Trans-Europe Express – Dragnea’s perfect new proxy PM

Sent out every Friday at noon, Trans-Europe Express gives you an insider's view of the most important coverage from across the EURACTIV media network, its media partners and much more.

After winning the elections in December 2016, Liviu Dragnea’s aim was to have a government led by someone who would blindly follow his orders. Third time may be the charm for the leader of Romania’s ruling party.

But power struggles within his PSD party (Social Democrats) have now forced out a second prime minister in seven months. A quick replacement was found in European Parliament lawmaker Viorica Dăncilă, who seems to be just what Dragnea wants.

Only PSD party members welcomed her appointment. Dăncilă is seen as a very close ally of the PSD chief, who cannot be prime minister because of a suspended sentence for electoral fraud.

The lack of any meaningful elements in Dăncilă’s biography that would recommend her for the job has cast doubts on any hopes that she could sort out the political chaos in the country.

A native of Teleorman, a poor county in southern Romania that was under Dragnea’s administration for many years, Viorica Dăncilă is a relative unknown.

Having served on her local town and county councils, and losing a mayoral election in Videle in 2004 – an entry that is missing from her official CV – she became an MEP in 2009 and chaired the PSD delegation in the European Parliament. She is also the head of the party’s National Women’s Organisation.

That lack of experience prompted Kelemen Hunor, the leader of UDMR – the main party of the Hungarian minority in Romania, which has been close to the Social Democrats – to say that he would neither support nor reject Dancila, because he has no clue who she is, how she thinks and what her intentions are.

The same could be said for the rest of the world, which scrambled to find relevant information on the new prime minister. Journalists and political analysts searched through her interventions in the European Parliament but all they could find were inconsistent speeches, most of them in Romanian, littered with grammatical errors and mistakes such as referring to Pakistan and Iran as EU member states.

Even Dragnea looked less like his usual confident self when asked what recommended Dancila for the top post, describing her as a “pleasant”, “non-conflictual”, “civilised” person, “open to dialogue” and with good relations in the European Parliament and Commission.

He directed journalists to ask Dăncilă herself but she only referred them to the European Parliament website to check her activity.

It is hard to believe Dăncilă would position herself against Dragnea on any topic, unlike Sorin Grindeanu and Mihai Tudose – the two PMs Romania had in the past year, who were both toppled by their own party.

‘The women in PSD have never betrayed me… politically,’ said Dragnea at the Summer Camp of Social Democrat women last year.

Last year, in the EP plenary, Dăncilă spoke in favour of the infamous Ordinance 13 decree that aimed at decriminalising some corruption offences and triggered huge street protests in Romania, which finally forced the government to annul it.

In the same speech, Dăncilă criticised the European Commission for its reaction to Bucharest’s attempt to cripple the anti-corruption drive.

She will have little say in picking her cabinet colleagues, as most of the current ministers will remain in the future government, bar the ones who publicly supported Tudose.

President Iohannis’ decision to designate Dancila has also prompted a backlash from his followers. Iohannis has lost thousands of likes on his Facebook page, as his supporters had hoped he would push for early elections or at least ask PSD for a more suitable candidate.

Memes are abundant in Romanian social media referring to PSD’s ‘habit’ of toppling its own governments, but for now, there are no reasons to believe Dancila won’t be able to serve her full mandate. This time, threats are outside the party, but how serious they are will only become clearer after a protest called for Saturday (January 20).

The Inside Track

Fake Czechs. The Czech Republic’s presidential race reaches its climax next week. Focused on migration, it has also had to deal with the now standard influx of fake news.

Blue Danube. Germany and Austria’s relationship remains complex, while the latter’s new far-right interior minister has reportedly ordered a new “border protection unit”.

Menage a trois. Warsaw and Berlin are talking about reviving the Weimar Triangle with France to discuss their shared issues.

Problematic poles. Poland’s supreme court added their voice to widespread criticism of judicial reforms, denouncing them as “unconstitutional”.

Naughty step. Some of the EU’s worst performers on air pollution have been summoned to a meeting in Brussels to explain themselves. Legal action may follow if the answers aren’t good enough.

Minsk bust. Kazakhstan is manoeuvring itself as an alternative venue for the stagnated peace talks on the Ukraine crisis, after its long-term president met with US counterpart Donald Trump.

Join the club. Bulgaria’s EU presidency has put an emphasis on the Western Balkans. The likes of Montenegro and Serbia are hoping the next six months will see their enlargement prospects at least clarified.

Murder on the Balkan Express. But enlargement could take a backseat to fresh tensions in the region, after a Kosovo Serb leader was shot dead. EU-sponsored talks were cancelled as a result.

Fruit salad? A resolution to the never-ending name-debate between Athens and Skopje could be on the cards. But what will the new name of Greece’s northern neighbour be?

Brexit be damned. The head of the British Council insists that the UK leaving the EU will not change the way his institution tries to help the world.

Save the tongues. Former Culture Commissioner Viviane Reding believes internet platforms can help save endangered languages, citing her own native Luxembourgish as a prime example.

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