Voters in Romania are broadly pro-European, despite domestic political turbulence. Yet anti-Brussels feeling remains conspicuous, even if it is outstripped by sustained anger at efforts to cover up corruption, including the government’s use and abuse of European funds. The erosion of trust in political elites has led to a confused political outlook for the country, as its relatively young democracy continues to seek direction.
For the past two years in Romania, the main topic of public debate has been the criminal justice system and its capacity to fight corruption and serious crime. This follows criticism from the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Venice Commission (advisors to the Council of Europe) of the way in which the country’s ruling coalition has ‘reformed’ the judicial system. That coalition is formed by the Social Democratic Party (PSD), which is affiliated with the Party of European Socialists (PES) in the European Parliament, and the UDMR, the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania.
To be or not to be in the EU
Recent amendments to the judicial system were interpreted as being contrary to European regulations on the rule of law by opposition parties – the National Liberal Party (PNL), a member of the EPP, and a new political alliance, USR-PLUS, led by former European Commissioner for Agriculture Dacian Cioloș. Many political analysts and large sections of the public drew similar conclusions.
Although it defines itself as a social democratic party affiliated with European socialist parties, the PSD makes use of an illiberal discourse very close to that of Viktor Orbán. In order to counteract criticism from the European institutions, the PSD (led by Liviu Dragnea, previously found guilty of corruption and still standing trial in a related case) have proposed a ‘national agenda’ for the European elections in May. PSD leaders, including the prime minister Viorica Dăncilă, talk of ‘the European Commission’s interference in domestic affairs’, assert that ‘European institutions regard Romania as a second-rate country’, and accuse the opposition of ‘being funded by George Soros’.
The issue of justice will remain a central one
The issue of justice will therefore remain a central one in the European election campaign. Depending on their position on this issue, parties and voters will effectively indicate whether they wish ‘to be or not to be in the EU’. In fact, voters’ attitudes are mixed, if not confused. Polls indicate that a turnout of between 36 and 40 per cent can be expected. Yet 23 per cent of voters say they still do not know which party to vote for. All told, citizens’ confidence in European institutions remains high, but anti-Brussels feeling is likely to continue growing.
In the Mood of the Union, partner editors of Eurozine from across the continent, together with further journalists and analysts, will be reporting on attitudes towards the elections and what is at stake at the national level. The aim is to provide a more detailed glimpse than one would usually catch from the bird’s-eye view of national media. The series is curated by Agnieszka Rosner and edited by contributing editor Ben Tendler.