INTERVIEW Ponta: I definitely want USL to remain united

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Prime Minister Victor Ponta on Thursday gave an interview to Agerpres, in which he talks about the ruling Social Liberal Union (USL) - made up of the Social Democratic Party (PSD), the National Liberal Party (PNL), the Conservative Party (PC) and the National Union for Romania's Progress (UNPR) -and the current political situation, stating that in 'the second line' of the PNL and PSD there are the 'warriors', politicians who are wrong in their attitude, while they feel the need to challenge 'the wisdom' and 'the USL principles.'

AGERPRES: Mr. Prime Minister, I will start with a question that is on the lips of everyone who are interested in politics: is USL disintegrating or not?

Victor Ponta: No. But do you want the short or the long answer?

AGERPRES: A longer answer will be better, since it will allow us to understand what the arguments are ...

Victor Ponta: We are going through a crisis right now, as there were others before too. I, as prime minister and leader of the Social Democratic Party, definitely want USL to remain united and the Government to continue to benefit from the USL support, for following reasons: first of all, in 2012, we ran in the elections in this formula and we should respect the overwhelming number of voters who chose us, both in the local and in the general elections; secondly, 2013 was a very good year, economically speaking; however, if we want to maintain this trend in 2014 as well we need political stability, and, third of all, it is obvious that every prime minister wants a majority as solid and stable as possible.

AGERPRES: Mr. Klaus Iohannis agrees with you that the USL is going through a crisis at this precise moment, but he says more than that and asks you to choose between PNL and PC.

Victor Ponta: This claim of his is not right, since USL means all four parties based on which it was built and that ran together in the elections, namely PSD, PNL, PC and UNPR. Mr. Iohannis doesn't know this, since in 2012 he ran in the elections against the USL candidates and we were the ones that won the seats in the County Council, which means that the idea is the following: all the four political parties have equal rights in the Social Liberal Union, even if our political dimensions are not equal. For, obviously, PSD is more powerful, with a larger number of voters and with more representatives than PNL, for instance. We can say that PNL is, definitely, a more powerful political party than PC or UNPR. However, if we are going to make such comparisons, even if it is clear that PSD will end up by having a privileged position, since it is the biggest party among the four, this goes against the idea that was at the foundation of the USL. That is why we cannot discuss this in terms of 'it is either me or him'. USL means all four parties together and I want to keep things as they are.

AGERPRES: But, if you have a firm position related to this matter and Mr. Iohannis seems to remain firm on his position, how can USL weather this crisis?

Victor Ponta: It is quite simple in fact: I will discuss things with Mr. Antonescu. As you can see for yourself, Mr. Iohannis, the same as Mr. Dragnea, has his firm positions. This means that, if the politicians who are making the 'second line' in our parties are more of warriors — Mr. Iohannis and Mr. Dragnea—and I believe that they are both mistaken in being such warriors. I believe the wisdom and responsibility of those who built USL three years ago, of us who first of all committed ourselves before the people to support the USL principle have to prevail.

AGERPRES: Does this mean that Mr. Sarbu is also mistaken when he says that a possible majority of the Social Democratic Union (USD) could replace Mr. Antonescu as chairman of the Senate?

Victor Ponta: Yes, since PSD has always met its commitments. The position of Senate chairman belongs to the Centre Right Alliance PNL-PC and PSD will never claim a position that it does not belong to it. Yes, I believe that this was nothing more than a mere remark made in a tense situation and I can tell you that no, PSD will never claim a position that it does not belong to it.

AGERPRES: Mr. Prime Minister, some voices claim that PNL is trying to force its exit from the Government in order to improve its image. In this context, if this scenario proves to be right, who will be the USD candidate or the PSD candidate in the presidential election? Will it be you or do you have other options to consider?

