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January 18, 2022

A Romanian Macron

Dacian Ciolos does not want to stay on the side-lines. After one year at the helm of the Government and after his failure as candidate for the Premier’s office backed by two political parties – PNL and USR – which categorically lost the elections, the former European commissioner is heading toward a clearer political involvement. So far, he has benefitted from an ambiguous status – technocrat and alternative to PSD. That is how he ended up at the helm of a Government that, to a good extent, consisted of politically uninvolved people but who at the same time could not be associated with the former ruling power. In other words, they were technocrats with clear antipathies toward their predecessors (and now successors). That is also how they came to power, through a compromise, in order to avoid snap elections one year before the regular ones, but also to unblock the political crisis that followed the resignation of Ponta, who was scared by the street protests and seriously fragilized politically after he had lost the presidential elections.

This is the context in which Dacian Ciolos appeared. His governance was not marred by great scandals and his reformist effort, despite the short time available, seemed obvious. Objective statistics even show that it was among the most efficient post-1989 Governments. At any rate, the desire for greater transparency and a more legalistic ethos accompanied a novel political year – a deeply technocratic Government hadn’t existed in the more than a quarter of century since the fall of communism. There were also other Premiers with an aura of technocrats, such as Stolojan or Isarescu, but they had received a mandate from political forces. It’s true that Ciolos was backed by PNL too, but he formed his team autonomously and governed as such.

Leaving aside the current ruling power’s cynical insinuations, the previous Government did not leave “holes” in the budget, nor did it backslide through damaging options taken in one domain or another – a novel experience in a Romania accustomed to a different manner of politicking. The problem is that not all Romanians appreciate the values promoted by the former Premier, which lowers his electoral potential. That is precisely why his future success will depend on the strategy he chooses. He could become a PNL member. But his chances of being elected party leader, by going through all hierarchical steps, are slim. PNL, in which the former PD is strong, is an old-style party and certain leaders see him as an intruder or a losing card not worth investing in any more (especially following the failure in the latest elections).

Moreover, once inside PNL, he would risk losing his special profile and autonomy. Dacian Ciolos cannot play the role of Klaus Iohannis, who did not lose his footing once inside the party, managing even to clearly surpass the party’s electoral potential. Iohannis was different at any rate: he talked little, he was German and Protestant, he was haloed by several successful mandates at the Sibiu City Hall. He did not end up looking like common Liberal leaders the likes of Ludovic Orban. Ciolos would lose too much by joining the Liberals. And him being propelled at the helm following some negotiations would likewise be counterproductive. Just as it was for others in similar situations, such as Andrei Marga or Teodor Baconschi, who rapidly failed, bereft of popular support.

But USR does not seem a promising alternative either. USR is formed, to a great extent, by young people whose nature is different than Ciolos’s, many of them being attracted to a more radical left wing, even with a certain anarchist tinge, while others, on the contrary, are too conservative.

The ex-Premier seems to be rather a moderate Liberal, but also animated by a good governance ideal and the values associated with it – at the antipode of an unscrupulous Liberal such as Tariceanu and many Social Democrat “barons.” Likewise, just like in PNL’s case, within USR too there are hierarchies which do not see Ciolos as decisively as to make room for him as for an honouring star.

The best option, but maybe not the easiest, is that of his own political party. But it all depends on political marketing skills. Ciolos should be a kind of Romanian Emmanuel Macron, but somewhat more toward the right. If USR is, to a good extent, more to the left than PSD, Ciolos’s party should be more to the left of PNL, finally giving a meaning to the idea of centre. In Romania, the centre was only the space of small satellites, which easily sold themselves to the strongest, helping it form its majorities.

That’s the case of PC, currently known as ALDE. A strong centre party would be a first in Romania, and the electorate could finally not be condemned to choose between similarly disappointing “extremes.” It would also be the sign of the electorate coming of age, after so many pathetic campaigns for or against PSD – the fad of post-communist Romanian politics. Of the 60 percent of voters who stayed home in December, at least half could be won over by a more ambitious centre party. If the party evolves well, it can pry at least a third of both PNL’s and PSD’s electorate. But even without this optimistic scenario, chance can smile upon it so that it would become a party that matters.


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