THE big story in Romania is the fate of Adrian Severin, a former foreign minister and a member of the European Parliament. Mr Severin is being hounded by the Bucharest press to resign from the European Parliament for allegedly taking bribes from journalists from a British newspaper posing as lobbyists. Two other MEPs involved in the sting have quit the parliament. Mr Severin has been booed in parliament. But he is refusing to budge.
Mr Severin has served as an MEP since Romania joined the European Union in 2007. Until this week he was the vice-president of the parliament’s Socialist group. But on Monday, a day after the scandal broke, Severin was forced out of his position and Martin Schulz, the Socialists’ leader, told him to resign from the parliament immediately. In Romania his own political party, the Social Democrats, is threatening him with expulsion if he doesn’t do the decent thing.
But Mr Severin says he has done nothing that was “illegal or against any normal behaviour” and that “we have the right… to work as political consultants, the only requirement being that we not hand out confidential information”.
Such stubbornness is typical in Romanian politics, where the media delights in savaging corrupt politicians, but rarely to any end. Resignations on corruption charges are virtually unknown in Romania, and bribery scandals are so common that they rarely make international news. Grigore Cartianu, editor of Romania’s leading daily newspaper Adevarul (“The Truth”), put Romania’s approach to corruption into context in an editorial on 23rd March:
The Severin case shows how important EU membership is. We can’t keep sweeping the dirt under the carpet…imagine what would have happened with such a corruption scandal if Romania hadn’t been a member of the EU. The whole story would have disappeared after one day. The Romanian politicians would have been presumed innocent until proven guilty…Here, for a bribe of 100,000 Euros, and a 12,000 Euro advance, nobody would have resigned. Ever. Those involved in privatisation scams and road building tenders wouldn’t have even got out of bed for that money.
One of the most interesting comments on the Severin affair was made by Vladimir Tismaneanu, a Romanian professor of political science at Maryland University’s Centre for Post Communist Studies, who writes for Contributors, a Romanian blog:
“Financial and moral corruption are inseparable, but to Adrian Severin morality is terra incognita…The lesson of this fall from grace is that no politician is immune from the effect of the law, that ethical standards are universal, and however well protected he may consider himself to be, in the end he will have to pay the price. A bon entendeur, salut…”