Traian Băsescu

Traian Băsescu
5th President of Romania
In office
20 December 2004  21 December 2014[1]
Prime Minister Eugen Bejinariu (Acting)
Călin Popescu-Tăriceanu
Emil Boc
Cătălin Predoiu (Acting)
Mihai Răzvan Ungureanu
Victor Ponta
Preceded by Ion Iliescu
Succeeded by Klaus Iohannis
Mayor of Bucharest
In office
26 June 2000  20 December 2004
Preceded by Viorel Lis
Succeeded by Adriean Videanu
Minister of Transport
In office
30 April 1991  19 November 1992
Preceded by Doru Pană
Succeeded by Paul Teodoru
In office
12 December 1996  11 February 1998
Preceded by Aurel Novac
Succeeded by Anton Ionescu
In office
17 April 1998  26 June 2000
Preceded by Anton Ionescu
Succeeded by Anca Boagiu
Personal details
Born (1951-11-04) 4 November 1951
Basarabi, Romania
(now Murfatlar)
Citizenship  Romania
Political party Communist Party (Before 1989)
National Salvation Front (1989–1992)
Democratic Party (1992–2004)
Independent (2004–2015)
People's Movement (2015–present)
Spouse(s) Maria Băsescu (1975–present)[3]
Children Ioana
Alma mater Mircea the Elder Naval Academy
Religion Romanian Orthodoxy

Traian Băsescu (Romanian pronunciation: [traˈjan bəˈsesku]; born 4 November 1951) is a Romanian politician, who served as the fourth President of Romania from 2004 to 2014. His two consecutive terms in office are marked by the adhesion of Romania to the European Union in 2007, but also open conflicts with the Parliament, leading to two failed impeachments attempts against him in 2007 and 2012.[4] On 9 June 2016 President Nicolae Timofti signed the decree granting Băsescu and his wife Maria the citizenship of the Republic of Moldova.

Early life

Băsescu Traian was born in Basarabi, (renamed Murfatlar in 2007), near the port city of Constanța, the largest Romanian port on the Black Sea. Băsescu's father, Dumitru (d. 2002), was an army officer; his mother's first name was Elena (d. 2010). He has a brother, Mircea (b. 1953), who was charged with influence peddling (in exchange for €250,000 he promised freedom to the president's godson Florin Anghel, an underworld member). He was sentenced to four years in prison only after his brother's mandate ended. Traian Băsescu and his wife Maria have two daughters: Ioana (b. 1977), a notary, and Elena (b. 1980), a Romanian former MEP.

Professional career

Băsescu graduated from the Naval Institute of Constanța in 1976 and became a merchant marine deck officer at Navrom, the Romanian state-owned shipping company. Between 1981 and 1987 he served as captain on Romanian commercial ships. Throughout his career, questions have been raised about Băsescu's links to the Securitate, the security services of the communist leader Nicolae Ceaușescu.[5] But Băsescu has said his links with the former Securitate were minimal, though some contact was obligatory at the time for somebody working abroad in a senior position.[6] In 1984 he was promoted to Captain of the oil tanker Biruința, the largest ship of the then Romanian commercial fleet. In 1989, Băsescu moved to Belgium to head the Navrom Agency in Antwerp.[6]

The most controversial episode of his professional career is the disaster that happened on 10 September 1981 in the French port Rouen, when a fire started around the Romanian tanker Argeș, then under the command of Traian Băsescu, affecting a large portion of the river Seine. The fire destroyed two pusher ships and six barges, a major disaster being avoided on the last moment when 70 French firemen coming from Rouen, Gran-Couronne, Grand-Quevily, Canteleu and Moulineaux prevented the fire from reaching the nearby Shell refinery. According to an interview given by Traian Băsescu to the Romanian TV channel Prima TV on 23 June 1998 (and quoted by "Magazin Nautic", the official publication of the Romanian Nautical Club), Băsescu admitted to having made alterations to the ship's installation before the French investigators were allowed to come on board, a thing that—in Băsescu own words—made it impossible for the investigators to link the cause of the disaster to the Romanian ship.[7]

Earlier political career

Băsescu was a member of the Communist Party before 1989.[8] After the downfall of Communism, he claimed that he joined the PCR only in order to promote his career in the merchant marine. In a letter published in Romanian newspapers, former president Emil Constantinescu alleged that Băsescu was in the second tier of the Communist Party leadership during the regime of former communist leader Nicolae Ceaușescu, but had managed to portray himself as anti-communist.[6] During an interview Traian Băsescu admitted that before 1989 he smuggled jeans and other goods. A former communist official, director of a firm that was receiving the goods transported by Traian Băsescu ship, said at Antena 3 that without bribes Traian Băsescu refused to bring the goods in the country.

Traian Băsescu entered politics after the 1989 Romanian Revolution, as a member of the large National Salvation Front (FSN) party. In April 1991, he became Minister of Transport in Petre Roman's Cabinet, and continued to hold this position during Theodor Stolojan's "Cabinet of technocrats" in September 1991 – November 1992. In 1992, after the FSN split in two factions—the Social Democratic Party of Romania (PDSR, later PSD), led by Ion Iliescu, and the Democratic Party (PD), led by Petre Roman, Băsescu joined the PD faction. In 1992, he was elected to the lower house of the Romanian Parliament, the Chamber of Deputies, then re-elected for the 1996–2000 term.

Concurrently with his second term in Parliament, from November 1996 to June 2000, Băsescu also served as Minister of Transport in the center-right governments of Victor Ciorbea, Radu Vasile, and Mugur Isărescu.

