Instability undermining governance; short-lived coalitions
In 2020–2021, the Romanian government’s ability to effectively govern and advance meaningful legislation was hindered by political instability and a rotating door of different coalitions. In February 2020, the Social Democratic Party (PSD) initiated a no-confidence vote against Ludovic Orban’s National Liberal Party (PNL) led government just three months after the government was established in response to a proposed PNL-backed reform, which would have disadvantaged the PSD in municipal elections. Prime Minister Orban remained the head of government until the parliamentary elections of December 2020 and established another government later that month.
Corruption remains a serious concern
Romania was once again thrust into instability when the PNL forced Orban to resign and backed Florin Cîțu, also of the PNL, as prime minister of a tenuous coalition including the PNL, the USR-Plus and the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians (UDMR). The coalition was short lived, after another no-confidence vote in October 2021 forced a further government shuffle, which saw Nicolae Ciucă (PNL) assume the position of prime minister in a coalition of the PNL, PSD, UDMR and several minority political parties. The constant threat of no-confidence motions, and government and cabinet rotations has prevented effective progress on priorities and increased disillusionment in the government’s ability to institute reforms for Romanians.
Mistrust hampers pandemic management
Concerns over corruption have remained a dominant theme in Romanian politics during the period under review. The European Commission’s 2021 Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) report indicated several positive trends and suggested the possibility of the CVM process being lifted for Romania in the near future. In addition, Romania has substantially reduced its use of emergency ordinances since 2019, following a referendum in which the public voted to end their use. However, influence peddling remains a serious concern at the national level, and corruption and bribery dominate lower levels of government, which undermines public confidence. The establishment of a special prosecution service for the investigation of crimes within the magistrate (SIIJ) also damaged anti-corruption efforts by placing undue pressure on prosecutors and adversely affecting some high-level corruption cases.
The COVID-19 pandemic affected all aspects of life in Romania in 2020 and 2021, with national lockdowns and restrictions on public gatherings, but profound mistrust in government led to substantial public pressure against these restrictions. In addition, the Constitutional Court ruled in June 2020 that some quarantine and isolation measures were unconstitutional. Following the ruling, an estimated 30,000 people left isolation, quarantine or medical surveillance. By the end of 2021, low vaccine uptake plunged Romania into its worst COVID-19 wave yet, with new infections peaking at over 18,000 a day in October. Less than 40% of the population is fully vaccinated, despite widely available vaccines, reflecting profound public distrust in government.
Economically, Romania mirrors world trends, resulting from the pandemic-induced economic crisis. After -4% growth in 2020, the economy rebounded by posting +6% growth in 2021. However, progress remains closely tied to the country’s ability to control the pandemic. The pandemic increased unemployment rates to 3.4% in 2020 and as much as 5.6% in 2021.