Romania’s long struggle with corruption was pressed to the center of the political limelight last week when the largest protests in that nation since the 1989 broke out. Hundreds of thousands of have taken to the streets to challenge an emergency decree that was largely viewed as a major step backward in the fight against corruption. The decree was passed on 31 January by the Romania’s leftist coalition government led by the Social Democrat Party. It is essentially an amnesty bill that reduces the criminal penalties for certain types of corruption by public officials. For example, in cases of the misuse of public office for personal gain, only offenses involving an amount of more than 200,000 lei (roughly $48,000) would be prosecuted. Romania has enjoyed great success in recent years with its anti-corruption program and this decree is largely viewed as an attempt by the government to protect government officials from it. The government had initially planned to implement the program on its own authority. Following the outbreak of protests though, it abandoned that plan. Instead, it will introduce the plan in parliament, which is a more conventional course of action to take.
Unfortunately for the Romanian government, the reversal could end up being too little too late. While the decree is not yet officially dead, it’s continued survival might bring about the premature dismissal of the current government. Yesterday, the government survived a no-confidence motion in parliament with relative ease. Further challenges could be coming, however. This morning, the Romanian Justice Minister Florin Iordache, who wrote up the decree, resigned from his post. The move is likely a transparent attempt by the government to assuage the public outrage generated by its actions. Earlier this week, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis warned that the resignation of a minister of other government official would ‘no be enough.’
The crisis in Romania is attracting a growing amount of scrutiny across Europe and the world. Romania is a NATO member and an especially valuable one at that. It’s home to the first component of the US/NATO missile defense shield and US troops are being deployed there as part of the US commitment to improve the regional security picture. The political crisis, although a domestic issue for Romania, could produce ramifications for the alliance if it continues. The alliance is not the only entity concerned about what is taking place in Romania right now. In the current political climate a populist-fueled revolt or a potential Color Revolution could cause unforeseen consequences and open the door for an external player to plant seeds of destabilization in a suddenly vulnerable European nation-state. And by external player I’m specifically referring to the Russian Federation.