Romanians resist government's questionable reforms

Thousands of Romanians demonstrated on Sunday evening against plans to impose a package of judiciary laws and to amend the current fiscal code. While the government pretends to emphatize, it seems determined not to steer off course.

Delia Budurca
Delia Budurca NewsMavens, Romania
Source: mediafax.ro
Romanians resist government's questionable reforms - NewsMavens
Protests in Romania. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Why this story matters:

As the wave of authoritarianism sweeps across Eastern Europe, Romania is no exception. From February 2017, multiple protests have been organized across the country. Many of them through social media.

It all began when the current government (from the Social Democratic Party -- PSD) attempted to enforce a new set of judiciary laws. The Emergency Governmental Ordinance 13 (EGO 13), passed in February 2017, was meant to alter the current Criminal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code. If enforced, it would grant greater power to the Minister of Justice and thus -- in the opinion of the opposition, the President of Romania and the public -- subordinate the justice system to politicians.

Romanians took to the streets and the force of their protest was so overwhelming that the EGO 13 was immediately revoked.

Since then, the details of the new set of laws have been frequently debated by the Romanian Parliament, but its general purpose remains unchanged.

No wonder that the proposal has not gained popularity. The Superior Council of Magistracy -- the institution guarding the independence of the justice system -- issued a negative opinion regarding the new laws. Almost 4000 magistrates were against it. In mid-October, 60 NGOs sent a joint open letter to the Prime Minister, Mihai Tudose, expressing their dissent.

The letter reminded Tudose that the Romanian justice system was already reformed between 2004 and 2005, as part of the requirements for the country to join the EU on January 1, 2007. Since then, the Superior Council of Magistracy has managed the magistrates’ careers and new institutions have been created -- among them the National Anticorruption Directorate (NAD).

NAD exposed high-level corruption  including some in which the leader of PSD, Liviu Dragnea, is mentioned. Consequently, in April 2016, Dragnea was sentenced to two years in prison (the punishment was suspended).

The other factor that contributed to the protests was the so-called “Fiscal revolution”. Despite strong resistance from businessmen, employers and employees, the legislative act implementing this “revolution” was adopted and enforced on November 8.

From 2018 onwards, this law will obligate employees to transfer their social contributions to the state. Currently, the contributions are shared approximately 50/50 between employers and employees. Oddly enough, the actual payment will still have to be made by the employer. 

While the PSD government claims these changes to the tax system will improve budget predictability, bring new funds to the public budget and reduce tax evasion, opponents point out that the reform will wreak havoc in every Romanian company.

It seems that the government should cut the propaganda and make an adult decision -- they can either start working for the benefit of the Romanians or be frank about steering towards authoritarianism.

Details from the story:

  • In December 2016, PSD won 45% of votes during the general elections. The opposition, however, claimed that the elections did not reflect the true opinion of the Romanians, because only 40% of them voted.
  • In early 2017, the government announced plans to change the justice system which would render it more subordinate to politicians. The people took to the streets.
  • Another proposed change that has been widely opposed is the “Fiscal revolution”. According to commentators, it would hinder the functioning of many Romanian companies. And they are already challenges by workforce shortages, as more than 4 million workers have left Romania since the revolution of 1989. Consequently, the population has fallen below 20 million.
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