Tuesday

7th Jul 2020

Romanian protests continue despite government climbdown

  • Protesters say they've lost trust in the government, after it tried to push through a measure to decriminalise certain types of corruption. (Photo: Reuters)

A sea of light flooded Bucharest's Victory square on Sunday (5 February) evening as people flashed their mobiles on the building in front of them: the government headquarters.

Earlier that day, the social democrat government had repealed the emergency decree that would have weakened the country's anti-corruption laws, but people still gathered for the largest anti-government protest in Romania's post-communist history.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

An estimated 250,000 marched in the capital, another 350,000 took to the streets elsewhere. Romania's population is 20 million.

Robert, a 36-year old CEO, had taken part in every protest against the decree except on Thursday, when his son David celebrated his fourth birthday.

His company, a foreign multinational, supported the protest by offering tea, coffee, and internet connection for the people chanting outside in the cold.

“I don’t want corrupt politicians anymore, I want decent people that work their way up in life, not steal from the others”, said Robert. He had been spraying anti-government slogans on pieces of carton.

“I want our kids to be respected, not stolen from during the night," he added.

New government

Romania's prime minister Sorin Grindeanu's cabinet assumed office on 4 January with 45 percent of the vote from the parliamentary elections. They had run on a platform of higher salaries and pensions.

But instead of bringing campaign promises to life, the government's first move was to try and pass two controversial decrees that would rollback Romania's recent anti-corruption efforts.

One set out to commute prison sentences; the other decriminalised graft as long as the fraud was valued under €44,000.

Both decrees were seen as tailor-made to protect social democratic leaders, including party chief Liviu Dragnea, who is serving a suspended prison sentence for trying to rig an election in 2012; he is also facing an upcoming trial for defrauding €24,000.

The decrees were blocked by the president, Klaus Iohannis. But one of the two “elephants in the room”, as Iohannis called the bills, came back last Tuesday evening, when the cabinet passed an emergency ordinance to decriminalise corruption, in a surprise move.

Mass protests

Mass protests erupted the same night. People have since stayed on the street despite a government announcement on Saturday that it would hold an emergency meeting the next day to rescind the law.

Ioana, a 21-year old storekeeper in a shopping mall, said on Saturday evening she felt double-crossed by the government.

“I don’t trust these people anymore!”, she said.

“I’ve been here since they issued this, I was coming home from work and my sister called me and told me that they issued it. I don’t want my government to issue laws for corrupt people.”

"This government is a lie. The whole party won the elections on a huge process of throwing bribes to the people," Mihai, a 29 year old student and IT specialist from Cluj, said on Sunday.

"I travelled by train from Cluj [a nine hour train ride] because they granted free train tickets to students. I used their weapon to come here and shout against them, because I’m sick of this kind of leadership”, Mihai explained.

Standing there with his sister, he said he would stay in Bucharest, despite his exams.

Earlier in the weekend, a 3-year old child was seen dragging a toy rat with "Liviu" written on it.

The government, on the other hand, shows no intention of stepping down. The prime minister - pictured as a convicted felon wearing jail clothes on many cartoons across the square - said he would go ahead with the parliamentary debate on the country’s budget for the next two days.

Grindeanu said he would demand explanations from Florin Iordache, the justice minister, for the poor communication of the bill. He may be forced to resign, but many fear that would alleviate the blame of other government members.

Some 2,500 people also staged a pro-government, anti-president rally in front of Iohannis' office, a few kilometres away from the Victory square.

EU commission drops anti-corruption report

Transparency campaigners are livid after the EU commission scuppered plans to publish an EU anti-corruption report amid unfolding corruption scandals in Romania and France.

Opinion

On toppling statues

The internationally-acclaimed author of King Leopold's Ghost, Adam Hochschild, writes on Belgium's problems with statues, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Feature

The 150 random French citizens advising Macron

Some 150 randomly-picked men and women make up Emmanuel Macron's Citizens' Climate Convention. This week Macron invited them to the Élysée Palace and promised - nearly - all of their wishes would come true .

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDANext generation Europe should be green and circular
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNEW REPORT: Eight in ten people are concerned about climate change
  3. UNESDAHow reducing sugar and calories in soft drinks makes the healthier choice the easy choice
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersGreen energy to power Nordic start after Covid-19
  5. European Sustainable Energy WeekThis year’s EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) will be held digitally!
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic states are fighting to protect gender equality during corona crisis

Latest News

  1. Commission chief under fire for Croatia campaign video
  2. Parliament vaping booths 'too confidential' to discuss
  3. Belarus: Inside Lukashenko’s crackdown on independent voices
  4. The rationale behind US troop withdrawals from Germany
  5. Podcast: Nordic region speaks out on big global challenges
  6. Croatia re-elects PM amid corona downturn
  7. Budget talks shift gear This WEEK
  8. Cardinals speak out: EU needs corporate due diligence

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us