208869 5/27/2009 14:05 09BUCHAREST354 Embassy Bucharest CONFIDENTIAL P 271405Z MAY 09 FM AMEMBASSY BUCHAREST TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9543 INFO EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY C O N F I D E N T I A L BUCHAREST 000354
STATE FOR EUR/CE
E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/27/2019 TAGS: PGOV, PREL, RO SUBJECT: DEVELOPMENT MINISTER BLAGA: PEOPLE WANT STABILITY
Classified By: CDA Jeri Guthrie-Corn for 1.5 (b) and (d)
1. (C) Regional Development Minister (and PDL campaign boss) Vasile Blaga confirmed his party would run an "austere" campaign in the upcoming Euro-parliament elections. He insisted the PDL was now pulling ahead in recent polls. Blaga said that the current PDL-PSD coalition would remain intact if Basescu won the year-end presidential election. He evinced annoyance with PSD candidate Geoana for being simultaneously a coalition insider and its harshest critic, but acknowledged that Basescu's counterattack came at the price of overall popular support for the PDL. The lesson, said Blaga, is that "people want stability." Blaga also confirmed that the Government would approve the new Criminal Code and Civil Code next week on a fast-track basis; he was less sanguine about prospects for early completion of the Procedural Codes, but evinced the hope that the EU would be satisfied that Romania was now working "seriously" on the issue of justice reform. Blaga also criticized the emergence of Marian Vanghelie as a key PSD player, alleging that he was the "tool" of a shadowy clique of old-line Interior Ministry officials. Blaga said that his successors had reversed his attempt to reduce the Interior Ministry's intelligence operation: he had fired 1100 intelligence officials but PNL Interior Minister David had tripled the size of the MOI's intel service afterwards. End Summary.
2. (C) Polcouns paid a farewell call on Regional Development Minister (and PDL Secretary General) Vasile Blaga May 27. Blaga, who heads the PDL electoral campaign for the June 7 European Parliament contest, confirmed that the economic crisis and budget concerns meant that the PDL would have to run an "austere" campaign this year, with the focus on mobilizing his party's "core" constituency and get-out-the-vote efforts on election day. He claimed that the rival PSD was not so constrained, as he had information that PSD Bucharest Sector 5 sub-Mayor Marian Vanghelie had taken delivery of seven containers of cell phones intended as electoral give-aways in constituencies in Bucharest and nearby Ilfov county. Blaga acknowledged that the PSD also had the advantage in mobilizing their supporters: "They're ex-communists. They'll do as they're told but we have to convince everyone to show up on a person-to-person basis." He said turnout will also be depressed because the election takes place in the middle of a three-day weekend.
3. (C) Blaga said recent polls suggested that the while the PDL and PSD had been running neck-to-neck for the past several months, the PDL was now pulling ahead. This was due to Basescu's recent campaign visits to the field and voters' growing confidence that the economy was slowly on the mend. He noted that the PDL and PSD were the only ones with a nationwide organization; the PNL would be handicapped by organizational weaknesses, but could benefit from their status as the "opposition" party, winning 18-20 percent of the vote. He expressed concern that a "desperate" PSD might resort to election tricks beyond bribing voters with cell phones, including resorting to multiple voting in several constituencies. Blaga acknowledged that the presence of presidential daughter Elena Basescu on the EP ticket as an independent candidate was a wild card, as it was hard to control with precision just how many votes she might get, or how many votes she might take away from the PDL. Better, he said, that she get too many votes than too few, since all her votes would be "wasted" if she failed to make the cut. In the end, he noted, she would rejoin the PDL and the vote tallies would count toward the party anyway.
4. (C) Blaga did not respond directly to a query regarding rumors that he and other PDL seniors had approached their PSD counteparts with an offer to extend the current coalition agreement to eight years, irrespective of the results of the presidential election later this year. (Note: PSD Whip Viorel Hrebenciuc told us this last week.) Blaga instead replied carefully that "little effect" was likely on the coalition if Basescu wins the year-end presidential contest, but he was less sanguine about what might happen if Geoana won. Blaga complained of Geoana's tactics of trying to be simultaneously in the government and also in the opposition. He said that Basescu didn't "sit idly by" and had counterattacked, and the PSD had "pulled back." ("They're cowards" he added.) He noted that counterattacking had its costs: while Geoana had been hurt, the PDL had dropped two percent in the polls in the process. The lesson, concluded Blaga, is that "people want stability."
