The FINANCIAL -- Romanian Prime Minister
Victor Ponta promised Thursday to ease anxiety about the state of
democracy in his country and fall in line with European Union demands to
respect the rule of law.
"I am going to answer the (European) Commission in a very short time, maybe even tomorrow, in order to give answers and to show the Commission the clear commitment of the government to fulfill all the European standards," Ponta told AFP in an interview in Brussels.
But while pledging to respect the independence of the courts, Ponta vowed to plough ahead with moves to impeach President Traian Basescu and said after talks with European Union leaders that he was not told to stop the process.
"They never asked to stop the procedure of impeaching the president," the centre-left leader said, adding he would abide by the result of a July 29 referendum on whether to oust his conservative rival.
"I absolutely will respect the decision of the people," said Ponta, whose former Communist bloc nation joined the EU only in 2004.
Ponta spoke on the second day of a charm offensive in Brussels amid EU and US concerns over a government decree stripping the powers of the constitutional court, hurried impeachment moves and the sacking of the country's ombudsman.
European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso, in a statement after talks with Ponta, urged the premier to restore the powers of the top court, respect the independence of the judiciary and appoint a new ombudsman.
"President Barroso expressed his serious concerns about recent political events in Romania in relation to the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary and the role of the Constitutional Court," his office said.
"He underlined that the necessary checks and balances in a democratic system must be guaranteed," the statement said.
Ponta also met with EU president Herman Van Rompuy, who in an apparent message about the need to respect EU laws had a copy of the 27-nation bloc's rule book, the Lisbon Treaty, on the table during their talks.
As EUbusiness reported, in Germany, the government summoned Romania's ambassador to Chancellor Angela Merkel's office on Thursday to express Berlin's "continued serious concerns over domestic political developments in Romania," her spokesman said.
Senior EU officials have warned that the government's actions could slow the nation's efforts to join the borderless Schengen travel area formed by 22 of the 27 EU states.
"It's normal to be worried about a very fast and aggressive political fight in Romania," said Ponta, blaming the current crisis on the "cohabitation" of a conservative president and centre-left premier.
"Romania is a young democracy. We don't have the tradition and the culture of the cohabitation because the political crisis was provoked by the cohabitation," he said, accusing Basescu of blocking his government's attempts to implement pro-growth policies after years of austerity.
In the interview, Ponta said his meeting with Barroso "was a very constructive and positive one."
"I asked him, 'Look I'm a lawyer, please tell me which are the concrete points where you have concerns, and I'm not going to challenge this, I'm not going to fight with you for this, I'm going to immediately take the decision to disperse your concerns,'" the premier said.
Ponta has been locked in a power struggle with Basescu since the centre-left government took over in May from a right-wing cabinet toppled by a no-confidence motion.
Basescu has alleged the real goal of his opponents in the Social Liberal Union (USL) coalition is to bring the judiciary under its control.
But Basescu has himself faced counter accusations of trying to dominate the judiciary since he took over in 2004 as well as over-reaching his powers.