On 29 July, a referendum was held in Romania on whether or not Traian Băsescu, the country’s president, should be impeached for abuse of powers (including allegations of wire-tapping and deploying the intelligence services against his political rivals). Băsescu and his supporters maintain that the charges were trumped up and that the attempt to force him from office amounted to nothing less than a putsch by the Social Democratic government of Prime Minister Victor Ponta.
The EU has been unusually vocal in its criticism of the Romanian government, and the prime minister’s supporters argue that such external pressure is an attack on democracy and a return to the bad old days of the USSR telling Romania what to do. Last week, for example, we had a comment sent in from Catalin who argued that:
Last month in my country, Romania, a referendum for the dismissal of the president was held! The EU, through Angela Merkel and [European Commission President] Barroso, two former communist activists, have broken the Romanian Constitution and the Romanian law, forcing my country’s government to impose a quorum of 50 + 1%.
During the referendum, it was indeed the quorum that ultimately saved President Băsescu from impeachment. Whilst 88.7% voted in favour of impeachment, voter turnout was only 46.24% (kept low by a combination of the summer holidays and an opposition boycott) and so the results were declared invalid by the Romanian Constitutional Court. However, it is not quite accurate to say that the EU “imposed” a quorum on Romania.
Referendums in Romania are legally required to apply a quorum of “50 + 1%”. However, a few weeks prior to the impeachment referendum, Prime Minister Ponta issued an emergency ordinance to waive this requirement. The emergency ordinance was only to apply for the impeachment of the president; all other referendums in Romania would still require a quorum. The political pressure from the EU for a quorum, therefore, had largely been in response to the Romanian Constitutional Court’s ruling on 10 July that Prime Minister Ponta’s emergency ordinance had been unconstitutional. Even British eurosceptic MEP Daniel Hannan has argued that the EU has “behaved immaculately” during this crisis.
What do YOU think? Should the referendum to impeach Romanian President Traian Băsescu (with 88.7% voting in favour of impeachment) have been declared valid, even though the turnout was less than the required 50%? Was the EU right to put political pressure on Romania’s government in order to encourage it to accept the ruling of the Romanian Constitutional Court? Or is this kind of pressure an unjustifiable violation of Romania’s sovereignty? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.