In December 1997, he gave an interview to Claudiu Săftoiu of the newspaper Evenimentul Zilei, in which he accused Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea of not implementing enough reforms, although Ciorbea was accused by the Socialist opposition of being excessively reformist. This became the first episode in an open dispute within the ruling center-right coalition, a dispute that eventually led to Democratic Party ministers, including Băsescu, resigning from the cabinet, which, in turn, led to Ciorbea's resignation. Subsequently (1998), Băsescu resumed his previous ministerial position in the new cabinet headed by Radu Vasile.

During his tenure as Minister of Transportation, Băsescu oversaw privatization of Romania's merchant fleet. While some argued that the aging ships at the time were of minimal value, many Romanians believed the compensation received for the ships was artificially low. The "scandal" of the fleet sale became known in Romania as The Fleet File (Dosarul Flota) Affair. Prosecutors brought charges against Băsescu, but it was not proven that he was involved in any malfeasances. In 1996, Băsescu was the first Romanian parliamentarian to renounce his parliamentary immunity, in order to allow judicial procedures related to the Fleet File Affair to continue against him (Romanian MPs were, by default, granted immunity from prosecution of any kind). Although the case against him was closed at the time for lack of evidence, it was reopened in early 2004, in what some considered a political maneuver against him sponsored by the then PSD government. In 2004, the case was brought before the High Court of Cassation and Justice, however the judges decided to send it back to the Prosecutor's Office citing procedural errors (the signature of a prosecutor was missing). In December 2007, the Romanian National Anti-corruption Directorate (Direcția Națională Anticorupție), a subdivision of the General Prosecutor Office, ruled to end the investigation, based on the financial expertise that there was not prejudice from the association of Romanian NM Petromin SA Constanța with the Norwegian Torvald Klaveness Group (April 1991 – August 2000). However the case is still opened as this is only the latest expertise published and the only one who serves as evidence in favor of Băsescu. Some have seen this as a political maneuver destined to prove his innocence. In total 136 people were investigated, 80 of which, including Băsescu, were retained for the investigation of this case, while the facts pertaining to 51 others were separated for independent investigations.[9]

Mayor of Bucharest

In 2000, Băsescu was elected Mayor of Bucharest, winning the run-off against PDSR candidate Sorin Oprescu by a slim margin (50.69% to 49.31%), despite trailing 24% behind him in the first round.

As Mayor, he was credited with a reduction in the number of stray dogs roaming freely through the streets of the city from approximately 300,000 in 2000 to 25,000 in 2004, and thus in the number of dog bite injuries from 1,500 a month to under 200 a month.[10] This campaign was controversial, as many opposed large-scale dog euthanasia.[11] On the other hand, there were also numerous cases of people asking the authorities to take the stray dogs away, but after this was done, neighbors, who had been feeding the dogs, would show up at the shelter to take them back to their neighborhoods.[12] The campaign resulted in nearly 48,000 dogs being put down just in 2001, with fewer numbers in the following years.[13][14] In 2004, Băsescu presented the situation as a success.

Băsescu also claimed success in improvements to the water and lighting systems of the city, which prior to that were in a very bad state;[15] as well as in modernization of the public transportation system in the city.

His tenure was however marked by constant conflicts with the governing PSD-controlled institutions. Citing the need for decentralization, the central government led by Adrian Năstase passed several ordinances transferring powers from the city mayor to mayors of the city's six sectors and to the city council. Băsescu accused council members of corruption and obstruction; he also successfully challenged several council resolutions in Administrative Courts. As a consequence, on 10 January 2002, the central government decided to dissolve the council, yet it annulled that decision later on. These conflicts led to the blocking or delay of several infrastructure loans, financed by BEI, for municipal heating and road networks, and to the blocking of the city's ability to borrow and finance reconstruction.

In February 2003, Băsescu bought from the state a 369 m2 (3,972 sq ft) apartment in a nationalized house downtown Bucharest for the equivalent of US$19,000. A scandal broke, as the request to buy the house was approved by the Mayor's Office, at a time when Băsescu was mayor. He explained that he had filed in October 2002 an application to the specialized state agency (not to the Mayor's office, which was not the owner of the building) for the apartment to be sold to him on the basis of the Romanian Law 10 of 2001, which he claimed "gives priority to existing tenants to buy previously nationalized houses, no matter whether they already owned other houses", and that only the price was calculated based on a 1995 law. However, the press noted that, according to the contract, the sale was based on Law 112 of 1995, and that Law 10/2001 had no provisions about selling anything. The 1995 law prevents, with the provisions of Art. 9, sale to tenants that already owned or sold a house after 1 January 1990, Băsescu already having bought a villa near Bucharest in October 2002, donated to his daughter shortly after. Furthermore, the same law gave the right to buy the nationalised houses only to those who were tenants at the time of its coming into force (i.e. second half of 1996), while Băsescu had only lived in that house since August 2002. According to the press, these facts made it impossible for Băsescu to legally buy the apartment. When the scandal broke again in early 2005, Băsescu first stated that he would give up the apartment, but changed his mind later, announcing that he would renounce it only if the Prosecutor's Office decided he had broken the law.[16][17] The prosecutors investigating the matter concluded that, according to the provisions of the law, Băsescu did not breach it when he bought the apartment.

