A large part of the Romanian population doubted that their country would finally be accepted into the European Union until the very last minute.
Many years of political disappointments had led to widespread mistrust and pessimism in the notoriously corrupt political class, who few expected to be able or willing to deliver any serious improvements for the country.
Two major events traumatised the young Romanian democracy. The first was the aftermath of the ‘89 revolution/ coup, during which the ex-communists swept to power and the last remnants of the student uprising were crushed by the miners from the Jiu valley, who were allegedly summoned by president Ion Iliescu. The second traumatizing event was the failure of the different Christian-Democratic coalition governments, under president Emil Constantinescu (1996-2000), to deliver economic improvements or fight the corruption already associated with the ex-communist FSN (National Salvation Front) which later divided into the two ruling parties, the PSD (Social Democratic Party) and the PD (Democratic Party).
When Romania actually entered the EU on the 1st of January, the officialdom celebrated this historical landmark as much as possible, while public opinion was better described as moderately positive. The accession is generally expected to help the country in the long term, but there is a widespread fear of higher prices and tougher international competition for small and medium sized businesses.
The EU funds are also more likely to directly benefit the economic and political elite, which maintain strong connections with local agencies and have the money to pay for qualified consultancy, than "the average Bogdan" who wants to modernise his water melon production or cottage in the mountains.
However, faith in EU institutions is much higher than in any local political institution and only rivalled by the church and army when it comes to credibility. Moving decision-making power from Bucharest to Brussels is therefore not a widespread concern as everybody expects the EU to take better care of national interests than the local political elite has ever done.
The Romanian economy was only recognised as a functional market economy in 2004, and many Romanians doubt that local companies are ready to face the strong European competition. Until now, the local car industry, which employs almost 20,000 people, has been protected by a number of taxes and restrictions on second-hand cars from EU countries. In Romania, owning a second-hand German car is generally perceived as more prestigious than driving a Romanian car from within the same price range.
It may be hard to tell whether the Romanian economy is living up to EU standards or if local companies would have benefited from another couple of years´ preparation time, but there is little doubt that the political and legal system is a long way from anything that the EU would like to be associated with. However, a year or two wouldn´t have helped in this instance, because the transformation into a functional, transparent democracy requires an entirely new generation of judges and politicians.
What's next - the big fish?
Prior to Romania´s accession to the EU, chairman of the European socialist group, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, requested that a ‘big fish´ be placed on the table in Romania´s fight against political corruption. It had already seemed clear that the losing party in the parliamentary and presidential elections would constitute the goat in this expiatory sacrifice, making up for the continued sins of an entire political class, during the heated electoral campaign in 2004. It remains to be seen whether the losing social democratic candidate, Adrian Nastase, really will go to jail for his dubious activities, but for the moment the focus is now on the fight between the president and prime minister, a long time ‘cold war´.
The conflict between Romanian president Traian Basescu and prime minister Calin Popescu-Tariceanu escalated when the EU accession was in its early days. Presidential barbie doll Elena Udrea suddenly remembered a note passed by the prime minister to the president a year ago asking for special favours on behalf of businessman and sponsor of Tariceanu´s wing of the National Liberal Party, Dinu Patriciu. Elena Udrea, a former presidential chief counsellor, had been forced to retire from that position two years ago after displays of incompetence which included stating, on national television, that if the Norwegian president recognised Romania´s willingness to reform, then Norway would surely vote in favour of Romania´s integration in the EU. While Norwegian politicians might be positively surprised that they are full members of the EU and the Norwegian monarch probably could spend more time skiing with a president on hand to do his job, in Romania, the incident reinforced the already popular belief that Udrea got her position as presidential counsellor due to her bra size, her husband´s bank account and president Basescu´s easy access to both, and not on the strength of her political knowledge. However, this was generally perceived as a plot orchestrated by the prime minister´s supporters, bribing a journalist to ask Udrea her opinion on the statements of the non-existent Norwegian president.
Meanwhile, the president appointed a new head of the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) and a new liberal party led by his long time buddy, Theodor Stolojan, just before officially joining the EU. Stolojan´s well-timed illness and subsequent withdrawal from the presidential elections in 2004 made way for Basescu´s election as president the same year. Most analysts agreed that Basescu now considered Stolojan healthy enough to take another turn as prime minister, a post he also filled from 1991 to 1992, while Iliescu was president and Basescu transport minister.
Continued fight against corruption guaranteed
Although the two major political parties derived from the National Salvation Front, PD (Democrats - which only played a minor role in the series of Constantinescu governments between 1996 and 2000) and PSD (Social Democrats), which has been governing Romania since 1989, have appeared to be on increasingly good terms since the defeat of former prime minister and presidential candidate, Adrian Nastase, filing corruption cases probably remains the current most important political weapon. While this means that both major and minor corruption scandals may be revealed, it is unlikely to change the present situation, in which control over the legal system and the secret services in particular is the key to controlling Romania´s entire political system. Traian Basescu´s populistic style and his version of an Orange Revolution has marked a change in Romanian politics in as much as it has meant that crowd-pleasing popularity now is mandatory for any aspiring Romanian politician. A seemingly obvious truth which his rival, Adrian Nastase, championing the elitist style characteristic of his Social Democratic Party (PSD), never fully grasped.
Christofer Stoerup, INFOnet