In-depth Business Intelligence
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Books on Romania
Update No: 126 - (30/11/07)
Relations with Italy very tense
There is a big issue for Romania, which is causing headaches elsewhere. Its main
problems have been crime and corruption, as with Bulgaria.
The level of crime has dipped in Bucharest and elsewhere since Romania joined
the EU. But that is simply because Romanian crooks have decamped to other EU
states on their new EU passports. Many have gone to Italy. Italian and Romanian
languages share common Latin roots.
Romanians congregate in shanty towns outside the capital, but travel to it to
make a 'living.' There is now in Italy a popular outcry and a demand for
convicted crooks from abroad to be deported back. This is definitely directed at
Romanians first and foremost.
After a spate of violent crimes committed by Romanian citizens, the Italian
government is eager to look like it is doing something. Criminals deserve to be
punished. But politicians' overly tough talk about deporting tens of thousands
of fellow EU citizens is a regrettable attempt to ride a tide of anti-immigrant
sentiment that's rising across Europe.
More than half a million Romanians have moved to Italy to seek work, roughly 1%
of the population. Rome's mayor says three in four arrests made in his city so
far this year were of Romanians. The rape and murder in October of a
high-ranking navy officer's wife near an immigrant neighbourhood in the capital,
for which a Romanian national has been charged, sent Italians into a frenzy.
There have been media reports of vigilante mobs attacking innocent Romanians in
retaliation. Officials in Milan have already shipped out four Romanian citizens
and plan to deport a dozen more.
Demos in protest in Bucharest
Demonstrators have taken to the streets of Bucharest as tensions rise over
Italy's plans to deport Romanian nationals. Romanian Prime Minister Calin
Popescu Tariceanu discussed the situation with his Italian counterpart, Romano
Prodi, when they met in Rome in mid-November. Bucharest is also sending 30
police officers to help deal with the Romanian cases.
The spate of felonies and atrocities has prompted Italy to bring in new laws
aimed at tackling crime. "These measures specifically target those
individuals about whom police have specific information which shows clearly that
they are dangerous. It's not about mass expulsion," said Interior Minister
Romania joined the EU in January this year and more than half a million of its
citizens now live in Italy, many in makeshift camps like one near Rome. Around
20 individuals have been sent home so far under the new crackdown. EU officials
say Italy is within its rights to deport individuals provided it respects the
bloc's criteria for expulsion.
Appeal to reason by intellectuals
Romanian and Italian intellectuals signed an open letter appealing to reason
and responsibility as, they say, relations among the two countries have been
getting more and more tense for weeks, while the Italian media instilled a
negative sentiment against Romanians and also gypsies coming from Romania.
They warn that crimes committed by Romanians in Italy may be dramatic cases
indeed, but should be considered on an individual basis according to Italian law
and the state of law.
The letter indicates that politicians use the issue for political gains which
only contributes substantially to over-emphasize the tensions and ethnic
Intellectuals write that after several Romanians were randomly
"punished" in several Italian cities the issue can get out of control.
They plead for more responsibility from the mass media in reflecting the
The open letter is signed by some 200 Romanian intellectuals.
Second referendum in 2007
Referenda are normally associated with dictatorships. They are sometimes used by
democracies too. The second in Romania this year has just taken place. They must
have become a preferred mechanism on double-checking political prowess in
Romania, now that other tools to that effect have lost their sharpness.
It was something of a non-event. President Basescu acknowledged that he saw the
low turnout in the uninominal voting referendum, which he strongly supported, as
a lesson to be learned even for himself. The low turn-out disqualifies the
But he said the result - some 89% of those who did vote supporting the
introduction of uninominal voting - was proof of the inequity proven by the
electoral laws used so far. He said he would not cease to believe that Romanians
want a thorough reform of the political class.
President Basescu said that in the 12 new member states that have joined the EU
since 2004, turnout was low in the first European elections. And he said Romania
was falling right behind Hungary in terms of turnout because European issues
have not been debated enough.
Democrats win EU poll
The referendum coincided with European Parliament elections. Romania's centrist
opposition Democrat party won the country's first election to the European
Parliament on November 25, underscoring its hopes of returning to power in next
year's parliamentary polls.
The Democrat Party of President Traian Basescu won 31.7 percent of ballots. The
vote for 35 deputies to the European assembly is seen as a litmus test of the
popularity of leading political parties ahead of the general election, due to be
held in late 2008. "We are the most important political force in
Romania," said Democrat Party president Emil Boc.
Prime Minister Calin Tariceanu's ruling Liberal Party trailed the Democrats with
15.2 percent of the ballots. But their score was a touch above expectations (for
some 13 percent), showing stable backing over the last year.
Observers had expected the Liberals' standing to be eroded by disappointment
over Bucharest's reform record which has lost momentum since Romania joined the
European Union in January. "It is a wonderful evening for the Liberal Party
because we managed to overcome expectations," the prime minister said.
Bucharest's centrists, who came to power in 2004 on an anti-graft ticket, were
praised initially for introducing broad justice and institutional reforms that
won Romania EU entry after botched attempts by other post-communist governments.
Battle-lines drawn up
The president and prime minister, with the parliament, were at odds on the
constitutionality of holding two separate votes at a time. The Romanian
president insisted that the referendum be held on the same date as EP elections
as this would save in costs and time to the people.
Suffice to say, the president survived the parliament-called impeachment vote
earlier this year. His uncompromising stance on fighting corruption and
establishing an independent judiciary, which he carried out together with Ms
Macovei, his corruption-fighting ministerial weapon, ushered Romania into the
European Union (EU). This is an achievement that a largely pro-EU population are
unlikely to forget. Especially given that EU entry took place not so long ago.
At present, the president feels the pressure from parliament and government.
Tariceanu's Liberals currently have the upper edge owing to the coalition with
the party of the ethnic Hungarians, which traditionally serve as a fixture for
With the political infighting ongoing and Tariceanu's Liberals unrelenting in
their attempts to oust a public-supported foe from the political arena, Basescu
continues the counter-strategy for a more Basescu-friendly parliament from these
general elections onwards.
At the same time, Tariceanu's government has been losing out on public and
expert support. Poverty levels in the country are still high, a couple of
ministers have lost their seats after corruption scandals. Within a year, the
country's budget has suffered a downslide from surplus to deficit and is set to
reach 3.1 per cent of GDP in an overshoot of the Maastricht threshold for entry
to the Eurozone, a critical governmental promise. Things look bleak for the