Prime Minister Victor Ponta speaks in an interview with AGERPRES about his ongoing tour of the Persian Gulf states, but also about the Government's projects regarding economy, infrastructure and public sector wages.
Photo credit: (c) Alex MICSIK / AGERPRES PHOTO
At the same time, Ponta reiterated Romania's support for the European course of the Republic of Moldova, referring also to the local elections due to take place in the neighboring country.
The revision of the Constitution, the Opposition's moving a censor motion during the current parliamentary session, and the relationship with President Klaus Iohannis are other subjects approached by the Premier in the interview with AGERPRES.
AGERPRES: Mr. Prime Minister, you have visited Saudi Arabia and Qatar, as part of your Gulf States tour. How were your investment proposals received?
Victor Ponta: In the first place, I want to explain something I strongly believe in: the world is changing, an important part of the Romanian economy is bound to the European Union, but the EU is an increasingly narrowing market. At the same time, certain countries in our vicinity and elsewhere witness extraordinary growth, and the Gulf encompasses countries Romania used to have very good relationships with in the past. We simply ignored them in the last decade and now we must rediscover them and draw their attention on us; we've been in Saudi Arabia, in Qatar, now we are in Kuwait and will be next headed for the UAE — we talk about countries with a tremendous economic potential, which have great investment potential and which can represent an outlet for Romania, and we somehow expect them to come towards us, but this won't happen. Beginning with the U.S. and the Chinese Presidents, all major economies — France, Germany — are present in this area, so this tour is aimed exactly at placing Romania back on the interest map of the countries in this area, of course, as an economic and political partner.
Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait are countries where, on the one hand, Romania may export products starting primarily with foodstuffs. They are all are heavy importers, they have no means to produce here, whereas on the other hand, thank God, our exports last year neared the ten billion euro line, and following the decrease of the VAT and the rise in subsidies, things are headed for the good direction. There are other areas here that are also suitable for Romanian investments. First of all, we have the largest or most important investment here, I am referring to the human resources: you know that there are thousands of Romanians working in Qatar and in the the UAE, maybe less in Saudi Arabia, but still, there are thousands of Romanians, many working with airlines, IT or energy companies, service providers.
And conversely, speaking of the countries where I've already been: Qatar has 35 billion dollars in foreign investments every year. Of this amount, not one dollar reaches Romania. Or, the concrete projects we tabled both in Riyadh and Doha were met with quite high interest and they told us: "Well, we didn't know you wanted this. We are interested." That's how things went and there's a more elaborate answer to it, but I think it was however important to understand what we stand to gain if we relaunch our relationship with the countries in the region.
AGERPRES: You were dissatisfied today in Doha. You said it isn't normal for Romania not to have a commercial attaché, a labor attaché. These things fall in the responsibility of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs...
Victor Ponta: Not really, because we are now working in a decentralized formula, so to say, the economic attachés are the responsibility of the Ministry of Economy, those for labor are the responsibility of the Labour Ministry, but we persisted in a logic that is no longer actual. We have a lot of commercial attachés in European countries, but as you know very well, a company from Germany, Austria or France no longer inquires with the embassy, they just access the internet, they have their connections in Bucharest, board a plane and land in Bucharest in maximum two-hours' time. On the other hand, in countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar or Kuwait, with good reason, if we don't have someone come knocking on doors, presenting documents, projects regarding Romania's expanding investments or seeking new investments in energy, there is no way that they find out by themselves, just sitting at home.
Regarding the labor attaché, yes, we have over 2,500 people working in Qatar. You see, the diaspora subject has been lately put forward strictly for reasons of political demagoguery. The parties fight each other over which is and which is not at the side of the diaspora, of this voting pool. Yes, but these people live day in, day out. Until voting time once in five years, which is important, of course, they face problems every day and come knocking at the embassy door, where they hardly find an ambassador if any, because until recently there was only a charge d'affaires. For three or four years now we haven't had — at least in Riyadh and Doha — an appointed consul. But that's exactly what we must reconsider, and we are now taking fast action with the Ministry of Economy and the Labor Ministry to rearrange the forces available in public administration.
