February 07, 2017
Insurrection in Romania
Hundreds of thousands of people have been demonstrating in Romania for a week against government plans to decriminalise corruption. Yes, you read that right. The government is barely five weeks old, as PM Sorin Grindeanu took office on January 4 after the December elections, won by the Social Democratic PSD with over 45% of the vote. The new government wasted no time introducing legislation that would have allowed the leader of the PSD to avoid trial on corruption charges. On January 18, Euractiv reported that President Klaus Iohannis had stopped attempts by the justice minister to decree amendments to the law which would have decriminalised certain offences and redefines what constitutes abuse of office, with immediate effect. Romania's anti-corruption agency had also said the amendments should not be passed without wider consultation. Similar proposals had already been prevented in 2013 by complaints from NGOs.
The January 18 incident already provoked a small public protest, numbering in the thousands. Mobilisation kept up and tens of thousands - incuding Iohannis - attended the following protest on January 22. The third protest on January 29 was already called the largest since the fall of Communism.
It all blew over on January 31 after the government went ahead and passed the legal reforms by emergency ordinance anyway. By all accounts the crowd that day numbered 300,000 and protests have continued every day with numbers swelling to a reported 600,000 on Sunday. On Sunday the government withdrew the decree. After that, the protest on Monday fell back to the tens of thousands, who are now demanding the government's resignation. The PM has offered to fire the justice minister, but it doesn't look like the protesters will be satisfied with that. The idea that the justice minister acted on his own is clearly not credible.
The European Commission was relatively quick to react. The Guardian reported on January 27 that the Commission had criticised the Romanian government's intended decree. However, Transparency International worries that Frans Timmermans indicated in a recent letter that the Commission is considering not to publish an update to its 2014 anti-corruption report, preferring to incorporate its work into the European Semester.