Leader of Justice and Truth Alliance

In 2001, Băsescu was elected chairman of the PD, defeating Petre Roman, who had previously led the party for nine years, after Roman managed to get only 3% of the vote at the 2000 presidential elections.[18] At the time the PD had a social-democrat ideology.[19] That same year, Băsescu's party and Iliescu's PDSR both attempted to join the Socialist International. Băsescu tried to present his party as more democratically-oriented stating that "PDSR is far from modern social-democracy". He also negotiated a merger with Virgil Măgureanu's PNR, a party that had many former Securitate employees.[20]

In 2003, Băsescu negotiated an electoral alliance for the PD with the National Liberal Party (PNL) in order to create a cohesive opposition against the then-ruling PSD. The new pact, called the Justice and Truth Alliance (Alianța Dreptate și Adevăr), ran common candidates in local and national elections, and agreed to vote as a bloc in Parliament. As chairman of PD, he became a co-chairman of the DA alliance alongside the then PNL chairman Theodor Stolojan. In 2003, Stolojan, who was the Justice and Truth candidate for president of Romania in 2004, stepped down as PNL chairman and DA co-chairman, being replaced in these positions by Călin Popescu-Tăriceanu. Although Stolojan announced to have withdrawn because of health concerns, Băsescu claimed to the press that the reason behind this decision was blackmail from political opponents (Stolojan did not confirm this).[21] This sudden change in leadership of the DA alliance transformed the 2004 presidential election in a race between two leaders of parties affiliated with the Socialist International. Editorialist Dan Pavel decried the development as a "marginalization of the right", and the presidential race as a choice between two former "FSN cadres".[18] Nevertheless, there were significant differences in the economic programs of the DA alliance and PSD in 2004. The DA alliance leaned towards economic liberalism, with the introduction of a 16% flat tax that replaced the progressive personal income tax of up to 40%, and the 25% corporate tax. In January 2005, Financial Times described the DA alliance as "centrist".[22]

Băsescu's party would not officially abandon social-democrat ideals until 2005, after PD's leadership was discontent with the support given by the Socialist International to the PDSR during the 2004 elections, and by the fact that the Socialist International admitted the PDSR's successor, PSD, with full membership rights, while the PD remained only an associate member.[23] In a 2006 interview, Băsescu stated that his party's exit from the Socialist International was a "huge concession" he made to PNL after discussions of a merger of PD and PNL began in 2004. Change in the leadership of PNL prevented the merger; according to Băsescu, most of the PNL leaders that negotiated the joint governance with Băsescu in 2004 had been marginalized by 2006, making collaboration difficult.[24] In December 2006, those members of the PNL that favored closer ties with Băsescu formed their own party, the Liberal Democratic Party, which eventually merged with the PD in January 2008. After December 2006, the remainder of the PNL became hostile to Băsescu and formed a minority government supported by the PSD, effectively marking the end of the DA alliance. (See Conflict with Prime Minister Tăriceanu below for further details.)

2004 Presidential campaign

Following Theodor Stolojan's surprise withdrawal from the 2004 presidential elections, Băsescu entered the presidential race on behalf of the Justice and Truth Alliance. His main opponent was then Prime Minister and PSD president Adrian Năstase. Like Băsescu, Năstase was a former Communist Party member. Although Năstase came out ahead in the first round by 7%, Băsescu achieved a surprise comeback and won the 12 December run-off election by a 2.46% margin, receiving 51.23% of the vote. Băsescu won the Presidential election by using an anti-communist and anti-corruption rhetoric. In the live TV debate with Adrian Năstase before the 2004 run-off presidential election, Băsescu caught his opponent off-guard with a rhetorical remark: "You know what Romania's greatest curse is right now? It's that Romanians have to choose between two former Communist Party members."

During the 2004 presidential campaign, before a TV interview with PSD counter-candidate Adrian Năstase, Băsescu gave the latter a paper and told him: “Put it in your pocket and read it when you are away!”[25] Similarly, in June 2006, at the oath-taking ceremony of Radu Stroe as the new secretary general of the Government, Băsescu gave him a sheet of paper as a "gift". After seeing it, Stroe went pale and refused to make its content public. When asked, Băsescu said its content was not classified.[26] Both Adrian Năstase and Radu Stroe were previously involved in corruption scandals.[27]

First term as President of Romania

Presidential styles of
Traian Băsescu
Reference style Președintele (President)
Spoken style Președintele (President)
Alternative style Domnia Sa/Excelența Sa (His Excellency)

Running on a strong reform and anti-corruption platform, Băsescu's victory was characterized in the media as Romania's "Orange Revolution", in reference to the reformists' perceived victory in neighboring Ukraine during the same period, and in reference to the orange color used by the winning Justice and Truth Alliance.[28] In line with an agreement between the PD and PNL, he appointed PNL leader Popescu-Tăriceanu as prime minister. In order to form a majority, PNL and PD formed a coalition with the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania and the Humanist Party, which later changed its name to the Conservative Party (PC). While the platform of the former has been generally in line with that of the Justice and Truth Alliance, the latter (PC) was needed in the coalition in order to obtain more than 50% of the seats in Parliament, due to the fact that apart from the opposition Social-Democrat Party, many seats were held also by the ultra-nationalist Greater Romania Party.

In late 2006, the PC withdrew from the cabinet, a move at least partially related to conflicts between Băsescu and PC leader Dan Voiculescu. The withdrawal of the PC left the coalition without a majority in the Parliament.

Domestic policy

In domestic politics, Băsescu often has claimed he fights against high-level corruption. In spring 2005, Romania resolved a hostage crisis in Iraq involving three Romanian journalists and their guide.

In 2005, he also focused on pressing the government to provide relief to thousands of Romanians left homeless by widespread flooding throughout the spring and summer.