AGERPRES: You festively marked three years since the fall of the Ungureanu Government, you also took stock of the main moments since then, which are your concrete goals until 2016? You spoke at a certain time about the law on public sector pays being handled as a priority until the end of the year. What other major projects do you have?
Victor Ponta: You know, in Romania we got used to touting during election campaign a governing program no one follows or checks afterwards. I think it would be the first time in a long period — and that's what I tried to emphasize on April 27, and I'll definitely state this once again on May 7, the day of our official investiture, so to say, although the most important milestone is next year, at the end of our term — that we come forward with what the governing program provided for, what we accomplished and what we didn't, because it would be absurd to say OK, we had everything done one hundred percent. So, listing the main elements: we promised — and this essentially tipped the scales in our favor at the vote in December — to restore the pensions and wages that had been cut, and the terms "wage" and "pension" are blanket terms. But we also speak about the reduced disability benefits, the pensions of the flying staff, or the diplomats, and we succeeded in doing this.
We also promised to come out of recession, to have a sustainable economic growth. It is the fourth straight year when Romania sees an economic growth above the EU average. We made three economic promises, namely keeping the flat tax in place — and this obviously happened; the tax break for the reinvested profit — which we accomplished last year; and reducing social security contributions by 5 percent — which was also accomplished last year. Another promise under the governing programme was to cut the VAT rate back to its previous level of 19 percent: a 9 percent VAT rate on foodstuffs beginning June 1 this year and a 20 percent VAT rate as of January 1, 2016, actually mean an overall rate of 18 percent. This is for the achievements part. Now about priorities ... Unlocking European funds from 7 percent to 55 percent, and what is definitely still to be done and I am highly unhappy about is the infrastructure, where we have been stalling for long: we had tenders, challenges of the outcomes, started projects we next had to terminate, but I am optimistic that this year we will not only sign, but will also begin or even complete certain infrastructure works. For instance, next year, we will have a motorway running from the border with Hungary until farther than Sibiu, to the entry to the Olt gorges. Other equally essential projects are the Sibiu — Pitesti and Targu Mures — Iasi motorway stretches, which are on European funds [and currently subject to challenge settlement procedures]. Let these procedures come to an end so that we are finally able to get to work.
Another idea, and that closes my thought, did not feature in the government programme, but everybody was clamouring for it, namely the idea of putting things somehow in order in the public administration pay; I have always abhorred when they call them budgeted public employees. A budgeted public employee sounds like someone who does nothing and he or she is still paid money they do not sweat for. The reality is that the budgeted public employees also include teachers, doctors, firefighters and the administration employees, all of whom do their job. Things stayed the way they were back in 2010, when someone would mention slim and heavy persons. The reality is that without a well-paid administration, that is without well-paid teachers, firefighters, police officers, defence employees and without public servants there is no having a prospering economy because you get stuck in red tape. What we have now is chaos, which we tried to make up for, but which we managed only to patch over as far as pay is concerned; the project [labour minister] Mrs Rovana Plumb has developed to an advanced stage to resettle things within the limits of rules that are somehow decent is certainly another challenge, but that will also be a reform, which, if started and implemented in 2016 will take at least two years to be fully implemented.
AGERPRES: Will pay rise under this project?
Victor Ponta: Firstly, we put things in order, because I always give the example that wins me some criticisms sometimes that in any country we look at the biggest public pay is the President's followed by the Supreme Court chair's, which represents the judiciary power, and then the Parliament chair's because the chair represents the legislative power. What we have now in the public administration are public employees who are paid four-five times what the President and the prime minister are paid. What's more, there are public organisations deriving huge incomes, and then there are public organisations, particularly in the local public administration, that have unsupported revenue. Generally speaking, the minimum public wage that we have indeed increased is still RON 1,050, which in no way is an income that provides a decent living.
