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Romania's Dacian Cioloș unveils new cabinet ahead of parliamentary vote

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By Orlando Crowcroft
Dacian Ciolos
Dacian Ciolos   -   Copyright  Credit: Vadim Ghirda/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Romania’s leader-designate Dacian Ciolos has unveiled his pick for a new cabinet made up entirely of members of his own USR party, which has just 80 seats in parliament, far short of a majority.

Ciolos, who was appointed prime minister by President Klaus Iohannis last week, will now have to win parliamentary approval for his government without the support of either the National Liberal Party or the Social Democratic Party, the PNL and the PSD, the two biggest parties in Romania.

Ciolos also lacks the support of other smaller opposition groups including ethnic Hungarian parties and the right wing Alliance for the Union of Romanians (AUR), which won 12% of the vote in 2020 elections.

"The result of the vote is predictable," said Costin Ciobanu, an analyst in Bucharest. "Everyone is preparing for what comes next after Ciolos' failure to secure the necessary votes."

Ciolos, a member of the European parliament, was appointed prime minister last Monday by Iohannis, a PNL member, after PNL Prime Minister Florin Citu was ousted in a vote of no confidence.

Critics saw the appointment as a canny political move by Iohannis and a lose-lose for Ciolos, who was seen as unlikely to be able to assemble a cabinet that would gain the approval of parliament.

That failure could hurt the USR and Ciolos’ own presidential aspirations for 2024.

Even if Ciolos was able to assemble a cabinet and win the backing of parliament, the logic ran, he would take over the helm of a Romania reeling from a health care crisis, a spiraling fourth wave of COVID-19 and widespread anger towards the political class.

'Winter of discontent'

But not everyone in Romania thinks that Ciolos' efforts are doomed to fail - at least not in the short term.

Although publicly both the PNL and PSD have ruled out supporting Ciolos, both parties may welcome having someone else at the helm during a period that -- even in October -- is already being referred to as Romania’s “winter of discontent.”

“I think they have a chance, not because it is the best cabinet or government you can have, but because it is a government of sacrifice,” Anton Pisaroglu, a political strategist, told Euronews.

Andreea Alexandru/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
A patient lies on a bed in the emergency room, turned into a CODIV-19 unit due the high number of cases, at the Bagdasar-Arseni hospital in Bucharest, Romania, Tuesday, Oct. 1Andreea Alexandru/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

He echoed his comments of last week, however, when he argued that Ciolos’ personal political career will be hurt either by his failure to build a government or his failure once in government to pull Romania out of crisis.

“For Ciolos, long term, this is going to be a very big problem for his presidential run and also for USR as a party,” he said.

Euronews has reached out to representatives of Ciolos and the USR for comment.

A parliamentary vote on the new cabinet has not been scheduled, but will likely take place this week as Ciolos' deadline to assemble a government and gain approval expires on October 20.

If parliament votes against, Iohannis will be tasked with making another nomination for prime minister.

It has been suggested that he could try to re-appoint Citu, or failing that another PNL member that is more able to assemble a government.

Although an Iohannis protege, Citu is unpopular within the PNL, especially with supporters of former prime minister Ludovic Orban, who stood down following the PNL's dismal performance in the 2020 elections.

If Iohannis' second pick for prime minister fails, Romania could head to snap elections - the first time this has happened since the end of Communist rule.

"The likelihood of this to happen is very low - it has never happened in Romania in the past 32 years. So, more serious discussions should start after the vote on the Ciolos cabinet," Ciobanu said.