Victor Ponta: First of all, I believe that most of our Liberal colleagues — and I mean those who are more responsible and diligent — want to remain in the Government, and not because of the power, but because they participated, because we were in the Opposition together and it is now normal to remain at rule together. The calculation about what the best scenario is for the candidate in the presidential elections is only made by Mr. Antonescu, who will be the one running. I won't make this calculation, since I am not running, which means that I am not making my decisions as head of the Government depending on the possible outcome of the November election, but I make them based on the responsibility that I have as prime minister for the past two years and that I intend to keep in the next interval, that of governing Romania. And I do not mean problems that appear every day or every hour, but almost every minute, since there is no minute that passes without something happening in a hospital, on a road or during a negotiation with the IMF, at the Army, Police, or in other places. And then, my responsibility and that of all of my fellow ministers, and I only have praises for them regardless of the party they represent, whether they are Liberals, Conservatives or from the UNPR, is huge and it doesn't give us any spare time. We are not like extramural students in the Government; we are here every day and every hour and then, obviously, the expectations are high in what we are concerned. The calculations for the presidential elections belong exclusively to Mr. Antonescu, of course, since he is the candidate. I am not making any calculations.

AGERPRES: Does this mean, just to make it clear, that there is no possible scenario in which you will be running?

Victor Ponta: Yes, you have to understand that, not just 99 percent, but 100 percent of my energy is channelled to leading the Romanian Government to efficiency.

AGERPRES: Coming back to the problem with the deputy prime ministers: have you discussed it with PC representatives, with Mr. Daniel Constantin? Would they be ready to give up the office of deputy prime minister for the sake of stability?

Victor Ponta: No, but to be clear, this is not their proposal. The proposal for the restructuring of the Government belonged to Mr. Antonescu so that Mr. Iohannis may be both interior minister and deputy prime minister in charge with coordinating economic ministries, which is virtually a different position in the Government; I said I agree because having Mr. Iohannis as interior minister and deputy prime minister is a good thing. Based on my experience of almost two years with the incumbent Government I want us to seize the moment when we ask for the vote of our fellow MPs to place the Government on positions that will secure stability and responsibility for 2014. We have to agree all four of us because there cannot be only PSD agreeing with PNL. When all four of us reach an agreement we will obviously go before Parliament to ask for their vote of confidence.

AGERPRES: A technical question...

Victor Ponta: Yes, please!
AGERPRES: Finance Minister Chitoiu and Economy Minister Gerea have resigned. Mr. Basescu says this is an illegal situation because you have not submitted proposals for interim ministers and this could lead to political instability. What is happening with the two offices?

Victor Ponta: I think Mr. President Basescu's statement is purely political. I do not think he knows the law or the Constitution. The law clearly says that the term in office of a minister expires when a decree revoking the holder is published in the Official Journal, but there is no such decree yet. So, legally all these ministers are in office, they go to work, sign documents, represent Romania up to the moment when, based on my proposal, the decree is issued. I repeat, I do not think Mr. President knows that, although he has been in office for nine years and you would have expected him to learn some things. I believe that was a purely political statement and the attack of Mr. Basescu against some members of the Government is raising solidarity in me. When I see a minister being attacked by Mr. Basescu, my first thought is to defend him or her, because this means he or she does the job well, so I do not make any replacement. This was a purely political attack, because things are crystal clear legally speaking. No decree revoking the ministers has been issued and the three ministers are still in office.

The only vacancy in the government, because such a decree was issued, is the office of the interior minister held by Mr. Stroe, but even there, there is a presidential decree under which Mr. Oprea holds the office up to 45 days. So, the Romanian Government is actually working with all its ministries legally staffed.

AGERPRES: About the ministers who are doing their job well: you have often talked highly about Mr. Minister Chitoiu. Do you think his resignation is a loss to the government? Would you have kept him in office?

Victor Ponta: Certainly so, because under Mr. Chitoiu's term in office as finance minister and deputy prime minister Romania successfully completed an arrangement with the International Monetary Fund and the European Commission and concluded a new one — it negotiated and concluded a new arrangement — and also under his term in office Romania witnessed the third economic growth rate in Europe, the smallest inflation rate in the past 25 years and the highest level of foreign direct investment after 2008. What can you say about a finance minister with such achievements? I understood this was a political decision and, in the end, it is the responsibility of the National Liberal Party to withdraw him from office because it nominated him there. But if you ask me, these are the facts about his ministership.