On 18 December 2006, Băsescu delivered a speech to Parliament (broadcast live on TV) in which he condemned Romania's pre-1989 communist regime. Some members of the opposition, mainly of the ultra-nationalist Greater Romania Party (PRM), and some members of the mainstream Social Democratic Party, tried to disturb the speech. Particularly vocal was the ultra-nationalist PRM leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor, who walked with posters throughout the Parliament floor, whistled and interrupted Băsescu speech several times.

Foreign policy

Traian Băsescu with George W. Bush
Traian Băsescu in Afghanistan, June 2009

Băsescu repeatedly stated that Romania's accession to the European Union remained a top priority, and he was president when the country acceded on 1 January 2007. Both the president and the government of Prime Minister Popescu-Tăriceanu focused on Romania's planned accession to the EU, which remained a central component in Romania's foreign policy.

In addition, Băsescu has focused on a strong strategic partnership with the United States, a relationship which during the 2004 presidential campaign he called the "Bucharest-London-Washington axis". In real terms, this meant a continued commitment to maintain Romanian troops in Afghanistan and a smaller contingent in Iraq; and an agreement signed in December 2005 between Romania and the U.S. to allow U.S. troops to use a Romanian military facility (Mihail Kogălniceanu International Airport). Băsescu is singled out in a report by an investigator of the Council of Europe on illegal activities of the US secret service CIA in Europe, Dick Marty, as one of the persons who authorized or at least knew about and must stand accountable for the black site at the Mihail Kogălniceanu military base from 2003 to 2005.[29] Băsescu made strong ties with the President of the United States, who in return called him a friend: "The President and I are friends. Romania and the United States are friends, and we're allies".

In June 2006, Băsescu came into open conflict with Popescu-Tăriceanu after the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister announced that they and the PNL sought to withdraw Romania's troops from Iraq. However, the troops stayed in Iraq, after Băsescu called a meeting of the Supreme Defense Council, which voted that the troops should stay.[30]

Traian Băsescu with Lech Kaczyński in February 2007
Romanian President Traian Băsescu and Russian President Vladimir Putin, before NATO summit, in Bucharest, on 4 April 2008
Traian Băsescu and German Chancellor Angela Merkel during the EPP summit of 2012

Băsescu has been vocal in calling for a regional approach to security in the Black Sea basin, which he noted remained susceptible to trans-border security threats such as drug and human trafficking. Băsescu alleged "that Russia might have been involved in his suspension", citing his pro-Western foreign policy as a reason.[31]

Băsescu has tried to improve Romania's relations with Moldova, with which Romania shares a common language and culture. Furthermore, he has expressed several times his belief in the future unification of the two countries, either politically or in the framework of the European Union. His player attitude has brought some practical success, but also an increase in anti-Romanian rhetoric from the Communist government of Moldova, led by Vladimir Voronin. A divisive issue remains to this day the opening of two Romanian consulates outside the capital of Moldova, as well as 900,000 Moldovans applying for Romanian citizenship. In both cases, Băsescu strongly supported moves to strengthen relations with Moldova, while the Moldovan Communist leadership sought to cool down Băsescu's energy.

Băsescu stated that Romania regards Kosovo as an integral part of Serbia, as an outcome of the Kosovo status process, and that Romania will not recognize any unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo.[32][33]

Romania formally terminated its mission in Iraq on 4 June 2009, and pulled out its troops. On 23 July the last Romanian soldiers left Iraq.[34] Three Romanian soldiers had been killed during their mission, and at least eight were wounded.

Conflict with Prime Minister Tăriceanu

Traian Băsescu and Călin Popescu-Tăriceanu

Băsescu continued to be popular due to his open style and hands-on approach. In his electoral campaign, Băsescu promised to be a președinte jucător (Romanian), "player-president", in contrast to a more withdrawn president who would be just a mediator among political forces (thus creating in the eyes of some a juridical conflict of a constitutional nature). After he became president, as legally required, he resigned from the Democratic Party. However, he remained very involved in day-to-day politics of Romania, often being accused by other political leaders of overstepping constitutional boundaries on the role of the president. During the course of his presidency, his relations with Popescu-Tăriceanu gradually soured, particularly following the Prime Minister's reversal of course in July 2005 after Tăriceanu initially announced he would resign and prompt early parliamentary elections,[35] which some hoped would have resulted in the Justice and Truth Alliance governing alone. The ensuing poor relations between the President and the Prime Minister have become one of the primary themes of Romanian post-2004 politics,[36] with many unrelated disputes converging towards this dichotomy. Under the Romanian Constitution, the president appoints the prime minister, but does not have the authority to dismiss him.

On 11 January 2007, Băsescu presided over the first half of the meeting of the Consiliul Suprem al Magistraturii (CSM; Superior Council of the Magistracy) at which the election of a new President of CSM took place. Before the candidacies were announced, Băsescu publicly said to judge Anton Pandrea: "I heard you have announced your candidacy, Mr. Pandrea. I wish you great success". His former counsellor Renate Weber later claimed that if Băsescu hadn't said those words, Pandrea might not have been elected: "If the President hadn’t said that, it would have been another candidacy, if not another President." When asked by the press, Băsescu responded to this criticism with: “I made a mistake, I made a mistake.”[37]

