A lefty the left doesn't like

Observations on a visitor from Romania

Tony Blair has an inconvenient guest on 31 January: Traian Bas-escu, Romania's new president. Basescu unexpectedly beat the outgoing premier, Adrian Nastase, by a narrow margin in elections in December. Since 2000, Nastase had ruled on behalf of a privileged oligarchy that sprang from the ashes of the former ruling communists.

Blair was never put off by Nastase's open backing for Nicolae Ceausescu's North Korean style of communism 15 years earlier. Rather, he found in him a kindred spirit ready to support Anglo-American policies in Iraq. Accordingly, the British embassy in Bucharest was instructed to indicate quietly during the elections that continuity was preferred, even if it was accompanied with large doses of corruption and strong-arm rule.

Basescu, a left-of-centre former sea captain, is a different matter. Captain of an oil tanker from his late twenties and a man who talks the language of ordinary Romanians, he stands out in the drab gallery of European leaders. You would have thought he would be supported on the mainstream European left. But Gunter Verheugen, the German social democrat then in charge of EU enlargement, tried to deliver a propaganda victory to Nastase by completing Romania's entry negotiations on the eve of voting. He desisted only after MEPs protested at gross interference in the electoral process. Again, though Basescu's Democratic Party had belonged to the Socialist International for well over a decade, he was cold-shouldered by its president, Antonio Guterres. This Portuguese former prime minister had allowed Nastase's party to join in 2003, despite its record of corruption and authoritarian behaviour. During the election campaign he turned up in Bucharest to support Nastase's efforts.

The London visit is being used to persuade Basescu to ensure that Romania does not follow in the footsteps of Hungary and Ukraine by pulling troops out of Iraq. And he is almost certainly being urged not to attempt a renegotiation of his country's EU entry terms.

Nastase got a notoriously poor deal from Brussels, which will leave ordinary Romanians with a huge bill in the years ahead. Heating costs will double this year and agriculture is already being swamped by imports from EU member states. The new premier, Calin Popescu-Tariceanu, has revealed that Romania had not met all its accession conditions when the EU agreed to close negotiations on 17 December. This was "a political gesture" made by large EU states, particularly Britain.

Basescu's foreign minister, Mihai Ungu-reanu, is a young diplomat set on a career in Europe who will beg the president not to rock the boat. But if Basescu's reforms at home are to stand a chance, he must do exactly that. He will need to offer the people relief from two decades of austerity, and that will require renegotiating EU terms. He will have to speak frankly to Blair and remind him that the EU's partnership is with 22 million Romanians, not with an oligarchy that has spent the past 15 years plundering the state.

Basescu may also be a mariner, but he is no John Prescott-style pushover. Blair will need more than a cheesy smile and ingratiating manner to deflect him from demanding justice and equity.

Tom Gallagher's Theft of a Nation: Romania since communism was published by Hurst & Co this month

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