Romania’s proposed recovery plan is economically unbalanced and politically biased as it focuses on investments in rich regions while disregarding poorer areas led by leftist local authorities, the leader of the country’s main opposition, the Social Democratic Party (PSD), told EURACTIV.com in an interview.
“The most important projects included in this plan are targeting only those local authorities that were won in the local election by the National Liberal Party,” Marcel Ciolacu said.
“It is a well-known fact that the major source of migration from Romania comes from certain regions, such as those in the southern part of Moldova or Muntenia, and the resilience plan tends to ignore these areas,” he said, adding that without serious support, migration will not be halted from these areas.
“The purpose of such a plan is to provide some form of balance among regions and build a harmonised Europe,” he emphasised, adding that for this very reason, the European Commission has rejected twice Romania’s draft recovery plan.
Earlier this week, Ciolacu held talks with European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans, also a Social Democrat, and his colleague Nicolas Schmit, who is responsible for the employment portfolio.
According to Ciolacu, both Commissioners were able to see that no social dialogues had taken place before drafting Romania’s plan.
“This plan does not belong to a certain government, it needs to provide an overall vision for Romania,” he stressed, emphasising that his proposal to Romanian President Klaus Iohannis to bring all political forces together and discuss the matter was rejected.
Romania is not ready for eurozone
Asked about Bucharest’s eurozone hopes, Ciolacu expressed pessimism, saying the country currently does not meet the criteria.
“It would be very difficult to support such a claim [to join eurozone], as Romania currently has the biggest public debt in history, 50% of the GDP, and the highest deficit, at 10%, after 1989 and the Maastricht Treaty,” he said.
He insisted that when PSD was last in power, it managed to reduce public debt by 3 percentage points – from the 37% inherited from the previous government to 34% – while the deficit in November 2019 stood at 2.8%.
He said that during his seven months as deputy prime minister, he “insisted on implementing the plan for joining the eurozone, drafted together with the National Bank of Romania”.
Regarding Romania’s accession to the EU’s passport-free Schengen area, he said Bucharest had been unfairly treated by some member states, considering that the technical criteria had been met.
However, he hinted that he had never seen a clear overall approach in dealing with this matter from Romania’s president, saying that the country’s head of state should avoid affiliating with and backing specific parties.
President Iohannis comes from the National Liberal Party (NLP), affiliated with the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), and is often criticised by socialists for supporting NLP while holding a largely ceremonial political post.
Ciolacu took over PSD’s leadership in August 2020, in the aftermath of successive massive defeats Romania’s socialists suffered in EU and presidential elections.
The previous socialist-led government was overthrown following a series of scandals that rocked the country. Under Liviu Dragnea’s PSD leadership, the party had been at odds with the EU socialist family for a long time, especially after he took an anti-EU turn and the part distanced itself from EU priorities.
Ciolacu was faced with a double challenge: to improve the party’s image and simultaneously bring it back on a pro-EU path.
“I took it as a personal challenge,” he said.
“The first thing we did was to rule out any possibility statutes-wise for any president of the party to use the party for his or her own interests,” he said, adding that colleagues that had been confronted with certain problems in terms of criminal accusations were removed.
But what he found difficult was to convince the traditional leftist electorate, such as academics, that the party had been reformed.
“They were the most difficult ones to convince that we have the goodwill to reform the party and that we want to go back to the true values of the European left movement,” Ciolacu said.
He insists that the party’s pro-EU orientation is not negotiable and for this reason, it rejected in December 2020 the idea of leading a government coalition with the participation of anti-EU ultranationalist Alliance for the Unity of Romanians (AUR).
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]