A public scandal broke out when Elena Udrea, a presidential adviser, revealed to the press that the then Prime Minister Tăriceanu passed to Băsescu a "scandalous" written note. When the matter became public debate, Băsescu stated about the note: “The Prime Minister proposed to me a partnership, one, unfortunately, with our oligarchies”[38] The note, written by the hand of the Prime Minister, was attached on top of a report from the Petromidia company, then under investigation by Prosecutors, and asked the President to "talk about it" during a scheduled visit at the Prosecutor Office. Băsescu stated: "Such type of partnership was unacceptable to me (...) it would have meant that nothing had changed in Romania after the elections."[39] On the subsequent reaction of the Prime Minister, Băsescu said: "The Prime Minister was consequent. and absolutely not naïve." According to Băsescu, Tăriceanu phoned the Prosecutor General of Romania, then tried to put further pressure through a specially dedicated speech to the Parliament on 8 November 2006, and tried "the same thing" with Justice Minister Monica Macovei, arranging a meeting with a businessman at the Government Palace.[40]

In response, the Prime Minister declared that the matter was just an attempt to hide "what is going on at Cotroceni and around it" and publicly accused Băsescu of facilitating contracts to companies "close to him". According to the Prime Minister, the newly appointed PD Transportation Minister told a businessman "The President sent me to take care of you". He also stated that Băsescu wanted to put the Department for Administration of the State Heritage and Protocol under the control of the family of Elena Udrea. Băsescu immediately counteracted, publicly requesting Tăriceanu to produce evidence to support his claims, to send them to the Prosecutor's Office, and to revoke the ministers allegedly involved. "If the Prime Minister does not produce such proof, the President considers that these statements are without substance and are of such a nature as to distract the public attention from his own deed", a Presidential communiqué stated.[41]

Dinu Patriciu, an influential businessman and PNL member, stated on a public TV station that, in his opinion, Tăriceanu's note was a "friendly gesture, a sign of normality". Patriciu also said that in a discussion with Băsescu in October 2005, the latter advised him to invest in any country in the Black Sea basin except Russia. According to Patriciu, Băsescu said "(...) because we must do so that Russians invest in Romania, in order to have them hostages, because we certainly will have a conflict with Russia".[41]

Furthermore, Dan Voiculescu, a member of the opposition, accused the president of influence peddling, producing a note by Băsescu to a minister, which as Voiculescu claimed was a request to support selling cheap energy to the ALRO company, where Democratic Liberal Party (PDL) leader Theodor Stolojan was a stockholder. The note said: "Minister Seres, I ask you to analyze this letter and take measures according to Government’s interests and, if possible, with the interest of national economy in mind."[42]

Daily newspaper Adevărul published another note, in which the President requested the PD Transport Minister to analyze and find a "legal solution" to a petition from a company close to Băsescu. The newspaper claimed that this was outside the legal prerogatives of the president, accused Băsescu of sending the note directly to the Minister instead of following the usual administrative procedures, and furthermore noted that the matter was a commercial dispute that neither the President nor the Transport Minister had the legal means to solve.[43]

In the spring of 2007, when Foreign Minister Mihai-Răzvan Ungureanu resigned, Băsescu refused to accept Prime-Minister Tăriceanu's nomination of Adrian Cioroianu as the country's new Minister of Foreign Affairs, claiming that Cioroianu did not have enough experience. On 5 April 2007, the Constitutional Court decided that "The Romanian President doesn't have veto power, but, if he observes that the proposed person does not correspond to the legal conditions required to be a member of Government, he can ask the Prime Minister to renounce his proposal". On the same day (two months after Ungureanu announced his resignation and 17 days after Ungureanu's resignation was accepted by the President), Băsescu accepted Cioroianu and the latter assumed office at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Impeachment vote by the Parliament

In early 2007, Băsescu was proposed for impeachment by the members of the parties in opposition for alleged unconstitutional conduct.[44] Allegedly, one of the major issues in the confrontation was the activity of Justice Minister Monica Macovei, who supported prosecutor's efforts to follow up on cases of corruption, especially those involving politically connected individuals.[45] Among the main reasons given in the proposal to suspend Băsescu were:

Băsescu and his supporters denied the accusations, stating that his actions and statements were ways of fighting against corruption in the political and judicial systems, and against "circles of business interests" with unlawful purposes.

The Constitutional Court of Romania found no clear evidence of his breach of the Constitution in the sense required by the fundamental law.[46] However, the court ruling was only consultative and the two chambers of the Romanian Parliament voted in favor of Băsescu's impeachment on 19 April 2007, with 322 votes for the impeachment proposal, 108 against and 8 abstentions (the minimum number of votes needed was 233).[47] Băsescu contested the decision, but the Constitutional Court rejected his appeal as inadmissible, and upheld the vote.

In the meantime, the independent Macovei and the PD ministers had been dismissed by Prime Minister Popescu-Tăriceanu, while the European election had been postponed to the fall of 2007. Pro-Băsescu politicians have characterized the anti-Băsescu coalition that formed as "the black alliance", as it contained a broad spectrum of political parties and interests: Social-Democrats favoring heavy state involvement in the economy, National-Liberals and Conservatives favoring business interests, Hungarian minority MPs, and anti-Hungarian ultra-nationalists.[48]

In 2007, when Traian Băsescu was temporarily suspended from Presidency, he said in a meeting: "It seems [former] President Ion Iliescu turned to more modern means [of removing political opponents], this time without calling the miners to "defend the country", but used 322 Members of Parliament for my impeachment."[49]

2007 Impeachment referendum

As a result of the impeachment vote by the Parliament, Băsescu was suspended from his function as president on 19 April 2007,[50] and a national referendum was held on May 19, 2007[51][52] to decide by popular vote whether to dismiss the President. According to the electoral law (article 5(2) of the Referendum Law), an absolute majority of all Romanians with the right to vote is required for a positive result in a dismissal referendum, which means that almost 9 million people would have had to vote against Băsescu.[53] After the impeachment vote, several public rallies to support Băsescu in the referendum and protest against his suspension were organized by PD and PLD both in Romania (Bucharest, Iaşi, etc.), as well as abroad (e.g. in Madrid).

