#Europeanelections2019 / INTERVIEW / Ponta: Getting Dragnea replaced as Chamber's speaker, a priority

Pro-Romania national leader Victor Ponta, a candidate in the elections to the European Parliament, tells AGERPRES in an interview that replacing Liviu Dragnea as speaker of the Chamber of Deputies is a priority for the party he leads. "A priority is replacing Mr Dragnea from the Chamber of Deputies (...) Actually, Achilles' heel is there if you want to be successful. Otherwise, any motion of censure, as long as neither the Hungarian Democratic Union of Romania (UDMR) nor the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE) cast their votes, you will not succeed; there will be only failure (...) As long as Mr Dragnea stays up there at the desk and can negotiate with UDMR and ALDE you do not stand a chance. So, from the point of view of Pro Romania, bringing the battle to the Chamber of Deputies is a priority," says Ponta. The Pro Romania leader says his formation wants to win three or four MEP seats. As far as the referendum on justice is concerned, Ponta says that he will vote "for", given the chosen themes, but considers it "a missed opportunity" in terms of efficiency. Ponta also says he will not join the race for the presidential election, but Pro Romania will endorse a candidate - "a pro-European and intellectual person." AGERPRES: Mr Victor Ponta, as chairman of a young party who participates for the first time in an election, what are your objectives and the objectives of the party you are leading in connection with the May 26 European Parliament elections? What are your personal assets versus those of the opponents and what score are you aiming for? Victor Ponta: First of all, just because you said it is a brand new party and it is the first time we participate in any elections, the first objective is for people to know that there is Pro Romania. You realise that there are still quite many, especially Social Democratic Party (PSD) voters who believe that Victor Ponta, Corina Cretu, Tudose - are still with PSD. So, the first thing is for the world to get to know about Pro Romania, to know that it exists, for us to open local chapters, to talk, to make us known to the people. You cannot vote for something you do not know. Secondly, I would like people like Corina Cretu to continue their work in Brussels. She is certainly the most important representative of Romania; she has been an MEP for seven years, vice president of the European Parliament and five years commissioner for regional policy. She enjoys a huge approval rate, much higher than mine, or Mr Iohannis; she is a woman, a Social Democrat; she has done a good job, and I would like her to continue in Brussels for the next five years, to continue these projects. Mihai Tudose, too, is well known not only for his job as the prime minister or minister in my cabinet but also for 20 years in which he represented Romania at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Iurie Leanca, who is the third, practically, is a former prime minister, currently a deputy prime minister for Moldova's European integration. Ours is very clear message that from our point of view of Pro Romania there are Romanians not only on our soil, but also in Basarabia, Bucovina, Italy, Spain, they are Romanians everywhere, and it has to represent them all. What is the goal? Surely we want three to four seats. It is not our aim now, in the first electoral battle, to fight for the first or second place. PSD and the National Liberal Party (PNL) have some very old structures, but the quality of our candidates (...) surely everybody praises their own candidates, but I think three prime ministers - Victor Ponta, Mihai Tudose, Iurie Leanca - a European commissioner on the top four positions cannot be found almost nowhere else. Even less so at our former and our left-of-the-centre competitor PSD, where there are certainly fewer PSD people, but where there are people brought from television and other areas. We were very fortunate at the drawing, as we are on the first page of the ballot paper (...) the Pro Romania list is next to Mr Dragnea's list and many people will be able to compare the quality of the candidates. What is most important, from our point of view, for those who will go there: support a European path for Romania. From that point of view, we have completely divorced from PSD, which lately, at least its leaders - I do not think their voters, but the leaders - have been very anti-European, vehemently against Europe. We must further explain that it is essential for Romania to remain in Europe. Take a look at Ukraine, a look at the Republic of Moldova, Georgia, and at other countries that have not joined the EU. They are behind us by many years, facing the Russian danger and economic and social crises. Of course there are many better things to do - betting more money in the first place. Romania has taken only 20 percent of its European money for infrastructure, roads, hospitals and schools. We should aim