135114 12/20/2007 5:42 07BUCHAREST1379 Embassy Bucharest CONFIDENTIAL VZCZCXRO6269 RR RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR DE RUEHBM #1379/01 3540542 ZNY CCCCC ZZH R 200542Z DEC 07 FM AMEMBASSY BUCHAREST TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 7727 INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE RUEAWJA/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHINGTON DC C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BUCHAREST 001379
DEPT FOR EUR/NCE
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/19/2017 TAGS: PGOV, PREL, RO SUBJECT: CONTENTIOUS LIBERAL LEADER NOMINATED FOR JUSTICE MINISTER
Classified By: CDA Mark A. Taplin; Reasons 1.4(b) and (d).
1. (SBU) Summary. The governing National Liberal Party (PNL) decided on December 17 to nominate Norica Nicolai, Deputy Speaker of the Senate and one of the PNL vice-presidents, for the Justice Minister position vacated since the December 10 resignation of Tudor Chiuariu. President Traian Basescu must now decide whether to accept Nicolai's appointment and swear her in, which, though likely, is not a foregone conclusion since she has been a vocal critic of his presidency. End Summary.
2. (SBU) Nicolai has a legal background and experience as a deputy minister for Labor between 1996 and 2000, and has been a member of Parliament since 2000. She is well-known for her outspokenness and opposition to Traian Basescu. On the other hand, Nicolai is also a member of a faction inside PNL which does not endorse all of PM Tariceanu's decisions. Prior to her nomination, Nicolai along with other PNL vice-presidents had called for reshuffling the government and replacing controversial ministers, including Chiuariu. In one of her first statements after the nomination, Nicolai pledged to continue the fight against corruption and to stop the sharp decline in public trust in the Romanian justice system that already was suffering because of high perceived corruption and inefficiency.
3. (SBU) Norica Nicolai is not a newcomer to the Cabinet. She was a Deputy Minister of Labor and Social Protection between 1997 and 2000. She joined the PNL in 2000, when she was first elected to the Romanian Parliament. She was reelected in 2004, and currently represents the Cluj constituency in the Senate. Since April 2007, Norica Nicolai is one of four deputy speakers of the Senate. She was the vice-president of the Senate's Defense Committee between March 2005 and June 2007. She is also a member of the Senate's legal committee and of the Romanian Parliament's Delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly since December 2004. At the PNL's party convention in January 2007, she was elected vice-president for Equal Opportunity and Relationships with Civil Society. She is also the leader of the PNL Women Organization since 2003. Nicolai has a degree in law from the University of Bucharest (1983) and then worked as a county-level prosecutor during the communist regime. Since 1991, she has been a practicing lawyer and a university professor. She is 50, married, and has a daughter.
3. (SBU) Norica Nicolai is the third woman in charge of the justice portfolio in a decade. She succeeds ex-PSD senator Rodica Stanoiu (2000-2003) who was criticized for blocking judicial reforms and corruption investigations during former PM Nastase's tenure, and Monica Macovei (2004-2007) who in contrast enjoyed a very favorable reputation abroad - especially within the EU. Macovei's efforts to reform the justice system were viewed as a significant contribution to Romania's successful bid to join the EU. Macovei, however, had a contentious relationship with Parliament and the Tariceanu government; even allies like President Basescu and his PD party sometimes felt uncomfortable with her uncompromising stance on official corruption. Macovei's successor, Tudor Chiuariu, resigned earlier this month after a mere seven months in office in which he repeatedly tried to reverse some of Macovei's reforms and alienated Basescu and the European Commission. One of Chiuariu's least inspired plans was to dismiss the National Anti-Corruption Department's (DNA) leadership.
4. (C) Comment: Coming in under the current circumstances, Nicolai will have a difficult mission. For one thing, her nomination to the post was opposed initially by the Prime Minister, with whom she reportedly has a rocky relationship. Nicolai has a well-earned reputation for being prickly and outspoken. Upon accepting the nomination, she pledged to redress the public image of the Romanian justice system (no easy task), and announced that one of her priorities would be to draft a national strategy on preventing corruption. Since an anti-corruption strategic plan is already in place thanks to Macovei, Nicolai's statement may foreshadow her continuing to advance an agenda aimed at protecting oligarchs like billionaire Dinu Patriciu, the Liberal Party eminence grise for whom she has worked in the past. When Nicolai promised this week that she would resist political pressure, she may have had in mind President Basescu rather than fellow Liberals or others in the unreconstructed Bucharest political and business elites. At a minimum, the vociferous Nicolai will prove a more formidable opponent for critics than was the ill-starred Chiuariu, whose inexperience showed immediately and whom spent most of his tenure stumbling from one public affairs disaster to another. End comment.
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