Romania’s new ruling coalition still in limbo after ten days of talks

Romania’s new ruling coalition still in limbo after ten days of talks
By Iulian Ernst in Bucharest November 18, 2021

Two weeks since General Nicolae Ciuca, the second prime minister-designated appointed by President Klaus Iohannis, abandoned his mission and ten days after the country’s two main parties announced plans to form a ruling coalition, the talks have produced no results.

The political crisis in Romania began in early September when the ruling coalition split, after which the government of Florin Citu was dismissed by a no-confidence motion. Since then, efforts to form a new government have failed in what has become the country's deepest political crisis in decades. 

Reformist party Union Save Romania (USR) pulled out of the ruling coalition formed with the National Liberal Party (PNL) after Citu dismissed two of their ministers with no prior warning. The conflict was generated by a conflict between the USR and Iohannis over appointing prosecutors, while a controversial public investment programme aggravated the situation.

Iohannis followed Ciuca and pulled out from the negotiations — he invited political parties to come back for consultations only after a parliamentary majority ready to back a prime minister candidate is formed.

After considering various scenarios, the Social Democrats (PSD) and the PNL seem to have agreed on a rotating model under which each of the two parties would appoint the prime minister for half of the three years left until the next general election. But their agreement stuck when it came to who is going to take the position in the first round and who the prime ministers might be. Each of the two parties has rejected the rival party's president for the prime minister seat.

In one of the latest developments, the Social Democrats claimed the senior position in a potential ruling coalition, arguing that their position as the largest party in parliament entitles them to it. It remains unclear whether Iohannis would accept such a possibility, though.

The Romanian Social Democrats’ leaders decided, in a meeting held on November 17, to back their president Marcel Ciolacu for the prime minister seat and they also decided that Ciolacu is entitled to hold the prime ministership in the first part of the shared agreement with the Liberals.

The announcement, made around noon by Social Democrat vice-president Sorin Grindeanu, again blocked the negotiations that looked like they were heading toward a mutual agreement.

Following Grindeanu’s statements, the leaders of the three parties in talks on the coalition, Citu, Ciolacu and Kelemen Hunor of the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians (UDMR), cancelled their meeting previously scheduled for the afternoon of the same day.

Liberal leader Citu had previously implied that he might let his friend, Finance Minister Dan Vilceanu, take the prime minister seat instead of him — a major breakthrough for the negotiations with the Social Democrats. At that time, the Liberals had assumed the Social Democrats would let them take the rotating prime minister seat first.

Soon after Citu’s apparent concession, and possibly in response to it, Grindeanu made clear that his party can afford to set the terms of the arrangement (and claim the prime minister seat immediately) because they hold the largest number of MP seats.

“How can you imagine we held this meeting to propose the prime minister [who would be] supposed to take office after a year and a half,” Grindeanu said to journalists.

The Social Democrats are gradually increasing their requests in the negotiations with the Liberals, taking advantage of the disagreements among the Liberals and the ambition of Citu, who sees his own position at risk.