for the Schengen area (...) not just the Schengen area but also the Eurozone, after all, for all that the European capacity entails. We have to tell people that without subsidies from the EU in agriculture we will face a disaster, that without money for motorways we will never have money from our budget - our budget goes entirely for pensions and wages there is no euro left to build the roads, that without the hospitals projects, the three regional hospitals, we will never have new hospitals. And, above all, the most important thing - perhaps older generations remember how it is without Europe - is that the younger people have been born Europeans, they want to be Europeans. If we tell our children that we are leaving Europe, as Mr Dragnea says, they will go to Europe, to France, to Italy, to Spain, and we will remain too few here. AGERPRES: Is there anything special at stake at the European level, but also domestically, in connection with these European Parliament elections? Victor Ponta: Of course. It's not only about the 32 Romanians who go there, and that's what all people have understood. It's very important, but I want to say one thing that I know after all these years. There are 750 MEPs in the European Parliament. Of them, 30-40-50 really matter in making decisions. The others come to vote or have smaller projects. So, out of the 32, surely a person like Corina Cretu, because she has expertise, a name and relationships, when she speaks, when she has a project, she will be listened to. Others who go there for the first time or with an anti-European rhetoric (...) will sit next to Marine Le Pen's group, Salvini, and they will not do anything for Romania. Beyond this European significance, it is obvious to everyone that it also has a connection with what is happening in the country, and not just in the presidential election. And that, of course, matters, but it matters for balance, the balance of power in Parliament. Let me say even more directly: at this point, Pro Romania has 22 MPs, all of us, like me, from PSD and ALDE. You will not see any MP leaving PSD or ALDE for PNL or the Save Romania Union (USR); instead they can come to Pro Romania, and if we have a good result, if the PSD has a poor performance, they will surely muster more courage and they will come to us. Mr Dragnea no longer has a majority in the Chamber of Deputies and he needs UDMR all the time to save his speakership and some draft bills. PSD is still the majority at Senate, but it all depends on ALDE, so surely, depending on the outcome of the May 26 elections, some balance or rather the balance in the Romanian Parliament, may change. To be very direct, anyone who wants to get Mr Dragnea replaced, to upset his majority will have to vote for Pro Romania on May 26, not in December 2020, because only we can be an alternative. The others have their own electorate, but they will not be able to change anything very quickly. AGERPRES: Who do you think is fit to be president of the European Commission: Frans Timmermans, the representative of the Party of European Socialists (PES), or Manfred Weber, the candidate of the European People's Party (EPP)? Victor Ponta: We have very clearly and unreservedly announced that our candidates - Corina Cretu, Mihai Tudose, Iurie Leanca, Gianina Puscasu - will vote for Frans Timmermans. Of the two candidates, surely Mr Timmermans is the one that is (...) better for Romania, beyond the fact that we are and believe in the progressive, social-democratic family. Here's a weird thing you have to acknowledge. We, who are not yet formally members of S&D or PES (...) we say very clearly that we vote for Frans Timmermans. Those from the PSD, who are still members, even if they have frozen their relationships, are demurring. At each meeting, a debate with a PSD representative I ask: Do you vote for Timmermans or not? None of them wants to answer me. (...) That they do not want to answer is a very weird thing. Not having the courage to say who you vote for in the European Parliament means (...) you say something in Galati and quite other in Brussels; it begins to show that it does not work anymore. I, however, have told you very clearly that Pro Romania will vote for Frans Timmermans. AGERPRES: Who is the main political opponent of Pro Romania in these elections - PSD or the opposition parliamentary parties - and why? Victor Ponta: We would have liked not to have an opponent, but the attacks against Pro Romania - all the attacks come from the PSD for sure - and so do poisoned videos on the Internet and Mr Dragnea's accusations. The others, however - and I want to be fair - besides Liviu Dragnea and one or two around him - the other PSD members are fair to us. (...) I have met PSD mayors and county council chairs, people who do not forget that we used to campaign together, we helped them in 2016. But the votes that Pro Romania will garner are from two categories of people. On the one hand, the most important part, are people like me who voted for PSD and ALDE