The Romanian government has ditched an emergency decree that campaigners said would have decimalised a number of corruption offences and allowed scores of allegedly crooked politicians to escape prosecution for fraud.
Responding to the largest demonstrations seen in the country since the fall of communism in 1989 and almost blanket international criticism from governments the world over, Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu’s government yesterday performed a humiliating U-turn, withdrawing the ordinance and asking for a new draft law to be brought before the country’s parliament for debate.
The repealed decree was rubber stamped last Wednesday with no input from parliament whatsoever, leading to five consecutive nights of protests involving hundreds of thousands of people.
The law change would have decriminalised corruption offences that involved sums lower than 200,000 lei (€44,350), shielding hundreds of officials accused of wrongdoing from prosecution.
Liviu Dragnea, leader of the Social Democratic Party (PSD), the senior member of Romania’s government, would have been an immediate beneficiary of the law change. He is currently facing charges of attempting to defraud the state.
Dragnea nominated Grindeanu to become Prime Minister after the PSD took the largest share of the vote in last December’s legislative elections.
Despite the withdrawal of the ordinance, an estimated 500,000 Romanians last night took to the streets again to call for the resignation Grindeanu, who has only been in the position for a matter of weeks.
Speaking with Romanian television on Sunday night, Dragnea accused unnamed special interest groups of being behind the demonstrations.
“The organisation of these protests and their scale show that this is a political gathering. Who is organising this? Hard to say, but I hope the state institutions have this information,” he said.
“I reproach myself for not having understood that this is a much better organised plan than a simple spontaneous movement.”
Addressing the European Parliament last Thursday, European Commission Vice President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans said: “I think, like any European nation, the Romania deserves politicians and governance who support the fight against corruption, who want to rid their societies completely of corruption.
“[Recent efforts to clamp down on corruption] in Romania, I must underline this, [have been] phenomenal, really good progress. So why would you, in the final metres of a marathon, turn back and go the other way again?”
In Bulgaria, around 200 people gathered outside the Romanian embassy in Sofia on Sunday night to stand in solidarity with those protesting in Bucharest and other towns and cities, Balkan Insight reports.
Holding banners emblazoned with slogans such as “United Against Corruption” and “Bulgaria Supports You”, protesters in Sofia said the demonstrations in Romania gave them hope that something similar might happen in Bulgaria, which has also experienced major problems with institutionalised corruption.