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Romania is facing crucial elections in 2024 - will the country put the rising far-right in power

A little girl waves a flag during an anti-government and anti-restrictions protest organised by the far-right Alliance for the Unity of Romanians or AUR, in Bucharest.
A little girl waves a flag during an anti-government and anti-restrictions protest organised by the far-right Alliance for the Unity of Romanians or AUR, in Bucharest. Copyright AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda
Copyright AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda
By Giulia Carbonaro
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Romania’s far-right party AUR is growing in popularity and could enter a government coalition next year after the country’s parliamentary election.

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Romania, a member of the European Union, will hold local, presidential, parliamentary and European elections next year - making 2024 a crucial time for the country and for Europe, as the far-right is expected to continue gaining ground.

“These elections are important for the political situation in Romania as well as for the entire European Union, where the far-right has risen in popularity in many member states like Sweden, Slovakia and now the Netherlands,” Fernando Casal Bertoa, an associate professor in Comparative Politics at the University of Nottingham, told Euronews.

The elections next year might determine “a completely new direction for the country,” he added.

A recent survey by pollster INSCOP released in early November showed that the country’s ruling coalition government - which includes the leftist Social Democrats (PSD) and centre-right Liberals (PNL) - would fall short of an outright majority in the parliamentary election next year.

The coalition government has been struggling this year with keeping the country’s public finances in check - a situation which has paved the way for the far right to gain ground in Romania.

According to the opinion poll - which was commissioned by Romanian news website News.ro and conducted among a sample of 1,100 people between 23 October and 2 November - 29.5% of Romanians would vote for Prime Minister Marcel Ciolacu’s PSD and 18.4% for the Liberals in the parliamentary elections next year.

According to the INSCOP poll, the ultra-nationalist opposition party Alliance for the Unity of Romanians, AUR - an abbreviation for “gold” in Romanian - would have 20.2% of voters’ support - putting the party ahead of the Liberals.

George Simion, right, and Claudiu Tarziu, the leaders of the Alliance for the Unification of Romanians (AUR).
George Simion, right, and Claudiu Tarziu, the leaders of the Alliance for the Unification of Romanians (AUR).AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda

What is AUR, and what does it stand for?

In December 2020, the little-known AUR, which had been formed in the autumn of the previous year, rose from obscurity to take almost 9% of the overall vote in Romania’s parliamentary elections. Since then, the party has been steadily gaining more support in recent opinion surveys.

The rise of the party was due in part to the overwhelming support of the Romanian diaspora, which, according to Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, a professor of Comparative Public Policy at the LUISS Guido Carli University in Rome, “has a large percentage of low-skilled, marginal people who in fact only work seasonally in Europe.”

“I called them, much to the indignation of some people, a ‘lumpen-diaspora’, to paraphrase Karl Marx,” Mungiu-Pippidi explained, referring to a term which in Marxist contexts indicates a population uninterested in revolutionary advancement.

“They needed a radical ‘F… you’ alternative to the existing political system and they found it” in AUR, she added.

The pandemic also “tremendously helped” the rise of AUR, the same way it helped Alternative for Germany (AfD) grow its base, Mungiu-Pippidi said. “They were the anti-vaccine party, and in Romania - also with the complicity of the Orthodox church - half the population did not get a vaccine. This was the main wind in their sails,” she added.

“Same as in the Netherlands, people are really unhappy with the way the country is being governed,” Claudiu Tufis, associate professor of political science, University of Bucharest, told Euronews explaining the popularity of the far-right party.

“There isn’t a lot of representation in the Romanian political system, with pretty much the same coalition uninterruptedly leading the country for almost 10 years now. They are looking for someone who speaks their own language,” he added.

AUR declares to be standing for “family, nation, faith, and freedom,” but Mungiu-Pippidi told Euronews that it actually stands for “anti-science, Christian fundamentalism and sovereignism.”

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The party has also positioned itself as an anti-corruption party at a time when the country was facing significant corruption scandals - a move that has been embraced by other populist parties in Europe, like Italy’s Five Star Movement.

AUR is also known to oppose same-sex marriage and has called for the Republic of Moldova's unification with Romania. In 2018, AUR founder - former journalist Claudiu Tarziu - called for a referendum that attempted to ban same-sex marriage, which failed.

People wave flags during an anti-government protest organised by the far-right Alliance for the Unity of Romanians or AUR, in Bucharest, Romania, Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021.
People wave flags during an anti-government protest organised by the far-right Alliance for the Unity of Romanians or AUR, in Bucharest, Romania, Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021.AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda

Could AUR be part of a new coalition government?

According to Casal Bertoa, whether AUR would one day become part of a coalition government with the PSD would depend on the results of the election. “The Liberals might want to govern with the far-right party but not under them - so they might bring them if they have a bigger backing than AUR, but not vice versa. It’s difficult to predict,” he continued.

“But anything is possible,” he added. “We have seen a trend in Europe to normalise the far right and the far left, and the elections in the Netherlands are a clear example of that.”

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“I expected AUR to win a little bit more than they did in the last round of elections,” Tufis said. “But they probably will be in a position that won’t allow it to form a coalition, the political parties are arguing that AUR should be kept at a distance,” he continued. 

“It’s probably more likely that the Social Democrats and the Liberals will continue with the same coalition they had for the past 10 years.”

With the level of support currently estimated in polls, AUR could claim between 8 and 11 MEPs after the EU elections in June 2024. The party is then likely to ally with Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy, which AUR president George Simion said is “a political model for us.”

A pigeon sits on a statue in Timisoara, Romania, Friday, Oct. 6, 2023.
A pigeon sits on a statue in Timisoara, Romania, Friday, Oct. 6, 2023.Andreea Alexandru/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.

Is the EU keeping an eye on Romania?

Casal Bertoa thinks that the EU is looking closely at what’s happening in Romania, as well as other countries like Spain and the Netherlands, “and the great thing is that the EU has mechanisms to intervene if these far-right parties threaten democracy or the rule of law.”

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The problem, he added, is that “it has no way to stop the rise of the far right.”

Tufis agrees, saying that even if AUR wins big in the European election, “they will be controlled within the European Parliament.”

Mungiu-Pippidi thinks the EU has no reason to worry about AUR. “Romania is well controlled by a left-right coalition solidly supported by its much too powerful secret services and military establishment,” she said.

“The church may flirt with AUR, but it always stands with the power establishment. AUR would get co-opted, like all radicals before them, with governmental perks, though until then they may provide some colourful moments in the European Parliament,” she added.

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