Romania’s president nominates former European commissioner as PM candidate

Romania’s president nominates former European commissioner as PM candidate
By bne IntelliNews November 10, 2015

Romania’s President Klaus Iohannis appointed former European Commissioner for Agriculture Dacian Ciolos as prime minister designate on November 10. If backed by the parliament, Ciolos will head a technocratic government until elections scheduled for autumn 2016. Although politically independent, Ciolos was promoted by centre-right politicians at home and in Brussels – but his public credibility is robust.

Ciolos is likely to receive the parliament’s support even though the largest party represented in the parliament, the Social Democratic Party (PSD), has said its vote depends on the composition of the government. The National Liberal Party (PNL) has already expressed its support for Ciolos, and the National Union for the Progress of Romania (UNPR) - a critical party for forming the majority - said it would support any choice of President Iohannis. The response from civil society was broadly positive and no demonstrations are expected in response to the nomination, but this also depends on the composition of the government.

Ciolos was nominated after Prime Minister Victor Ponta’s government resigned on November 4 in response to mass demonstrations in Bucharest and other cities, where tens of thousands of Romanians demanded thorough political reforms. However, in statements on November 10, neither Iohannis nor Ciolos made any public commitment to specific political reforms.

In his statement, Ciolos promised to be open to civic society, but said little about his plans for a government programme. “Before communicating too much about the intentions that I have in this capacity ... I want to focus my energy on my team structure,” he told journalists at a joint press conference with Iohannis.

Iohannis recommended Ciolos appoint experts with high credibility to his cabinet. Iohannis also implied that there is no need for early elections, as term elections will take place in autumn 2016.

The nomination was welcomed by the PNL, which was headed by Iohannis until 2014. “We are convinced that the new government and its governing programme will meet public expectations. We will support the government [of Ciolos] as long as it acts in the public interest,” the PNL said in a statement. However, the PNL added that it is ready to take responsibility for a political government, if needed.

PSD president Liviu Dragnea was more reserved in his response. “For the time being all we have is a name,” he said, adding that the PSD is looking forward to seeing the government’s composition before deciding whether to support it or not.

The PSD is expected to object to any member of the cabinet with a political affiliation. While politically independent, Ciolos was on the ticket of the centre-right European People’s Party when he served as European Agriculture Commissioner from 2010 to 2014, which explains the PSD’s cautious stance.

Ciolos and his cabinet will face multiple challenges. Public expectations for political reforms are high. More is needed [than naming a new government], Iohannis said after the mass demonstrations in Bucharest that led to the previous government’s resignation, implying reforms aimed at fighting corruption within political parties.

Protests continued in Bucharest after Ponta’s resignation, with demonstrators demanding deep political change and an end to corruption. The protests were triggered by a fire at a Bucharest nightclub on October 31, which so far has claimed the lives of 45 people.

Several civic organisations recently announced specific demands including a reduction in the number of seats in parliament, setting a limit of two terms for elected positions and a ban on defections from one party to another.

Ciolos will also inherit the risky fiscal policies of the former PSD-led government and immediate responses will be expected from the new prime minister on fiscal policy. A 4pp VAT cut is due to come into effect in January and the PSD is likely to advocate for a loose fiscal policy. In fact, on November 10, PSD lawmakers proposed a 10% wage hike for all public employees, in addition to the 25% hikes already announced this autumn. The bill, which would have a major fiscal impact, was endorsed by an expert committee, and is expected to be put to the vote in the lower house of parliament on November 11. This is an indication of further pressures for fiscal slippage from political parties during 2016.

An expert in agriculture who graduated from Romanian and French universities, Ciolos has been European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s special adviser on international food security since July.

His nomination to the European Commission, made by Romania’s then president Traian Basescu in 2009, was criticised by the PSD and the PNL. Support from both parties will be needed if Ciolos is to become prime minister.

Ciolos has also served as minister of agriculture in the centre-right government of Calin Popescu Tariceanu in 2007-2008.