Dit interview is vertaald uit het Roemeens. Het origineel is hier te lezen: https://pressone.ro/europarlamentar-olandez-este-inacceptabil-ca-un-politician-condamnat-sa-fie-presedintele-parlamentului/
Dutch MEP: “It is unacceptable that a condemned politician is the President of the Parliament”
“The political class in Romania must take the challenge of improving governance and the fight against corruption serious”.
One month after the diaspora protest, this is the main message that the dutch MEP Matthijs van Miltenburg, Parliament’s rapporteur on the rule of law mechanism, is sending to the authorities in Bucharest, in a PressOne interview.
Who is Matthijs van Miltenburg?
Member of the D66 social-liberal party (which is part of the ruling coalition in the Netherlands), Matthijs van Miltenburg became MEP in 2014. He is the European Parliament’s rapporteur on the rule of law mechanism – a policy instrument proposed by the European Commission in May this year, whereby the granting of European funds would be conditional on respecting the rule of law in the EU Member States.
Last year, Matthijs van Miltenburg was twice in Romania with an official delegation from the European Parliament and was impressed by the developments he saw.
At the same time, he criticized the excessive bureaucracy, recommending the Romanian authorities to implement structural reforms in order to facilitate the absorption of European funds, a chapter where Romania is laggard.
“There isn’t a positive image of Romania”
What do you think of what happened on the 10th of August in Bucharest regarding the intervention of the authorities?
First of all, I was not there, so I just rely on what I saw on social media and what was published in the press. So I do not want to criticize the authorities just based on what we saw on social media, which are not always trustworthy.
I also spoke to one of the people who were there during the violence and the main conclusion is that it was generally a peaceful protest and the protesters faced the intervention of the authorities who used tear gas from the beginning.
Finally, the only effect I see and which was also communicated by the authorities is that more than 400 innocent or partially guilty people have been injured.
Following my judgment, there might have been a disproportionate use of force by the authorities involved.
I want to be careful: there may be a reason for authorities to have that intervention and we need to carefully analyse what happened before drawing conclusions. But what seemed to be a peaceful protest from the beginning ended with a lot of violence and a lot of innocent people were injured.
So, I am quite glad to have found out that there is a an inquiry of the general prosecutor’s office in Romania. I’m waiting the outcome of this inquiry and I don’t want to judge about the authorities before we have the results.
Did the happenings of the 10th of August affected the image of Romania? What did your colleagues in the European Parliament tell you?
During the summer break I was not in contact with my colleagues on a daily basis, so I really prefer to speak just on my own behalf.
We all know that the rule of law is under pressure in Romania and I think there is no positive image of Romania. There are serious doubts nowadays if the rule of law is still fully respected in Romania.
We will set up a fact finding mission from the European Parliament probably with some of the colleagues within my European ALDE group to find out what’s going on in Romania, what is the state of play in terms of the inquiries related to the protests, but also how does the fight against corruption effort take place nowadays.
We hope that the image of Romania will be improved based on factual conclusions.
“We have also taken a very critical stance in relation to the ALDE party in Romania”
Danish MP Orla Hav, one of the leaders of the Social Democrat Party from Denmark, proposed the exclusion of PSD from the European Socialist Party (PES). How do you think the European Parliament should have reacted to PSD after what happened on the 10th of August?
It’s up to the S&D Group, the Social Democrats that are here in the house. They should ask the PSD, the Romanian PSD, for further clarifications. And of course, it’s up to them to decide whether or not to exclude the PSD.
I am taking a very critical stance, also in relation to the Romanian ALDE party, which is part of my own ALDE group. I ensure you that I had already quite some discussions within ALDE group about how to assess the whole situation.
One of my proposals to the group is to set up a fact finding mission because in this kind of circumstances I always find it very crucial to fact find, to draw conclusions and then eventually recommend further actions. It could also be the case for the PSD as part of the S&D.
Is Romania ready to take over the presidency of the Council of the European Union?
I hope so. But, of course, the success of the Romanian presidency depends on the political stability back home.
So I am a little worried that if the political stability does not exist – also taking Liviu Dragnea’s position into account – this will affect the presidency.
Anything that will increase the political instability in Romania will also affect the presidency of the EU Council.
“Regionalization could improve the absorption of the European funds”
In a post on your Twitter account, you said that “Romanians deserve better governance.” At what levels did you refer?
At all levels. To be honest, when I was part of the official delegation of the European Parliament in Cluj, I was quite surprised to find out how Romania is governed without a regional level. It’s simply a centralized state. There is county level, of course, but there is nothing in between.