There are other even clearer situations. For instance, Mr. Minister Gerea held the office for a very short time. He did not have time to do anything bad, so the say. That is why in his case the decision was political and I understand it.

As for Mr. Minister Nicolaescu, he switches from the Health Ministry to the Finance Ministry, but I am glad that the office of the health minister is taken over by someone who knows the field and knows what has been done for one and a half year, Mr. Busoi, the chair of the National Healthcare Insurance House. He will have no problem with the healthcare portfolio. I would have not accepted any other way because healthcare and education are two very important and very complicated areas where placing someone who starts from scratch would be a huge governmental mistake. But Mr. Busoi is someone who knows very well the latest developments in the public healthcare system and what has to be done.

AGERPRES: You are saying that you understand the political decision of PNL to replace certain ministers, but besides these replacements, there were some resignations of Liberal ministers on various grounds. Do you believe they can generate instability? Are they a source of instability?

Victor Ponta: If you look into the archives, you will see that at my first meeting, I believe on May 1, 2012, I told the following to the four people I endorsed for ministers: you are coming to a very difficult position; is its very hard to be a minister at any time, and especially now when you become the perfect targets for Mr. President Basescu and his regime. I am talking here about his press and political supporters. So they all presumed the fact that they would become targets. That is why, unfortunately, this Government has lost on its way ministers who did they job well but who were caught from behind by what happened some 12 years ago and other similar situations. I also assumed this risk myself. After I became the prime minister, I learned that I did many bad things in my childhood, in my teen years; this is what being an adversary to Mr. Basescu is all about and anyone who cannot keep up should abandon fight.

AGERPRES: Shall we understand that the resignations are also the result of Mr. Traian Basescu's interference?

Victor Ponta: No. It depends on the case. I do not mean such thing here. I am talking about a general atmosphere. We will fight over an important battle of the Social Liberal Union (USL) this November, with the presidential election and until then the public offices, particularly the governmental ones, will be obviously the most attacked by the President. I have noticed that the President is attacking all ministers, the justice minister included, saying what ministers should be replaced. This is a highly tensed situation in the end, but I have no problem coping with it.

AGERPRES: Leaving this aside, Mr Basescu said that if the excise on fuel changed, he intended to make people take to the streets. How do you regard this statement?

Victor Ponta: I do not know, anywhere in the world, any other case of an incumbent president urging people to social riots, except for Egypt's President, Mr Morsi, who, as you well know, asked people to come and defend him in a political coup. I hope that Mr Basescu is not inspired by Mohamed Morsi. It is an irresponsible gesture. Fortunately, except for a few persons, except for Mrs Udrea, nobody has taken him seriously.

AGERPRES: He also attacked the measure to be taken by the Government meant to halve the instalments certain categories of people have to pay to banks. He mentions the "electorate" and so do your political rivals in the Opposition.

Victor Ponta: Let us make things clear. This measure was initiated by the Government, but, before being made public, it was discussed with the National Bank of Romania, with the private banking system, with representatives of the European Commission and of the International Monetary Fund so that it may be proposed afterwards in a form that should entail, on the one hand, clear economic effects — an increase in consumption, a cut in bad loans — therefore being a positive package for Romania's development. On the one hand, there are the economic ministers, our governmental experts, the National Bank, the IMF, the European Commission. We have seen that the Financial Times published what Mr Voinea said and people working with this publication only carry something if it makes sense. On the other hand, there is President Basescu, who proved his gross incompetence in economic matters, in 2009, 2010, 2011, when practically he, through the agency of Prime Minister Boc, ran Romania's economy and made it really go to the dogs. Who shall I rely on? I am telling you right now: I am relying on Minister Voinea, on Minister Chitoiu, on the National Bank, on the IMF, on the European Commission. I think President Basescu has neither the training nor the background of 2009-2011 that should make me trust his economic advice.

AGERPRES: A question about the Romanian political stages, about the way they are covered at this moment: it is clear that in the left wing there are you, the Social Democratic Party.

