Court Blow to Romanian PM’s Summit Ambitions

In a blow to Prime Minister Victor Ponta, the Constitutional Court has ruled that parliament has no right to decide who should represent Romania at EU meetings.Romania’s Constitutional Court on Wednesday ruled that parliament has no right to decide on whether the President of Prime Minister should represent Romania at European Council meetings.

In June, parliament adopted a resolution declaring that it had the right to decide on the issue.

Following the latest twist in the saga, the President, Traian Basescu, will represent Romania at future EU meetings.

The constitution does not give much guidance as to who should represent the Balkan country in foreign affairs, but in recent years, Basescu has represented Romania at EU summits, as the former Prime Minister, Emil Boc, willingly ceded that role to the head of state.

The court ruling would appear to have ended a prolonged dispute between Basescu and Prime Minister Victor Ponta over who should participate at the European Council.

While the premier argued that he should go to Brussels, as decisions taken at the Council are negotiated between governments, not heads of state, the President argued that foreign relations were his special prerogative.

Analysts say that the Constitutional Court decision should draw a line under this particular conflict between the country’s two top politicians, but will not improve their relationship.

“The political situation remains volatile in Romania, and the court decision will only temporarily end the confrontation between President and Prime Minister,” political analyst Marian Trifu predicted.

The dispute between Ponta and Basescu included a referendum on the impeachment of President on July 29, in which most voters favoured removing him.

Basescu remained in his post, however, as the turnout was only at 46 per cent, which was below the 50-per-cent threshold needed for the result to be validated by the Constitutional Court.

Ponta’s leftist coalition challenged the result, arguing that the lists of eligible voters was out of date. But late last month the court ruled that the referendum was not valid.

Since then Ponta has declared that he is ready to cohabit with Basescu as long as the President “follows his constitutional powers…. Which are not very wide”.

Ponta’s battles with the President have caused concern in Brussels about Romania’s commitment to the rule of law.

Worries heightened when the government used emergency decrees to limit the Constitutional Court’s powers and replace the speakers of both houses of parliament and the national ombudsman.

Basescu accused Ponta of organising “a coup”.

The President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barosso, has since obliged the Ponta government to make 11 pledges of concrete action to reassure the EU that it remains committed to the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary.

The Commission has also brought forward its next report on Romania’s progress since EU accession in 2007 to the end of this year.

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