Lib-Dem Politician menaces an East European country

Sir Graham Watson’s career in European politics exemplifies how easy it is for supposed progressives to end up supporting shabby authoritarian causes

Basescu has faced a tough week: crowds gather to demand his resignation
Tom Gallagher
On 24 January 2012 10:41

President Traian Basescu has his back against the wall after a week of protests following his backing for the privatisation of emergency health care services. A population enduring very low livings standards is terrified at the loss of even minimal health care and spontaneous protests erupted, demanding the reinstatement of Raed Arafat, (Palestinian long domiciled in Romania, no relation to the late PLO chief, effectively now a Romanian)the minister who struggled to preserve the present system.

The proposed changes were duly scrapped and Arafat was reinstated to the government. But the protests have continued, whipped up by inflammatory media channels in the control of business moguls who made a vast fortune thanks to the informal manner in which much of the state was privatised in Romania after the fall of communism in 1989.

More worryingly, the main opposition has brought its supporters out onto the streets, demanding the removal of the government. The most uninhibited of the parties are the Liberals.

Crin Antonescu, their leader, was involved in a failed effort to impeach Basescu in 2007 and he has demanded that the people take control of the streets and drive him from power. Both he and his ally, Victor Ponta, the leader of the former communist party, now renamed the Social Democrats, have been urging the European Parliament to condemn Basescu and exaggerating the numbers involved on protests which are now largely fuelled by opposition activists.

Sir Graham Watson, the Liberal Democratic MEP for the South-West of England issued a statement on Thursday demanding that both Basescu and his Prime Minister, Emil Boc should quit.

He was unable to point to any authoritarian moves by the President or scepticism about the European integration project and he exaggerated Basescu’s involvement in the health debacle. Watson was merely showing solidarity with the Romanian chapter of the Alliance for Liberal Democrats in Europe (ALDE) which he led for much of the last decade. He did not stop to think that, by endorsing the high-risk tactics of the headstrong Antonescu, he might easily derail the still fragile experiment with democracy occurring in Romania for the last twenty years. Nor could he claim ignorance about political conditions there.

In 2007 when he led ALDE in the European parliament, he was a vocal backer of Basescu’s impeachment, something rejected by over 70 percent of voters in a referendum held in May of that year. Basescu’s crime was to discomfit the Liberals and other parties which practised crony politics (including his own) by supporting an independent prosecuting body which was investigating high-level corruption in the hitherto untouchable political elite. Indeed, it had been set up, in 2005, on the insistence of the European Commission where the more public-spirited bureaucrats were horrified at the degree of corruption that they encountered.

Not for the first time, one pillar of the European colossus has tried to frustrate the other because of crude political interests. The Brussels civil service got no help at all from the Liberal or Socialist political families in the parliament. Watson’s priority was to stuff ALDE with as many Balkan politicians as possible, irrespective of their ethics and he stoutly defended at least one such Romanian luminary even when courts in Romania repeatedly ruled that he had been an informer of the Securitate, the communist regime’s much-feared secret police.

Watson has been one of the loudest critics in the EP of US foreign policy and his opposition to Basescu also stems from the fact that he is a staunch Atlanticist who ensured full Romanian participation in both anti-insurgent operations Iraq and Afghanistan after 2004 (against opposition from the Liberals). It seems that Watson hopes that, if forced to call elections, Basescu will be swept from power and his protégés installed instead.

But his enthusiasm for letting the people’s voice count has its limits. He was prominent in ensuring that the UK Liberal Democrats went back on their promise to British electors to judge the massive expansion of EU powers embodied in the European Constitution and the Lisbon treaty. In 2008, when the Irish voted No, he warned its citizens that Ireland would have to leave the EU if they dared to vote No a second time.

Sir Graham Watson’s career in European politics exemplifies how easy it is for supposed progressives to end up supporting shabby authoritarian causes in somewhat remote countries where it is hoped that their actions won’t be noticed. He is an unabashed European elitist who thinks that the people must know their place in politics and that their intellectual superiors - the technocrats, lobbyists, functionaries and think-tank gurus - should be left alone to charge ahead with building the new European order.

Since the Lib Dems are no longer taken seriously when they peddle such a line in the UK, is it any surprise that they are tempted to act as enlightened imperialists in South-East Europe?

Tom Gallagher’s prize winning book, Romania and the European Union: How the Weak Conquered the Strong is being issued in paperback next month by Manchester University Press

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