On Romania’s anti-corruption mania: “by hook or by crook”

Dadiana Chiran responds to Patrick Basham’s “Romania’s Anti-Corruption Mania” by analysing the implications and results of the anti-corruption campaign in Romania.

In May 2014, after having had dinner with Ms. Jill Biden, Joe Biden was serenely eating ice-cream in the Old Town of Bucharest. This was a rather odd occurrence, given that the US official’s visits to the Eastern NATO Allies never last longer than a couple of hours and never stray away from the airport-venue-airport path. Romanians were exulted by it. Although surrounded by secret service agents and bodyguards, Mr. and Ms. Biden’s elopement to the Old Town was not due to the vice-president’s unbearable sweet tooth: certainly he could have had a proper ice-cream at his hotel. The act was purposeful however; Joe Biden was sending a message to Russia that the US is well-rooted in the proximity of the Ukrainian conflict and that Romania is a safe country which picked whose side to be on and will be dancing alongside NATO, the US, and the EU. The same ice-cream bared message was addressed to the Romanian political arena as well: the US needs a strong ally in the area, such as Romania (alongside Poland and the Baltic states), but the country has to adjust to its new circumstances now. The American message was straightforward: “The countries that don’t have a strong rule of law and an independent judiciary system are vulnerable to the type of actions that Russia is unfurling”.

I imagine that during Joe Biden’s speech, Romanian politicians sat with their bloc notes open and pens in hands, diligently taking notes. Biden had only good things to say about the National Anti-corruption Directorate, National Integrity Agency, and the High Court of Justice, which indeed started to perform since 2013.

However it may be, the American and EU influence and peer-pressure had positive effects on the Romanian juridicial system, especially with regards to high-level corruption, tax evasion, bribery, etc. The EU, through the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism which is applied to EU’s two ugly children, Romania and Bulgaria, has been demanding such a change in the Romanian society. In the last MCV document, the European Union fully acknowledged the steps Romania had taken, stating that “The performance of the National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA) in the investigation and prosecution of high-level corruption cases can be considered one of the most significant advances made in Romania since accession. DNA has been able to deliver a constantly increasing number of indictments year by year, with investigations carried out swiftly and in a pro-active way. Since 2007, cases at the highest levels of political life and within the judiciary have been raised by DNA against people from all major political parties”.

1a Source: Political Corruption in Romania: The DNA Database

However, in the last period there have been voices (coming both from Romania and elsewhere) which consider that the international demands and pressure is too much to handle and that this “Romanian anti-corruption mania” will ultimately do nothing else than cause the damage of “the country’s democratic future”. Surely, the Romanian political arena find the DNA campaign despicable on all grounds. Some senators are terrified to the point that manifestly take part in religious practices before the Parliament’s voting session on the initiation of the criminal proceedings in their regard (one example of this is the case of Varujan Vosganian).

But external sources view this issue differently. A manifest signed by Patrick Basham dramatically calls the anti-corruption campaign an “illiberal crusade”, but in reality it is a simple come together to the terms of democracy and justice, in which Romanians indeed vest their hopes for the future. From this point of view, the solution offered by Basham seems at least odd: “Romania’s democratic development would be better served by a public process whereby past misdeeds were acknowledged, documented, and then forgiven”. Basham calls them “misdeeds”, as if they were the results of mis-understandings or unintended mis-management, forgetting that most of the deeds for which the suspects were prosecuted were in fact severe, continuous, and premeditated breakings of the law with financial and social implications for the country, paradox ally, by those that were there to defend and enforce it. Which members of the Romanian political arena would willingly confess such “misdeeds” and endanger their future carriers as diplomats or politicians? And what sort of juridical system would be the one that forgives numerous acts against the law? If forgiveness is truly necessary, there is another institution to address in search for it, with a simple set of rules which, in fact, have been trespassed as well: the Church and the Decalogue.

Contrary to the Basham’s findings, the Prime Minister Ponta is not at all a cheerleader of the DNA, especially since his own party’s deputy and his own family are said to have committed such “misdeeds”, too. Although being in power and not in the opposition, Ponta seems frustrated by the prosecutions the DNA has caused, because most of its suspects belong to his party. In 2014 alone, he did not support the DNA, but tried to modify his funds for 2015. With the help of the press, the issue was bluffed and the rightful budget approved (the DNA has an independent budget which gives the entity full independence and equity from the political leadership).


Source: Political Corruption in Romania: The DNA Database

The Index of the DNA Sustainability (CRPE) shows that the DNA is adamantly sustained primarily by external political bodies, such as the US and EU’s embassies and diplomatic environment, which are very quick in publicly defending the DNA against allegations of impartiality or serious media attacks. The national bodies rarely take a similar approach. Hence these international “arbiters of good governance” have no reason to worry about “Romanian government’s abuse of prosecutorial powers”, because the government and the party in power lies in the middle of the anti-corruption campaign.

It is true that the Romanians started the anti-corruption campaign simply in order to “impress America” and we all know that the courts are never as politically independent as they should be, but the 90% conviction rate is neither a reason for shame nor a consequence of a de-democratization of a state. At this stage, a just rule is created. And it has been long awaited by the society.

Dadiana Chiran

3 thoughts on “On Romania’s anti-corruption mania: “by hook or by crook”

  1. Pingback: EU Anticorruption Policy and Due Process: An Inconsistent Approach? | GAB | The Global Anticorruption Blog

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