Emil Constantinescu (born November 19, 1939) was President of Romania from 1996 to 2000.
He graduated from the law school of the University of Bucharest, and subsequently started a career as a geologist. Beginning in 1966, Constantinescu taught in the Geology Faculty of the University of Bucharest, where he also became Propaganda Secretary of the local organisation of the Romanian Communist Party.
After the Romanian revolution in 1989, Constantinescu became a founding member and vice president of the Civic Alliance. He was the acting chairman of the Romanian Anti-Totalitarian Forum, the first associative structure of the opposition in Romania, which was transformed into a political and electoral alliance - the Romanian Democratic Convention (CDR).
In 1992 he was elected president of the University of Bucharest, and became CDR's candidate for president. He lost the election to the incumbent, Ion Iliescu, after a second round.
He remains, however, heavily involved in politics through working for many NGOs, both in Romania and internationally. Emil Constantinescu is the current president of the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy Academy for Cultural Diplomacy, of the Association of Citizenship Education, of the Romanian Foundation for Democracy and also the founding president of the Institute for Regional Cooperation and Conflict Prevention (INCOR). He is also a member of the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy advisory board.
He and his wife Nadia, a former legal adviser whom he married in 1964, have a son, Dragoş, and a daughter, Norina, along with two grandchildren.
After winning a November 17 runoff against Ion Iliescu, Constantinescu was sworn in as president on November 29 and appointed Victor Ciorbea, the mayor of Bucharest, as Prime Minister of Romania. The government was formed by a coalition of political alliances and parties: the CDR, USD and UDMR.
In 1997, Romania began with great expectations. Initially, support for the new government was high, and a large segment of the population favored change. In February 1997, the Ciorbea government initiated its "shock therapy" programme, however the reform proved difficult: given the slow pace of privatisation and the stagnation during the previous government, the government's attempt to restructure the state industries was fitful, and the pace of privatisation was slowed. Blaming the old bureaucratic structures, Ciorbea launched a drive to streamline the various departments from the top down. These changes were promptly attacked as "political purges" by the opposition parties.
The reason for the delaying reforms can be explained by the lack of homogeneity and consensus of the coalition formed of three political alliances: the right-wing CDR, the socialist-leaning USD, and the Hungarian minority UDMR party. Widespread disagreement and tension surfaced within each of the three groupings, as well as between them, and nearly every political formation was plagued by infighting and rifts.
This perpetual friction slowed down the lawmaking process, producing constant delays in adopting laws by Parliament, and forced the Cabinet to resort to "emergency ordinances" to speed it up. This made many Romanians feel that the normal democratic process was circumvented. Coalition solidarity manifested, however, when the government rejected the flurry of no-confidence and nonbinding motions initiated by the opposition, such as the one introduced in mid-December that would have held the government responsible for the plummeting living standards.
By August, the government had admitted that living standards were still falling, and announced the closing of 14 loss-making state enterprises. A government reshuffle was attempted, but was only completed on 2 December, and it succeeded in only plunging the coalition into a severe crisis once two key PD ministers resigned from the cabinet. One-third of the ministerial posts, including finance, reform, and industry and commerce, were affected. A privatization ministry was created to replace several institutions with overlapping responsibilities. Only days later, however, the Cabinet was again plunged into crisis when the two UDMR ministers boycotted meetings to protest the coalition's failure to permit education of the country's large Magyar minority in the Hungarian language in all subjects. Foreign Minister Adrian Severin of the Democratic Party (PD, the leading force in the USD) resigned on December 23 after he claimed that some party leaders and media directors were working for foreign secret services. Another PD minister, Traian Băsescu, had to quit the Ministry of Transportation on December 29 for criticizing the Cabinet.
The crisis ended only when Ciorbea resigned on March 30, 1998, both as Prime Minister of Romania and Mayor of Bucharest.
By this time, dissatisfaction with government policies was rising. This led to a wave of protests by workers, students, and others that peaked in October. Former president Ion Iliescu's Party of Social Democracy in Romania split in June, and in December the new Alliance for Romania proclaimed itself "a third force" in the political arena.
A new government, headed by Prime Minister Radu Vasile took office on April 15, pledging to accelerate economic reforms, including privatization of major state firms, and sharply reduce state bureaucracy. However, the 1998 budget was delayed until 26 May, and this delay reduced foreign investors' credibility. The same year, revelations about government corruption surfaced in the form of a cigarettes-smuggling scandal in April. Finance Minister Daniel Dăianu warned mid-July that the budget deficit might exceed the 3.6% envisaged, and threatened to resign if the government followed through on a deal with Bell Helicopter Textron to purchase 96 helicopters in order to help modernize the armed forces. Dăianu was abruptly dismissed on September 23.
