25526 1/18/2005 14:30 05BUCHAREST153 Embassy Bucharest CONFIDENTIAL 05BUCHAREST130 This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available. C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 BUCHAREST 000153
STATE DEPT FOR EUR/NCE WILLIAM SILKWORTH STATE ALSO FOR INR/B STATE PASS TO USAID
E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/18/2015 TAGS: PGOV, PREL, KDEM, SOCI, ECON, PINR, RO SUBJECT: THE NEW GOVERNMENT'S FIRST WEEKS - BASESCU COMES OUT STRONG
REF: BUCHAREST 130
Classified By: POLITCAL SECTION CHIEF ROBERT GILCHRIST FOR REASON 1.4 A , B AND D
1. (C) Summary: During his first several weeks in office, President Traian Basescu has been outspoken on the fight against corruption, foreign policy priorities and the status of the center right National Liberal Party -Democratic Party (PNL-PD) political alliance with the small Humanist Party (PUR). Meanwhile, much of the PNL-PD led government has focused internally on filling sub-ministerial jobs and appointing new prefects to represent the national government at the county level. End Summary.
2. (C) Despite a constitutional provision restricting the partisan political activities of the head of state, President Traian Basescu's blunt public comments on a range of issues have grabbed headlines since his December 20 inauguration. Indeed, many political analysts and ordinary Romanians have remarked that Basescu, so far, is Romania's most outspoken, visibly "hands on" president since the 1989 overthrow of communism. Few Romanians are troubled by Basescu's forays into partisan politics, notwithstanding the constitutional ban on this kind of activity, recalling that ex-President Iliescu overtly supported the PSD and PM Adrian Nastase during 2004 local and national elections.
BASESCU ON FOREIGN POLICY AND CORRUPTION
3. (C) Since his inauguration, Basescu has been particularly outspoken about Romania's foreign policy priorities and the fight against corruption. In a January 10 television interview, he chided previous governments, complaining that Romania has had only two foreign policy priorities for the past decade - accession into NATO and the EU. Basescu highlighted the Black Sea as a region where Romania should play an important role, opining that the U.S. is the only country willing and able to help "consolidate Romania's strategic position in the Black Sea region." Since his inauguration, Basescu has also publicly restated the importance of strengthening what he described during the campaign as the "Bucharest-Washington-London axis," a theme he recently repeated in private meetings with USG interlocutors. Basescu also has stressed that Romania should play a more active role in helping to resolve the frozen conflict in Transnistria, criticizing previous governments for insufficient engagement on this issue. Finally, to underscore Romanian commitment to the anti-terror fight and to the U.S., during the past week Basescu told both the Ambassador and NATO Supreme Commander Jones that the "last Romanian troops would leave Iraq only with the last American troops."
4. (C) Basescu has reminded citizens of his campaign pledge to treat the fight against corruption as a national security issue. He has promised to pursue cases against individuals allegedly protected by the previous government, a direct allusion to a pending criminal fraud investigation against several senior managers of the Rafo Onesti oil refinery and the government's recent action to block the departure from Romania of two senior Rafo officials. Basescu has also asserted that the government should pursue "mafia clans" and major corruption cases. PM Tariceanu, for his part, has declared that fighting "corporate fraud" will be among the government's key priorities, and that his government may ask for help from the U.K., Germany or France to assist with the investigation of several high profile cases.
5. (C) On New Year's Eve, Basescu matched his candid public comments with behavior that his admirers describe as "spontaneous" and his detractors decry as "unpresidential." Eschewing the traditional custom of delivering a staid, televised presidential address a few minutes before midnight, Basescu took the stage before several thousand revelers at a downtown Bucharest celebration where he toasted Romania and drank champagne from a bottle. For many, Basescu's hoisting of the bubbly - which was caught by the TV cameras - was emblematic of his unconventional style.
INTERNAL POLITICKING IN THE RULING COALITION
6. (SBU) In a newspaper interview published January 6, Basescu described the small Humanist Party's (PUR) presence in the National Liberal Party-Democratic Party (PNL-PD)- led government as an "immoral solution" to the PNL-PD's relatively weak parliamentary support. The PUR had aligned itself closely with the PSD during the elections. The solution, opined Basescu, is new parliamentary elections that would permit the PNL-PD to capture a clear parliamentary majority. In the same interview, Basescu also said that PNL and PD should move ahead with a planned merger and that PNL-PD should take steps to oust the presidents of the Chamber of Deputies and Senate -- ex-ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) PM Adrian Nastase and Nicolae Vacaroiu, respectively. Finally, in a statement that enraged some PSD leaders, Basescu opined that neither Nastase nor former President Ion Iliescu is fit to head the PSD. (Comment: Basescu's tough attitude toward his new allies in the Humanist Party (PUR) seems to have been a well calculated step to call the bluff of these defectors from the PSD-led opposition. While the PUR threatened to withdraw their support or make it conditional, Basescu's answering shot - possible new elections and extinction of the PUR clearly carried the day. End Comment.)
