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Billet de blog 20 août 2012

Romania’s political turmoil is cooking with (shale) gas

 After Greece and Bulgaria, Russia seems to want Romania, another UE country of Orthodox culture, to become Europe’s new weak link. Can we watch Romania become a European 'Call of Duty' without a word?

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After Greece and Bulgaria, Russia seems to want Romania, another UE country of Orthodox culture, to become Europe’s new weak link. Can we watch Romania become a European 'Call of Duty' without a word?

After three weeks of hesitations and changes of calendar, the Romanian Constitutional Court may rule on Tuesday August 21th 2012 on the validity of the July 29th referendum for the impeachment of the President of Romania. During that time, the Romanian Constitutional Court has made conflicting statements and calls for help concerning continuing pressure and threats against individual judges (see our paper of August 16th, The “Russian mountains” constitutional court). We have repeatedly deciphered the enormous stakes underlying the political turmoil in Romania at various scales (see our previous papers). However, an important element had yet to be unveiled: shale gas.

Who is in charge in Romania today?

Romania seems to have now two Presidents of the Republic (PR), since the Constitutional Court has failed to rule on the validity of the referendum after the publication of the official results on August 1st. One suspended President, but neither deposed nor reinstated – PR Basescu, and one acting President, but whose term has expired – PR Antonescu (see our paper of August 1st, Has Romania fallen into the hands of anarchists?).

Last week, the Romanian Constitutional Courthas decided to put an end to this dangerous situation by ruling on the validity of the referendum at all cost on Tuesday August 21th. However, a series of pressures and fears may explain why the Constitutional Court has been blowing hot and cold during the last three weeks (see our paper of August 16th, The “Russian mountains” constitutional court).

And the pressures on the Court are indeed colossal. Obviously at national scale (see our paper of August 13th, In Europe: from pride to civil war?). At European scale as well, due to the political struggle against the austerity policy in Europe, the launch of the campaign for the 2014 European elections with more or less achievable historic political change (see our paper on August 6th, Bucharest, a collateral victim in the 2014 battle for Europe). And finally at geostrategic global scale, given that Bucharest is at the forefront of the Nabucco gas pipeline project, NATO’s ABM missile system etc (see our previous papers).

A new element had yet to be unveiled: shale gas

Wikileaks began to publish the Stratfor files in Februray 2012. Among them, some documents revealed the negotiations on shale gas exploitation in Romania until December 2011. Romania was one of the first countries to exploit oil in the world and has now the third largest estimated oil reserves (600 million barrels) in the European Union. The formerly suspended President Basescu has taken sides with Chevron Corp. on shale gas fracturing, while other companies have signed drilling agreements: Hungary’s MOL and Canada’s East West.

However, facing significant public protests, Chevron suspended the exploration of shale gas deposits in Romania at the beginning of April 2012. And by early May 2012, after a change in parliamentary alliance, PR Traian Basescu was forced into cohabitation in government. He appointed an opponent as Prime Minister (PM): Victor Ponta, the leader of the Social Liberal Alliance on May 7th. Assuming power, the Ponta Government issued a moratorium on shale gas in Romania until December 2012, after the parliamentary elections of next fall. Then, on July 6th, the Social Liberal Alliance skipped steps in order to impeach the PR Traian Basescu as soon as possible.

Ponta vs Basescu, last round

On July 29th, 7.4 million Romanians voted in a referendum for the impeachment of President Traian Basescu (87% of votes cast). But the participation rate did not reach the 50% threshold necessary to validate the ballot. Since the publication of the official results on August 1st, the Constitutional Court has requested several delays before ruling on the validity of the referendum. Finally, on Tuesday, August 14th, the Constitutional Court met anyway and decided to advance its decision to August 21th. Constitutional Court may have decided to wait for the results of the investigations made by the General Prosecutor’s Office concerning allegations of ballot fraud in over 15 (of 42) Romanian counties (see our paper of August 16th, The “Russian mountains” constitutional court).

