05BUCHAREST153 / 2005-01-18 14:30:00
Embassy Bucharest
                C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 BUCHAREST 000153 
 
SIPDIS 
 
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. 
 
ACTIVIST PRESIDENT 
------------------ 
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 

            
CRJI by crji.org is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License if not otherwise stated. Based on a work at crji.org. This web application is Free Software (AGPLv3+), the source code is available on GitHub and waiting for contributions.