Erik Skaarsgard : European Correspondent
People in the Romanian capital demonstrate against the ordinance. Photograph: Daniel Mihailescu/AFP/Getty Images
- Romanians are furious at an “emergency ordinance” (that has since been repealed) that would have legalised government corruption below US $47,000.
- Romanian Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu has refused to step down after more than a week of protests.
- The public now demands that all parliamentarians who supported the bill should step down.
- Romania is the fifth most corrupt country in the European Union, according to the Corruption Perception Index.
An outbreak of instability
Romania is currently in the grips of wide-spread protests unseen since the fall of Communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu in 1989.
The public anger was initially drawn from a parliamentary emergency ordinance that the government attempted to pass at 10pm local time on Wednesday night. By midnight, authorities estimate that more than 100,000 people had gathered in Bucharest to protest.
The ordinance would have de-criminalised government corruption where the financial damages fall below US $47,000, a move that has caused deep anger in a country where corruption and graft are endemic.
“Today is a day of mourning for the rule of law”
– Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, who has publicly opposed the move by his Prime Minister and Government.
As attention was drawn to the move, the government initially denied that the law would be self-serving. Instead, ministers proposed that it would help to create space in Romania’s bulging prison system.
The legislation struck a chord of deep anger amongst Romanians who see it as another move for government officials to abuse their positions. In Romania, the average income remains one of the lowest in Europe at US $6,228.
Whilst Romania is one of the EU’s most enthusiastic members, corruption costs the Romanian economy an estimated 120 billion Euros a year. This is in a country that holds one of the lowest standards of living on the continent.
Misconduct by officials remains a serious concern. Between 2014 and 2016 almost 2,000 people have been convicted for abuses of power. These statistics include a serving prime minister, five ministers and 16 parliamentarians as well as five senators who were put on trial.
A report by the IPP thinktank found that of the 588 MPs serving over various government, 15%, or 89 members, have been investigated for graft , some being convicted and other choosing to step down in favour of other positions.
Peaceful protests have taken place every night since the law was announced. Whilst the bill itself was repealed only two days later, protests have not died down as the public demands justice and retribution on those who would have supported and put the bill through.
The Government still plans, via a separate decree, to free around 2,500 prisoners who are serving minor convictions of less than five years in order to free up prison space.
The turmoil adds yet more worries for an European Union which is grappling with Brexit, continuing instability from Russia and worries about Trump’s administration.