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May 17, 2021
POLITICS

PM still holds ground against UDMR over territorial reorganisation

The Szekler National Council threatens “peaceful” road blocks and civic insubordination.

Despite vehement opposition from the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR) to the government’s territorial reorganisation project, Prime Minister Emil Boc seems determined to promote the plan with eight development regions, while hinting that he has not yet ruled out demanding a confidence vote for the project.

“Talks with coalition partners continue, we are trying to explain the advantages to everybody. [The project] doesn’t provide advantages for a particular party, all parties will lose county council leading positions. We have not yet decided how to promote this project, we have all alternatives, including the possibility of demanding a confidence vote,” Boc said in a show on the public television channel on Tuesday evening, offering details yesterday during an interview granted to national radio.

The prime minister underlined that administrative reorganisation as proposed by the Democrat Liberal Party (PDL) is possible without having to change the Constitution, by recognising the juridical nature of the existent eight development regions. Boc also said that a referendum would be needed only for territorial changes within a county, but not for a nationwide general administrative reorganisation process. Boc’s comment came after officials in several counties voiced their intention to organise local referendums to consult the people about the reorganisation project. The latest to announce this intention were representatives of the Vaslui county council.

The head of government reiterated that administrative reorganisation would help reduce bureaucracy, “dismantle local and county clientele networks,” and improve EU fund absorption. The prime minister underlined that European officials told Bucharest authorities that if the country were divided into bigger counties, each region could draw EU funds of EUR 3 bln.

Yesterday, Boc detailed the topic in an interview to the public radio channel as well. Boc refused to answer UDMR’s ultimatums on the matter, saying only that reorganisation is a political project involving the head of state, the government and the PDL and that it was already assumed and voted in PDL’s standing bureau.

“We have opened dialogue with coalition partners. Now we have talks with them to explain the advantages of this model we are suggesting. Through this reorganisation project, politicians will lose and the country will win. We must step away from petty political interests,” Boc also said. While underlining that reorganisation will affect current local structures that face virtual extinction, Boc noted that the process can also affect the media, given that having only eight regions would no longer justify having so many TV stations and newspapers as there are now. In response, the anchor said the media is measured in terms of rating and audience, not in terms of how many people live in a region.

Scared… and opponents

The territorial reorganisation project seems to be challenged not only by the UDMR, which has filed its own project, one that provides 16 regions, in Parliament. Apparently even members of the PDL oppose it.

A document signed by Interior Minister Traian Igas and Regional Development and Tourism Minister Elena Udrea, presented to the media by Social-Democrat leader Victor Ponta, showed that the two government officials were rejecting the reorganisation idea a month ago. The document is dated May 17 and ended up with the PSD after an interpellation from Social-Democrat MP Anghel Stanciu. In his turn, PDL Deputy Cezar Preda told RFI yesterday that confidence vote procedures must not become a child’s play and underlined that he was scared of the “haste” in which the reorganisation process was announced. “We demand confidence votes too often. I am a ruling coalition deputy and I say it freely: it is a shameful thing for us, (…) because demanding confidence votes, besides the fact that you need a law passed fast, implies that you’re afraid you cannot count on a majority,” Preda said.

Other ministers, such as the Minister of Labour Sebastian Lazaroiu, former presidential aide, thinks the fuss surrounding the administrative reorganisation into eight units is “a storm in a teacup,” fuelled both by the media and the opposition. In Lazaroiu’s opinion, the problem is not how many administrative units Romania will have, but what these units’ duties will be. “These regions were not drawn on a piece of paper in an office. Several criteria were taken into consideration before getting to this variant,” Lazaroiu explained, quoted by b1.ro.

In the opposition camp, PSD honourary leader Ion Iliescu said administrative-territorial reorganisation should not be done “in haste” as this is a serious problem that needs to be debated thoroughly the following years. “No, there’s no rush. For the next five years there should be a national debate – what needs to be done, what should be improved, what doesn’t work right in the current structure, and different ideas have to be compared, calculations have to be made and social and economic effects should be taken into consideration (…) or else we’ll end up regretting the consequences,” Iliescu said, quoted by Realitatea.net.

In his turn, Senate Speaker Mircea Geoana proposed the creation of a special commission to discuss proposals to change administrative structures so as to rid the topic of “petty politics.” He added that similar commissions were created in France and Poland before these countries underwent administrative-territorial reorganisations.

Szekler land dispute

Meanwhile, leaders of the Szekler National Council issued a tough message on the topic, saying that the administrative reorganisation process proposed by PDL is undemocratic. “All citizens and all local public administration authorities in Szekler Land must stage determined protests and even prepare for civic insubordination and street demonstrations!” says a press release sent also to US, Russian and EU member states’ embassies.

The head of the Szekler National Council, Izsak Balazs, told HotNews that “civic insubordination” can take several shapes, including refusal to pay taxes, blocking sections of roads and “many other forms of peaceful protests.”

On the other hand, the head of Covasna County Council, UDMR member Tamas Sandor told ‘Gandul’ on Tuesday that his party and Hungarian churches are preparing for “civic insubordination” if President Traian Basescu and PDL don’t agree to allow the region largely inhabited by Hungarians to be called Szekler Land. “In the first stage, we will take to the streets peacefully, without weapons,” he said. A few hours later, Tamas Sandor gave another statement to Mediafax, saying that his party would call for civic insubordination but denying that he ever used the word “weapons” in the context.

Szekler Land is certainly a big challenge for the PDL. According to ‘Gandul,’ the ruling party’s Standing Bureau discussed the possibility of setting up regional microstructures within the eight super-counties and Brasov mayor George Scripcaru, who is PDL vice president, had the bold proposal that the ruling party accepts the counties of Harghita, Covasna and Mures to be united under the name Szekler Land, in order to satisfy UDMR demands. Scripcaru’s proposal was not received too warmly by PM Boc. “We’ve made enough compromises,” the premier allegedly told PDL members, according to the publication.

Meanwhile yesterday, the Hungarian Civic Party’s (PCM) Covasna, Harghita and Mures branches issued a press release proposing an asymmetric regionalisation. In PCM’s opinion, this would be a “very appropriate” solution for Romania and would consist of 12 regions, which would include the Szekler Land, PCM Covasna leader Kulcsar Terza Joszef said, quoted by Mediafax.

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