On 17 April Băsescu stated that if Parliament voted for his impeachment, he would resign "five minutes" after the vote, avoiding a referendum for dismissal and triggering early presidential elections. However, on 20 April he decided not to resign, claiming he wished to limit the period of political instability.[54][55]

Băsescu and his supporters in the Democratic Party also suggested that his political opponents would try to modify the electoral law in order to obstruct a previously suspended president to run in the elections again,[56] following a Rolandas Paksas scenario.

On 25 April the Constitutional Court approved the modifications brought by parliament to the Referendum Law. The new article 10 (regarding the presidential impeachment process) considers that the impeachment process "will be approved through the majority of votes for the participants at the referendum, and article 5(2) does not apply to this type of referendum". Therefore, the 19 May referendum remained valid, despite the participation of less than 40% of eligible Romanians.[57] However, since only a 25% minority of voters voted in the affirmative, and a 75% majority in the negative, Băsescu regained full prerogatives on 24 May after the referendum results were confirmed.

PDL-PSD coalition government

In December 2008, in the aftermath of legislative elections which gave PDL and PSD similar scores, the two joined forces to form a coalition, under a PDL Prime Minister. After one of its ministers was expelled from the government by the prime minister against the will of the party, the PSD decided to leave the government in early October. Soon afterwards, the government fell following the adoption of a motion of no confidence in Parliament. Băsescu nominated Lucian Croitoru as a new prime minister, against the will of the Parliament majority, which supported Klaus Iohannis as prime minister. After Croitoru was voted down, Băsescu nominated as Prime Minister PDL member Liviu Negoiță, ignoring again the proposal of the Parliament majority.[58] A caretaker government remained in office. The ongoing political crisis prevented Romania from getting two instalments of a 20-billion-euro loan from the International Monetary Fund and the European Union.[59]

2009 Presidential campaign

Băsescu ran for a second term in the 2009 presidential elections. Incumbent Băsescu and his Social-Democrat opponent Mircea Geoană offered different ways to tackle the economic crisis. Băsescu pledged to cut public spending and promised "more equity" to people living in the countryside.[59]

Băsescu tried to portray himself as the champion of the people against what he called the "corrupt political elite". A widely used election poster carried the text: "They cannot avoid what they are afraid of". Băsescu's opponents countered that he is part of that elite, simply with different backers. In a Cluj-Napoca meeting with his supporters he claimed that he "was the one to stop doubtful privatisations," implicitly accusing rival Social-Democrats of underhand practices while in power. He vowed to fight against the Parliament, which blocked his bid to install the Croitoru cabinet, and the "media moguls".[59] In the campaign for the first round, his favourite campaign theme was reducing the number of lawmakers.[59] This theme proved popular, with the majority of the electorate voting for the reduction of the number of lawmakers from current 471 to a maximum of 300, and in favour of a transition from the current bicameral Parliament to a unicameral one in a referendum held simultaneously with the first round of elections.

In the first round held on 22 November Băsescu came first with 32.44% of the votes, and Geoană second with 31.15%.[60] Although Băsescu claimed the results of the first round as "a significant vote for the right" because he and Crin Antonescu together received over 50% of the vote, the next day Antonescu refused to back Băsescu in the runoff, and shortly thereafter announced an alliance with Geoană. Subsequently Băsescu reproached Antonescu to "have thrown himself in the arms of the Social-Democrat party, a party opposed to reforms", and added "This alliance will bring us back to 20 years ago when the PSD was controlling all state institutions".[61] Antonescu in turn called Băsescu "a demagogue and a populist", and vowed to support Geoană as "the lesser of two evils".[62]

On 26 November 2009, footage from the 2004 election campaign showing Băsescu apparently hitting or pushing a 10-year-old boy at a campaign rally was broadcast. The press unfavorable to Băsescu interpreted the footage as "hitting with his fist", whereas the press favorable to Băsescu either interpreted it as a push, or called the footage fake. Asked in a talk show about the incident, the President stated that he does not recall it, but did not outright deny it either, saying that perhaps the child uttered profanity. Later, he made a public declaration that "never in his life has he hit a child", but he refused to comment on whether the footage was video manipulated or not. PDL member Roberta Anastase, who had accompanied Băsescu during the rally, declared the child uttered profanity and that Băsescu pushed the child aside. The footage was released within 24 hours of a declaration of Dinu Patriciu, also present at the rally, who claimed that he saw Băsescu hitting a child in 2004.[63][64] The boy has been identified, and was interviewed later that night. He acknowledged that Băsescu had hit him after he chanted a slogan favourable to Ion Iliescu and Adrian Năstase, but said he was not physically hurt. He also said that for the moment he was happy that Băsescu had paid attention to him, and they smiled at each other, but later he felt disappointed. He added "it was a hit as if he wanted to say: go away!"[65] On 27 November Băsescu told a Mediafax journalist that he saw the footage "de-mounted on computer", suggesting it was manipulated.[66] Cecilia Gheorghe, the boy's aunt, declared that the child now refuses to give further details because he is now "afraid for his life and that of his mother".[67]

In the second round of the presidential election Băsescu won against Geoana by 50.3% to 49.7%. The opposition's legal objection to their narrow defeat was dismissed.

