European leaders warn of rise of irresponsible political speeches amid the economic crisis.
By Paul Ciocoiu for Southeast European Times in Bucharest -- 22/10/12
(Front row, from left) Romanian President Basescu, European Commission President Barroso, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk attend the European People's Party congress in Bucharest. [Reuters]
More than 1,200 delegates, including European leaders, gathered in Bucharest last week for a two-day congress of the European People's Party (EPP) to agree on the party's political agenda and to sketch the profile of its candidate for the next president of the European Commission (EC).
Under the slogan "More Europe," the leaders pledged a stronger and united European community, but warned of the populism contagion amid the difficult economic times.
"We cannot ignore the existence of some dangerous trends in various corners of Europe. Lack of convergence … feeds populist debates which aim at destroying this wonderful objective, the European project. These forces must not be allowed to exploit the citizens' frustration," Jose Manuel Barroso, the head of the EC, said.
Wilfried Martens, former Belgian prime minister who was re-elected president of the EPP on Wednesday (October 17th) for another three years, set Romania as an example in this context.
"The economic balance Romania has reached doesn't have to be spoilt through populist measures," he said, referring to the austerity measures the former center-right government led by Emil Boc took in mid-2010 amid the economic impasse.
Many Romanian analysts voiced their concern that the forthcoming parliamentary elections early December could bring electoral promises that could derail Romania's fragile economic recovery.
"There is a risk of populism, at least on a public speech level. If the political or economic situation deteriorates, politicians may resort to populist measures. But fortunately for us, the International Monetary Fund is a barrier in front of such an irresponsible political behavior," Aurelian Dochia, an expert with the Romanian Centre for Economic Policies, told SETimes, referring to the forthcoming electoral campaign.
The ruling social-democrat-liberal coalition in Bucharest announced shortly after taking power in May that it would seek to revert the 25 percent salary cuts in the public sector amid the austerity measures passed in 2010. A second raise is scheduled to occur in January.
"This is a risky move. But if this raise is not a too big step then the economy will be able to absorb it," Dochia said.
Romanians expect the campaign to be replete with electoral promises. "That's the way it has always been. And imagine this comes after a period of austerity. People are hungry for promises of well-being, the trap is wide open for them," Daniel Axinte, an accountant in Bucharest, told SETimes.
The Romanian hosts highlighted the significance of the congress. "This is a first-class political event firstly because it sets the party's agenda for the next more than a decade. We are here to send a pragmatic message against the brazen populism in Europe," Ioan Oltean, Democrat-Liberal Party (PDL) MP and EPP member, told SETimes.
"Beyond the sentiment of satisfaction and pride that comes with such an important event, we also wanted to prove rule of law is still respected in Romania despite the political turbulences we went through this summer," he said.
Romania President Traian Basescu, founder of PDL, was suspended from office in early July by the current social-democrat-liberal ruling coalition. He was reinstated after his impeachment was overturned in a referendum. But the controversial reforms his opponents took during the suspension efforts drew the ire of the West, which accused the Romanian government of seriously encroaching upon democratic principles.
For others, the congress bears a historic significance.
"To us, this event is even more significant because, for the first time in 20 years, we have managed to propose and negotiate at the same time the inclusion in EPP's programme of the matter of traditional ethnic minorities," Attila Korodi, Democratic Union of the Hungarians in Romania MP and member of the EPP, told SETimes.
"Thus, EPP assumes the responsibility of promoting a coherent European legislation that will differentiate between immigration generated communities and traditional ones, which lie at the basis of Europe's diversity" Korodi added. "No one can stop the process of European coagulation in which each state finds its own vocation."