Coalition emerges to support Romanian government of technocrats for another term

Coalition emerges to support Romanian government of technocrats for another term
By Iulian Ernst in Bucharest October 20, 2016

The new political party Save Romania Union (USR) is endorsing technocratic Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos for another term after the December 11 parliamentary elections, USR president Nicusor Dan announced on October 19.

The statement comes after National Liberal Party (PNL) strongly backed Ciolos for another term and invited members of the current government to join its party ticket. With their decision to back Ciolos, the two parties have increased their chances of swinging public opinion in their favour, even though polls currently indicate the Social Democratic Party (PSD) is most likely to form a new government after the election. 

The political Platform Romania 100, launched by Ciolos earlier this week, is in line with USR’s political programme, Dan said. USR will in fact submit its own political strategy, which is a more detailed document consistent with the platform, to Ciolos.  

“It is a vote of confidence for PM Ciolos and not a blank cheque for the PNL, which announced support for the same prime minister,” Dan pointed out. He added that he hoped USR can support Ciolos as prime minister, alongside the PNL, but stressed “not as part of an alliance”, a reference to previous political alliances in which ministries and positions in government bodies and state companies were carved up among the participants. USR has previously said it will not enter a coalition with the country’s two main political parties, the PNL or PSD. 

The PNL has scheduled a rally to support Ciolos for November 5, local media reported on October 18. It is possible that USR may also join the rally.

Former PNL leader President Klaus Iohannis, who picked Ciolos for prime minister in November 2015 after the collapse of the government of Prime Minister Victor Ponta, expressed moderate but firm support for Ciolos and his platform. Iohannis said the platform “is a good step that has to be followed by others”. He admitted he had only discussed the platform with Ciolos briefly, and said he hoped it would become a serious platform for further electoral debates.  

Ciolos’ government was appointed in November 2015 after Ponta and his cabinet stepped down following mass demonstrations in Bucharest and other major cities. It was originally put in place for just one year until the 2016 general election. Iohannis has said he will appoint a government with robust political majority in parliament behind it following the election, meaning that a government of technocrats can not be a long-term solution. He also declared political neutrality, saying the president is not supposed to "filter" the electorate's choices.

However, but many Romanians appear to prefer the current technocratic government to previous party political governments. With his recently announced platform, Ciolos appears to be trying at least to influence policy-making after the December 11 election. 

Announced by Ciolos as a guideline for future governments, Platform Romania 100 is also seen as a political vehicle aimed at helping the PNL, USR and Iohannis join together under same umbrella without breaching the constitution and without altering their political identities – but rather enhancing their aggregated credibility, ahead of the parliamentary elections. Dan’s comment on not forming an alliance with the PNL is important in this regard, as is the moderate support given by Iohannis.

The PNL and USR hope that backing Ciolos’s platform will help boost their combined scores and change the political balance that, at this moment, according to the polls, indicates the Social Democrat Party (PSD) will form a majority with its ally the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE). Meanwhile, the PNL expects nearly 30% of the votes on December 11, and USR is rated at around 10% in the most recent electoral polls.

Changing the electoral balance is not unlikely, particularly as ALDE leader Calin Popescu Tariceanu (who also serves as senate speaker) recently made extreme statements against the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA). Making anti-corruption the core electoral debate can only help new parties like USR.

Commenting on Platform Romania 100, the PSD accused Ciolos of plagiarism and claimed that all the principles and strategies included in the platform are stolen from PSD programmes. This might be true to some extent, since the basic ideas outlined by Ciolos are fairly general.

The platform is structured in three layers: the first layer includes a series of ten “beliefs” expressed by Ciolos. The ten strong statements are the core of the political manifesto.

The second layer describes what a government should do in the first 100 days of its term after the elections: change the structure of the government, reduce bureaucracy and use IT extensively in the public administration. It should also prioritise public investments and use EU funds in the most efficient way.

The third layer outlines the main national projects that, according to Ciolos, should be pursued by any government. They include broad public administration reform, unification of the wage system in the public sector and the enforcement of the anti-corruption strategy. Among the national projects there is a document drafted by the ministry of economy (Competitive Romania 2016). There are no radical ideas included in the platform, such as questioning the role of FDI, or renewable energy above a certain threshold, or protectionism, or highlighting particular industrial sectors that should be encouraged or discouraged.

In broad terms, the economic programme is of neo-liberal extraction, in line with recommendations from international financial institutions. Most of the programme is in line with the idea of keeping the new government’s options open in regard to the measures it takes. However, it also makes it rather a political statement, which is rather unexpected coming from a technocrat prime minister.