The headline - grabbing events of the week...
Pope Francis in Romania
“I am happy to be in your beautiful country 20 years after the visit of St. John Paul II, at a time when Romania, for the first time since joining the European Union, holds the presidency of the Council of the EU,” Pope Francis said on Friday in Bucharest, on the first day of the visit he makes at the invitation of President Klaus Iohannis and of the Catholic Church leaders in the country. The Pontiff hailed the progress made by Romania in the 30 years since the fall of communism, but pointed out that among the costs of transition were the migration of millions of people and the depopulation of the villages. Also, the Pope paid tribute to the sacrifices made by many sons and daughters of Romania who enrich the culture of other countries. In turn, President Klaus Iohannis said he was happy to welcome Pope Francis to the country, on behalf of all Romanians. Iohannis thanked the Catholic Church for its hospitality towards the Romanian Diaspora in the West. Also, the head of state evoked the visit to Bucharest of Pope John Paul II in 1999, which made Romania the first mostly Orthodox country ever visited by a Pope. The visit’s agenda also included talks with PM Viorica Dancila and with Patriarch Daniel, the head of the Romanian Orthodox Church. Held under the motto „Let’s Go Together!”, the Pope’s visit to Romania also includes the Sumuleu Ciuc shrine in central Romania, an area with a mostly Hungarian-speaking population, Iasi, the biggest city in eastern Romania and home to a large Roman Catholic community and also Blaj, in the centre, the spiritual capital of the Romanian Greek Catholic believers, where he will beatify seven bishops who died for their faith in the communist prisons.
The Opposition wins the European elections
Romanians’ vote in the European elections on Sunday sends to the European Parliament 6 political parties. The National Liberal Party (PNL), the main party in the right-of-center opposition, won most of the votes, around 27%. Following are the leftist Social Democratic Party (PSD) with 22.5% and the right-wing 2020 Alliance USR – PLUS, in the opposition, with 22.4%. Pro Romania, with 6.6%, the Democratic Party of Ethnic Hungarians in Romania (UDMR) and the People’s Movement Party (PMP) with over 5% each, will also send their representatives in the European Parliament. The Liberals will have 10 MEPs, the Social Democrats and the 2020 Alliance 8 MEPs each and the other parties 2 MEPs each. Among Romania’s new representatives in Brussels are former president Traian Basescu, former prime ministers Dacian Ciolos and Victor Ponta and former European Commissioner Corina Cretu. Seven of the parties in the race, among which the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE) a junior party in the ruling coalition in Bucharest, did not make it to the European Parliament. Romanians in the Diaspora stood in endless queues in order to cast their votes and some of them did not manage to vote in spite of the long hours of waiting. They are blaming the poor organization of the vote abroad on the foreign minister Teodor Melescanu, who has been harshly criticized at home by the media, the opposition and the head of state. The 49% voter turnout rate in the European elections on Sunday has been the highest since Romania joined the EU, 12 years ago.
Romanians say NO to corruption and YES in the referendum
Concurrently with the European elections, Romanians were asked to vote in a referendum on justice called by President Klaus Iohannis. More than 80% of the voters in the referendum answer YES to both questions, which means they agree to banning amnesty and pardon in cases related to corruption and to banning the adoption, by the government, of emergency ordinances in the field of crimes, punishments and judicial organisation. The voter turnout rate in the referendum was over 41%, thus exceeding the minimum threshold needed for it to be validated. President Klaus Iohannis said on Monday that Romanians gave a pro-European vote, in a country where “thieves and criminals are kept behind bars.” The President has invited the parties to consultations with a view to modifying legislation, after the referendum on justice enjoyed the participation of six and a half million Romanians.
The end of the PSD era
Defeated in the elections, the left-wing was given another heavy blow in Court. Liviu Dragnea, officially the third-most powerful man in Romania as Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, but unofficially number one in political terms thanks to his chairmanship of the Social Democratic Party, the largest political party in the country, was sentenced to 3 and a half years in prison and put behind bars. Judges upheld the ruling passed about a year ago in a case involving fake jobs given to party members at the Teleorman County Social Assistance and Child Protection Directorate. Dragnea was sentenced for inciting abuse of office. More precisely, while a chairman of the Teleorman County Council, he made the heads of that public institution hire and keep on their payroll 2 Social Democratic Party members who cashed their salaries for years, although they never showed up to work. This is the second prison sentence for the former Social Democrat leader. He had already received a 2-year suspended sentence for election fraud in the 2012 referendum on impeaching the then president Traian Basescu.
PM Viorica Dancila has taken over PSD’s interim leadership, until an extraordinary congress is held. The highly vocal and unpopular general secretary of the party, Codrin Stefanescu, has been replaced. Also, some of the party members that fell from Dragnea’s favor have been brought back. The Chamber of Deputies, further controlled by the leftist PSD-ALDE majority, has elected the Social Democrat Marcel Ciolacu as its new speaker.
End of the football season
FC Viitorul Constanta, owned and coached by the international football legend Gheorghe Hagi, has for the first time won the Romanian Cup, after winning 2-1 against Astra Giurgiu after extra time. With this win Viitorul Constanta has secured qualification in the second round of Europa League, alongside FCSB and Universitatea Craiova. In the domestic championship, CFR Cluj won their 2th consecutive title and the 5th so far, being followed by FCSB, and Viitorul.
(Translated by Elena Enache)