The idea is to try and adjust the pay scale to five grades and put in place some criteria that are quite easily to understand: on the one hand there is seniority that does matter, and on the other hand a kind of performance so that little by little we may bring the lowest pay to a sustainable level, much as, from my point of view, the principle that has been correctly applied in the judiciary: let us pay them more so that we expect more from them. That was a fair principle and it is an excellent thing that judges and prosecutors are paid two hundred million [old lei]. That is excellent. The problem is what can be done with the doctor who is hired and gets only RON 1,500 in the first year of employment. The difference is way too big and it is not big in the sense that some are paid too much, but that some are paid too little. So, we will obviously try to push the lower income to the median income.
AGERPRES: The Opposition is threatening to file a motion of censure this June. Given the balance of power in Parliament, as well as the negotiations of the [Opposition] National Liberal Party (PNL) with other parties, are you worried about their demarche?
Victor Ponta: I am taking them very seriously, because a motion of censure is always a serious thing, or at least it should be; it is the main instrument of the Opposition, it is tabled only once in a parliamentary session and they will surely table it by end-June, although they announced it back in February, then rescheduled it for March, April and May. Based on what happened and is still happening virtually each week and at the vote sessions in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, the majority currently backing up the incumbent government is a stable majority, so I believe the motion of censure could indeed be a useful thing if important issues are tackled. For instance, what the Opposition believes we should improve about the Tax Code or about the public procurement law or what they will do if they were in our stead. If all of it is just a series of innuendo and accusations, I will not answer to them, because all of us, not just me, lived the ten years from 2004 to 2014 in never-ending scandal and squabbling. After November, after December, after President Iohannis was installed in office, we embarked on normalcy, as far as I am concerned, in that we do not always agree, but we nevertheless can talk, find common ground; we can avoid faulting each other or criticising each other just because we belong to different political parties. I do not know how it will pan out. I can tell you how I see it: [if] there are actual things, with the Opposition saying, ?Look, we are doing things differently than the Ponta Government does,' they will certainly get my response. I will not answer to squabbling and scandal.
AGERPRES: Do you believe President Iohannis will step in in the political negotiations in order to help the installation of a PNL government, which he has repeatedly said he wants?
Victor Ponta: Mr Iohannis has also repeatedly stated very clearly something that is in his job description, in the Constitution. He has very clearly said, ?I do not deal with building majorities, I do not deal with negotiations among parties. If there is another majority, I will certainly name the prime minister.' So, I have all the reasons so far, what I could glean from five months of his term in office, to believe Mr Iohannis will obey by his job description and attributes, constitutionally. I no longer want to live in Romania where, as you may remember, [former president] Mr Basescu would build and reject government compositions from Cotroceni [the headquarters of the Romanian Presidency], would attend party meetings and order around, and I do not mean here my cabinet, or the Opposition. That was a horrid period and in no way should we return there, no matter what today or tomorrow's interests of one party or the other are.
AGERPRES: I would like to dwell on your relationship with the President a little longer: if you were to assess your collaboration with the chief of state, would you rate it poor, good or excellent?
Victor Ponta: Categorically, excellent. I have already answered and I feel like explaining it again: the relationship is very correct, which is important, a relationship of respect and a predictable one as well, without the two of us being political partners or comrades, as I used to be with [former PNL national leader] Crin Antonescu. To be very specific about what I mean: when I would discuss something with Traian Basescu at 16:00hrs, at 18:00hrs he would go on television and say precisely the opposite of what he discussed with me. When Mr Iohannis tells me yes in our conversations, I am convinced his yes will still stand even one, two or three weeks later, and I believe the same happens in all his interactions. The last instance to date regards the appointment of ambassadors: when we discussed the matter, I believe for two months, and he said yes, it was yes, irrespective of some agreeing, some disagreeing or criticism being levelled against him. Such predictability is highly important not just to me, but I believe generally speaking to all the state powers, because having stability is an extraordinary gain after the general chaos in which nothing of what you would say would stand for more than one hour.