in 2016, believing that we would continue the programme, the governance of 2012-2015, but then got disappointed, felt like being duped by Mr Dragnea, as something was promised in 2016 and something else was done afterwards. This is an important category, PSD members who in their community, whether it is a smaller city or a small town, are teachers, doctors, priests, mayors, and they do not want to be associated with the idea of corruption, with the idea of illiterate. I'm telling you a straightforward thing: they do not want to be associated with the idea of manele, you know it's the last scandal in politics. I know the PSD members, we were together for 20 years, campaigning, they do not want people to tell them , "You guys are the ones with manele, Guta also went with Basescu and now he is with you." So this is an important category of Pro Romania voters, people who like Corina Cretu, and they also told me: "We do not like you that much, but we like Corina Cretu," people who like Mihai Tudose for his very direct speech or people, especially from Moldova, both banks of the Prut River, who say: "It's the first time someone puts forth one of us, Iurie Leanca." The second (...) very important category, I do not know whether in terms of size, but certainly in terms of quality, are people, especially Romanian business people, small entrepreneurs, Romanian investors who say: "(...) Under the Ponta Government we had it the as you took the best measures, almost liberal - the Tax Code, VAT cuts, dividend tax - so, from our point of view, you were the best prime minister in the economic area; we did not vote for you because we do not vote PSD, but now you are not of PSD, but we remember that in the time of your governance the best economic measures were taken; we will vote for you." So, this is about our electorate. Let me tell you about the others, about PNL and USR. I do not see them today, as we speak - maybe in the future - but today when as we speak I do not see them able to govern better. I have already voted and I will vote again for a censure motion to change the government of Mrs Dancila, because I consider it to be a poor government but I would no way vote for a Ludovic Orban government, because if Mrs Dancila is replaced by with Mr Orban - and I mean not the people, but also teh preparedness of the governments - it's like cutting you nose to spite your face, that is, you there is no improvement, it is the same thing. I like USR: they're radical, they're nice, they're "Down with the convicts!" If you ask them about what they do with pensions, wages, investment, taxation, infrastructure, they will say they do not know because they have not done politics before, they are more of dreamers. If they mention Mr Ciolos, I tell them that Mr Ciolos governed a year and did so very poorly, so their argument is useless. That is why Pro Romania has managed to gather people with a government background who are recognised in their areas, whether it is Sorin Cimpeanu and the education portfolio - no one denies what he did as a minister and his capacity; or whether it is Daniel Constantin and the agriculture portfolio; Nicu Banicioiu and the health portfolio; Ioana Petrescu and the finance portfolio, all people who have done things as ministers and are respected in their field. [There is also] Tutuianu, for example, who for a short time was the minister of defence, but he was very much respected, and we are trying to build an idea of professionals. Pro Romania right now may be the smallest party in the competition, but it certainly has the most professionals. AGERPRES: At the same time with the election to the European Parliament we will also have the referendum on justice called by President Klaus Iohannis. You said that you planned to go to the referendum, although you see it is "a missed opportunity." What should the supporters of Pro Romania do in this case, how they should vote in the referendum? Victor Ponta: First of all, they should show up and vote in the election to the European Parliament, this is the most important thing, and they should vote for Corina Cretu, Tudose, Ponta, and the rest of the people on the Pro Romania list. Second of all, in the referendum, they should do what they think it's best, I can only say my personal opinion related to this: and I will go to vote, for it's important for me to go to vote when there is a vote and I will vote "yes", because yes, those are ideas that are right, not to give amnesty, not to issue ordinances on justice; however, at the same time, I have enough experience, in political and legal terms both, to say that this referendum is like a missed opportunity. It probably won't meet a quorum, because it's not something that is very clear to anyone. Also, even if I do agree that there shouldn't be ordinances on justice - for I was a prime minister for four years and I never gave an ordinance on justice, not even for myself, when I need it - but it's as bad to not issue ordinances on taxation, because people are