will largely depend on the economic factor, and on Traian Băsescu’s plunging approval rates in the wake of the Popoviciu af­fair and of fresh revelations being made about the President’s dealings. A victory with flying colours — i.e. a score over 40 per cent, which is perfectly possible given the Liberal’s non-combat approach — means security for the Democrats in case Traian Băsescu loses the presidential seat.
Unlike the presence of Monica Macovei on the Democrats’ list, whose electorate the Liberals claim to be targeting, the Liberal leaders’ decision to open their list with Norica Nicolai amounts to political seppuku. With Daniel Dăianu and Adrian Cioroianu rubbed out, the Liberals’ list is the worst, with few arguments to convince its own electorate (not to mention the undecided).
Norica Nicolai’s presence on the candidate list may be overlooked; after all, she is not the only obsolete politi­cian sent on an EP holiday. Still, her presence at the top of the list is a strong negative signal conveyed to the (Liberal and undecided) voters, be­cau­se she definitely does not belong there. We might have swallowed Cioroianu and Dăianu’s ousting as well, if the party had been more diplomatic about it. Anti-Băsescu as they may be, “right-wing” voters will have no hesitation in choosing between Norica Nicolai and Monica Macovei.
The Liberals don’t seem to realise that they are no longer in power, so they no longer have unlimited resour­ces to motivate voters (who are hard to mobilise as it is, because of the unfa­miliar and distant election goal) and they fail to see they cannot afford such approaches. The media coverage of the party’s congress and the launch of “the Romanian-style Obama” have already been overshadowed by the Popoviciu affair, and until the presi­den­tial election the Liberal lily (“Crin” literally translates as “lily”) will have fa­ded altogether. Under these circums­tances, getting a 10 per cent score, after apportionment, would be a major victory for the Liberals. But they are not safe from the embarrassment of being outscored by UDMR.
This nomination makes no sense. Norica Nicolai may well be a “loyal foot soldier” of the party, but politics is about votes. Apart from her position in the party, nothing qualifies her for this nomination. True enough, the Liberals’ European performers, such as Adina Vălean (who is now in a delicate position because of her affair with the fresh party president, although it goes back long before he even considered running for this position) and Renate Webber, are not “high-profile” enough to tow the party. But while other parties eventually found a solution, the Liberals didn’t, which indicates a major crisis in the party.
The Democratic Union of Ethnic Hungarians in Romania (UDMR) has noting out of the usual to report. It will probably manage to once again mobilise its voters, and the good turnover will secure them a score above the traditional average (as it happened in the previous EP election).
All in all, we dare say that Romania will be fairly well represented in the European Parliament, which is no trivial thing, and our chances of receiving a commissioner post slightly more important than “the photocopies man“ will be better. If only the national Parliament were that efficient...

By Cristian BANU
Publicat în : English  de la numărul 65

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