The gloves are off - will a 'Romexit' follow?

What did Dancila say today in the European Parliament?

  • The Romanian PM, backed by several PSD and ALDE MEPs, bombarded the EP plenary with spin and lies about her government’s actions with regard to the rule of law.

  • She painted all Romanian MEPs who criticise this government as quasi-traitors who work to undermine Romania’s national interest. Since it’s 2018, this authoritarian talking point doesn’t even register that strongly on our radars.

  • Dancila continuously stressed that Romania is a sovereign country over which Brussels has no say. No comments necessary except to say she received a lot of backing on this point from far-right populist MEPs.

  • She put a whole lot of spin on the EC’s statements to suggest Romania’s only problem with the justice system is rampant abuse by prosecutors and the undue sway intelligence services hold. Guy Verhofstadt rightly acknowledged that the Romanian intelligence services need reform and that they do interfere with the justice process, but stressed that PSD cannot rewrite reality to hide how it is undermining anti-corruption efforts.

  • There was much whataboutery in regard to the violent suppression of protesters on 10 August. This was a repeat of a previous episode where PSD tried to claim that European police regularly intervenes in the manner that the Romanian Gendermerie does (which is false, and where abuse takes places those cases are quickly sanctioned).

  • She also demanded to know who informed and wrote the CVM reports on Romania, which is well within the paranoid, conspiracist mindset that PSD is cultivating and promoting.

What future for Romania then?

  • Overall, I’ve heard a lot of hedge-betting. On the one hand, the defiant tone suggests they welcome a confrontation with Brussels. On the other hand there is a startling degree of spin and self-pity which may suggest they don’t want to go all in on such a fight.

  • The Moldovan politician Maia Sandu recently said in an interview that in Md it’s easy to pay lip service to the West and take its money while still taking orders from the Kremlin. Because only one side actually offers cash. I propose PSD’s strategy is similar: they cannot afford to lose EU funding, but they will push this confrontation as far as possible because it will score them considerable points at home

  • I previously wrote about how Dragnea will use this us vs them imagery to try to boost his profile as a folk hero withstanding foreign powers, a theme which resonates loudly in Romania after decades upon decades of nationalist propaganda which glorifies select historic figures.

  • The risk of miscalculation is very high, however. Those of us old enough to remember 2016 will recall that the Brexit vote was intended to be a pressure valve, an easy win for the Tories which would fix its internal fractures and stave off the far right. We now know how... misguided that idea was.

  • Thus, even if Romanians are firmly pro-EU right now, a Dragnea-led political campaign that plays on nationalists’ inferiority complexes and pushes the idea that Brussels is abusing our Christian corner of the universe could have considerable impact. In this scenario, a Romanian referendum on EU membership is possible.

  • PSD also has the most extensive network of operatives of all major parties, controlling the majority of local councils and enjoying the support of other actors as well, this should not be overlooked even as their popularity dwindles. They are still the party most likely to mobilise votes.

  • A small note here on the role of religious fundamentalism in PSD’s strategy. The recent referendum on the definition of marriage was pushed by an combination of native Orthodox activists and foreign backing (US Baptists and Russian Orthodox, primarily). However, as a former priest recently explained in an interview, this referendum would not happen without the Romanian Orthodox Church’s (BOR) involvement:

    “On the other hand, BOR remains an institution completely dependent on public money and, thus, on the ruling party. Without monthly contribution from the state budget, most parishes would go bankrupt.

    In short, the party needs votes and BOR needs money”

  • To wrap up, having Dragnea lead the country is incompatible with having a European Romania. He will push for a confrontation with Brussels as long as it suits his personal interests (evading justice). A referendum on EU membership is closer than it appears. The risk of miscalculation from a PSD filled with mediocre operatives at best is extremely high.