Romania’s plunge into political crisis is the last thing the country needs. Still deeply scarred by Stalinist dictatorship, it is one of the European Union’s poorest member states and has been hit hard by a recent recession. Its rulers have long been criticized for corruption, remoteness and authoritarianism, and now they stand accused of tearing the country apart.
The EU is seriously considering sanctions on Romania this week as the new government of Prime Minister Victor Ponta appears reluctant to back down on the moves it has taken to gain control of key institutions of state. Meanwhile, the government’s attempt to impeach strongman President Traian Basescu, the most headline-grabbing of its several recent political gambits, hangs in the balance due to questions over the rules governing the popular referendum needed to do so.
On July 7, the European Commission issued a warning to Romania over the Ponta government’s moves, with a spokesman noting in particular "actions that appear to reduce the effective powers of independent institutions like the Constitutional Court.” He added that the moves risked scuttling "all the progress made over the past five years in having more respect for the rule of law and democratic checks and balances and independence of the judiciary in this country.” On July 10, the Economist reported that some German politicians were considering lobbying the EU to suspend Romania’s voting rights.