On Sunday, August 19th, the Minister of Administration has declared that there are major changes to the permanent electoral lists that can overturn the situation at the Constitutional Court, as a result of the mini-census. More prudent, the Minister of Interior pointed out that his ministry does not make changes to the lists, but will sent the Constitutional Court a detailed assessment of the people who should have been removed from the lists. The examples given refer mostly to the dead people present on the lists, as well as to the people with expired identity cards (see our paper of August 16th, The “Russian mountains” constitutional court).

Given the fact that this is not what the Constitutional Courthad asked (see our paper of August 16th, The “Russian mountains” constitutional court), it would seem that the USL is trying to buy some time and prevent the Court from making a decision on the referendum on Tuesday, August 21th

Impeachment vs moratorium

Meanwhile, the Social Democrat PM Ponta has stated on August 17th that Romania will most likely extend the moratorium on shale gas drilling by two years until 2014 even if, until the expected ruling of the Constitutional Court, no one knows who’s in charge in Romania.

The moratorium prevents the exact definition of the reserves of shale gas in Romania. Yet the stakes are huge, not just for Chevron. The exploitation of major gas reserves in Romania (syaed to cover at least 25% of Romania’s gas needs) could convince other EU countries to allow the exploration and exploitation of shale gas. This could represent the end of Gazprom‘s means of pressure on the Europeans by threatening to close the tap on Ukraine, the Germans, etc.

The moratorium on shale gas, which has the unconditional support of the Romanian socialists, is therefore more about playing the game of Gazprom than building a social Europe. But it wouldn’t be a first for European Socialists & Democrats (PES) to be in charge of Gazprom’s public relations.

Surprisingly enough, the main argument against shale gas fracturing has not been mobilized yet: Hydraulic fracturing causes induced seismicity and micro earthquakes. The technique has been banned by EU countries such as France and Bulgaria. And Romania is already at a very high seismic risk. Shale gas exploitation and hydraulic fracturing in Romania may therefore be devastating.

And then, on Sunday August 19th, Mircea Popa, secretary general of the Romania-Russia Foundation affirmed in an astonishing interview for Romania Libera: Moscow is waiting for a favourable change of leadership in Romania. He then stated:

Romania is one the largest Orthodox countries and one of the projects of Moscow to return to great power status is the recovery of bridges between Orthodox states. Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria are countries outside the CIS that Moscow considers to be most important (…) However, even the Romanian head of State needs to be assisted by someone agreed by Moscow, usually businessmen, in order to really negotiate with the Kremlin (…) General Wesley Clark was closely connected to the Clinton family. The Clintons have launched a new concept of progressives. It was destined to change the image of socialists and to cut any connections with the Cold War. In 2003, the head of the Clinton Administration created the Center for American Progress [NB: John Podesta is Chair and Counselor of the Center for American Progress and the Center for American Progress Action Fund]. In 2010, there was a meeting of socialist leaders worldwide attended by Victor Ponta setting the basis for innovative progressivism (…) Wesley Clark was sent to assist the socialist leader, whomever that is. It was a message from the American progressives saying they following closely the events in Bucharest. Philip Gordon came with the same mission. He gave two messages: a public one, more critical, and another one delivered directly to Ponta.

These surprisingly explicit declarations are significantly backing our previous analyses of the efforts made by The Voice of Russia to create chaos and confusion in Romania (see our papers of July 30th, Viktor vs Victor? [in French] and August 16th, The “Russian mountains” constitutional court) and of the possible implication of APCO Worldwide in the Romanian crisis (see our paper of August 10th, Sea, sex and silence).

Trading shale gas against Nabucco and ABM against Syria?

The Social Democrats seem thus to be clinging to power at all costs in Bucharest: deepening Romania into crisis, jeopardizing the achievable historic political change in Brussels in 2014 and trying to play again both Washington and Moscow.

Extending Ben Wisner‘s view on earthquakes, in Romania, this is not just about shale gas fracturing and earthquakes, but also about the full spectrum of quakes: political quakes, financial quakes, class quakes, PES vs EPP European quakes, global geostrategic quakes, etc.

This summer, Romania is obviously one of the places not to be: Various kinds of quakes to come in Bucharest and beyond.

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