Romania's junior ruling party withdraws support for PM Citu

Romania's junior ruling party withdraws support for PM Citu
By Iulian Ernst in Bucharest September 2, 2021

Romania’s junior ruling party USR-PLUS announced on September 1 that it is withdrawing its support for Prime Minister Florin Citu, whom they accuse of plans to “rob public money” through the RON50bn (€10bn) public investments plan.

The reformist USR-PLUS is ready to keep the coalition led by the National Liberal Party (PNL) intact, but wants to replace Citu as prime minister. It called for a meeting of the coalition members, which also include the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR) on September 2.

"We call on the coalition to take note of the lack of a majority to support [in parliament] for the government of Prime Minister Florin Citu. We call for urgent negotiations in the coalition for the appointment of a new prime minister to form a new government,” reads a USR-PLUS statement issued late on September 1 on its Facebook page. 

“USR-PLUS will support a no-confidence motion against the Citu Government,” the statement reads.

The junior ruling party does not have enough MPs to initiate a no-confidence motion, but the Social Democratic Party (PSD) has already announced it will make such a move when it has enough MPs for it to pass.

The trigger for the crisis faced by the Romanian ruling coalition set up after the general elections at the end of 2020 is the €10bn public investment programme promoted by Citu. 

Citu dismissed the minister of justice Stelian Ion of USR-PLUS after the latter refused to back the programme and accused the senior ruling PNL of insufficient support for the reforms in the judiciary system. The dismissal request has been sent to President Klaus Iohannis, who must endorse it.

Ion refused to attend the September 1 government meeting aimed at the endorsement of the programme, claiming that his ministry needs time to review the draft and stating that he hadn’t received the original draft. Citu claims that the draft was sent in time on August 25.

Ion is the second USR-PLUS minister dismissed by Citu after the minister of health Vlad Voiculescu, and this time the interim replacement is the Minister of Interior Lucian Bode of the PNL — a step apparently aimed at smoothing the approval of the €10bn public investments project.

USR-PLUS accuses Citu of seeking to buy political support with the €10bn from mayors in his battle with the PNL leader Ludivuc Orban for the leading position in the party. A leadership election will take place later this month. 

The public investment programme will "continue the waste of public money" and is a continuation of the PNDL 1 and PNDL 2 programme used by the Social Democrat governments in the past for the distribution of public money on political grounds, USR-PLUS argued, asking for a more transparent strategy for using public money. 

Citu in turn claims that the €10bn programme is not another PNDL but “a symbol of Romania’s modernisation after 30 years” (since the fall of the communism). 

“Just because our coalition colleagues at USR-PLUS do not have many mayors does not mean that Romanians must suffer,” Citu stated.

Under the €10bn programme named after Anghel Saligny, a famous Romanian engineer, the funds will be distributed to local administrations during 2021-2028 for water supply and treatment systems, sewerage and wastewater treatment systems, county and local roads, bridges , natural gas distribution systems and connections to the natural gas transmission system.

Aside from the investment programme, the split in Romania’s ruling coalition also relates to the appointments of Romania’s top prosecutors, dismissed minister Ion claimed in a Facebook statement. 

At the end of July, Ion announced the beginning of the selection procedure for the vacant management positions at the top of the General Prosecutor's Office, National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA), and the Directorate for Investigating Organized Crime and Terrorism (DIICOT).

Media reported that Iohannis was unhappy that Ion had launched the competition for the top prosecutor positions without his consent.

The minister was also trying to change the procedures for appointing the heads of large prosecutor's offices so that the president must take into account the opinions of the magistrates’ body, CSM (at present the president can ignore a negative or a positive opinion expressed by the CSM). Ion based this position on the recommendations drafted by the European Commission under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM).

The latest CVM report criticised Romania for appointing chief prosecutors to DIICOT and the General Prosecutor's Office in 2020 despite the negative opinion of the CSM, reported.

The internal elections for the PNL leadership complicate the political outlook. The PNL will hold internal elections on September 25 in which Citu is challenging the position of the incumbent leader Orban, who served as prime minister in 2019-2020. The party is already split and at first sight, Citu’s conflict with the PNL’s junior ruling partner could benefit Orban. But, ironically, USR-PLUS refused to work with Orban as a prime minister (and accepted Citu) during the negotiations on forming the ruling coalition back in January. This further limits their negotiation space with the PNL as they are now not prepared to work with either of the party’s top politicians.