Romania – Cohabitation

A new debate on the operation of political institutions under cohabitation is now taking place in Romania. The discussions concern the validity of a so-called cohabitation pact that has framed the relationship between the presidency and the government since December 2012, when the current centre-left coalition won the parliamentary election.

The period of cohabitation in Romania started in May 2012, when the ruling coalition, which included the president’s party, lost a no-confidence vote. Subsequently, Victor Ponta (the new prime minister and leader of the social-democratic party) and Crin Antonescu (the leader of the national liberal party) formed a coalition government that excluded the president’s party. The change of government was followed by several months of ongoing conflict between state institutions, including a referendum to impeach the president. The period of cohabitation was extended in December 2012, when the incumbent government won a huge majority in the legislative election. After the re-formation of the government, an ‘Agreement on Institutional Collaboration between the President of Romania and the Prime Minister of the Government’ was signed. The agreement’s main purpose was to send a positive signal to international institutions regarding the Romanian decision-makers’ commitment to avoid further political deadlock. More details about this unusual document can be found here.

Recently, however, President Băsescu accused PM Ponta of violating the cohabitation pact on foreign policy, and justice and the rule of law.

First, the prime minister was criticised for taking a different position than the president on the recognition of Kosovo’s independence and on Bashar Assad’s political regime.

Second, President Băsescu condemned the general prosecutor’s decision to release the prosecutor who had been in charge with the case against the deputy prime minister, who was accused with vote-rigging in the presidential impeachment referendum. According to Băsescu, the general prosecutor had acted at the order of the prime minister, who overstepped his constitutional responsibilities and interfered with the independence of justice. The president also criticised Ponta’s decision to allow the deputy prime minister to continue in office during the investigation and expressed concern for the next EU report monitoring the progress of law-enforcement in Romania.

In line with the conflict-resolution mechanism laid down in the working agreement, the conditions for its continuance are currently analysed by two representatives of the presidency and the government.  The prime minister is represented by the ministers of justice and foreign affairs. While the president and the prime minister have expressed their willingness to safeguard their institutional collaboration, their political allies have already denounced the pact.

Strictly speaking, the pact has no constitutional or legal basis. As a result, there can be no legal sanctions for its violation. Moreover, given the commitment of both parts to respect their constitutional roles, denouncing the pact would be the equivalent of a decision to no longer respect the constitution. It is therefore likely that, despite their differences, the president and the prime minister will reiterate their commitment to avoid political deadlock for as long as the cohabitation period may last. The next presidential election is scheduled for November 2014.

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