Demonstrators rally in Romania against decree

By Marie-Claire Alfonso

Anti-government protests flooded the streets in Romania last week against a decree that would decriminalise corruption.

An estimated number of up to 500,000 civilians were protesting in major cities across Romania and even after the PM Grindeanu’s cabinet repealed the decree on Sunday the 5th of February the protests still continued.

Romania’s ruling coalition made an executive order on January the 31st to decriminalise abuse in office by officials.

Ordered without any input from parliament, the decree would have stopped all investigations for pending corruption offences, freed officials imprisoned for corruption, and blocked further investigation related to those offences from being brought to justice.

Protesters remained dissatisfied with a revised version of the bill which was put to parliament.

The government’s attempt to still pass the decree has created further distrust amongst civilians and protests continued for days after the original version of the bill was withdrawn.

The revised version of the decree contained clauses that had previously been declared unconstitutional, so could have been declared invalid at any moment, thus meaning the initial decree would stand.

It has been reported that some protesters were calling for the removal of PM Sorin Grindeanu and his government.

Even though the protests has continued, the number of protesters had fallen in the days following the repeal of the original decree.

On the 8th of February, three days after the mass protests forced the Romanian government to withdraw the controversial decree, a vote of no confidence took place on the revised decree which was rejected in parliament by the majority of lawmakers.

These protests have been the biggest in Romania since the fall of communism in 1989.

Romania, a country of 20 million people and host to a U.S. ballistic missile defence station, remains one of the poorest and most corrupt ridden members of the EU.

However, since its accession into the European Union in 2007 it has been praised by the European Commission on how well its anti-corruption efforts have been.

On the corruption-perceptions index compiled by watchdog Transparency International, Romania improved its rank from 69th in the world in 2014 to 58th in 2015.

The Romanian government commands a parliamentary majority, controls many institutions, and has backers in the media, but it is continually vulnerable to anti-corruption efforts which have seen many of its prominent members and supporters jailed.

The amnesty for those with convictions was also seen as an attempt by PSD (the Romanian Social Democratic Party) leader Liviu Dragnea to clear his own path to becoming prime minister – a position from which he is currently excluded due to a conviction for electoral fraud.

Critics saw it as an attempt by the government to let off many of its own officials caught in an anti-corruption drive.

It would not only go lightly on future offenders, but also take some politicians off the hook for cases pending against them.

The government had argued that the changes were needed to reduce prison overcrowding and align certain laws with the constitution.

Nine Western powers including Germany and the United States said they were deeply concerned the decree could undermine Romania’s partnerships in the EU and NATO.