5. (C) Blaga also confirmed that President Basescu's poll numbers had fallen in the first three months of the year, but argued that this drop had been arrested thanks to more "conciliatory discourse" from Cotroceni; the successful IMF loan agreement; Basescu's recent campaign appearances; and renewed focus on substantial issues including justice sector reform. Blaga confirmed that the government will approve the Criminal Code and Civil Code drafts next Monday on a fast-track basis tantamount to a confidence vote. He said this had been agreed to in the coalition over the objections of the Iliescu/Nastase wing of the PSD. Blaga also predicted that the Criminal Procedure and Civil Procedure Codes would not be approved any earlier than the end of June, and the process might drag on until the autumn. Key to fulfilling the EU benchmarks for Blaga is that the Commission sees Romania working seriously on the issues.
6. (C) Blaga admitted however that Romania could be in trouble with the EU if the Commission insists on convictions in major corruption cases including those involving Nastase and Mihailescu. "We are alone in parliament on this issue as the PSD, PNL, and UDMR have agreed not to convict these two." Blaga predicted that justice reform might become a back-burner issue by autumn. "The biggest question for the Presidential election will be what happens with the economic crisis" he said. Blaga also complained that the PDL was the only party serious about fulfilling IMF conditionality; both the PSD and PNL were intent on playing the role of "Father Christmas" with the voters this year.
7. (C) Asked about President Basescu's recent remarks evincing regret for choosing the PSD as a coalition partner, Blaga winced and said, "Sometimes his (Basescu's) choices could be better; there's no such thing as a free lunch in politics." Blaga hinted that an alliance with the PNL may have been the better choice, noting that the PDL had been generous--offering half the cabinet seats to the PNL--but refused PNL demands that Tariceanu remain Prime Minister.
8. (C) Asked about recent arguments made by Presidential Counselor Sebastian Lazaroiu (both in comments to Polcouns and in recent press interviews) that both the PSD and PNL would do better by not coming in second place in the presidential race, Blaga replied, "it's too intellectual an argument." He nodded when Polcouns noted recent conventional wisdom that--unlike the PSD and PNL where rivals were eagerly waiting to see if either Mircea Geoana or Crin Antonescu might falter--the PDL was the only party that stood solidly behind its presidential candidate. Blaga responded that PNL First Vice President Ludovic Orban was "obviously" impatient to replace Antonescu. He added: "They're both awful. Orban should be arrested for exceeding his ministerial budget by 600 million euros; Antonescu is a great speaker but he's lazy and works just two hours a day, and that's only if he feels like it."
9. (C) On the PSD, Blaga noted that the socialists remained divided into at least three factions, including an increasingly "dormant" faction headed by Miron Mitrea; old timers Nastase and Iliescu (both increasingly resentful of Geoana); and the Geoana faction under leadership of Bucharest sub-Mayor Marian Vanghelie. Blaga dismissed Vanghelie as a "tool" of a shadowy clique of Interior Ministry officials, including General Iliescu, Tomas Zaharia, and General Voicu (whom Vanghelie tried to promote for the Interior Minister slot). "They're the real bosses, Vanghelie is the one who gets stuck paying the bills for them."
10. (C) Asked about his truncated term as Interior Minister in the first Tariceanu government, Blaga bemoaned the fact that Tariceanu had reversed his effort to de-politicize the Romanian Civil Service. "I knew there were many PNL, PSD, and UDMR supporters in the bureaucracy but I left them alone" he said. In contrast, Taricianu and PNL Interior Minister Cristian David had conducted a "purge" of PDL members in government and--sadly--this practice was continued when the PDL-PSD coalition was formed. Blaga noted that he had tried to reduce the Interior Ministry's intelligence organs and dismissed 1100 intelligence officials in the MOI. David, his successor, hired 2000 intelligence agents and tripled the size of the MOI's intelligence services during his tenure.
11. (C) Comment: Blaga is one of the few PDL insiders who speaks his mind candidly both in public and with us, as his colleagues are generally a tight-lipped bunch. This is perhaps one reason why Basescu chose the more pliable Emil Boc as his Prime Minister. Nevertheless, Blaga remains the indispensible organizational mastermind behind the PDL and it is no surprise that he is once again the natural choice to lead his party's electoral campaign. While we have heard recent rumors of a growing rift between Basescu and PDL "old boys" (including Blaga and Transportation Minister Videanu) there was no overt evidence of a rift except for flashes of annoyance over Basescu's recent policy choices, including his decision to form a government with the PSD camp and the wisdom of confronting PSD head Geoana directly. End Comment.