The unfreezing of politics takes place in difficult social conditions for hundreds of thousands of Romanians, which provoke their frustration. The political leaders’ instigations against the adversaries aim to prevent the threat of return of populism in a moment, when the government relies on the European Commission and on the business for reaction against the crisis, generated by COVID-19
This article was published on 7 May 2020 on the Romanian section of the site “The Barricade”.
Romanian politics unfreezes in the context of the replacement on 15 May 2020 of “the state of emergency” with “the state of alert”. There are many proofs for that. The beginning was marked by the issue of secuis’ autonomy (secui is the name of the Hungarian minority, which lives in Central Romania – note of the translator). It stirred a lot of discussions and self-sufficient positionings. Once again the discussion along the usual lines of division in Romanian politics started – the right/left division, Iohannis and Orban against the Social Democratic Party (PSD).
But things are more complex. This is what can be seen in the context of the latest decision of the Constitutional Court of Romanian (CCR), which has annulled the fines for disrespect of the military orders to the total sum of 600 million lei (120 million euro). The condemnation of Romania at the European Court for Human Rights (ECHR) in the case of Laura Kövesi also demonstrated the reopening of Romanian politics or at least the effort to inject confrontation and to make approval rates gains along rhetorical lines.
Why is the situation more complex?
The head of the Social Democratic Party is no longer Liviu Dragnea. It was discussed in the beginning of the year that between Dragnea and the current leader – Marcel Ciolacu, there is difference and it can be seen in “the understanding” between Ciolacu and Ludovic Orban, for which the newspaper “Adevărul” wrote, when it looks like the tops of the National Liberal Party (PNL) and the Social Democratic Party play together for snap elections.
In the autumn there will be local and parliamentary elections. The National Liberal Party wants to win, but it has in its front the president Klaus Iohannis- ethnic German, and the prime minister Ludovic Orban, who is half Hungarian. And as if by command the Social Democratic Party ”abuses” once again the power it has in parliament and allows for the project for autonomy to advance to Senate. After intervention by two ”big patriots” – Iohannis and Orban, Romania is saved again…
It is claimed that Dragnea, the representative of the populist current, still has influence in PSD and in CCR. Also, it is said that PNL and PSD play all types of dirty games in Parliament, with each of these parties pretending to be on the side of the people, to advance popular measures, but to be blocked by the insensitive political opponent. Romanian politics has been characterised by bipolar model for quite some time. But things are even more mixed, because the PNL also has populist representatives, who support Donald Trump, conservatives and evangelists like Trump’s electoral base in the United States. How should the reopened political game in Romania be understood, if both big parties have technocratic and populists currents in their ranks?
Almost 1 million Romanians are in technical unemployment, and more than 300 000 have lost their job. Some people – those who work, manage to resolve the financial issues of the crisis, because they have safe income, but others are in a very precarious situation and suffer from disorientation and anxiety. Popular frustrations could explode, if the state and the politicians wouldn’t treat with respect and don’t support the people. In this context, the Constitutional Court of Romania took the decision to annul the fines, from the times of emergency situation, which saves the Romanian people, especially those who live in the country, from paying 120 million euro. The minister of finance – Florin Cîţu, doesn’t seem to have something in mind against this decision. He claims that he never relied on those money for the budget and that the function of the fines was not to fill the budget, but to prevent the threat for health.
The government of PNL doesn’t have another option, but to show empathy towards the people, if it wants to continue to govern after the local and presidential elections in the autumn. In this sense the declared intention of the minister of labour, Violeta Alexandru, to remain true to the earlier decision of parliament for raising the pensions as of 1 september 2020 must be understood.
The problem of PNL is that it is perceived by many in Romania as too loyal to the big capital and as distanced from the vulnerable part of the population. The decisions and the interpretations of the CCR have been directed at Iohannis, as they affirmed that the Romanian president has abused his attributes through the decree for the emergency state. In its turn Iohannis used the decision of the ECHR in Strasbourg on the case of Laura Kövesi against the Romanian state, to affirm that “CCR is obliged to review not only the decision about the dismissal of Laura Kövesi (from the position of chief prosecutor of the anti-corruption prosecution DNA in 2018), but also any other decision, which is taken on the basis of simple affirmations, political or not”.
The goal of all those accusations and critical notes – before between Iohannis and Ciolacu on the issue of the autonomy, and now between Iohannis and CCR, is to redraw the fronts in Romanian politics. It is tempting to give right to one of the political players and to shout against the other, but the direct and the indirect effect of that is that Romanians’ frustration will be channeled and directed in a direction, which doesn’t allow the birth of new currents.
Maybe a look to the situation in the world will be useful. The crisis, generated by COVID-19, has exposed the vulnerability of Donald Trump, who presides a difficult situation from the standing point of health in the United States. The words cannot help against the coronavirus. It can be felt that populists in Europe and in the world lose in the present conditions, because the situation requires expertise, technocratic agency, while politics – the populists’ domain, has remained frozen in a lot of countries. Even Bolsonaro probably started his process of downfall, after the minister of justice Sergiu Moro has resigned, accusing the president in an intervention in an investigation against member of his party.
On the other hand, the UK has gone out of the EU, while the division between center and periphery in the eurozone has returned. Romania is part of the EU’s periphery, but its economy is very dependent on the center. Political tops and business reflect those connections. In these internal and external conditions the fight between the technocrat sector and the populist current could get reborn, if the unfreezing takes place in such a way that it swirls out of control.
The Romanian government assumed a more ambitious program of intervention in the economy and support for the people that the Bulgarian cabinet. The problem is where will the money come from. The fiscal income have fallen by 25% in March 2020 in comparison with March 2019. Now they probably it will be understood who are the true allies of PNL. The European Commission agreed that 1 billion euro are used in four directions for support for the business and citizens in technical unemployment. On the other hand, more than 2000 companies have donated 20% of their profit tax in order to buy medical equipment for the medical teams on the first line. 31 000 physical persons have also participated in the campaign.
In general, in Romania the business and the NGO sector, who have technocratic tendency, have a more active role in everything. This can be seen also in the context of the fight against the coronavirus. However, the technocratic approach has its limits. Where elites can no longer conquer hearts, the frustrations must be managed.
The unfreezing of Romanian politics will continue. The spirit of confrontation, which is so characteristic for it, will not give social security to those who are hit in economic and psychological sense in the conditions of state of emergency. What could unite the Romanian politicians and the people – apart from common threat? The economic and social crisis, which the coronavirus provoked, make necessary the common efforts that will engage the masses. As long as the solutions of the crisis create a feeling of estrangement and apathy in citizens, the danger of populism’s return will remain in force. That is how the reopening of political life in Romania can be understood.
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