By early June new government crises were looming. The UDMR threatened to leave the coalition if the education law was not changed to allow the operation of a state-run Hungarian-language university. Also in June, a new scandal forced several senior officials to resign because of alleged links with the former communist secret service.
Against growing hostility among the Romanian populace, the Hungarian language university issue was brought up again in September, with a UDMR ultimatum. A compromise was reached, allowing for a "multicultural solution" (Hungarian and German).
On October 19 Privatization Minister Sorin Dimitriu resigned under criticism for the slow pace of economic reforms. On December 23, two days after the parliament had rejected a no-confidence motion presented by the leftist-nationalist opposition, the Cabinet decided to restructure itself, cutting the number of ministries from 24 to 17. Finally, on December 28, the government signaled that it was prepared to speed up economic reforms by allowing the State Property Fund to initiate legal action to close 30 loss-making state companies.
In January 1998 the miners attempted to unseat the government, angry at the reduction of government subsidies. The situation ended once Miron Cozma, the leader of the miners, was arrested on February 14.
This crisis revealed that a heterogeneous four-party coalition, broadly in agreement about aligning the country with the West but divided over personal rivalries and policy details, lacked control over key parts of a bureaucracy unreformed since communist times. The fact that crowds greeted the miners on their march showed that the government's austerity measures were deeply resented, mostly in regions dependent on heavy industries earmarked for closure. International agencies had made economic assistance conditional on the closure of loss-making plants. Also, the economic upturn expected to follow after decades of privation still failing to happen, support for the opposition party PSDR rose.
With an eye to EU requirements, Romania had met a $2 billion debt service due in mid-1999 but at a cost of depleting its foreign exchange reserves. The privatization agency earned praise abroad in 1999 for quickening the pace of sell-offs in a country where 80% of the economy was still in state hands. It was assailed, however, along with other reformers, by private television stations whose influence had soared as the reputation of politicians slumped.
At the year's end, Radu Vasile resigned, and was replaced as Prime Minister by Mugur Isărescu, governor of the central bank since 1990. He had only a few months to draw up an economic strategy for the period 2000–06 in order to prepare Romania for accession to the European Union (EU). Isărescu won praise for persuading the Social Democratic Party of Romania (PDSR), the main opposition party, to endorse a policy committing Romania to a steady shift toward a market economy. Enjoying a runaway lead in the opinion polls, the PDSR was committed to an economic strategy drawn up in conjunction with officials from the EU, World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
A modest recovery at the beginning of 2000 suffered a setback by a severe drought, and a subsequent bad harvest, requiring costly imports of grain and foodstuffs.
The government's foreign policy was seen as a strong point. It adopted a pro-Western stance, and early in its mandate launched a diplomatic offensive to improve the image of Romania abroad. President Constantinescu received senior foreign officials, including French President Jacques Chirac (February 1997) and U.S. President Bill Clinton (July 1997). Joining NATO and the European Union were proclaimed Romania's top foreign policy priorities. With these objectives in mind, Romania sought to improve relations with its neighbours and signed a basic treaty with Ukraine in June. The country was nonetheless passed over in the first wave of expansion by both NATO and the EU.
In March 1998 Constantinescu attended the London conference of European Union member states and candidates, and in July he took advantage of a nine-day visit in the U.S. to argue before a joint session of Congress that his country played a key role in Balkan stability and should therefore be admitted to NATO. In October Romania agreed to allow limited access to its air space in the event of NATO military intervention in the Serbian province of Kosovo.
On 7–9 May 1999, Pope John Paul II visited Romania.
The CDR government's and Constantinescu's presidency were marred by an economic recession. Nevertheless, his presidency is now credited with ending the Mineriads, a reform of the banking system, and with attracting the first major foreign investments in Romania. With dashed expectations of an immediate improvement in daily life, Romanians exhibited strong disillusionment with the major parties and politicians, with the Greater Romania Party gaining the 2nd place in the 2000 elections. A disenchanted Emil Constantinescu, who lost popularity and had failed to fulfill his reformist agenda announced on July 17 that he would not run for a second term. He temporarily withdrew from political life at the end of his term in November 2000. Constantinescu's direction in foreign affairs continued however after the comeback of Ion Iliescu in 2000. Eventually, Romania joined NATO in 2004.
The former President returned to the political scene in 2002 as head of the Acţiunea populară (People's Action) party, which eventually joined the merged into the National Liberal Party in 2008. Constantinescu has occasionally criticized the policies of the 2004-2009 president, Traian Băsescu, accusing him of authoritarian tendencies, and supported Crin Antonescu in the first round of the 2009 presidential elections.
He is a frequent speaker at the Oslo Freedom Forum and in 2010 presented the Oslo Freedom Forum with a presidential medal. He is also a member of the international advisory council of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.
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