concerned the most with the fact that taxes, rules in this field, chance every day. Third of all, I don't understand why the question for the referendum is not of the type to be clear enough to anyone, instead of only be clear to the Law School graduates and those passionate with politics: those who are convicted by a judge will no longer allowed to hold public office. If they put it like this I think more people would show up to vote. Even the supporters of the PSD would show up and say "yes," if they put it like that, as a simple question. Otherwise I believe this is just a missed opportunity and, in what Pro Romania is concerned, things are like that: we are not going to sabotage or boycott this, but at the same time our efforts are more related to the European Parliament, for by being there we can really change how things are right now. The referendum, unfortunately, won't be efficient. AGERPRES: How do you see the positioning of the head of the state after the announcement regarding the organisation of the referendum? Victor Ponta: I don't mind that Mr Iohannis is campaigning right now, I haven't ever been disturbed by this, not even during the time when Mr Basescu was doing it, and not in the case of the other presidents, like Mr Iliescu or other. It's his right and I understand that he supports the PNL (National Liberal Party), like the PNL will support him in the presidential election. However, it's something else that bothers me, the fact that we missed this chance that we only have once in 14 years, to rule the Council of the EU, for the Romanian presidency of the Council of EU has basically been a failure until now. Romania did not make any extraordinary steps. The Summit in Sibiu looked good, very good ... I don't get it why Mr Iohannis didn't call Mrs Dancila as well, even if I don't love Mrs Dancila at all, but if I was Mr Iohannis I would have called the PM and I would have called the ministers, because it's not every day that we have guests like those. I also didn't understand why, and I think it was a big mistake, and no one will ever convince me that this wasn't a big mistake, PSD organised the meeting against the EU in Iasi, at the exact time when the European leaders were gathering in Sibiu. It's like I will invite you to my house and I will tell my children to curse you from the other room. It's illogical. So this is what actually bothers me, what I am very sorry about, and Romanians don't know this, but this occasion to hold the presidency of the Council of EU, when we should take advantage and discuss Moldova, discuss infrastructure, energy, what Romania needs, Schengen again, we will only have it again after 14 years. It's a great pity we lost this chance. AGERPRES: In the event that PRO Romania manages to send one or more people to the EP, will you give up your MEP mandate to continue to activate at home in politics? Victor Ponta: I will, most definitely, and I specified this from the very beginning. I am the top of the Pro Romania list for I think this is what a leader should do, instead of hiding behind other candidates skirts. You are leader you go first. The results are good, you deserve to be praised, the results are bad, you take responsibility for failing. This is what I always believed and how I behaved in the PSD included. People need leaders, not people who hide in the corners, in the offices, wherefrom they make lists, they send people out there and then they call them back. But I said it very clearly that I don't like to be in Brussels. I like Brussels, it's a beautiful city, it's elegant, the pay is good, but I am more needed in the Romanian Parliament. I will definitely remain in our Parliament and I trust Corina Cretu, first of all, and Mihai Tudose, and Iurie Leanca, that they will do a good job if they come to represent Romania in Brussels on behalf of the Pro Romania part, and that they will also have an important word to say and they will gain their respect. AGERPRES: You announced that the second day after the voting for the EP and the referendum you will initiate an "attack" to change the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, Liviu Dragnea, from office. Why do you think it's necessary to do that and what are the conditions that should be met in order for you to succeed in this? Victor Ponta: Basically, we have already met the condition to have a majority, even if you all saw those embarrassing moments when Mr Iordache tied himself to the chair and he didn't want to leave. The democratic rule on all parliaments in this world is: you have a majority, you stay speaker, you lose that majority, you name someone else, someone who has the necessary number of votes. Thus, in the Chamber of Deputies we are like in Venezuela right now, which means that we have an elected speaker who doesn't want to go, no matter the conditions. Second of all, Mr Dragnea, unlike the other leaders of the PSD, be them Mr Iliescu, Mr Nastase, Mr Geoana, and even myself, doesn't enjoy the support of the party. He is