Romania's Social Democrats still trying to stifle fight against corruption

On May 26, Romanians will be able to vote on whether the ruling Social Democrats (PSD) will be allowed to make sweeping and strongly criticized changes to the country's anti-corruption laws. But the PSD is not beaten yet.

Editorial Team
Editorial Team NewsMavens, Europe
Romania's Social Democrats still trying to stifle fight against corruption - NewsMavens
Liviu Dragnea, WIkimedia Commons

Why this story matters:

In March, President Klaus Iohannis called for a national referendum on May 26 in an effort to combat an attempt by Romania’s ruling Social Democrats (PSD) to weaken anti-graft legislation.

Protests in the country have been vocal since PSD passed an emergency decree that critics said chipped away at prosecutors’ independence. This is an extremely worrying measure as Romania is one of the European Union’s most corrupt states, and the PSD has been at the center of many criminal allegations in recent years.

According to Iohannis when he announced the referendum, “Justice is a matter of national interest, and citizens have the sovereign right to decide whether or not to let corruption become state policy.”

Recent efforts by the PSD to control the public dialogue on corruption and government accountability has caught fire from critics at home and abroad. The upcoming May 26 vote would coincide with voting for the European Parliament.

However, the PSD has not given in to popular pressure and continues to pursue its own interests, on Thursday, May 9, the Romanian government adopted a decree modifying the threshold needed for the referendum on justice issues to be held in tandem with the European Parliament elections on May 26.

According to the modifications adopted by Prime Minister Viorica Dancila by decree, the referendum will only be valid if at least 30 per cent of those enrolled on the electoral register appear at polling stations.

Details from the story:

  • Approved without public debate, the decree was only the most recent effort in a mass of legislative and personnel changes by the PSD since they took power two years ago.
  • Since then EU and U.S. concern for the rule of law in Romania has grown.
  • Romania’s president is empowered to call referendums on issues he or she deems to be of national interest. 
  • Last month, a European Parliament committee backed Romania’s former anti-corruption chief, Laura Codruta Kovesi, to become the EU’s first fraud prosecutor, even though the PSD government in Bucharest opposed the nomination. She had pursued prosecution against several key PSD party members.
  • Romania has the EU’s rotating presidency until June 30 but the Kovesi case has further weakened Bucharest’s reputation.
  • Romania's corruption problems are part of the reason for the EU push to make funding to member states from its next long-term budget from 2021 conditional in part on their upholding of the rule of law.
  • The new changes also forbid public authorities from speaking out during the electoral campaign for or against the referendum. This includes President Iohannis, who initiated the popular consultation.
  • Iohannis has been accused of trying to win popular support for his party, as presidential elections approach.
  • He is a bitter opponent of the PSD who leader Dragnea has long been pushing to modify the penal code and anti-corruption laws, mainly because so many PSD leaders are being, or have been, investigated in corruption-related cases
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