Dacian Ciolos: ‘We need to show Romanians that politics is not the mafia’

Dacian Cioloș at the EURACTIV office. [Georgi Gotev]

As Romania prepares to hold the rotating EU presidency at the start of 2019, EURACTIV met with Dacian Cioloș. The former prime minister and agriculture Commissioner has just set up a party in Romania similar to Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche, with one eye on the European elections.

Dacian Cioloș was Agriculture Commissioner in the Barroso Commission from 2010 to 2014 and prime minister of Romania from November 2015 to January 2017.

You are creating a new political party, the movement ‘Romania together’ wich already has 50,000 supporters. You were appointed prime minister in a government with no political colour, how do you explain that you are now going into politics?

Already coming with a government programme was a way of being in politics, even if I didn’t belong to party. During that time, I understood that taking part in politics involved being there for citizens. This experience in 2016 convinced me and other technocratic colleagues to get involved in governing society. Also what pushed me is what happened after the end of our term in office, after the democratic elections which we organised, and the way in which our successors made use of their power and society’s reaction to it.

We decided to become more involved in the evolution of Romanian society, by engaging in politics but in a different way, we want to breathe new life into it. We also want to involve more and more people from outside party politics. This is how Romania has to evolve. Therefore, we started with a civic movement.

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You are talking about the Romania 100 platform, will it stay as it is, or will the political party replace it?

The platform will remain as it is, and the political party will be a separate structure. There will surely be many people who are actively participating in the platform who will join the party, but many others will want to continue being active in civil society to make sure that they have their say the country is governed. There is a fault line between professional politicians – some of them who have never done another job have difficulties understanding what is going on in society- and the rest of society where you can find people who are experts in their domain but never got involved in politics. We want to attract these kinds of people into politics with our new party, while leaving civic organisations as a safe-guard.

Are you on the right, left,  or centre of the political spectrum?  If your party goes to the polls and has members elected which group will they join?

First and foremost we position ourselves in relation to the problems in Romanian society that need to be resolved. We started from the pragmatic observation that today, in Romania and in Europe,  what is said in political speeches is one thing and what needs to be done is another.We need to take measures according to how things really are. We want to make sure that economic growth is sustainable and based on investment and job creation. Some clarifications need to be made. A reform of the public administration is also necessary, it needs to be professionalised and depoliticised.

Do you intend to use referendums as a political tool?

The possibility of a referendum is provided for by the constitution.

But you spoke of a referendum when you talked about tackling corruption.

I said that, as at the time there was a debate that got out of hand in Romanian political circles over the last few months. The political majority in power attacked the courts to discourage the fight against corruption. This kind of attitude has been going on for over a year, while the majority of Romanian society wants to tackle corruption. There is an ongoing conflict in Romania, so I suggested holding a referendum to see whether society wanted to continue the fight against corruption.

I recently interviewed the leader of the Union Save Romania, Dan Barna. Are you not trying to win over the same electoral base?

No I don’t think so. Look at the latest polls: we can see that USR’s position has not changed much, even after our political party came into the picture.

How do you explain this? Is your electorate mostly middle-class?

When you look at the results of the last elections, you see that more than half of Romanians who can legally vote, did not do so.

If we are going into politics it is not to steal other parties’ electoral base, but to put forward an alternative with professionals who know what they are talking about, who have a vision.

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The European Summit of 28-29 June will be centred on the migrant crisis. The general context is not very good. What is your opinion on current events in the EU?

Europe needs to find a way to bring its citizens closer to Europe, and its policies should reflect what is going on in member states and more generally, what is going in citizens’ lives. When talking of Europe, we think of Brussels, of the institutions, but we need to think of member states first.

The debates that followed Brexit, should give the opportunity to redefine the European issue, and make sure that the institutions work for Europeans, rather than coming into conflict with member states.

You have the possibility of making a difference, since the first elections you are running for are the European elections.  Do you think Romanians are interested in them?

Surprisingly enough yes, for some. Furthermore, the current government’s pressure on justice and the anti-european discourse of some leaders have not stopped the increasing support some Romanians have for the EU, as was shown by the latest Eurobarometer figures. Romanians understand what Europe can do for them, and now ideally it is time for politicians to also understand it. Europe is a means to strengthen Romania, improve the standard of living and security. I have the feeling that Romanian society has matured more rapidly than the political class and that’s why it needs a revival, a reorganisation.

You mentioned the Romanian presidency, which starts in 6 months. What do you think of the preparations? Do you have ideas you would like to share so that Romania can make the most of this opportunity?

Internal political disputes are undermining Romania’s EU presidency. Instead of focusing on the priorities of the European agenda from a Romanian perspective, a lot of energy is being wasted on attacking the justice system and implementing inconsistent measures in terms of fiscal and economic policy. In addition to budgetary issues, there is also the issue of security, migration, but also defence, and the question of new technologies and their influence on society and the economy, the cohesion policy, the CAP.

On regional cooperation, there is the question of the Balkans, and the neighbourhood policy on which Romania could put forward some interesting ideas for the future.

Should the political class bury the hatchet during the presidency?

We shouldn’t wait for the presidency to come to an agreement and put an end to the aggressive language we currently have. Of course, political competition is  normal, particularly before elections. But we need more decency and common sense in the political language. I am now calling on leaders of the main political parties to ask them to put aside aggressive language and violent speeches. We need to start thinking about how to use political power in the interest of Romanians and for the country to become a stronger member state, after having held the Council presidency.

It will be difficult…

We need to show Romanians that politics is not the mafia, it does not just involve dirty deeds. Since I have started talking about entering politics a lot of people have asked me “Why do you want to tarnish your reputation with such things?” It’s mind-boggling that we have arrived at a democracy, where political parties, which are the main pillars of it, are considered dirty. And this is due to the language and the poor behaviour of these. I’m not asking for the end of all political confrontations but to come back to a minimum of social and individual common sense.

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