AGERPRES: What do you think the odds are for the passage of major projects this year such as the revision of the Constitution and the electoral legislation, given that the Liberals announced they no longer see a partner in you and your Social Democratic Party (PSD)?
Victor Ponta: They do not have to see it like that, because in the end we are not. We are a ruling political force, while they are in the Opposition.
AGERPRES: But it takes a majority to modify the Constitution...
Victor Ponta: Absolutely. The electoral laws will surely pass in the ongoing session of Parliament. You know perfectly well that the local elections law, the party funding law and the parliamentary election law have been virtually completed in the committees, and I hope the PNL will not change their mind. So to say, they have shaken hands on it, they have given their word and I hope they will keep it. So, the election laws will pass and they have to pass. If nothing passes this June, we will have to follow the old electoral laws, which I believe is a big mistake, since the rulings of the Constitutional Court forbid changes in the electoral legislation less than one year before the elections. Secondly: I have argued and so have my Liberal colleagues in 2012, when we ran together as the Social Liberal Union (USL), that Romania cannot really reform itself unless it changes things in its Constitution. The last change to date in the Constitution goes back to 2003. In the meantime, Romania joined NATO, the European Union, many things changed, we had two terms in office of Mr Basescu, there were crises, two office suspensions, so a lot of things did happen. Then, in 2013, the Liberals and we, with a Liberal chair [of the constitutional revision board] drew up thus project, which in fact mended things while preventing conflicts. The project passed two very important examinations — with the Constitutional Court of Romania, which said: ?This is good, this is not good,' and with the Venice Commission, which is the most important European organisation [in such instances]. We have virtually reached the final stage, but then I heard some statements about me coming from [PNL national leader] Mrs Gorghiu that PNL is out because they would like [Romania to be] a presidential republic. The Constitution is not made for me or for Mrs Gorghiu, but for the 20 million Romanians.
My question is: would they have still wanted a presidential republic had I won the [presidential] election? I think trying to change the Constitution to satisfy today's interests is a sign of advanced myopia. I have learned that long-term thinking and being always ready for changing circumstances is good. You do not make the Constitution... We made a constitution in 2003 because we thought only PSD would stay in power, but instead it was Mr Basescu who stayed ten years in office. So, the idea is there are some fundamental things that deserve and can be modified. Not to mention that PNL is talking about fully abandoning immunity of MPs. Well, in order for that to be possible, the Constitution has to be altered. We and the PNL and everyone else say we should have a more efficient system to confiscate illicit fortunes. For that to happen, the Constitution has to be altered, and these are but some few examples.
Likewise, they say let us not make the suspension of the President from office a very easy thing to accomplish. We have found a system that is in place in Austria today: if Parliament suspends the President and the suspension referendum passes, elections are held, if not Parliament is dissolved, which is a penalty... These things have to be introduced in the Constitution. I think that, in fact they do not have anyone versed in the Constitution, as most have deserted them. There was Mr Antonescu, and Mr Chiuariu; they have all left, even Mr Scutaru, if I am not mistaken, for various reasons.
AGERPRES: They simply left...
Victor Ponta: No, because they generally talk about someone else's imperfections, while ignoring theirs, but I do believe they have no one left that is versed in such an important thing as the Constitution and that is why...
AGERPRES: Mrs Gorghiu is still on the Judiciary Committee.
Victor Ponta: I cannot asses Mrs Gorghiu's knowledge in this field.
AGERPRES: Two weeks ago you made a statement that there was a discussion with the Liberals back in 2013 that prosecutors should no longer be magistrates...
Victor Ponta: That was their proposal.
AGERPRES: Exactly. And you opposed it. Now, you are signalling that things could be discussed, and then information emerged...
Victor Ponta: That I want to do that...
AGERPRES: What exactly did you mean by that?
