On August 21, Romania’s Constitutional Court invalidated the July 29 national referendum on the question of removing President Traian Basescu from office. The referendum had fallen short of the constitutional quorum requirement (50 percent plus one vote of all eligible voters). On August 28, Basescu resumed his presidential duties after a seven-week suspension. And, on September 4, he delivered a major foreign policy address, reinforcing Romania’s Western orientation.
That orientation—along with the country’s institutional setup—was at stake in this political crisis. And it remains at risk as long as the anti-Basescu Social-Liberal Union (SLU, recently installed governing coalition) is targeting the presidency, judiciary, law enforcement and intelligence services for political capture. While campaigning to remove Basescu, the SLU’s inexperienced politicians signaled intentions to revise Romania’s firmly Western-oriented foreign policy. That policy has long been a matter of national consensus in Romania, and championed by Basescu as president. The erosion of that consensus under the SLU is a novel development for Romania. The European Union and the United States expressed their concerns many times during the crisis. The SLU’s leaders responded polemically, asking the West not to interfere in Romania’s internal affairs. Those reactions risked isolating Romania from its allies.
The Voice of Russia incited the anti-Basescu campaign, supplying unsolicited recommendations for the SLU along the way. Russian propaganda is traditionally mocked and ignored in Romania. This time, however, Romanian political elite of all colors paid attention. The Voice of Russia urged Romania’s de-alignment from the West on a wide range of policy issues, and linked such de-alignment directly with Basescu’s removal from office. From time to time, the Voice of Russia chided SLU leaders for weakness, egging them on (see “Voice of Russia Campaigns for Removal of Romanian President,” Jamestown Foundation, Hot Issue series, August 21).
On September 4, the reinstated President Basescu delivered a comprehensive foreign policy speech to the annual Assembly of Romanian Diplomacy. These instructions amount to the most wide-ranging and forceful reassertion of Romania’s alignment with the West in the Basescu presidency (since 2004, with more than two years to go in his current presidential term). This tenor is commensurate to the challenges at hand. Basescu’s instructions include the following salient points (Romanian presidency press communiqué, Agerpres, September 4):
– Romania’s anti-corruption, law enforcement, and security agencies (the latter are subordinated to the presidential institution) have resisted the political capture attempts.
– The crisis “in no way modifies Romania’s foreign policy. The course is set to the West.” Since only the EU and NATO can ensure Romania’s economic development and national security, “Romania will not go backwards, certainly not under my presidency.” “All of our national interests are in the West.”
– “The United States is our primordial ally in NATO and in the civilized world generally.” ExxonMobil’s and Chevron’s recent entry into Romanian oil and gas exploration reflects the “U.S.-Romania strategic partnership for the 21st century.”
– Romania’s strategic partnership with Hungary “is a reality that operates and can no longer be cast into doubt.”
– The strategic partnership with Azerbaijan aims to position Romania on the energy transit corridor from the Caspian basin to Europe. To guarantee the success of the Nabucco project, Romania encourages the construction of a trans-Caspian pipeline from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan in bilateral contacts with both countries and in Brussels.
– Romanian companies should more actively seek to enter China’s and Russia’s markets (mentioned in that order) with Romanian exports and investments. While Basescu encouraged “our business community no longer to avoid Russian markets,” Romanian observers noted that he did not invite any further Russian investments into Romania.
Along with the explicit messages, those instructions contain some implicit signals also. What they rule out is not only a course reversal or qualitative change, but any form of adjustment by degrees in Romania’s foreign policy, which the SLU seemed to signal recently. Basescu’s references to the United States in the NATO context reflect the commitment to hosting US troops and the anti-missile shield, as well as a preference for acquiring US fighter aircraft to replace Romania’s old MIGs. Basescu’s allusion to Romania’s historical reconciliation with Hungary being irreversible responds to voices from within the SLU (including that of the new minister of foreign affairs, Titus Corlatean) that seem to question it at this point. The endorsement of the trans-Caspian and Nabucco pipelines clearly signifies no confidence in Russian Gazprom’s South Stream.
The Voice of Russia had attacked Basescu all along for these and related foreign policy positions, citing them as grounds for removal from office. His September 4 speech confirmed Moscow’s view of the Romanian president as “a pawn of Euro-Atlantic interests in the Balkans,” “loyal to American business interests” (Voice of Russia, September 6). The Russian government does not express that view officially, but it does own the Voice of Russia.