Second term as President of Romania

Traian Băsescu speaking in his support during an anti-impeachment protest in Bucharest, 2012

Băsescu was suspended by the Parliament a second time on 6 July 2012, with a referendum on his impeachment being held on 29 July 2012. After initially calling on the population to vote, PDL called for a boycott, accusing the majority party USL of attempted fraud.[68] Băsescu, however, declared that he would still vote,[69] albeit not voting after all. An overwhelming 88.7% of people who went to vote rejected his leadership. However, the turnout at the referendum was estimated at 46%,[70] which was less than the 50% + 1 required for it to be validated.

The Romanian Constitutional Court subsequently invalidated the referendum[71] by a vote of 6–3, which reinstated Băsescu as president of Romania.[72] In June 2015 The Attorney General of Romania started investigating illegalities committed by certain members of the Constitutional Court in order to save the embattled president. The US envoy Philip Gordon visited Romania supporting Băsescu, accused the president opposition of massive fraud, angering the 8.4 million voters, per Romania TV. Of the thousands of people investigated of election fraud only one received the guilty verdict in Court, a saving face verdict for the errors committed by the US envoy, as per DC News. Băsescu said that now is the time to leave old conflicts aside in order to solve Romania's problems, and to "restore a functioning democratic Romania, and restore our credibility." On the other hand, Crin Antonescu, who has served as acting president during this entire process, claims Băsescu is an "illegitimate" leader as he was suspended by Parliament and dismissed by the people.[73]

Following his return to Cotroceni, Băsescu maintained a low profile until the regular parliamentary elections. On the 9th of December 2012, the elections produced a new parliamentary configuration, with an overwhelming USL majority dominating the other parties by a 70% margin. The "presidential party", PDL, only attained 16% of the total votes, failing to win all but one electoral circumscription while former presidential adviser Eugen Tomac won the second external circumscription, including the Republic of Moldova. The landslide victory of the former opposition coalition marginalized Băsescu and drastically reduced his possibilities to negotiate a new PDL-based coalition, thus being left with no other viable alternative than to nominate PSD president Victor Ponta to form the new government.

Băsescu and Ponta signed a framework treaty, intended to smoothen the future institutional collaboration between the Presidency and the Government. But soon afterwards, first tensions started to creep in, as Ponta depicted the EU-Budget negotiations outcome for Romania as a political defeat for Băsescu.

Relationship with the press

Băsescu is a major target of criticism by the press, and in turn he used controversial language to describe some of the journalists that have been critical of him.

In October 2006, Traian Băsescu referred to journalist Ovidiu Zara, of the Curentul newspaper, using the Romanian word "găozar" (roughly "faggot").[74][75][76][77] In 2009, the president's brother, Mircea Băsescu, also used the word "găozar" to refer to Gândul journalist Robert Veress. In protest leading Romanian journalist Cristian Tudor Popescu, the editor in chief of the Gândul newspaper, showed up on his TV show Cap și Pajură holding a sign reading "gazetar găozar" (roughly "faggot journalist").[78][79]

On 19 May 2007, the day of the suspension referendum, Băsescu took the mobile phone of Antena 1 journalist Andreea Pană, who was filming him while he was shopping with his wife, despite being asked to leave him alone. Forgetting to turn it off, he was recorded referring to Pană as a stinking gypsy during a conversation with his wife in his car.[80][81] The recording was made public by the Antena 1 TV station after the phone was returned to Pană the next day. After public outcry, Băsescu's spokesman expressed regret over the fact that "an inappropriate expression in a private discussion became public".[82] The president of the Commission for Human Rights, Cults and Minorities in the Chamber of Deputies, Nicolae Păun, who is himself part of the Roma community, stated that President Băsescu is not a racist and cannot be condemned for a statement made in private.[83] Romani CRISS, on the other hand, issued a letter of protest, saying "Romani Criss consider unacceptable for the Romanian President to use such language, sexist and racist alike."[84] Other criticism came from the International Federation of Journalists,[77] Agenţia de Monitorizare a Presei, and Clubul Român de Presă.[85] Romania's National Council for Combating Discrimination decided that the expression "stinking gypsy" was discriminatory and sanctioned Traian Băsescu with a warning.[86]

In 2008, Băsescu referred to journalist Victor Ciutacu, the editor in chief of Jurnalul Național, which was highly critical of him, as "jukebox on euros" (Romanian: "tonomat cu euro"),[87] a meme that Ciutacu later used repeatedly in his TV show Vorbe grele, even in the show's logo.

During the 2009 presidential election, Băsescu released two video clips starring himself and actors that were parodying his Antena 3 critics: Mircea Badea, a TV Host, well known for his critical stance of Băsescu, as well as Mihai Gâdea and Valentin Stan, the host and respectively a frequent guest of the TV political talk show Sinteza Zilei.[88][89]

Băsescu had a good relationship with journalists that praised him, in particular TV host Radu Moraru, of the B1 TV show Nașul, who described Băsescu as "the greatest president of Romania in the last 20 years" in the opening of an interview with him.[90]

Criticism and controversies

Corruption scandals

In the summer of 2009, Băsescu was criticized in an editorial in the Gândul newspaper for remaining silent for a long time regarding the corruption scandal surrounding Monica Iacob Ridzi, the PD-L Youth Minister, in contrast to the harsh criticism he had expressed against ministers from other parties when they were accused of corruption (Tudor Chiuariu, Codruț Șereș).[91] Similarly, Tom Gallagher, a Romania specialist at Bradford University, wrote that Băsescu's public image suffered after his daughter, Elena Băsescu, became a MEP through "purely byzantine maneuvers" with the help of Ridzi, and after Băsescu "appeared to express solidarity" with Ridzi against the media that was reporting on the scandal.[92] At Monica Ritzi trial it was said that the beneficiary of the illegal financial activities was Traian Băsescu's daughter. In 2015 Mircea Băsescu, the ex president brother has been accused and jailed for receiving money with the promise to save an imprisoned criminal. Other family members, son in law, nephew, have been accused of selling justice and producing false documents. There is evidence presented at Antena 3, Romania TV and Realitatea TV that Mircea Băsescu said that his brother knew of the illegal dealings.