Victor Ponta: I meant to say one thing, that hypocrisy has to be punished because the proposal was officially submitted by the PNL [MP] group back in 2013. PSD and I, we opposed it. One and a half years afterwards, the Liberals have suddenly and overnight turned into great lovers of prosecutors. I am not bothered, because I am a former prosecutor, but I believe such manner of change... Well, two years ago they signed with us a pledge that they will never ally with the Democratic Liberal Party (PDL), but now they did it, even merged with it. They used to want a parliamentary republic and even the return of monarchy. What does such lack of seriousness show? It shows the absence of clear-cut principles and objectives. PSD is a left-of-centre party that has always followed the same objectives, for which they have been criticised but because of which they won elections. PNL used to be Liberal, but now it has fled to the European People's Party (EPP). That is what I meant to say, because that was their proposal but they claimed it was what Ponta wants; this is propaganda. Anyone who wants to read the report of the committee, which I repeat was headed by a Liberal, Mr Antonescu, can see the it clearly shows that was the Liberals' proposal...
AGERPRES: And that you haven't changed your mind in the meantime...
Victor Ponta: It's not about changing my mind, it's about the fact that I want to ask when they were serious: in 2013 or in 2015? The same holds true for more recent things. The Liberal colleagues said all the time that we must reduce the VAT, with which I agree. When we came [to power] and reduced the VAT, they criticized us for it. When were you serious: when you said the VAT must be reduced or now when you're criticizing us for reducing the VAT? The reality is the following: at this moment, and I say it with all responsibility and I don't know if my colleagues will be upset or not, there is no Opposition. By Opposition I understand an alternative. There is an Opposition in the sense that there is always someone scolding us, but there is no alternative. There is, whether good or bad, the Ponta Government, and on the other side there is nothing. So, what are the things for which the Opposition is fighting? What do you want to do with the Constitution? You don't want to amend it anymore! What do you want to do with the VAT? We don't want to reduce it if you've reduced it, if you hadn't reduced we would've wanted to! That is to say this is, in fact, the current political situation and I fear we will not discuss this on the occasion of the motion [to censure government], because there is no alternative to the current Government, I fear that it will be a long line of scandals typical of recent years to which I will not reply.
AGERPRES: Why do you believe this is happening?
Victor Ponta: I believe that the best Liberals are no longer in PNL, they are in Mr. Tariceanu's party [e.n. — PLR; Liberal Reformist Party], the people with whom we wrote the USL [e.n. — Social Liberal Union] programme, people who were ministers, who know, and on the PDL's side there is still, and it seems fair, I commend them for this, a reluctance to come out publicly because it is still so easy to point fingers, to say 'Wait, aren't you the one who was in Government?'. That is why proposals like Mr. Predoiu and Mr. Ialomiteanu are ideal for us, because all we need to do is bring to mind, pull up the Official Journal with the signatures on those horrendous laws and any discussion becomes useless.
AGERPRES: Finance Minister Eugen Teodorovici said that he would like a new agreement with the IMF. You have not excluded such an option yourself, but said that a new agreement must have a different vision. What did you mean particularly?
Victor Ponta: Certainly Romania is not in the situation it was in 2009 — huge economic downturn, huge deficit, the deficit was 8 or 9 per cent I believe — the situation is not similar to 2013 either. We are now, categorically, on very low deficit, on sustainable growth. Now the Finance Minister and any responsible Finance Minister wants agreements, justly so.
AGERPRES: Mr. Valcov did not want them...
Victor Ponta: Darius was a more powerful negotiator and if he weren't a tougher negotiator you should know that we wouldn't have had the Tax Code in Parliament and the reduction in VAT.
AGERPRES: But you have supported him...