7. (C) PM Calin Popescu-Tariceanu subsequently declared in a newspaper interview published January 14 that "no political party" wants parliamentary elections soon, and characterized the brouhaha surrounding Basescu's remarks about the PUR as "perhaps a clash of egos, but not a political crisis." Nonetheless, Tariceanu defended Basescu's outspokenness and characterized the bruited PNL-PD merger as "the most important and necessary thing at this moment." Other PNL and PD leaders have expressed support for a merger - but not just yet. Bucharest Vice-Mayor Ludovic Orban, a PNL member, perhaps best captured the spirit of many mid and senior level PNL and PD leaders when he commented publicly that the merger should take place, but only "when the fruit is ripe."
GOVERNMENT GETTING ITS SEA LEGS
8. (C) Leaders of the PNL-PD, their ethnic Hungarian party (UDMR) allies and the PUR also used the initial weeks of their turn at the helm to discuss allocation of prefect positions among the parties. The prefects are the national government's appointed local representative in each of Romania's 41 counties, and Bucharest. Except for the PUR, which ultimately opted not to request a share of prefectures, the final tally reflects the relative parliamentary strength of the governing coalition: 22 prefects are PNL members, 16 are PD, and 4 are UDMR.
9. (C) Media commentators observed that many of the prefects are "young and rich," with the youngest only 27 years old. For the first time, two prefects are women. The prefects' youth and gender breakthrough reflect Basescu's and Tariceanu's campaign promises to bring "new faces" into government. One appointment of an "old face" provoked controversy - the designated Bucharest prefect, a PD member, was an officer in the "foreign intelligence division" of the infamous communist-era "Securitate." President Basescu expressed "huge disappointment" at his being named prefect, and he resigned from the position after only several days in office. The government also held fast to its decision to appoint several ethnic Hungarians in areas with large Magyar populations, despite protests from nationalists.
10. (C) The next important administrative task facing Tariceanu's government is the appointment of state secretaries, de facto "deputy ministers." Until the
SIPDIS positions are filled, many Ministries are relying on the services of the state secretaries from the previous government. The slots also fall into the political appointee category, so PNL-PD, UDMR and PUR functionaries are discussing their allocation among the parties. According to recent reports, the appointments will occur sometime in February and will be allocated as follows: PNL-25; PD-19; UDMR-10; PUR-9. The government has already named several state secretaries, but more than 50 positions are still vacant. The new government is also hampered by logistic problems. Many incoming ministers complained, and the press has confirmed, that departing cabinet members and their staffs emptied many offices of furniture and files and disconnected phone lines.
11. (C) Practical difficulties notwithstanding, however, several new ministers, including the PM, have used their positions as bully pulpits, outlining their goals and strategies. PM Tariceanu promised that his government will examine contracts awarded by the previous government, including a major highway construction contract awarded to American corporation Bechtel. Justice Minister Monica Macovei stressed that she would focus on taking steps to keep Romania's EU accession on track, including implementation of regulations aimed at regulating conflicts of interests by public officials and governing immunity of former officials.
PARLIAMENTARY DEFECTORS TO STRENGTHEN RULING BLOC?
12. (C) PNL spokesman Eugen Nicolaescu claimed January 10 that 30 legislators from the PSD and the extreme nationalist Greater Romania Party (PRM) are poised to leave their parties and join an "independent group" that would support the government. PNL-PD sources have not revealed the identities of the possible defectors, and Nicolaescu's announcement may be principally a PNL-PD attempt to destabilize and demoralize the PSD and PRM. However, the 30 possible defectors could include five deputies from the National Democratic Bloc (BND), unionists elected on the PRM parliamentary list, and a PRM senator who have already broken with the party. PSD insiders also confirm that the former ruling party is internally divided and in the midst of a leadership struggle - a situation which could encourage some fainthearted PSD parliamentarians to jump ship.
13. (C) Comment: Most Romanians appear to welcome Basescu's plainspoken candor and apparent commitment to follow through on campaign promises to combat corruption and implement reform. The new Government's early approval of flat tax legislation also added credence to a perception that this government plans to move quickly (Reftel). Basescu's persona as President has differed relatively little from his behavior as candidate - although his preferred public attire of polo shirt or loosened tie and rolled up shirtsleeves appears to have been mostly replaced by sober business suits. At the same time, Basescu's outspokenness may serve to deflect some public scrutiny from the fact that PM Tariceanu's government remains a work in progress, requiring competent state secretaries and prefects to function efficiently. Early "glitches" - such as naming a communist-era intelligence officer as Bucharest prefect - reflect the new government's growing pains. However, his speedy departure seemed to indicate a decisiveness lacking in the former government. End Comment.
14. (U) Amembassy Bucharest,s reporting telegrams are available on the Bucharest SIPRNET Website: www.state.sgov.gov/p/eur/bucharest . DELARE