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Full interview: former Romania PM Victor Ponta on his comeback bid

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Full interview: former Romania PM Victor Ponta on his comeback bid

Full interview: former Romania PM Victor Ponta on his comeback bid
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Euronews: You’ve launched a new political party this week, PRO Romania, what does it stand for?

Victor Ponta: “It stands for some values of the modern European social democracy, the centre-left, which have been abandoned by my previous party and a lot of not only young people but pro-European citizens in Romania are looking for this kind of new politics and we hope to be successful because it’s a big struggle.

“My ex-party has slipped to an ideology and policies that are very close to those promoted by Mr Orban in Hungary.

“We just hope to bring back on the European track Romania and Romanian politics.”

It’s just a rebrand of the ruling party, PSD, isn’t it? How is it different?

“It’s not actually. We’ve just had a very harsh reaction from the new leadership of my former party. As I was telling you because they slipped so much on the extremes and they are following those policies which you have already been confronted with in Hungary and some politics from Poland.

“That’s why we want to keep the ground on the pro-European centre-left and we are very committed to fight for it."

How ambitious are you for the party, what can you realistically achieve at the next election?

“Realistically we will first have the European elections next spring, then presidential and then parliamentary [elections] in 2020.

“We are just building this alternative party and of course I’m not so optimistic to say we will win the next election but we will play a very important role in keeping Romania on the European path."

And you might have to form a coalition with your former party?

“For the time being this is not on the table but I’m ready to do it as soon as a new leadership of my former party will bring them back on this progressive, modernising European path which has been abandoned lately."

I understand there have been defections from the social democrats to your party and it’s hit their majority in parliament. What impact might that have on Romania more generally?

“I have been trying to get around me a team formed mostly from the ex-cabinet people who I have been working within promoting modern policies. I understand very well that for being effective we need a team and we need to stand the ground for progressive policies."

“For the time being the new group has 12 MPs but maybe more people will join us as soon as they will have trust in our commitment.

“And then in the parliament we will try to change the majority in what regards the most important issues on the table, for example keeping the independence of the judiciary, fighting against this idea of the government to give up the private management pension fund, the idea of continuing IPOs [initial public offerings] and private management for state-owned companies.

“Policies that I have implemented as prime minister and that have been abandoned lately with this slip to radical, populist policies which are not promoted by my ex-party."

You were expelled from PSD. How much is PRO Romania about doing something genuinely different and how much is it just trying to get back at your former party?

“When I started the new project I was just saying very clearly — or as clearly as possible — that we want to have and to promote centre-left, pro-European policies. My former party is of course full of people who are looking very carefully at this new project. But also people that prefer to go back to the past, to go back to very populistic [sic], very unrealistic, very undemocratic and very unprogressive politics and I’m sure that it is just a matter of time until they will lose on this path to the past of Romania and people will understand that if we want to continue to develop, to progress as a European country we need to fight these ideas and not to always turn around to populistic policies."

When you say 'populistic policies' what are you referring to?

“I’m referring to this political speech that has been borrowed from Hungary and a bit of Poland. The idea that all the bad things are coming to Romania from Brussels, international companies and foreigners. My ex-party is now fighting for a referendum to go back to this tradition of family. Also the lack of stability and predictability in the fiscal rules. I was very much in favour — and I fought for — stable and predictable policies and that’s why Romania not only respected the European standards of deficit and investment but also we have succeeded to be the fastest-growing economy. Now the idea that we do not continue with structural reforms, we do not continue to be competitive, we just bribe people to come and vote, sharing profits that are not sustainable, this is a very short-sighted policy and I think sooner or later we could go back to the bad times of economic and social crisis which we, unfortunately, we still remember from 2010 and 2011."

You say you’re pro-European, aren’t Romanians more concerned about jobs and good healthcare?

“Yes they are and that’s why being pro-European is offered as a policy. When I was prime minister heading the government we increased economic reforms, jobs, salaries and decreased taxation. We made the Romanian economy very competitive. Now I see that this competitiveness is going down, that health and education have no more investments and the only focus of the government is how to stay in power and how to protect their leaders in front of different allegations."

Corruption is one of the key concerns for Brussels. Do you support the work of under-fire anti-corruption investigator Laura Kovesi?

“I did support her and I’m a former prosecutor. I did support the idea of an independent judiciary and as you know there are a lot of positive results but also negative ones. I’m the best example on this. I was accused of something, I just played by the rules, meaning I stood down from my position. I did not change the law, I went to the court and I was very happy to receive the decision of being absolutely clean and not guilty. But here it’s very important to have a responsibility of politicians to accept this idea of political responsibility. Also prosecutors shouldn’t try to be politicians and to make files only to be in the media. They should remain independent. But they should be more responsible in terms of professionalism and applying the rule of law."

So do you think Kovesi should be removed or not?

“She’s going to finish her mandate and I just hope that the next chief prosecutor will be more effective and be less involved in politics."

You resigned as prime minister in 2015 after a nightclub fire linked to corruption. You’ve also been under investigation for corruption, but recently cleared. Nevertheless, won’t Romanian voters see you as damaged goods?

“I think once again I’ve played by the democratic rules. I did not change the law. I did not attack the judiciary. I just spent all of my days in front of the judges and they decided I was innocent. I think this is a good example of independent judges applying the law. But it’s also a good example that politicians and prosecutors should be responsible. Then corruption and the fight against corruption is one of the key issues in Romanian society but that should go hand-in-hand — and it is going hand-in-hand — with our potential to develop and our capacity to be a stable and predictable society. And to stand and remain or even play a much higher role on the European construction."

There have been rallies in Moldova about reunification with Romania. Where do you stand on this issue?

“I still consider all the people in the Republic of Moldova as our brothers. If they will, in the end, on the basis of a referendum, decide to reunite with us it would be an historic moment for our people. But we should not push this. First of all we should give a very honest hand for them to modernise their society and to improve the economy and to strengthen the institutions and to become ready to not only reunify with Romania but also to be part of the European Union. This is not the easy part, this takes time, money and effort and Romania and the Romanian people are ready to do it."

So the Moldovans have to want to unify with Romania and be in the EU?

“They have to reform their country and they have to be more competitive and a democratic society and it’s our obligation as brothers and neighbours to help them make this road faster than they are doing now.”