Now Romania: Another European government falls amidst eurocrisis

Romania's government collapsed today – the latest European government to give way amid popular resentment toward austerity measures.

Radu Sigheti/Reuters
A string of old shoes brought by protesters calling for the government to resign is held up by a road sign, during an ongoing protest in freezing temperatures in Bucharest, Sunday. Thousands of Romanians have rallied across the country in the last month to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Emil Boc and his ally, President Traian Basescu, saying they have had enough of austerity and perceived corruption among politicians.

Romania's government collapsed today following weeks of protests against austerity measures, the latest debt-stricken government in Europe to fall in the face of rising public anger over biting cuts.

Emil Boc, who has been prime minister since 2008, said he was resigning "to defuse political and social tension" and make way for a new government after thousands of Romanians took to the streets in January to protest salary cuts, higher taxes, and widespread perception that the government was not interested in the problems of ordinary people in this nation of 22 million.

Opposition parties late Monday called for President Traian Basescu to resign and for early parliamentary elections to be held during a meeting with the president and all the political parties at the Cotroceni presidential palace.

Basescu appointed Justice Minister Catalin Predoiu — the only minister in Mr. Boc's Cabinet not a member of any political party – as interim prime minister pending the formation of a new government. If Parliament does not approve a new executive in 60 days it will be dissolved and new elections will be called. The ruling coalition and its partners from minorities, however, have enough votes to elect a new government.

In his first public appearance, Predoiu said he would serve as prime minister for a limited period, and with limited powers until a new government is formed.

The decision comes as the country is starting to feel the effects of the widespread cuts that the government put in place in exchange for a €20 billion ($26 billion) loan from the IMF, the European Union and the World Bank in 2009, to help pay salaries and pensions after its economy shrank by more than 7 percent.

In 2010, Boc's government increased the sales tax from 19 percent to 24 percent and cut public workers' salaries by a quarter to reduce the budget deficit.

The head of the IMF mission to Romania, Jeffrey Franks, said Sunday he was confident that economic reforms demanded by the IMF in exchange for the loan would continue even if the current government was no longer in office.

Boc urged the country's feuding politicians to elect a new government quickly. He said had taken "difficult decisions thinking about the future of Romania, not because I wanted to, but because I had to."

"There is a lot of resentment," said Christian Mititelu, a political commentator and former head of the BBC Romanian service. "The austerity measures seem to have penalized those who worked for the state, retirees, and people who depended on social security."

Political commentator Radu Tudor said Boc's resignation was merely a ploy by the president to boost the election chances of the ruling Democratic Liberal Party, which Basescu used to lead, by getting rid of an unpopular government. Basescu was elected president in 2004 and his mandate expires in 2014. Parliamentary elections are currently scheduled for November.

Romania's problems go deeper than its economic woes. Deep hostility between the government and opposition parties is reflected daily in the media. Opposition politicians and journalists who are critical of the government claim they are harassed.

Basescu, who is criticized for being outspoken and confrontational, says he is committed to reform and is openly disdainful of the opposition. He has been credited by the IMF for his reforms and attempts to fight corruption.

During the Monday talks at the palace, opposition politicians hailed the government's collapse.

"This is a victory for those that demonstrated on the streets," said Crin Antonescu, who heads the opposition Liberal Party. "The most corrupt, incompetent and lying government" since the 1989 anti-communist revolt has gone, he said.

Victor Ponta, the leader of the opposition Social Democracy Party said he would ask Basescu to call early elections.

Boc, meanwhile, defended his record.

"I know that I made difficult decisions, but the fruits have begun to appear," he said in a statement. "In times of crisis, the government is not in a popularity contest, but is saving the country."

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to