Victor Ponta: Yes, I have supported him because he was right and because I still believe that the VAT reduction and the Tax Code are good things for Romania. What do I want most? I want to successfully finish this agreement in September, to draw a line and see where Romania has gotten and I believe that there was huge progress made in the recent years, after which we shall see to what degree a new agreement, in any case a different type, is possible or not. I want to say one thing though, we have remained in the public opinion and in perception with this in mind: the IMF, the IMF. You should know that, more and more so, 80 per cent to 90 per cent of what regards our fiscal-budgetary policy depends more on the European Commission and, in fact, our negotiations with the European Commission are already tougher than those with the IMF. I will give you a single example: When we requested that 0.2 per cent extra deficit to the GDP for defence spending the IMF did not oppose, the European Commission however did and, from my point of view, it wrongly opposed it because Romania is on the border here with Ukraine and Russia, not Portugal and Great Britain. But, and that's why I'm trying to tell you, it is important to successfully finish in September, it is important to keep this statute, after all, look, the international rating agencies which are the horror of all government in the world have constantly reconfirmed our country rating and, after that, we shall see in September.
AGERPRES: The VAT for foodstuffs drops on June 1. In the beginning of the Government session of last Wednesday you announced hard measures for those who artificially raised the prices. What measures did you think of specifically? Are we speaking of a tax on profit or what exactly?
Victor Ponta: Hold on a minute. Firstly, there was information, I do not have a clear confirmation yet, there was information, especially in the media, that as preparation for the VAT reduction there is a sort of artificial and speculative growth of prices. We have actual instruments: firstly, the Competition Council has the right to check if there is a cartel among the large retailers. If one of them raises prices, you can't do anything about it but, probably, it will lose customers. If they all raise prices, then there is a cartel and European legislation and the national one, as well, provide for tough sanctions, if the case arises. Secondly, the Authority for the Protection of Consumers has, as well, some attributions relating to rights. I said thusly: 'If it is noticed that the rules of competition or of the fair and free market are infringed, we can intervene ourselves with sanctions, with a surcharge or...'. I honestly do not believe that the case will be thus, I believe that this discussion of who is raising prices, who... It will take another month or two, we shall see if it is the case or not, but, certainly, this is what happened in the case of bread, this will happen with... this is what happened with the CAS [Social Security Contributions]. Certainly, from autumn, the three effects that we have envisioned, in fact — lower tax evasion (it's one thing to evade taxes at 24 per cent, another to evade at 9 per cent, it's not worth it, to say so), secondly support for our national producers, because when I say 9 per cent VAT, even if afterwards, surely, the VAT for exports is reimbursed, you should know that for the Romanian producer to export here, in the Gulf countries, it already is a big advantage because he does not freeze that 24 per cent that the state gives back after a while; and there will be a reduction in prices, certainly. I cannot say that it will be 15 per cent, but there will certainly be one, because the market stabilizes.
AGERPRES: In June there will be local elections in the Republic of Moldova. Analysts say that they are extremely important for Chisinau especially. Who do you support?
Victor Ponta: I am very worried by what is happening in Moldova. I have spoken with all my friends and colleagues there because over the past 15 years I have known absolutely all those involved politics in Moldova, I have met with the new Prime Minister in an international meeting and we have remained in contact. Why I am worried is because last year and with the fundamental support of Romania on concrete projects — gas pipeline, kindergartens, everything else — we practically won the battle. Not us, they won the battle in the sense that the pro-European parties won the majority, but they lost the war. The three parties did not stick together, there is a minority Government and a minority Government is always a fragile Government. I would like the current Government to hold out as long as possible, but it is a fragile Government, there is the alliance with the Communists that any way you put it I believe is not beneficial to Romania, and (...) Iurie Leanca, an earnest pro-European and pro-Romanian, has his own party, and thus I am worried and I'm thinking, obviously, that I wish that in Chisinau and in Balti, the two large cities, we do not end up with pro-Russian mayors, be them from the Socialist Party, or from other parties, because the message will be that, in fact, the pro-European path of Moldova is reversible. We have a direct political and institutional relation with the Democratic Party led by Marian Lupu and we will help them and we have helped them with all we could, I believe in and will always support Iurie Leanca for his pro-European convictions but, certainly, any mayor from the pro-European parties is a win for Moldova and for us all. If we end up in Chisinau and in Balti with pro-Russian mayors it means that the effort of last year, a large part of what we obtained last year, will be lost.
