Changes On Stream: Internal Politics, Hunting Regulations and Schengen Area Negotiations

Romania, 11 Sep - 08 Oct 2016
Former Internal Affairs Minister Oprea resigns from Senate ++ Trophy hunt for several animals banned ++ Romania’s entrance in the Schengen area – reason to hope? by Alina Agafiţei
Former Internal Affairs Minister Oprea resigns from Senate

As of the first of October, former Internal Affairs Minister Gabriel Oprea (Independent) resigned from the Senate, the upper house in Romania’s bicameral parliament. This came as a result of strong public protest against the Senate’s vote to not lift Oprea’s parliamentary immunity. In March 2016, the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) opened a case of abuse of office against Senator Oprea for illegally using a motorcade. Bogdan Gigină, a police officer, suffered a fatal motorcycle accident while escorting Oprea's motorcade, who was minister at that time.

On 19 September, the Senate casted its vote: 73 senators voted against the request of the DNA to prosecute former interim Prime Minister Oprea for manslaughter in the motorcade case, whereas only 45 voted in favour. Six Senators abstained their votes.

The Senate’s move was seen as a scandal and sparked strong public protest. On 22 September, 3,000 people protested in front of the Palace of the Parliament in the capital city of Bucharest, strengthening their support for justice in the Bogdan Gigină case. That prompted the Senator to announce his resignation, thus, losing any shield of immunity. His statement, which he posted on Facebook, contained details about his political involvement and attitude, the decisions he took during his political career and once again, the denial of guilt in the death of police officer Gigină.

The President of the Senate, Călin Popescu-Tăriceanu, gave a statement regarding Oprea’s resignation, in which he concluded that it was the right decision.

It seems as though Romanian senators take it upon themselves time and time again to ‘judge’ the innocence of one of their own, instead of allowing the justice system to carry out this task. These decisions are a sign that the country still has a long way to go when it comes to corruption and integrity.

Trophy hunt for several animals banned

Following strong public pressure through a Facebook petition, Minister of Environment Cristian Pașca Palmer has announced that the hunt for brown bears, wolves, lynx and wild cats will no longer be permitted in Romania. Previously, the shooting of 550 bears, 600 wolves and 500 big cats per year was allowed. Hunting has become a popular sport on Romanian grounds, and large amounts of money were raised from the taxes that hunters had to pay for permits.

According to The Guardian, a British daily newspaper, hundreds of hunting associations across the country would submit two figures each year: the total number of each large carnivore species and the total number of which they believed to be harmful for the habitat. The second number would then be used to draw up the government-issued hunting quota for each species. Through the ban, the Environment Ministry wants to put things back on track, as the assumed harm caused by the animals cannot be determined in advance.

Whilst the official numbers claim that there are over 6,000 brown bears and 4,000 wolves in Romania, the ban is very likely to stir up heated debates between rural and urban citizens who have very different opinions on the issue.

Romania’s entrance in the Schengen area – reason to hope?

Several years have passed since Romania expressed, for the first time, its intention to enter the Schengen area. At the latest informal reunion of the European Council in Bratislava, Romanian president Klaus Iohannis stated that the issue has had a positive evolution. „Schengen was not a topic discussed on the official agenda, but there were informal talks and they were favourable”. According to the president, European politicians and citizens are concerned about Romania taking over responsibility for the external European border.

Romania, which joined the EU in 2007, is legally obliged and wishes to join the Schengen Area. Its bid was approved by the European Parliament in 2011, but it was then rejected by the Council of Ministers due to concerns about shortcomings in anti-corruption measures and in the fight against organised crime. Concern has also been expressed about the potential influx of illegal migrants through Turkey to Romania and then to current Schengen countries. The initial plan was to open borders with Romania by 2012, but continued opposition from Germany and others has delayed the country’s entry.

Romania’s major objective is to convince its partners that it is a country in which they can invest, and that it supports a stronger and ever closer European Union. In a public statement given on 7 October 7, the Minister for External Affairs, Lazăr Comănescu, declared that the efforts made in order to consolidate the external borders are arguments in favour of the nation’s entrance into the Schengen area.

It remains to be seen whether recent statements by EU officials will take more than a rhetorical form. For the Romanian people, joining Schengen remains a top priority.

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