Romania’s political outlook ahead of the 2024 elections
Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes
Over the past three years, Romania has gone through multiple crises.
The Covid pandemic was swiftly followed by war in Ukraine, bearing significant consequences for the country’s economy. In comparison with most European countries, Romania still struggles to recover, but its external debt keeps going up: currently, it stands at 160 billion euros, versus 144 billion at the end of 2022.
In 2024, Romania will have local, national and European elections, which might lead to a major reshuffle of the political scene domestically. But it will also have an impact at the European level.
A Ruling Coalition in Turmoil
The current government is led by a coalition formed of the Socialists and Democrats Party (PSD) and the National Liberal Party (PNL) - the two biggest rivals in the Romanian political scene. These are currently struggling to find funds to cover salaries in the public sector, where expenses have been higher than income collected by the state.
There are tensions within the coalition due to conflicting policy objectives, with the socialists trying to exact greater pressure upon the private sector - thus higher taxes - and the liberals (who are opposed to higher taxes), arguing that this may lead to fewer investments in the country, and a slowing-down of the economy. The stark reality is that the Romanian ruling administration must reduce its spending by hook or by crook, and cutting jobs in the public sector - alongside the elevated salaries which accompany many of these (often political) appointments may be the most efficient route toward doing so. As an example of a political appointment, we have to look no further than October this year, when HotNews reported that a number of those appointed in leading functions at the Court of Auditors (national agency that verifies how the public money are being spent) managed to earn those functions thanks to the support they received from the political parties belonging to the ruling coalition (PNL and PSD).
However, neither of the two parties in the coalition are willing to take such a bold step, with the electorate’s support so crucial as Romania enters election year in 2024. It is therefore expected that a public sector reform will happen after the elections next year.
The Rise of the Right
However, the bigger headache for the coming elections is the terrain gained by the far-right in Romania, mainly through the support received by the right-wing populist Alliance for the Union of Romanians (AUR), as well as S.O.S. Romania - an ultranationalist party which demands a Brexit-mimicking withdrawal of Romania from the European Union. A recent article in Libertas (by Ioan-Mihai Tudoran) explores this abrupt rise of AUR.
This shift towards nationalist parties is consistent with post-Covid trends seen in European politics - and in Romania, it has been fueled by the political divergences which had (and continue to have) an impact on public opinion and political choices.
The shift has also been confirmed in the latest poll released by INSCOP Research, one of the most-respected polling companies in Romania, which found an astonishing 68,6% of poll participants responded negatively to the open-ended question of whether they felt Romania was headed in the ‘wrong direction’.
Early Days, but Storm Clouds Gather
In what concerned political preferences, the INSCOP poll predicted a steady rise of the AUR, at 20,2% of voting preferences - ahead of the National Liberal Party (PNL) at 18,4%. The Socialists and Democrats Party (PSD) maintained the lead - with 29,5% of Romanians declaring the PSD as their preferred vote.
The fourth position was taken by the Save Romania Union (USR, part of Renew at EU level) at 14,1% - a strongly liberal party - with the ultranationalist S.O.S. Romania occupying fifth overall preference at 4,3%. The rest of the votes were spread across smaller liberal and more moderate parties, including The Force of the Right, a spin-off from the National Liberal Party (PNL).
All of these projections remain tentative. It is an early estimation of what will happen until the 2024 elections, and many things might change: since the ruling coalition is expected to dissolve, the Socialists and Democrats (PSD) party and the National Liberal Party (PNL) will each seek to appease their electorate and gain new voters ahead of the inbound elections, potentially trying to gain more support from smaller parties, aligned with their views.
Given the current outlook, it is very unlikely that any party will gain enough votes to be able to rule on their own, and it is likely instead that socialists (PSD) will join forces with the Alliance for the Union of Romanians (AUR), who lately started to use a more moderate tone to gain more electorate, whilst the liberal PNL is expected to join forces with the Save Romania Party (USR) and other smaller liberal parties. It is also possible that in the end, a new divide will emerge: socialists and nationalists (jointly), versus liberals. As for who stands to win if votes were to take place today, it is very likely that the Socialist and Nationalist parties will be taking the pole position, however, many things will change until the 2024 elections and every strategic move will matter.
An Election Hanging in the Balance
As to how this will impact the European elections, it will depend on how much support each side will be able to get at the national and local levels, coupled with the Presidential election results.
Romania plays an important strategic role in NATO and trans-Atlantic relations, and the evolution of war in Ukraine and its implications on the cost of living in Romania will play a big part in the upcoming elections. Perhaps unlike other comparable elections in central and eastern Europe, the impact of the election on support to Ukraine will be quite small - as both the socialists and liberals are quite supportive of Ukraine and the elections are not expected to have a big impact on Romanian-Ukrainian relations.
Still, an exciting period lies ahead for Romania: it has the opportunity to change course and start a new strategic chapter next year.
The people must go out and vote, no matter their political choice - and above all, the ultimate will of people must be respected.
Stirileprotv.ro (November 2023) Sondaj INSCOP: PSD rămâne în topul preferințelor românilor la vot. AUR, aproape la egalitate cu PNL
Stirileprotv.ro (August 2023) Datoria externă a României, la finalul lunii iunie: 159,233 miliarde de euro, suma raportată de BNR
Hotnews.ro (October 2023) Parlamentul a numit noi membri la Curtea de Conturi și ANCOM / Cine sunt oamenii de casă ai PSD și PNL puși în instituția care verifică cheltuirea banilor publicihttps://www.hotnews.ro/stiri-politic-26596564-parlamentul-numeste-noi-membrii-curtea-conturi-cine-sunt-oamenii-casa-psd-pnl-pusi-institutia-care-verifica-cheltuirea-banilor-publici.htm
Lymec.eu (September 2023) The Rise of Romania’s AUR: Europe Take Note? https://www.lymec.eu/the_rise_of_romania_s_aur_europe_take_note
About Valentin Calfa
Valentin is currently working as a Communication and Policy Officer at the European Renewable Gas Registry (ERGaR) in Brussels and is also an elected Board Member of the first European Parliament Trainees Alumni Network.
Past Libertas publications: The real significance of the Schengen vote for Romania
#romania #elections #europeanpolitics
The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) alone. These views do not necessarily reflect those of LYMEC.
January 24 2024
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