Romania's white knight: The EU

The narrative that the European Union disrespects democracy is a fallacy.

    The charges of corruption against Prime Minister Ponta are clear proof of the EU's contribution to Romania, writes Piet [Getty]
    The charges of corruption against Prime Minister Ponta are clear proof of the EU's contribution to Romania, writes Piet [Getty]

    At a time when extreme right and left populist leaders argue that the Greek democratic rights are rebuffed by a heartless and malevolent European Union, one must take a step back and realise how politically motivated this narrative is.

    The EU is unfairly demonised by those who fail to underline its regular contributions to the implementation of healthy democratic rule throughout the continent.

    If negotiations over the Greek debt restructuring were indeed carried out by pragmatic and commissioned officials and heads of state, the democratically elected European Parliament also backed the efforts requested of Athens.

    More importantly, if the episodes remind us of the failure of past referendums on the European Constitution, it sheds an unfairly negative light on the European institutional rigour and the important role it can play in the development of national democracies.

    There might not be a better example of the positive impact of European Union membership than Romania. The recent indictments on charges of corruption of the country's Prime Minister Victor Ponta, are clear proof of the European Union's contribution to the cleaning out of local politics.

    Bad reputation 

    People & Power - Romania: Lifting the Lid

    Romania suffers from a bad reputation among other European countries as it is often described as either a gateway for immigration and crime, or as a country benefiting from a generous European fund endowment at the expense of other EU members.

    Both criticisms are ill-motivated and unfair for a country which has made significant progress thanks to the EU's pressure on local institutions.

    In truth, Romania fell way short of spending the structural adjustment funds that the European Commission had reserved for Bucharest since the country joined the EU.

    Over the past few years, Romania has contributed more than it has received from the EU budget, thus becoming an EU net contributor.

    It only spent a fifth of the 32 billion euros ($35bn) Brussels had set aside for its development, mainly because of the absence of attractive investment projects and the incapacity of corrupt local elites to design relevant investment regulations.

    Despite the absence of pecuniary benefits, Romanians remain paradoxically strong supporters of the EU.

    Their admiration for the European integration is not about money, but rather is the result of the positive impact the EU has had on the quality of their national institutions - especially its judiciary system.

    Series of reforms 

    A quarter century after the fall of the communist dictatorship, Romanians remain wary of their political elite - whose reputation for corruption has been regularly confirmed.

    If the country has regained some political and economic sway recently, it is thanks to its accession to the EU which triggered a long series of reforms across the Romanian government and its institutions.

    While the recent indictment of Ponta illustrates progress, the extraordinary obstacles hampering the course of justice in Romania must not be ignored.


    Since that date, a handful of young Western-trained prosecutors have begun a "clean hands" operation that has shaken Romanian politics.

    Over the past three years, more than 3,000 ministers, deputies, senators, mayors, and officials were put on trial and imprisoned.

    None of this could have been made possible if it hadn't been for the creation of an independent justice system - the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) - a mandatory requirement imposed by Brussels as part of the adhesion negotiations.

    In the midst of this everyday battle, the Europeanisation of the country allowed young anticorruption champions to emerge as the future of Romania.

    Laura Codruta Kovesi, a prosecutor in her early 40s, reigned over the independent investigation efforts for almost 10 years - and her efforts have been paramount in changing the face of Romanian politics.

    Extraordinary obstacles

    While the recent indictment of Ponta illustrates progress, the extraordinary obstacles hampering the course of justice in Romania must not be ignored in the struggle for the modernisation of this formerly communist country.

    Last month, two-thirds of the elected parliament refused to lift the prime minister's parliamentary immunity - showing that European modernisation often stumbles over local populism and nepotism inherited from the past - much like the current Greek debacle is the result of irresponsibility and corruption that has led the country to the edge of bankruptcy.

    The narrative that the EU disrespects democracy and is a drag to the everyday citizen's sustainable wellbeing is a fallacy.

    Had Athens and Bucharest respected the institutional honesty and maturity promoted by Brussels, they would not face the economic or political turmoil they are experiencing today.

    If the economic choice of austerity, adamantly pushed by Berlin, can be rightly criticised as being counterproductive, it would be wrong to negate the strong contribution of the EU to local democratic rule. It should be celebrated and reinforced.

    In light of this, the French proposal to establish an elected parliament of the eurozone to decide on a common economic strategy would be yet an additional step towards the democratisation of the continent.

    Remi Piet is assistant professor of public policy, diplomacy, and international political economy at Qatar University.

    The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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