A review of the most important events that took place in Romania in 2017.
Two governments, the same ruling coalition 2017 was the year when the government headed by Sorin Grindeanu was installed and also the year when he was sacked following a no confidence vote. Oddly enough, the same majority that put him in the prime minister post, namely, the Social Democratic Party and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (PSD-ALDE), was the one that tabled the censure motion. Sorin Grindeanu was sacked for political disobedience to the Social Democrat leader Liviu Dragnea. It was Mihai Tudose that replaced Grindeanu, in the second half of the year. “I’m expecting you to do everything in your power to support an independent justice system in Romania”, President Klaus Iohannis told the government last January. The new leftist Government inaugurated its mandate with the infamous Ordinance 13 that partially decriminalized the abuse of office, which would have triggered the pardoning of a number of politicians guilty of various offenses. This would have also been the case for Liviu Dragnea. However, the largest post-communist protests, in support of justice and against PSD followed, forcing the government to withdraw the emergency decree and prompting the resignation of its initiator, justice minister Florin Iordache. In spite of the fact that Sorin Grindeanu was replaced with Mihai Tudose, the battle for changing the justice laws continued and was taken over by Parliament, with the same Florin Iordache in the forefront. Shortly before the winter holidays, the PSD-ALDE majority, little impressed by the almost daily protests, passed, with the support of the Democratic Union of Ethnic Hungarians in Romania (UDMR), a package of laws regarding the status of magistrates, the judicial organization and organization of the Higher Council of Magistracy (CSM). This is, perhaps, the quickest and most controversial legislative process in the history of the Romanian Parliament. Through this action, the Power neutralized the right-of-center Opposition and ignored the concerns voiced by the country’s foreign partners as well as the criticism leveled against it by the judicial institutions and the magistrates’ associations. In an unprecedented move, judges in Bucharest and other Romanian cities protested in front of tribunals. Embassies of seven EU states voiced their concern at the risk of the new laws affecting the independence of the judiciary and the battle against corruption. Also, some of these laws were challenged as unconstitutional by the High Court of Cassation and Justice and by the National Liberal Party (PNL). PNL, UDMR, The most controversial stipulations refer to the magistrates’ responsibility in case of judicial errors, to limiting the role of the country’s president in appointing the Prosecutor General and the heads of the main prosecutor’s offices and the setting up of a special division for the investigation of magistrates. The Power continues to defend these laws, saying they bring order to the justice system and leave less room for abuse.
Salaries, economy and taxation
Promised by the Social democratic Party (PSD) in the election campaign of 2016, the unitary pay law in the public system became reality by mid-2017. Promoted by its initiators as a means to put order in a salary system that dominated the public sector years on end, the law was criticized, however, by some trade unions, for failing to reach one of its main purposes, namely that of bridging the gap between the salaries of public servants. The law also provided for significant pay rises in the public system.
The risk of major state budget imbalances was big, so the government came up with the solution of transferring from employers to employees the responsibility of paying most of the social security contributions. As a result, the civil servants’ real salaries go up by very little, if any, while those of the private sector employees end up going down, unless employers increase gross salaries to cover the contributions’ increase. Except for the ruling coalition, everybody, from employees to employers, is criticizing the so-called fiscal revolution.
Mayors have their share of discontent, as the new fiscal code stipulates smaller income taxes, which results in fewer funds for local budgets. The debate around the pay law and fiscal changes overlaps a more comprehensive one, regarding the 6% economic growth that makes Romania number one in the EU in this respect. Experts, however, fear that an economic advance generated mostly by consumption of imported goods is unhealthy and that it should be supported by public investment.
The death of King Michael I
December 5, 2017 was the day when Romania’s last sovereign, King Michael I, died in Switzerland aged 96. The coffin was flown to Romania and, on December 16, King Michael was laid to rest in Curtea de Arges, in the royal necropolis at the Medieval Christian Orthodox church there. At final rest there are also his wife, Queen Anne, who passed away in 2016, as well as his three predecessors, Carol I, Ferdinand, and Carol II.
King Michael’s funerals were attended by royal figures, heads of state and government and foreign politicians. The late king was paid homage to by thousands of people, in an emotional show of respect for his extraordinary personality. Spectators, against their will, of the public show displayed by an immoral and incompetent political class, Romanians understood that, with King Michael’s death, Romania’s reserve of dignity decreased dramatically, which makes the sovereign’s death irretrievable.
By way of conclusion
2017 was a complicated year. The leftist power ruled the country on behalf of a majority, who is now silent, who had given it their vote in 2016 and whom it did not hesitate to invoke every time the measures it promoted, especially the ones regarding the justice laws, were contested vehemently in the street by the Opposition and the President, by relevant institutions and by Romania’s main partners. Independent commentators emphasised again, in 2017, the political majority’s total lack of transparency in passing their laws.
The rude and offending behaviour became an informal legal instrument in 2017, a year when Parliament was the least credible and most unpopular state institution. 2018 does not look like an easy year either. The same commentators anticipate that, after having amended the justice laws in the sense of imposing political control over the justice system, the Power will try to operate changes in the Criminal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code, something that will make the battle against offenders much less effective. Will 2018 be the year of a Romania without justice? Probably not. It will surely be, however, Romania’s first year without its King. (Translated by Elena Enache)