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Tuesday, 14 December, 1999, 13:18 GMT
Analysis: Vasile pays for economic woes

Romanian railways CFR Last week's train strike was Romania's latest economic problem


The dismissal of Romanian Prime Minister Radu Vasile comes after a period of increasing dissatisfaction with the country's economic and social problems.

Of the former Communist states of Central and Eastern Europe, Romania is widely seen as having made the least progress.

The economy has been shrinking for several years and there has been serious social unrest - with miners and rail workers staging disruptive strikes.

The value of the average monthly wage has fallen below $90, and inflation is predicted to reach 45% for 1999.

"Can-do" premier

When 57-year old Radu Vasile took over in March 1998, he was presented as a "can-do" leader, who would put an end to the interminable intra-party debates and intrigues and get on with reforming the Romanian economy.


Victor Ciorbea failed to stimulate the economy Victor Ciorbea failed to stimulate the economy
His predecessor, Victor Ciorbea, who was the first prime minister after the November 1996 elections which brought the Christian Democrats to power, was judged to have failed in attempts to improve the economic situation and form an efficient governing coalition.

Now Mr Vasile has failed on more or less exactly the same points and like Mr Ciorbea has gone from being an ally of President Emil Constantinescu to another politician the president can ill afford to support.

Nostalgia

The four-party coalition - comprising the Christian Democrats, the Liberals, the Social Democrats and representatives of the Hungarian minority - has spent more time arguing among itself than tackling key political and economic tasks.

In economic terms, the present government has done no better than the reformed Communists who were in power for the first seven years after the fall of the Ceausescu regime in 1989.

Nostalgia for the Communist regime has been growing, especially among older people.

Mr Vasile's position has been under threat for some time.


Emil Constantinescu President Constantinescu criticised government coordination
However, coalition politicians were said to have been restraining themselves ahead of the recent European Union summit in Helsinki.

Bucharest has been frustrated by seeing other former East Bloc countries - like the Czech Republic and Hungary - surge ahead in the race for EU membership, leaving Romania far behind.

The summit agreed that EU membership negotiations could start with a further group of countries - including Romania and Bulgaria.

This seems to have provided the opportunity to move against Mr Vasile.

On his return from Helsinki, President Constantinescu declared that government ministers had "fulfilled their obligation" - but that "coordination of these efforts was lacking".

President Constantinescu - who, like the prime minister, is a Christian Democrat - is believed to favour the outgoing privatisation minister, Radu Sirbiu, to replace Mr Vasile.

Divisions


Radu Vasile Radu Vasile still has some support in parliament
Observers say President Constantinescu wants to force Mr Vasile to resign - rather than taking the route of a no-confidence vote in parliament, where a 40-strong pro-Vasile faction of Christian Democrat deputies could combine with the opposition Socialists.

The latest manoeuvres have exposed the divisions within the Christian Democrats - the largest party in the governing coalition.

However, there is no reason to believe that a new prime minister would do better than Mr Vasile.

With only a year until the next parliamentary elections, there is little time for Mr Vasile's successor to turn around the Romanian economy.

Meanwhile, Western governments and financial institutions are liable to remain sceptical about new loans and investments, until they see real signs of economic progress.

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See also:
14 Dec 99 |  Europe
Romanian premier refuses to go
17 Apr 98 |  Europe
New Romanian government takes office
11 Dec 99 |  Europe
Summit to focus on EU reform
30 Mar 98 |  Europe
Romanian Prime Minister resigns

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