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Standoff in Romania: Ending Not with a Bang but a Whimper?

The prime minister of Romania, Victor Ponta, may be backing down in the nasty standoff with the country’s president and Consititutional Court that had alarmed European and U.S. diplomats about the rule of law in Romania. The president, however, is still suspended pending a referendum on impeachment at the end of the month. Now there will be an inquiry, as the NYT reports:

After meeting with Mr. Ponta on Thursday, [Head of European Council Herman Van] Rompuy urged him to “engage in a constructive dialogue” with the European Commission and address the issues identified as “problematic.” Later, the commission’s president, José Manuel Barroso, said he had received “assurances” from Mr. Ponta that he would address the issues of concern and “urgently” deliver the promises in writing.

Mr. Ponta said in the interview that he was “completely ready to back down” if the commission found that any of his government’s actions had violated European norms. But he also warned that continued political gridlock in Bucharest could end up strengthening extremist or anti-European parties, as has been seen in several European countries.

Obviously the cooling hostilities between Romania’s leaders and its cooperation with the EU is a good thing for short term stability in this struggling east European republic. But the danger in countries like Romania is not that there will be a big confrontation with the EU or Washington over issues of government and democracy. The real threat is that, over time, the quality and legitimacy of internal legal and political institutions will erode under pressure from unscrupulous politicians and business clans. These characters often care much less about the rule of law than about money and power.

As we’ve said, the crisis in Europe transcends the current financial mess, and flashes like the Romanian episode remind us to be on guard for the larger challenges to the durability of the European idea.

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  • Expat

    “These characters often care much less about the rule of law than about … power.”

    That sounds like how I’d characterize Barack Obama’s approach toward the rule of law.

    Just look at his actions vis-a-vis illegal immigration, the auto bailouts, etc. For Obama, the rule of law is worth respecting insofar as it is convenient to what he wants. Which, of course, is to say, that when possible he replaces rule of law with rule of man, even if that rule of man overlaps largely (though not entirely) with the rule of law. Nonetheless, this is, of course, something quite short of rule of law.

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