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January 23, 2022

Taking it to the streets, again

The government reshuffle dominated the end of this summer. The reshuffling decision was to be announced yesterday evening. Seen by many as a ploy aimed at somewhat soothing public discontent, the reshuffle has become the favourite topic for televisions and politicians alike. For Democrat-Liberals, who make up the main ruling party, the reshuffle is thought as a safety valve seeking to fulfil many purposes.

On one hand, a few ministers being changed is hoped to alleviate tensions mounting in the party. Several voices have been criticising for some time now the performance of some of the ministers or the cabinet as a whole, with even Premier Emil Boc being a target. On his personal blog, Cristian Preda has recently written that Emil Boc’s arrogance is comparable to that of Adrian Nastase, the former Social-Democrat PM during 2001-2004.

On the other hand, some of the ministers being reshuffled might reduce the opposition’s appetite for criticism. Not least, it would give some satisfaction to a disgruntled population, showing them the Executive is sincerely concerned about its run of the country’s affairs and ready to take the measures required.

If all of the aforementioned goals are achieved is anybody’s guess. Nonetheless, as noted as early as Tuesday, when the whole lot of Democrat-Liberal leaders went to Cotroceni Palace, the reshuffle itself appears to rely more on the will of President Traian Basescu that on what the Democrat-Liberals want.

This entire political debate has a bad ring to it in this crisis-hit domestic economic context. Actually, no window-dressing is going to change the domestic situation. The entire government, with Premier Emil Boc first and foremost, proved lacking vision, unable to pass cohesive measures to offer at least a glimmer of hope crisis wise, if not a reliable prospect. Given the circumstances, the reshuffle will be but a mere politicking, ineffective game. One by one, ministers show they are out of sync with reality and keep making one mistake after another. The law governing the payment of social contributions on intellectual property rights, enforced by Ordinance 58 is the latest such example, a crooked law complemented by some phantasmagorical application norms. Not only they are difficult to enforce, but they are also at odds with one another. What is Labour Minister Mihai Seitan’s reaction? The contribution into the health fund is mandatory and sanctioned accordingly. A contribution to bring not even a minimum of benefit to the payer. The state plain and simple grabs the money without offering anything in return. It could not do so anyway, given the crooked law it is based on. By the way, are those who drafted such inappropriate norms accountable in any way? But the paymaster who reigns over them? The belated idea surfaced Tuesday evening of intellectual property payments going to be made via employers in order to no longer make 500,000 people take to the road each month.

The tough reality in the street and people’s homes is far removed from political calculations, tied as it is to the payment of bills and taxes. On Tuesday, a woman tried to commit suicide at work, having had her pay cut 25 per cent, as she realised she could no longer pay the taxes and loan instalments due. This attempt becomes emblematic for the extent to which politics in Romania of the year 2010 is ‘able’ to support the economy and the citizen in general. Salary cuts, higher taxes, VAT raised from 19 to 24 per cent, even the chronic patients being forced to fully pay the cost of their medicines, these are but a few of the burdens weighing on the common Romanian. Let’s therefore not wonder anymore when pensioners and the unemployed tread one another underfoot when humanitarian organisations offer food relief. Government is at loggerheads with unions too over the minimum salary in Romanian economy. Negotiations are stagnating. It got to a point that officials came up with yet another aberration, two different minimum salaries, one for public employees, the other, for those working in the private sector!

If so far, trade unions have been rather looked down upon by its own members, from various reasons ranging from the dubious wealth amassed by their leaders to their inability to hold major rallies, this autumn provides them with the chance to rehabilitate themselves. The mounting tensions the commoner has been subjected to over the past three months, created by salary cuts and more taxes being levied are powerful incentives for the listless unions.

Unionists have already announced significant protest actions this autumn. The first such rally will be held October 7, the World Day for Decent Work. On the other hand, “Cartel Alfa” vice-president Petru Dandea maintains that the federation is pondering on an open-ended general strike being started in the public sector. “It will be a general strike in the true sense of the world this time, with all public sector employees to stop work for an indefinite period of time,” Dandea said.

Police, who have also suffered pay and benefit cuts, and farmers too will join the protest by civil servants, teachers and medical staff.

We are therefore yet to learn whether the reshuffle will do any good. Unfortunately, what we witness is an ‘impossible’ situation. Government is sitting on the empty treasury chest and unable to change anything for the better. Romania is still operating given government managed to take out some loans to pay pensions and salaries. How long could it hold on? In the other camp, unions and citizens alike are nearing the end of the tether and this autumn is sure to bring an avalanche of street rallies. There is no way out, apparently.

For now, government is playing for time, calculating again and again minimum salary alternatives. As if a difference of RON 40-50 is going to make the kind of change able to quench discontent… Members of the opposite camp are sick and tired about the whole thing, and confused too, feelings that still reign above a much-needed solidarity. However, as the cold season sets in and citizen taxes become increasingly difficult to pay, unions are expected to gain ground. The true confrontations this year might happen under the pressure of street actions and not of a political nature. This is why this reshuffle is increasingly losing relevance.

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