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August 1, 2021

EU – Centre and periphery

Less than six months after the parliamentary elections in Romania and immediately after the presidential elections in France, we can try to compare a country from the EU periphery and one from its core. How politically similar and different are the two countries?

The main loser of these French elections was the traditional left – the socialists. Undermined by the dull performance of Francois Hollande, by the unconvincing results of left-wing governments, by the difficulty to give an efficient response to the challenge of terrorism – which particularly targeted France in recent years –, lacking a sufficiently charismatic leader, the socialists looked on Emmanuel Macron’s rapid rise, partly with satisfaction, seeing him as a potential ally rather than an adversary.

In Romania, the left won the recent elections by a landslide, even though, more than a year before that, the Ponta Government shamefully fell as a result of street protests. Moreover, this time PSD won with a more explicitly left-wing platform than it did back in the days of Adrian Nastase, Mircea Geoana or Victor Ponta, and has already started implementing it, even at the risk of throwing the economy into a tailspin.

Unlike the French socialists, the Romanian Social Democrats are far more tolerant with and devoid of complexes in relation to corruption and have opinions that can be more assimilated to those of the right in what concerns immigrants. The great surprise, in France, was the success of the far-left, trailing just a step behind the far-right. In Romania, the far-left has no political representation, although PSD’s somewhat newer populism has changed the profile of the party, which was once a centre-left party with liberal elements.

The country’s communist past has probably reduced the far-left, for the time being, to a small number of youngsters – attracted rather to anarchism – and to several neo-Marxist intellectuals still lacking real influence.

But the far-right is not faring any better in Romania either. Although several years ago it seemed really close to power – one of its leaders even reached the presidential runoff in 2000 –, in the meantime it has shrunk to several insignificant grouplets.

The United Romania Party failed to enter Parliament, even though a character with occult influence, such as Sebastian Ghita – at one point close to Premier Victor Ponta –, ended up preferring it over the mighty PSD. In fact, the latter successfully took over some of the former’s themes, such as xenophobia – meanwhile George Soros has become ‘public enemy no.1’ –, Islamophobia and preferential support for the Orthodox Church.

Nationalism has a long life in a country that experienced two decades of “national” communism and two others dominated by the Great Romania Party and by the hatred propagated by its leader C.V.Tudor – the imitator of Jean-Marie Le Pen. In what concerns the French right, its defeat – a close one, nevertheless – is due to the revelations about Fracois Fillon, initially the great favourite of the elections. His cupidity – alleged fictitious employment of family members or expensive gifts received far too easily – undermined a rhetoric based on the dignity of being rich. And strengthened mistrust in a political class with annoying blue-blood manners.

In Romania, the right is no longer perceived as such. The Popular Movement Party declares itself a right-wing party but at least the old PRM was gaining numerous followers by promising to cleanse the country of rot, without openly siding with the defenders of corruption, like Traian Basescu – the one who won the presidency with the ‘smash the corrupt’ slogan – is doing now. PNL considers itself a right-wing party too, but the versatility it has shown in recent years has corroded its credibility.

Since the security issue does not have the same weight in Romania as it has in France – which is faced with a growing number of immigrants and with the acute threat of terrorism –, the topics of the right are also different in the two countries.

What’s missing in Romania is precisely the centre, which right now has given France a president.

Only two politicians have proven “skills” worthy of the centre: Klaus Iohannis and Dacian Ciolos. Albeit propelled by PNL, the incumbent president proved capable of building his authority on a really independent position, far from the fanciful ambitions and the sterile intrigues of his former political comrades.

Former Premier Ciolos (photo) has even more potential to promote a centre current, but is now lacking precisely a party to match it. USR is not quite what is needed, being a heterogenous mix of leftism and conservatism. Precisely these tendencies must be avoided for a more solid centre construct.

Just like Emmanuel Macron, Dacian Ciolos should build his party from scratch.

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