AGERPRES: Former President Traian Basescu said that Bucharest was wrong to not be sufficiently involved in the formation of the Chisinau Government and as a consequence, the Republic of Moldova would be lost to the EU. What is your belief?
Victor Ponta: No, I don't believe it is lost. I believe that in any case we must not give up and we must do all that we can, but, truly, as I said, it is a worse situation than last year. And now I am truly sorry because, given the elections in Romania, I, myself, wasn't present there more. I know all the leaders very well: Mr. Ghimpu, Mr. Lupu and Mr. Filat and all the others. I don't know if through my presence or my involvement I could have changed anything fundamental, but yes, I hold myself at fault for this and that is why I have approached them each again, I met them, I spoke to them and tried to support them, without giving indications, without me telling them what to do, they know full well what they have to do, but to support them, I will support them just as I have, in fact, done up to now.
AGERPRES: What are your relations with the current Prime Minister?
Victor Ponta: I'll say it again, very good [relations]. We call each other on the phone, we talk regarding any issue. He has a delicate situation because he is not a political person, he came somehow from outside of the political movement, he has a minority Government, so a tough situation, I help him with anything I can help.
AGERRPES: Did he request your support?
Victor Ponta: Yes, surely yes. We have really had some very good discussions, he is a young man, but it is hard to come from outside of politics, to lead a minority Government in such a difficult situation. Not, it's not easy at all and I will gladly help him with everything I can.
AGERPRES: You visited Strasbourg in a working visit, during which you approached the topic of Schengen [Area] accession. In this context, have you explicitly requested the removal of the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) in the Judiciary domain?
Victor Ponta: I met in Strasbourg both the President of the European Parliament, Mr. Schulz, and the President of the European Commission, Mr. Juncker, and a part of the commissioners, with each, obviously, having approached different topics. With Vice President Timmermans we discussed on the topic of the CVM because it is his responsibility and I said very clearly that the latest reports were positive, that the CVM had also a positive part for Romania and, certainly, at this moment we have an independent judiciary. I don't know what else to do to the judiciary, it is really very independent and in no case is there a case of political control from the President, or the Government, or from anyone else and that, from my point of view, as Prime Minister of Romania, I believe that Romania must be treated like the other member states. There was talk at one point, certainly, there was not much progress made, of a system to monitor all European countries, which seems fair to me. I mean, if there is a problem in Romania, in Hungary, for example — I'm just issuing an example — or in other countries, we should all be treated equally. The notion that Romania and Bulgaria are all the time in the antechamber is incorrect and does not correspond to reality anymore. That is what I said and I will keep saying all the time and I am glad that President Iohannis thinks so too, because Romania's problem was always not from Brussels or from Strasbourg, Romania's problem came from Romania. There was always someone from Romania coming and saying to not remove the CVM, to keep the CVM, which is totally incorrect.
AGERPRES: But there were moments where some requests from the judiciary were blocked in Parliament. Maybe this situation does not help either...
Victor Ponta: I have done my duty and I do it every time in explaining in Brussels that they should not be fooled by the propaganda in Romania: any MP in Romania may be investigated, indicted, arraigned, judged, convicted and imprisoned with no immunity. Many times people look awkwardly because if they are to believe what appears in the news or what Mrs Macovei says they imagine who knows what and each time I tell them: 'No, it's not true, remember this: any MP from Romania...' The only thing for which the Parliament authorizes is the preventive arrest measure. Of 29 requests in the past year, I believe 22 or 23 were approved and six were rejected. Maybe the fact that in Romania the rule has become to push for preventive arrest, when it should be an exception, in all civilized countries it is an exception, maybe this should also raise a question mark. But it is not related to... I believe that it is, in fact, a power jaunt between the DNA [the National Anti-Corruption Directorate] and Parliament to see who's stronger and I believe that both sides lose in this game. AGERPRES