- Controversial justice reforms will have a decisive impact on the campaign for and the results of the European elections in Romania.
The Social Democratic Party (PSD) and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats Romania (ALDE) form the ruling coalition following the legislative elections in December 2016. Since then, the political landscape in Romania has been engulfed in major controversies around measures taken to weaken the judicial system and thus make it harder to prosecute high-level corruption crimes. The social democrat government has since been attempting to put forward measures that would grant amnesty or even pardon those faced with corruption charges. In addition, PSD and ALDE have a majority in the Parliament, which allowed them to modify certain legislation on justice, in a tailored manner, meant to serve the interest of certain decision-makers. The leader of PSD, who is also perceived as the de facto Prime-Minister, would be one of the beneficiaries of these measures, having been convicted in two corruption cases and investigated in a third for fraud related to EU funds. These measures have sparked the largest protests across the country since 1989 and prompted the European Commission to adopt a tough stance against the government.
- A referendum will take place on the same day as polling day for the European elections
Klaus Iohannis, the Romanian President, called for a referendum on the government’s controversial justice reforms to take place on the same day as the elections, which might lead to a higher turnout at the ballots than would otherwise be the case. Judicial developments over the past two years have polarised Romanian society. In this context, the side leaning towards a stricter rule of law has become more vocal and active. Indeed, it has been the ruling coalition’s anti-EU rhetoric that has led to pro-European forces voicing their fears and concerns over the actions of the PSD and their coalition partner. This is thought to have increased interest in the European elections, and the referendum will likely lead to a higher turnout at the ballot.
- European elections are gaining momentum in Romania
More than half of the electorate expressed their intention to go to the ballot, according to the latest poll released by INSCOP Research. The PSD have seen their percentages in polls plummet over the past two years, which currently stands at around 27%, bringing them around nine seats in the European Parliament. Their junior coalition partner, ALDE Romania, is set to win around three seats. Pro România, founded by Victor Ponta, the former PSD Prime Minister, who left the party to form his own, is set to win three seats. Corina Crețu, the current EU Commissioner for Regional Policy, is leading its list. The National Liberal Party (PNL) – affiliated to the European People’s Party (EPP), is set to win around eight seats. The biggest gain in these upcoming elections might be for Alliance 2020 – a pro-EU coalition between the third largest parliamentary party, Save Romania Union, and Plus, a newly established party whose leader is Dacian Cioloș, the former Commissioner for Agriculture, that advocates for the rule of law and judicial independence. The Alliance 2020 is projected to win around five seats, and even more, as a referendum on the day of the elections might lead to a higher turnout amongst their supporters.
- Diaspora can tip the balance in favour of Alliance 2020
The INSCOP Research poll also notes that a number of factors might influence the outcomes of the vote, such as the activity of the political parties, mobilisation of political organisations across the country, certain events that might bring a larger number of people, for instance, the referendum on the day of the vote, the composition of the final list of candidates or even the volume of votes in the Romanian diaspora, which accounts for approximately 4 million Romanian citizens. In the past two years, the diaspora has been greatly involved in the protests at home, having organised their own protest in Bucharest, which saw tens of thousands on the streets. During the presidential elections in 2014, the then PSD government tried to hamper the diaspora from voting, which in turn mobilised it greater. The diaspora plays a role in potentially changing the minds of those at home, tipping the balance in favour of the newly established Alliance 2020.
- The European elections will set the stage for the presidential and legislative elections
The European elections are also of particular interest because they set the stage for two other important rounds of elections: presidential, in November this year, and legislative, in the second half of 2020. If the new parties secure a high percentage of the total votes, it can help their candidates in the upcoming presidential elections. However, whoever gets to compete in the second round against the incumbent president, Klaus Iohannis, has little chances of winning, if we look at the polls. These elections will also be of great importance for the legislative elections next year, as it can lead to a further decline for the PSD. If a party does well in the EU elections, it bodes well for the future Parliamentary elections in Romania.