supported by the leaders, by the CEx, because he gives them offices, he allows them to have access to money, he gives them contracts. And if you want to make a change in Romania, you change this type of system. I always speak of how things in Romania became like in Teleorman and I don't say it to accuse the Teleorman County (...) for I have many friends there and I have a good opinion of those in Teleorman. But when I say that Romania became like Teleorman I mean that the chief is giving money and positions and also sanctions, and you saw how Grindeanu was forced to leave when he didn't obey, Tudose also - he was forced to leave, Neacsu - forced to leave (...) Tutuianu did wrong - he was removed, and now that he is docile again he was welcomed back, the same Mrs Andronescu and others. So, this feudal system is against the manner in which Romania evolved. Which is why we have some cleavages in the Romanian society we never had before. First of all, you saw how Mr Dragnea doesn't go to Ardeal or the big cities at all. He went to Iasi and what happened was a disaster. (...) Second of all, I saw the opinion polls, and 60 per cent of those who vote for PSD today are more than 65 years old. I know these people, they also voted for me, I did a lot for them, but I don't like it when the elders are fighting with the younger. I believe that the worst thing that can happen in a country is this polarization, this radicalization. On the one side, Mr Dragnea speaks, I don't know, for 10 per cent of the Romanians who believe him that they are poisoned by the vegetables and that foreigners want to do us harm. Mr. Iohannis speaks to other 10 per cent of the Romanians and he says: "Look, it's because of the PSD that we aren't entering Schengen." Which is not true, it's not because of the PSD (...) It's because some political games that we haven't been allowed in Schengen for the past 12 years. In the middle are, of course, the rest 80 per cent of the Romanians who do not belong to any camp, who prefer not to vote at all, who prefer to leave the country, and I speak for them. I speak for them and Pro Romania speaks for them and, probably, other parties which are trying to talk to these people. This is like in soccer, there are two groups of supporters, very radical, who curse, hate, but the most important are those who aren't in any of these two groups and it is for them that I want Pro Romania to speak. AGERPRES: A motion of censure against the Government is believed to be a priority for Pro Romania after the election to the European Parliament, and if so, what would be the main reasons for it? Victor Ponta: For Pro Romania, the priority is to change Mr Dragnea from the Chamber of Deputies, because, in fact, this is where the Achilles' hill is, if you want to have success. The motion of censure will not be successful as long the UDMR doesn't vote and the ALDE doesn't vote, it will fail. (...) I led the single successful motion of censure in the history of Romania, which led to the change of government in 2012, so I know very well when chances are enough and when not. As long as Mr Dragnea remains there up in his chair and is able to negotiate with UDMR and ALDE, there is no chance. Which is why the first battle we are interested in is the one at the Deputies' Chamber. AGERPRES: We will also have presidential elections in Romania this year. Pro Romania will have its own candidate in these elections? Victor Ponta: Yes, it will. Personally I won't run this year. I believe that, after 2014, and I thank all those who voted for me, for there were so many people, more than five million Romanians and I am grateful. Other six million voted for Mr Iohannis or just against me, maybe. And I wanted to understand what I did to upset those people and why they didn't trust me, why they rejected me and I believe that I need to grow up, to just grow and learn from my own mistakes. Which is why I won't run in the election this year, although Pro Romania will definitely have a candidate, a person who is pro-European and intellectual. This means that the centre-left supporters will have a representative that they can vote for. The centre-right will have a lot of candidates, Mr Iohannis, Mr Tariceanu, probably Mr Ciolos, I don't know. The left supporters will only have Mr Dragnea and they will say: "Mr, who should we vote for, since we do not want to vote for Iohannis, Tariceanu or Ciolos, we are the left wing and we only have Dragnea." And then Pro Romania has this possibility, obligation, to create an alternative, a clean, educated one and this is what we will do in the presidential elections. AGERPRES: Will this be a candidate from the party? Victor Ponta: From the party or not, we will decide after 26. I don't speak about 100 people, but about two or three that are ready to join this battle and have a decent result. AGERPRES (RO - author: Daniel Florea, editor: Catalin Alexandru; EN - authors: Corneliu-Aurelian Colceriu, Cristina Zaharia, editor: Adina Panaitescu)

Continue reading on: