Romanian president Klaus Iohannis with the head of the PNL list Rareș Bogdan. (Photo: www.pnl-opv3.ro)
On Saturday, 18 May, the main Romanian opposition party, PNL (National Liberal Party) tried to pull off a show of strength, by gathering some 50,000 party members and sympathizers on one of Bucharest’s main squares.
The crowd was addressed by president Klaus Iohannis, formerly a PNL member, who enjoined the participants to vote in the European elections by spurring them with: — “Free Romania!” and “Vote for Romania’s future.”
Polls and projections show that the nominally Liberal, but an EPP member, PNL is supposed to obtain the best results in the 26 European elections, with 9 seats out of Romania’s 32. This seems to be due to the surprise nomination as head of the party’s list of Rareș Bogdan, a controversial journalist who was one of the most vociferous backers of the failed 2012 PSD/PNL parliamentary putsch against the then president Traian Basescu, who is now running on his own PMP list.
The PNL “Liberals” had compromised themselves in 2012 by forming a coalition with the PSD “Socialists” in order to overthrow the elected president from that time Traian Basescu. They were shielded and cajoled then by the former chief of the Liberals in the EU Parliament, Graham Watson, who intervened on their behalf by attacking the… EPP: “For the leaders of the European People’s Party to criticise political developments in Romania almost beggars belief. Was it not the same EPP who backed Berlusconi when he rode roughshod over the rules of Italy’s politics? Is it not the same EPP now supporting Borissov and Saakashvili playing fast and loose with the rules of democracy in their countries? And did the European People’s Party’s MEPs not give Viktor Orban a five minute standing ovation in Strasbourg despite his anti constitutional antics?”, asked Graham Watson then, in the summer of 2012,
The then PNL party leader, Crin Antonescu, who badly wanted to take Basescu’s place, finally managed to become interim president, for a few painful days, applauded in Brussels by ALDE, and to the furor of the EPP, who was protecting Basescu. (Antonescu’s wife, Adina Valean, by now a professional MEP, is the only woman on the list of the 9 PNL members who seem set to enter the European Parliament.)
Two years later, in 2014, Antonescu’s PNL deftly switched sides and, albeit Liberal in name, was accepted as a full member by the very EPP it had vilipended earlier. The EPP-backed PNL is now in the opposition in Romania, they intend to stay in the EPP and have as direct enemy the other “Liberal” party, cleverly called ALDE, who have ganged together with the eternal Socialists and who are now quietly dismantling what has remained of the Romanian justice system. Less patient than his predecessor Graham Watson, the ALDE chief at the European level, Guy Verhofstadt, announced the expulsion of the Romanian ALDE from the transnational party. The PNL (previously in ALDE) applauded.
All these contortions and ideological crawling were to be expected, but why on earth did the EPP, who still keeps Basescu’s party, now called PMP (The People’s Movement Party), as a member, accept PNL, the very foes who have tried to overthrow Basescu and helped dent and durably enfeeble the Romanian democracy?
Not only that, but the PNL has all backing of the EPP that it savagely attacked only a few years ago, as Romanian Socialist MEPs now bitterly deplore.
Well, rules were lax then for entering the EPP, which has since become a vast political dumping ground, functioning by the logic of numbers. Led for decades by the late Wilfried Martens, the EPP has for a long time been accepting anyone, Berlusconi’s Forza Italia for instance, or Ivo Sanader’s Croatian HDZ, provided they claimed to be right-leaning. The Hungarian Viktor Orban has also managed to persuade the EPP to accept his Fidesz as a member, although he, at the time, had just villainously left the Liberal International, of which he had been vice chairman since 1992. To be accepted, Viktor Orban didn’t even need to display much Christian, or even democratic credentials.
So it appears that many have been cavorting from the Liberals to the EPP, who accepted them with open arms, following only the logic of the numbers.
No wonder then, as we already pointed out, that there is nothing ideological in the disparate groupings in Romania ahead of the May European elections.
All this to say that the existence of two fighting supposedly “Liberal” parties in Romania, PNL (now in the EPP) and ALDE does not mean anything in ideological, political, or even cultural terms. Both have allied themselves with the Socialists (read: Populists) at some time, and practically all the major figures of both groups have always worked for the state and never ran a successful business, as Liberals should do.
It is even rumored that some of the younger Liberals still live with their parents.