Victor Ponta: Let us say in the centre-left wing. Categorically it is as you said. The centre-left wing is united under the form of the Social Democratic Union as the Conservative Party is much more to the central part of the political stages, as PSD actually is, but in PSD and UNPR there are classic left wingers, to put it like that. Therefore, the centre-left wing is covered and unified.

AGERPRES: What do you think about the right wing in the context in which PNL is in this ideological area and the People's Movement has lately started to assert itself. There are also the Democratic Liberal Party (PDL) and the Civic Force.

Victor Ponta: In the centre-right wing, I first of all see leaders that have always lived on public money. They have never paid a pay check in their lives, have never made a private business, have not lost money, have made no profit; they have worked in the public sector even more than we, people in the centre-left wing.
AGERPRES: If you allow me, would you include Mr Antonescu in this definition?

Victor Ponta: No, I am talking about all the right-wing representatives. It is difficult to talk about the right-wing, to be credible in this area, if you have worked in the public sector all your life. Secondly, I see a battle, a vanity battle in the first place. If you ask what and how they differentiate themselves in terms of ideology, we can say to have some very clear things on the centre-left area and that is why we created our own identity. In the centre-right wing, if you ask them what their ideas are for which there is this dissolution, no one knows the answer; there are mainly personal vanity issues. Thirdly, the right-wing idea in Romania has been compromised in the long run because of imposture, namely because Mr Basescu and the Democratic Party switched from the Socialist International to the right wing. Until this imposture is solved, I do not believe the centre-right side will enjoy peace and quiet.

AGERPRES: If the Government reshuffle reaches Parliament, does PSD plan to change any ministers?

Victor Ponta: From among PSD members? No. And neither from among USD members, as I can now speak on behalf of USD — I am one of the three USD representatives and I treat my partners with all due respect — and, as far as I know, UNPR and PC, same as PSD, do not plan on changing ministers. The only minister who will leave the Government at some point, as he will run for the European Parliament and will certainly be elected, is Mr Minister Nica, who all the way back in 2012 told me he would join the Government, but that he wanted to go to the European Parliament in 2014. We do not plan on any other changes.

AGERPRES: Have you had any political contact with the Hungarian Democratic Union of Romania (UDMR) lately?

Victor Ponta: Yes.

AGERPRES: Do you see them as possible partners?

Victor Ponta: They are our institutional partners in Parliament, even if they are in the Opposition about everything that concerns the rights of minorities and the social peace. To me it is important not to have any more real tensions between minority and majority in Romania. UDMR is the only legit representative of the Hungarian minority, because this is how the Hungarians voted, it was not us, Romanians, who decided that UDMR should represent them in Parliament. From this point of view, to me, even if they are in the Opposition, as long as I am the prime minister, they must be a partner in everything that concerns the rights of minorities and the social peace Romania needs.

AGERPRES: Today you had a meeting with members of the Association of Former Political Prisoners. What did you talk about and what were the conclusions of the meeting?

Victor Ponta: The first conclusion is that the day-to-day life prevents us from remembering the important things in our country's past. It is obvious that after 1989 the situation of those who spent many difficult years in the communist prisons has never been a priority and that the way these people have been treated symbolically, in the first place, has been completely unsatisfactory. I talked with them about a common project under which the Romanian State should assume the obligations coming from the fact that 60 years ago the Romanian state committed terrible acts of injustice, to see to what extent the moral repairs, in the first place, can and must be done as soon as possible, after which, in the material reparation area, we shall try to find a solution and a sustainable calendar from the financial viewpoint. The thing that these people need in the first place is respect and not to be forgotten. Today I extended this respect to them and I want to also extend the same respect in the period immediately ahead through the Government's actions, for everything they did for Romania.

AGERPRES: Can we expect the punishment of the torturers who are still alive? Are there any legal means to do that? Because things tend to be postponed...

Victor Ponta: I have highly and publicly appreciated the measure taken by the new Attorney General, Mr Nitu, who reopened these cases. The media also had their merits, as they brought those things to mind. All that the Public Prosecution Office and Justice need from a legislative and constitutional point of view will get from me and my Cabinet, so that justice may be served even if very late. AGERPRES

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