Dacian Cioloş has become the president of the parliamentary group of the macronists în the European parliament. In Romania he is the face of the technocratic vision for governance of the country
This article was published on 25 June 2019 in the newspaper ”Word”.
Dacian Cioloş was the Romanian minister of agriculture (2007-2008), the eurocommissioner for agriculture and rural development (2010-2014) and the prime minister of Romania (2015-2017). On 19 June 2019 Cioloş climbed a new peak, as he became the presidenet of the group Renew Europe in the European Parliament, which unites the people of the French president Emmanuel Macron, the liberal-democrats of Great Britain, the Spanish pro-business party Ciudadanos and other parts from the former liberal group ALDE. The position suits very well the political profile of Cioloş, who is a francophone, married to a French woman and was considered to be ”the second French commissioner”, while he was in the European Commission. Now a new label is attached to the politician – ”the Romanian Macron”.
Cioloş’s branding as a copy of the French original presumes that he shines with reflected light. But that doesn’t hinder the Romanian politician from being one of the important persons in the national politics of the northern neighbours. He has now entered the European parliament as leader of the list of the third political force at the European elections – Alliance 2020. It has united the party of the young in Romanian politics – the Save Romania Union (USR) and the recently-established movement of Cioloş ”Plus”. However, from 2015 on Cioloş is affiliated in Romanian politics with one of the two strong tendencies in it – the technocratic one (the other being the party or the political one). It is based on scepticism towards the political class of transitions, that suffers from corruption and clientelism. The techoncratic beginning in Romania has always been connected with the fight against corruption and with the power of unelected institutions, such as the secret services and the anti-corruption prosecution, while at the same time it undermines the power of the democratically-elected institutions such as the parliament. That is how in the last few years there are constant tensions between two populisms in Romania. The first is ”the technocratic”, illuinated ”populism” of the middle class, which aims to modernise the country by putting the representatives of the most inflential party – the Social Democratic party, in jail. The other populism is the one that is set against the technocratic elite, against the business elites, which are affiliated with Western Europe and aims to win ground and resources for the Romanians of the smaller towns and villages, which lack good connections in the corridors of power in Bucharest and Bruxelles.
The place of Cioloş in this division is clear. He is born in Romania and has degrees in horticulture engineering in Romania and in economy of agricultural development in France. Ever since his student years Cioloş is closely connected with France. In the 90s he makes internships in farms for organic food in Brittany. In this period he also develops projects for agricultural cooperation between the French region Savoy and the Romanian region Argeş (where Rennault steps in 1999, buying the Romanian autmobile manufacturer Dacia). In 2002-2003 he becomes a part of the delegation of the European Commission in Romania. He helps in the implementation of the SAPARD programme in his homeland. In the end in 2007-2008 Cioloş heads the ministry of agriculture in the government of the then-leader of the National Liberal Party Călin Popescu-Tăriceanu.
All his life Cioloş connects two realities – the French/European and the Romanian. But which reality is the principal and which is the seconday? His categorisation as ”French man” in Romania and abroad could give one possible answer. But Cioloş is also very well-connected in the Romanian elite. It is sufficient to remember that his uncle is Virgil Ardelean – chief of the secret service of the Romanian ministry of internal affairs in the period 1998-2007. Such kind of connections give ground to media claims that the Alliance 2020 is infiltrated by the Romanian intelligence services. But at the same time the Alliance 2020 is considered the most pro-occidental political force in the country. It has a small number of people who have problems with justice. On questions such as traditional family and homosexual marriages the reprezentatives of Alliance 2020 take liberal positions. At the same time in economic plan they see the solutions of Romanian problems in privatisation, in encouragement of busness and have no great sensitivity towards the problems of the Romanian worker or socially-challanged citizen. Namely Alliance 2020 is the personification of Romanian technocracy, while the other big parties – the Social Democratic Party and the National Liberal Party (member of the European People’s Party) are considered old parties from the times of transition, which represent the clientelist political model.
As “the second French commissioner” in the period 2010-2014 Cioloş realises reform of the common agricultural policy of the EU. He announces in advance that his goal is to preserve maximally the significant budget of the programme (which matters a lot to the French agricultural producers). However, a big part of the work of the European Commission is technical and bureaucratic. The technocratic government of Dacian Cioloş (2015-2017), which has appointed ministers and state secretaries from the circles of business and non-governmental organisatons is much more visible. The Romanian technocracy believes that the political element in power is not necessary and is even adverse, and that power is a matter of technology, calculation and science. But even in its conception the technocratic government of Cioloş was not free from the political element. It has ministers from the Social Democratic Party, which is the embodiment of the political principle in Romania, and ruled under a parliament, where the social democrats were the greatest in numbers. Later, this served as an excuse why the technocrats didn’t do much, while holding power.
Among the most important measures of Cioloş’s government were the increasing of transparency on European projects, the reduction of required documents in the administrative work, the increases of the salaries of doctors and teachers, the lowering of VAT in agriculture. The technocratic essence of this government came from the fact that in its time the anti-corruption prosecution continued to cleanse the political space from the dinosaurs of the transition. In the times of the technocratic government a new leader affirmed himself in the circles of the social democrats – Liviu Dragnea. He was striving for redefinition of anti-corruption. At the parliamentary elections in December 2016 the Romanian voter took down the project “Cioloş” for domination of unelected institutions, foreign business and its local allies, giving victory to the political forces, which promised change of balances in justice and the economy.
What followed was regrouping of the Romanian technocrats. The forces of Cioloş and of the USR united in the eve of the European elections. The PSD’s attempt to develop exclusive foreign policy partnership with Donald Trump’s USA failed on the European elections on 26 May 2019. Now the prime minister Viorica Dancila put a pro-European expert on top of the ministry of justice and recognised the new government of Maia Sandu in Chisinau, distancing herself from the line in the times when Dragnea was strong. That is how the internal and external circumstances apparently benefit the ascension of Dacian Cioloş. He becomes the best placed Romanian in the European politics. His proximity to Macron and France apparently will be the guiding light for his future.
There is no lack of joy in Romania over Cioloş’s international recognition. But this is not the only emotion. Macron is criticised not only by the orbanists of Europe, but also by people, such as the leader of the new Romanian social democratic party “Demos” Claudiu Crăciun: ””Renew Europe” is exactly the opposite of what it pretends to be. With Macron in front they pretend to be ”the last Europeans”, who save us from ”the populists sovereignists”… ”Renew Europe”? No, rather ”Failed neoliberal Europe”. It is telling that the president of this parliamentary group comes from a country, where a capitalism experiment is performed in its most brutal form.”
The criticism of Craciu can be directed not only against Macron, but also against his Romanian equivalent. As prime minister Cioloş didn’t apply effective measures against poverty. Technocracy in Europe in principle defends the interests of the business elites. For sure, Cioloş will be a loyal doer of the will of the European liberals. But if he wants to go out of Macron’s shadow and to shine with proper light, he has to orient towards the Romanian dimensions of his essence. What has remained of it?
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