Power struggle in Romania’s ruling PNL puts government stability at risk

Power struggle in Romania’s ruling PNL puts government stability at risk
Romanian Prime Minister Florin Citu.
By Iulian Ernst in Bucharest June 2, 2021

Romania’s Prime Minister Florin Citu on May 30 announced his candidacy to the top position in the National Liberal Party (PNL), saying that the PNL needs a “fresh start” and promising the party that he would keep it in power for the next eight years.

Citu said his electoral campaign for the position of president of the PNL, against incumbent leader Ludovic Orban, will not affect the functioning of the government.

The conflict between the two wings within the PNL (Citu’s and Orban’s) may have deep adverse effects at a time when the party is far from holding a robust position in parliament.

While Orban is more inclined to a gradual approach, including seeking consensus among regional leaders, Citu is more of a technocratic leader. So far, Citu has avoided taking position on controversial developments within the party, but once at the top of the party he is expected to pursue more radical reforms compared to Orban's gradualist approach. 

The PNL is the senior partner in government alongside the reformist USR-Plus and the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR). 

Romania’s main opposition party, the Social Democratic Party (PSD) said in May that it plans to submit a no-confidence motion in the government on June 14 over the government’s Relaunch and Resilience Plan (PNRR), though the motion is not expected to succeed. 

Citu sought to reassure Romanians that the government will not be affected by the PNL’s leadership race. 

"The government will not be affected by this election campaign. On the contrary, you will see government programmes that will be implemented in the next period. We completed the Resilience Plan, which we submitted today [June 1]. We will continue with the guidelines for European funds. There are another €46bn that we have to absorb, in addition to the €29.2bn [under the PNRR]. By 2027 almost €80bn will enter Romania. This has never happened in history. We have to do these things and I will do them," said Citu.

Speaking on a show on Digi 24 on May 31, he said that his election campaign will be handled by “a team of people" around him. Some have identified in the “group of people” several top members of the former Democrat Party (PD) led by former president Traian Basescu, who now support President Klaus Iohannis.

One of the declared supporters of Citu, Labour Minister Raluca Turcan, already got involved in the campaign stating that “Citu’s supporters are the people in the team of President Klaus Iohannis,” who, Turcan stressed, needs the PNL to be ‘a truly reforming force’.

Cluj Napoca mayor Emil Boc had already expressed support for Citu, who in turn invited him to play “whatever role he wants” after the internal elections in the PNL. 

Notably, among PM Citu’s supporters is Nicolae Ciuca, the first PM nomination made by Iohannis after last autumns’s general election. 

Iohannis and Citu attended a diplomatic event organised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on May 31. It is the first public appearance of the two after Citu announced on the morning of May 30 that he would run for the PNL leadership at the party's September congress.