OPINION The major issues with President Iohannis' nomination of politician Eduard Hellvig as head of Romanian Intelligence Service
No one says President Iohannis should ask for approval to name a new head of the SRI, Romania's most important intelligence service, or any other key institution of the state. But it would not be proper to serve a fait accompli to the most important ally of the country when it comes to such sensitive issues. Hard to imagine the Americans learned about Hellvig's nomination at SRI from local media, but it was close, it appears. Still, why was in necessary to have preceding talks and supplementary due diligence in this case?
There is a strong collaboration between Romanian and US intelligence - see the many visits paid by CIA bosses to Bucharest lately, the public statements valuing the collaboration with Romanian services, plus the US interests in this region, both economic and military/strategic.
In the case of Ukraine, for once, the latest NATO summit gave Romania the status of leading state on cyber-intelligence. But US interests are also focusing on cyber crime, the war on terror, the missile shield components at Deveselu in Romania, the US military bases plus a NATO command center, and more. Additionally, Romania has become an oasis of resistance in a region where Russia is fighting to regain its influence as it is gaining ground in Eastern Europe - by use of force in Ukraine or by other means in Moldova, Hungary, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece and the Balkan states.
Beside the key role in the security architecture, SRI has another major role drawing strong US interest: supporting the fight against corruption in Romania. The US have publicly supported the fight against corruption, as proven by the latest visit of Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland to Bucharest. What is Hellvig's agenda in this regard? What signal does Romania send by putting in charge someone with zero track record in this regard?
All these would explain why the US partners shouldn't be informed of the identity of the new SRI chief just moments before the public announcement, unless bewilderment among Washington officials is wanted. Is this a signal on Iohannis' part or is it just a clumsy move typical for someone early in his term of office?
The US puts a lot of faith in working with Romanian intelligence services. What should the Americans understand when Iohannis leaves SRI at the hands of a politician who proved extremely active in the parliamentary putsch against former President Basescu in the summer of 2012? Talking about it, how does Eduard Hellvig relate to those events, what does he think it happened then: a political move on the boundaries of democracy or a coup against the state of law?
Who does he think was right: Jose Barroso and Angela Merkel, or Crin Antonescu, then leader of Hellvig's National Liberal Party (PNL, later led by Iohannis until his election as president)? In summer 2012, Hellvig was Antonescu's right hand, and Antonescu was leading the war on Basescu along with the then-coalition partners, the Social Democrats headed by PM Victor Ponta, and with the smaller Conservative Party, a member of which Hellvig had been before joining the Liberals (Conservative Party founder Dan Voiculescu is now serving a long prison sentence for corruption).
Hellvig is not a low profile politician as the previous head of SRI, George Maior, who used to be more interested in technical positions. Hellvig, now an Liberal member of the European Parliament, used to serve in purely political offices: PNL secretary general, a member of the Victor Ponta government (minister of Development), a member of the European Parliament, a campaign coordinator in the 2009 presidential elections.
Anchored in politics, no wonder that Hellvig had been named in cross-party dealings which are oh so often found among Romanian decision makers. Local tabloid press reported in 2012 that Eduard Hellvig was about to become the father in law for Adrian Tarau, the head of a former prefect in a NW Romanian county who had been arrested in a resonant inquiry launched in early 2000's, when Adrian Nastase - who a decade later was sentenced in a corruption case - served as prime minister of a Social Democratic government. The prosecutor in Tarau's case, Cristian Panait, was later found dead - a suicide, according to official records which have since been challenged by many.
Hellvig stopped short from becoming Tarau Jr's father-in-law, apparently due to some last minute event. How did he get there, anyway?
Prime minister Ponta mocked at critics of the summer 2012 political events when, commenting on Hellvig's nomination this week, he said: "To quote propaganda, Eduard Hellvig was co-author, along with me, [ex-Liberal leader] Crin Antonescu, [Social Democratic top official] Liviu Dragnea of the 2012 coup d'etat". But Ponta utters a major truth by saying this.
Then again, the very fact that Victor Ponta and his mentor Adrian Nastase say publicly that Hellvig is a good nomination raises serious question marks. Why would people like them, who have no interest in the continuation of the fight against corruption, hail Iohannis' option for SRI? And why did Iohannis say he would not want to hear the sound of handcuffs the day he was to announce his nominee for SRI? Is this a message or a new sample of early term clumsiness?
Too many question marks already.
They may not say it, but the US has another cause of concern: is new president Klaus Iohannis so deep in the German sphere of influence, since his SRI nominee is a politician certain that the existing Washington-London-Bucharest security axis championed so far by former President Basescu should be rerouted as Washington-Berlin-Bucharest? It may now be noted that Hellvig partly has an ethnic German ancestry, which may explain his appreciation of the German ways.
Coming o that, what does the "europeanization" of the SRI, mentioned by President Iohannis these days, mean more precisely?
More: Eduard Hellvig's resume does not reveal a strong training in security-related fields as it only notes his attending some summer schools or non-academic classes.
Then it's hard to explain how did President Iohannis fail to manage and secure a parliamentary majority for the naming of a new Constitutional Court judge, while he managed to secure one in the case of the future SRI head. Is there a political barter for the job, or is Hellvig someone who has such a comprehensive political support? A future head of the intelligence service who is approved in office with the vote of the smaller but very influential parties of dubious record in the Parliament, is nothing more than a new "immoral solution" - a term coined by former President Basescu when speaking of a governing alliance between his party and one of the said smaller parties back in the day. Such solutions have a hidden price.
Iohannis appears ready for yet another compromise to reward those who stood by his side in the uphill struggle of the presidential elections. Dan Mihalache - now head of the presidential aides, Alina Gorghiu - now president of PNL, Hellvig - now nominated for SRI are all people who stood by Iohannis when not even his own party, the PNL, appeared to believe in his presidential run.
Compromise comes in many forms: sometimes it's necessary, other times it's compromising vu inescapable, and once in a while it's unacceptable. Iohannis has once again chosen a politician like himself: too small for such a big job. And he did it quietly - like most of what he has done since becoming president.
As Iohannis himself said this week in his latest press interview: "To speak is an art. Not speaking makes us err".