Catching the wave: Romania’s parliamentary opportunity

, by Ioan Bucuraș

Catching the wave: Romania's parliamentary opportunity
The Hemicycle in the European Parliament in Strasbourg | Wikipedia

The dust of political battles and referenda has settled (for now) and Romania’s elected MEPs and political party heads are ferociously negotiating allegiances and parliamentary committees for the next 5 years. The current parliamentary constellation puts Romania in an unprecedented position of power.

But this wave can only be surfed with grace if Romania has learned to keep its balance in an ever more complex and dynamic EU affairs bubble. I have mentioned in a previous article that the Romanian civil society and political parties are already celebrating their European bar mitzvah, after witnessing the first content-driven EU elections campaign. Whether the elected decision-makers understand the position that they collectively find themselves in and whether they will make use of this opportunity or not, only time will tell.

So what’s the parliamentary opportunity, you may ask. Romania’s EPP delegation has 14 seats (composed of the election winners PNL, former Romanian president Basescu’s PMP and the Hungarian minority party RMDSZ – or DAHR), making it the 3rd largest delegation in the biggest political group. Its ALDE&R delegation, composed solely out of USR-Plus+, will be (together with the Spanish Ciudadanos) the 2nd largest one after Brexit, with 8 elected officials each. Regarding the Romanian S&D delegation, the governing party PSD is now making huge efforts to whitewash its image after the disastrous results and after having had its former party leader, Liviu Dragnea, jailed. Since the Hungarian governing party, Fidesz, is most likely not going to be kicked out of the EPP, the Socialists will probably follow route and keep the trouble child PSD within their ranks, now that their corrupt puppeteer is imprisoned and his efforts to alleviate anti-corruption laws, which were heavily criticised by the European Commission and Western European states, have seemingly been put to rest. If this is the case and Romania’s undecided ProRomania party will also join the ranks of the S&D, the Romanian S&D delegation will be the 4th largest one after Brexit, consisting of 11 MEPs.

Bearing in mind that the upcoming parliamentary majority will most likely be formed out of the two former established grand-coalition partners, the EPP and the S&D, plus the refurbished version of ALDE, Romanian parties will have a lot of room for manoeuvre, if they channel their forces properly.

Who are the MEPs that were elected and what role will they play? Some contrasting views within the delegations and even within the parties.

Starting off with the victors, the National Liberal Party, 10 seats, (PNL – EPP): – Rares Bogdan – Mircea Hava – Siegfried Muresan – Vasile Blaga – Adina Valean – Daniel Buda – Dan Motreanu – Gheorghe Falca – Cristian Busoi – Marian-Jean Marinescu

Contacted earlier today, EPP Spokesman and MEP Siegfried Muresan underlined the important role the sizable delegation will play: “We, the National Liberal Party, member of the EPP Group, won the European elections in Romania. A strong Romanian Delegation within the EPP Group means also that Romania’s interests will be better reflected when drawing up the strategic objectives of the EPP Group for the next parliamentary term. PNL MEPs, including myself, will be able to influence the decision-making process in our own group and in the European Parliament on many files. We are aware of our increased responsibility and we are ready to fulfil it from day one. Our goal will be to put into practice the pledges made during the campaign and having the third largest delegation in the EPP Group will facilitate that.”

The other two EPP member parties, holding two seats each, are PMP and RMDSZ. The elected MEPs are former Romanian president Traian Basescu and Eugen Tomac for PMP and Iuliu Winkler and Loránt Vincze for RMDSZ.

The cohesion of this delegation might already be under a big question mark. Former party feuds between Vasile Blaga and Traian Basescu from way back when both were in the now absorbed PD-L party, as well as animosities during the campaign between the Romanian parties and their Hungarian counterpart might be a thorn in the flesh of the group and slacken a smooth cooperation.

MEP-elect Loránt Vincze (RMDSZ) said that “despite the size of the delegation, which can have a real influence in the EPP Group, the outcome depends on the unity and solidarity of the component parties. We can only hope that the attacks during the election campaign coming from the other Romanian EPP parties against the RMDSZ will stop and we will be able to have a better cooperation in the benefit of our citizens. Together with my colleague we are ready to work on that. We have the same number of MEPs as before and we are committed to deliver on our election programme.”

As previously mentioned, the Romanian S&D party PSD finds itself in a tricky situation. The MEPs elected are: – Rovana Plumb – Carmen Avram – Claudiu Manda – Cristian Terhes – Dan Nica – Maria Grapini – Tudor Ciuhodaru – Dragos Benea – (after Brexit): Victor Negrescu

Apart from the tricky situation abroad, the party currently finds itself in turmoil, with political power struggles taking place every day to replace Liviu Dragnea as the leader. There are rumours that, depending on who will take on the leadership, the party will split, with roughly 1/3 of it regrouping around the former Romanian PM and PSD leader, Victor Ponta, and his ProRomania party.

Ponta is currently playing the joker card and is apparently negotiating with three different political factions. As previously stated, if ultimately ProRomania joins the S&D and the PSD is not kicked out, then the Romanian S&D delegation will have a strong presence in the group. It’s highly unlikely, though, that their positions and policies will be in-line, even less likely than the ones of the Romanian EPP delegation.

New Romanian Liberals for a strong, united Europe

The real winner of these elections was undoubtedly the new formed alliance between the two young parties – USR and PLUS. Coming third, just 13.000 votes short of the establishment party PSD, the party leadership promises to be a champion of more European integration, transparency and economic performance.

USR president Dan Barna said that the “adhesion of the most pro-European family (ALDE&R) is a logical consequence of the party’s campaign and actions and in-line with the party’s commitment for a strong, united Europe.” He highlighted that USR-Plus+ is sending “by far the most competent Romanian MEPs to Brussels, who can deliver on content” and that “the party will play a pivotal role within ALDE” during the next five years.

Their elected MEPs are: – Dacian Ciolos – Cristian Ghinea – Dragos Pislaru – Clotilde Armand – Dragos Tudorache – Nicolae Stefanuta – Vlad Botos – Ramona Strugariu

All in all, Romania’s new faces in the European Parliament (over 60% of the elected Romanian MEPs are starting their first mandate) might finally be the game-changer that the country needs in Brussels and in EU affairs overall. Up until now, with a few exceptions, Romanian MEPs acted more like ambassadors rather than parliamentarians.

As the Romanian presidency of the Council of the European Union is coming to an end, what we have learned is this: the results at technical level, if you wish (closing challenging dossiers, being ideal broker and what not), show that Romania can deliver, albeit scoring very low on the political end. Once again the ordinary functionaries, citizens, experts, advisers and diplomats saved the day – and not the political elites.

Will the newly elected MEPs draw lessons from this and from the previously overall failed mandates, that were marked primarily by heavy disputes between different parties and overshadowed by the will of some to act detrimentally to the country’s own interests (i.e. Laura Codruta Kovesi’s case)?

Romania caught the wave at high tide. Let’s see how well it keeps its balance.

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