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Why Romania's 'cocky' leftists were emboldened to push through controversial corruption change

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By Chris Harris
Why Romania's 'cocky' leftists were emboldened to push through controversial corruption change

Romania has made a ‘huge mistake’ in pushing through its biggest retreat on anti-corruption reforms since joining the EU a decade ago, it’s been claimed.

The country’s leftist PSD government, ‘cocky and emboldened’ after sweeping back into power in December, sparked protests in Bucharest late on Tuesday by announcing an emergency decree that decriminalised some corruption offences.

PSD, who left office in November 2015 after a deadly blaze at a Bucharest nightclub sparked protests over corruption, were re-elected on a ticket promising higher wages and pensions.

Romanian political analyst Radu Magdin told Euronews it was a huge error for PSD to rush through the decree, without debating and voting on it in parliament.

“I think they [PSD] feel emboldened, I think they feel cocky. They feel this is a moment for them to act and take responsibility. I’m not sure they were ready for a public debate and I think this was a mistake.”

‘Romania’s boldness on a par with Poland’s’

The decree will mean decriminalising abuse of power offences that cause less than 200,000 lei (44,000 euros) of financial damage.

Several leading politicians are under investigation or on trial in abuse-of-power cases, including the leader of the ruling PSD and lower house speaker Liviu Dragnea.

The country’s president Klaus Iohannis, Romania’s National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA) – credited with successfully fighting corruption in recent years – and the European Commission are among those to condemn the decree.

DNA are having a lot of cases based on this administrative abuse (abuse of power),” said Magdin. “Of course this is going to affect their activity.

“It’s very simple in the public arena to scream corruption. But technically it [abuse of power] was not a bribe. A lot of politicians are affected like this and this is causing an outcry among the political class. Not only PSD but also liberals.

“In terms of political boldness I think the government is acting like the Polish one, you’re in power, you have a majority and ‘this is our moment and we can do what we want’.

“It’s very difficult to defend this but I think people would be a lot more relaxed if we’d had a proper debate.”

What will happen now?

The decree was passed despite tens of thousands protesting on the streets of Bucharest over recent weeks.

So, what will give, the government or the protesters?

“I don’t think the PSD will blink,” Magdin added. “I don’t think the protesters will blink. But I don’t we are going to see occupy parliament or anything like that, because the government could spin that in their favour.

“I think it is going to be a fine balance in the next few days and weeks between who eventually gets tired of what. Time is on the side of PSD because at the same time they are voting through the budget and that has economic benefits for the population.

“It’s a generous budget for the economy. We’re gonna see a splash of money. They are going to try and compensate their image and say ‘let’s talk about serious stuff for the country and the economy and we should stop talking about something that’s a fait accompli‘.

“The problem is the people on the streets and the president don’t agree and they will protests until the government gives in.”

Looking longer term

Magdin said while PSD has a strong majority and maybe able to secure this victory, it will come with longer-term consequences.

“It’s a cost for the next four years,” he added. “Because they are changing the theme in society so it’s again about right-wing parties defending the rule of law and the PSD who is not, in simple framing.

“On the other side it’s also going to affect the foreign relations. Whether they like it or not they’re going to have to, for the next few months at least, respond to questions in meetings and be on the defensive.

“But I think if the PSD is so bullish and strong with its parliamentary majority they are ready for all consequences including their image abroad.”

Euronews asked the Romanian government to respond to this article, but they did not reply prior to publication.

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