News 07 Feb 13

Romania Plans Overhaul of Constitution

Romania's ruling coalition announces plan to change the constitution, but there are some sensitive issues at stake.

Marian Chiriac

Romania's centre-left coalition, the Social Liberal Union, USL, has announced the setting up of a commission tasked with changing the constitution.

A possible referendum may be held on the issue by the end of October, the government indicated.

The commission is to be led by Crin Antonescu, leader of National Liberal Party, PNL, a junior partner in the ruling coalition.

“Among the main changes we envisage is revising the role of the President, and of the mechanism for nominating the Prime Minister by the President,” Prime Minister Victor Ponta said.

The USL can easily enact such changes to the constitution, as it holds two-thirds of the seats in parliament, and its plans look likely to win backing in a referendum.

Experts say changes need to tackle the country’s administrative organization, in order for Romania to attract more European funds and decentralise power.

One proposal, supported by the USL, wants the current 41 counties dissolved and replaced by eight regions, defined mainly by economic characteristics.

But such a change would meet strong resistance from ethnic Hungarians, the largest ethnic minority in the country.

The main Hungarian party in Romania, the UDMR, wants 15 autonomous regions, including a majority ethnic Hungarian one in Transylvania, which is where most Hungarians are concentrated.

“We are for decentralization, we want the country’s reorganization, but this should respect common historical and social characteristics,” the UDMR leader, Kelemen Hunor, said on Wednesday.

Another demand of the Hungarians is the removal of the description of Romania as a “national state” from the first paragraph of the constitution.

“A national state is a notion of the past. All Romanians have to accept that their country is a multi-ethnic state,” Kelemen said.

The UDMR has been a junior partner in different ruling coalitions several times in the last 20 years, but is now in opposition.

About 7 per cent of Romania's 19.5 million citizens are ethnic Hungarians. Some parts of the community, especially the 600,000 so-called Szeklers, have long campaigned for an autonomous region in Transylvania.

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