February 27, 2020

ROMANIA: Citu’s nomination will prolong political deadlock

BY Andrius Tursa

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The prime minister-designate Florin Citu (National Liberal Party, PNL) is unlikely to be appointed, but the opposition may seek to extend the procedures around his appointment to obstruct the pathway to early general elections. The political deadlock will continue in the near term, leaving the country’s interim government with limited powers to initiate any reforms or address fiscal imbalances. A potential spread of COVID-19 across Romania, however, could strengthen calls for a technocratic government with full powers.

Yesterday, 26 February, President Klaus Iohannis (independent, associated with PNL) nominated acting finance minister Citu to form a new government. The move came after the key opposition parties boycotted the vote of confidence in the second cabinet of interim prime minister Ludovic Orban (PNL) on 24 February and the constitutional court ruled that the president could not nominate a prime minister openly lacking intent to obtain parliament’s support. As a result, Orban voluntarily withdrew his candidacy on 25 February, thus paving the way for a new prime minister.

Citu now has 10 days to announce the composition of his cabinet. The proposed government members will then face hearings in parliamentary committees, followed by a vote of confidence in a joint sitting of both houses of the legislature within another 15 days.

The nomination of Citu suggests that President Iohannis and the ruling PNL are continuing their push for early general elections. Citu is known to have strained relations with the opposition and is unlikely to win their votes he needs to secure the post. In fact, three opposition parties including the Social Democratic Party (PSD), Alliance of Liberals and Democrats, and PRO Romania have already voiced objections to Citu’s investiture.

However, procedural delays are likely as PSD may request another clarification from the constitutional court on Citu’s nomination or boycott the vote of confidence in his government. This reflects the party’s interest to prevent or at least postpone holding early parliamentary elections, which would become possible if parliament rejects two prime minister appointments within the 60-day period. Latest polling figures show that snap elections would significantly strengthen the PNL’s position in the legislature at the expense of PSD. There are also more practical considerations as first-time PSD members of parliament would not qualify for life-long benefits if their term in office is cut short. The election of the new PSD leader on 29 February may bring new initiatives on the part of the opposition.

Three weeks after the removal of the Orban cabinet, the country’s political crisis is no closer to resolution; the interim government has limited powers to initiate any policy reforms or to deal with the difficult fiscal situation. The European Commission recently launched the Excessive Deficit Procedure against Romania and forecasts the country’s budget deficit to soar to 4.9% of GDP in 2020 and 6.9% of GDP in 2021 if pension hikes approved by the earlier PSD-led government come into effect on schedule in September.

Lastly, a potential spread of COVID-19 across Romania is an important signpost to watch. The country confirmed the first case of the disease on 26 February and its wider outbreak may raise pressure on deputies to install a government with full powers. In such a case, a technocratic cabinet led by an independent prime minister – rather than a PNL-delegated politician – would be the most plausible option.

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