On 20 April 2016 the General Prosecutor's Office announced that they decided to prosecute Traian Băsescu for money laundering in a criminal case concerning sale of land in Bucharest’s northern neighbourhood of Băneasa to the businessman Costel Cășuneanu.[93] This prompted Băsescu to drop his bid for Bucharest's mayor office in the upcoming local elections.[94]

Comments regarding King Michael of Romania

In June 2011, during a televised talk-show, president Băsescu made a somewhat disputed remark about former King Michael of Romania saying that "he was a slave to the Russians" and calling his 1947 abdication "an act of treason".[95] The president noted that King Michael was the official head of state at the time of the events in question – both during the alliance with Nazi Germany, and during the Soviet occupation. This triggered a wave of criticism from the opposition parties and their sympathizers, who expressed their disapproval of such an interpretation of Romanian history and the perceived lack of respect towards the former king.[96] Some letters requesting the president's immediate resignation came from the members of the opposition parties and their sympathizers.[97]

President Băsescu added that if he was in Marshal Antonescu's position, he too would have ordered the Romanian troops to cross the Prut river and attack the USSR, with the purpose of regaining Bessarabia, lost in 1940. In response to this, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a press statement asking for the immediate response of "civilized Europe to this justification of Nazi aggression against USSR and dishonor to the memory of millions lost during World War II" and called Băsescu's declarations a "shameless bravado".[98] On 23 July he told the public he "deeply regrets" his comment of King Michael calling it a sensitive issue.[99]


Foreign honours


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  39. – Băsescu dezvaluie continutul biletelului trimis de Tariceanu – Arhiva noiembrie 2007 Romanian: ”Acest tip de parteneriat era inacceptabil pentru mine (...) ar fi insemnat ca in Romania nu s-a schimbat nimic dupa alegeri”.
  40. – Băsescu dezvaluie continutul biletelului trimis de Tariceanu – Arhiva noiembrie 2007 Romanian: ”Premierul a fost consecvent si in niciun caz nu a fost naiv", a afirmat Basescu, precizand ca ulterior Tariceanu l-a sunat pe procurorul general al Romaniei, a incercat sa influenteze parlamentarii prin discursul din 8 noiembrie din Parlament in legatura cu Petromidia si ca a incercat acelasi lucru si cu ministrului Justitiei”.
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  49. (Romanian) Gandul: Ion Iliescu îl atacă din nou pe Traian Băsescu: (Romanian) "Se pare că domnul Ion Iliescu a trecut la mijloace mai moderne, de data asta fără să cheme minerii în "apărarea ţării", ci a apelat la 322 de parlamentari pentru suspendarea mea.
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  64. (Romanian) Băsescu despre bruscarea unui copil: Nu-mi amintesc, poate înjura
  65. (Romanian) A fost o lovitură ca şi cum ar fi vrut să-mi spună "Băi pleaca, marş!"
  66. "Băsescu: Am văzut deja scena demontată pe un calculator"
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  69. (Romanian) Romania. Opozitia va boicota Referendumul, Basescu va merge la vot
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  75. (Romanian) Băsescu despre un ziarist: "Un găozar"
  76. (Romanian) Băsescu, vorbe de neuitat: de la ”găozar” la ”țigancă împuțită”
  77. 1 2 IFJ Condemns Romanian President after "Abusive and Offensive" Comments to Reporter, 22 May 2007
  78. (Romanian) Cristian Tudor Popescu protestează cu o pancartă pe care scrie "Gazetar Găozar"
  79. (Romanian) Cristian Tudor Popescu = "gazetar găozar"
  80. (Romanian) Băsescu insults an Antena 3 journalist
  81. "Băsescu chided for 'gypsy' remark", BBC News, 23 May 2007
  82. (Romanian) Traian Băsescu apologizes to the Antena 1 reporter
  83. (Romanian) The Roma representative in parliament: "Băsescu is not racist"
  84. Romani CRISS:Scrisoare de protest adresată Presedintelui României
  85. (Romanian) The filthy gypsy woman became a lady
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  87. (Romanian) Băsescu atacă „analiștii-tonomat“ ai lui „Felix Motanul“
  88. (Romanian) Băsescu îi parodiază pe Mircea Badea, Mihai Gâdea și Valentin Stan pe Youtube.
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  92. (Romanian) Bilantul de dupa Ridzi
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  100. Nomination by Sovereign Ordonnance n° 2165 of 16 April 2009 (French)

Other references

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Political offices
Preceded by
Viorel Lis
Mayor of Bucharest
Succeeded by
Adriean Videanu
Preceded by
Ion Iliescu
President of Romania
Succeeded by
Nicolae Văcăroiu
Preceded by
Nicolae Văcăroiu
President of Romania
Succeeded by
Crin Antonescu
Preceded by
Crin Antonescu
President of Romania
Succeeded by
Klaus Iohannis
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