There has been a lot of noise recently coming from Romania. We inaugurated a gigantic brutalist Orthodox cathedral, that was something. Our finance minister said something stupid in public and everyone laughed at him. What else…?
President Iohannis, speaking to Austrian media, further qualified his earlier remarks about Romania not being prepared to take over the Council presidency. He told Kurier that Romania can ‘shape a sensible/reasonable (vernünftige) presidency’ even though it would be better to have a more prepared government. He reiterated his support for the country’s anti-corruption efforts and said he hoped internal politics won’t affect the Council presidency.
All in all, not very exciting, just worth noting that Iohannis is softening his stance as we’re nearing the beginning of the mandate, to allow the diplomatic and technical staff to finish the preparations (staff which, in stark contrast with the political body, is working hard and receives much less credit than they deserve).
In other news, Liviu Dragnea is reportedly putting pressure on his Justice Minister to come up with a quick and workable solution for Dragnea’s amnesty and pardon project. The project came from PSD allegedly in reaction to an overcrowded prison system. However, critics maintain Dragnea is pushing for the project for personal gain. Could he be PSD’s presidential nominee next November? Sociologist Barbu Mateescu has laid out three scenarios for PSD and that’s one of them. I highly recommend reading his analysis.
What’s the opposition up to?
Some developments in the never ending saga of Dacian Ciolos (in this Keeping Up analogy, would he be Kourtney if Kourtney is the most normal? Let me know what you think, it’s important). The former EU Commissioner for agriculture, interim Prime Minister, and The Last Hope of many Romanians, has not yet formally registered his party (Miscarea Romania Impreuna - MRI). This apparently sparked criticism from Ludovic Orban, the head of the Liberal Party (PNL), who implied that Ciolos is doing nothing more than watching TV and eating popcorn, occasionally expressing opinions on Facebook.
Ciolos had previously criticised PNL for ‘refusing to reform,’ saying that both PNL and PSD represent the old way of doing politics and that Romania needs to change fundamentally. Which they absolutely do, and it absolutely does.
Meanwhile, both Ciolos and Dan Barna, leader of the Save Romania Union (USR) have entertained the thought of having common candidates for the MEP elections in May. This could be a considerable challenge to PSD and PNL.
Together, USR and MRI poll over 20% which is significant as Romanian politics is becoming increasingly fragmented (this and populist politicians are two areas where we’re definitely in line with the rest of Europe). Where PSD used to hover between 40 and 50% support, guaranteeing its domination over domestic politics and administration, recent polling data suggests they’re on much worse footing than they are usually accustomed to, having dropped under 30% for two straight months.
This is partly because of the many scandals of the Dragnea governments and their attempts to undermine the justice system, whether surreptitiously or by brute force, partly because of Dragnea’s personal unpopularity, and partly due to the alternatives only now beginning to form.
Both MRI and USR are recently established political groups which arose from people’s frustration with the political class as a whole, widespread corruption, and PSD’s repeated and targeted attempts to undermine or take over the justice system (n.b. Ciolos became more involved in domestic politics after he was nominated as interim PM in the wake of the Colectiv disaster; similarly, USR was founded because of people’s anger and dissatisfaction with the political class which allowed such a disaster to take place).
USR has struggled to find an identity for itself beyond anti-corruption; its leaders decided it was too much hassle or too divisive to choose between left and right, so the party is now an eclectic mix of center-right, libertarian, conservative, and progressive members. Meanwhile, MRI is also difficult to place on a basic ideological map, but its manifesto emphasizes freedom, equality, and dignity, and Ciolos has spoken of a project with a strong welfare component. Expect a center/center-left platform when it does become official.
The question then is whether USR and MRI can find enough common ground to stick together in May, thus giving themselves a chance at overtaking either PNL or both PNL and PSD. A strong performance would automatically raise questions about potentially fielding a common candidate for the Romanian presidential elections in November or December.
Speaking of USR, it recently picked its candidates for MEP through internal elections. The list can be found in full on their website.
Lastly, former PM Ponta is trying hard to re-establish himself in Romanian politics, this time on the side of the Resistance. He recently placed an editorial in POLITICO where he criticised Dragnea for his clash with Brussels and assault on the justice reform, having apparently decided Romanians have forgotten his tenure as PM, his fighting with Brussels, his repeated prodding at the justice system, as well as his cowardly and entirely insufficient reaction to Colectiv (he bailed; he just resigned and left everyone else to handle it)
He has recently launched his own party, Pro Romania, together with, among others, Nicolae Banicioiu. The latter was the Health Minister during Colectiv and initially refused transferring burn victims to hospitals abroad, causing pain, humiliation, and death. Oh right, and the official launch took place only days before the 3 year commemoration of Colectiv. If this all seems a bit sinister and vile to you, that’s because it truly is.
Nevertheless, he has a certain charisma which people are drawn to (that boyish face combined with the cheeky humor, I guess) and he could grab 1 or 2 MEP spots in May. God, that was depressing to type.
And that’s our show this week. We didn’t even get to talk about the cathedral or the overflow of patriotism from each and every direction on occasion of the Centenary. I feel like that deserves a space dedicated to it entirely. You can also check out my post on the promotional video the government recently put out if you’re interested that sort of stuff in the meantime.