I think a further regionalization is up to Romanians to decide upon, but it could also, at least, improve a better absorption of the European funds.
It’s just one of the minor issues, but it is something that quite surprised to me. There was no discussion going on, even when we met the Ministers or the Romanian Commissioner, Corina Cretu.
If you modernize your state, you should always raise the question whether the governance can be improved.
Of course, when we talk about governance I think it’s about all the levels: how to deal with the fight against corruption, how to make sure that there is no illegal state aid to companies, and that there is no fraud.
For this kind of aspects there needs to be technical assistance to Romania to improve its performance. I think the most important is that everything starts with a political will.
The political class of Romania needs to take it as a serious challenge to improve its own governance and also to take the fight against corruption seriously.
To be honest, I am a bit shocked if this fight against corruption is undermined by parliamentary actions. I think it is up to the European Commission and the European Parliament as it is for the European Council – the three main European institutions – to make Romania, at least, understand that is unacceptable in a Europe of 28 member states that one of the member states is following the example of Poland and in Hungary, where the rule of law is on the fire.
Is there enough political will in Romania?
To be honest, I know the Prime Minister as my former colleague in the European Parliament. I think she needs to scale up her efforts and to prove that is a serious ball game also for the political class in Romania and so far, to be honest, I am not convinced that it is really taken on board.
If a Dutch politician was condemned for electoral fraud, would he/she have remained in public office?
No, I can guarantee you that the political system in the Netherlands would never allow something like that to happen. We had a case last week where a member of Parliament stepped down simply because he was engaged in a love affair.
The political mindset in the Netherlands is very straight and is unacceptable I think for a large majority of Dutch voters that a politician convicted for electoral fraud is for instance the president of the Parliament or one of the parts of the bicameral Parliament.
Nowadays in the media I see that even in Brazil that Lula is not able to become a candidate for the presidential elections.
“I think this rule of law mechanism it’s a start to stop the undermining of the rule of law”
More than one million Romanians signed for the civic initiative “Without convicts in public functions”. Do you think this petition will pass in Parliament?
It is up to the Romanian politicians to consider this. The right to petition is, in my opinion, a fundamental right in a democracy, and a petition signed by over a million Romanians should really be taken seriously.
If I were a Romanian politician, I would consider it an opportunity to show my colleagues that there is a need for change.
Can a party leader remain credible when he talks about a failed assassination attempt, without bringing any proofs?
Of course, the answer is “no”. This should not be possible. In this case, I believe that the credibility of that political person is undermined, at least in my eyes.
I think we are doing politics to serve the people, and we should do it honestly.
You also say in a Twitter post that you will make every effort to ensure that “fraud and corruption involving EU funds in countries like Romania and Hungary are stopped.” How do you specifically plan to do this?
First of all, as a rapporteur I would like to speed up the process in order to negotiate this proposal on the rule of law mechanism.
The idea is that in a member state without an independent justice it is very difficult to make sure that the EU’s financial interest is not affected.
I believe that this mechanism of the rule of law is a start to stop undermining the rule of law in countries such as Romania, but also in the Netherlands, because it also applies to the Netherlands as a whole.
It is up to the European Commission to be a bit more persistent and really push OLAF’s (European Anti-Fraud Office) recommendations to be integrated into the recommendations of its own policies.
Also, if there are developments in Romania that need to be monitored by the European Commission, we are able to trigger Article 7 of the Treaty, but I hope we will never reach that point and that we can improve the situation in Romania by opening the dialogue.
I have already started the dialogue with my Romanian colleagues. I will certainly raise questions in Parliament about the situation in Romania and I will try to set up a fact finding mission within my own political group to Romania. I plan to go there myself at the end of October, early November, to talk with people involved.
I will try to do everything, because one thing is certain: we cannot accept the situation in which Romania is positioned – as a country with great potential but not exploiting it.
“People all over the world are interested to invest in Romania because they have seen the potential”
What are the three major changes you would like to see implemented in Romania?
First of all, I would like to see that the fight against corruption and against fraud is successful in your country.
Secondly, I really would like to see that the European funding, which is available for Romania, is well spent and that will create jobs, boost growth, and lead to a sustainable environment for Romanians.
My personal wish is that, ultimately, we make Romania as attractive as possible, so that we will no longer face a brain drain.
People all over the world are interested to come to Romania, to invest in their own future, because they’ve seen the potential.
They have seen many intelligent people working in universities, have seen the natural resources of your country, and it is a pity that this huge potential remains unexploited and that, ultimately, human capital goes abroad.