20 March, 2023
The government supports the business, but gradually eliminates the benefits of workers, explaining that austerity is a must
The Romanian prime minister Florin Cîţu (source: YouTube)

The government supports the business, but gradually eliminates the benefits of workers, explaining that austerity is a must

Vladimir Mitev

This article was published on 9th March 2021 on the Bulgarian section of the Barricade website.

The Romanian government started its operation in the days before Christmas 2020 and immediately took care of the application of its vision for change. This vision is based, on the one hand, on business support through public investments and EU funds and, on the other hand, on austerity for employees who were considered ”spoiled” or ”privileged” during the Social Democratic Party (which ruled until 2019).

On 29th December 2020, Florin Cîțu’s office initiated a debate on an emergency ordinance, which was called “train” – an allusion to speed and how plenty of problems will be solved in one act. Finally, the governmental decree was adopted on the next day and has since caused controversy in society. Its main provision is that the increase in public servants’ salaries is frozen. In subsequent decisions, the cuts continued. The students were deprived of the right to travel free of charge on the Romanian state railways. Travel vouchers for civil servants have also been abolished, providing an incentive for the tourism industry as well as for employees.

At the same time, Romania looks like a construction site. The works are underway at a large bridge over the Danube, near Brăila, which should be completed by the end of the year and already offers pride to Romanians as an architectural solution. The last section of the most important highway is also being worked on – the passage through the Carpathians, which will connect Wallachia and Transylvania and will allow a highway to start from Constanța and through Bucharest and Sibiu to reach the border with Hungary. Even the infrastructure that leads to Bulgaria and has long been neglected is being developed.Work is being done on a ring road around Giurgiu to take traffic from the Friendship Bridge directly to the speedway to Bucharest. The fallen bridge near Gradiştea will be rebuilt in this way and the railway connection from Giurgiu to Bucharest will become much faster. The governance programme of the Cîțu Cabinet also provides for “the completion of ongoing feasibility studies, identification and provision of funding sources for the start of new works on the central and global TEN-T network” for the Craiova-Calafat railway section.

Thus, in Romanian society, which has been calm for a long time after Liviu Dragnea went to prison, contradictions are growing again. On the one hand, the business relies on the Cîțu government, which provides access to EU funds, used to support entrepreneurs in the context of the corona crisis. On the other hand, different categories of workers – doctors, civil servants, police officers, subway workers – feel marginalized and struggle to protect their workers’ rights. The middle class has reason to be happy – because new roads and infrastructure projects will make it more mobile and empowered. At the same time, workers who are more geographically fixed try to defend their economic positions. This predetermines the large number of labour union protests that have taken place since the beginning of the year.

The government claims that civil servants are privileged and inefficient. It is no coincidence that the budget for key public services – such as healthcare, has been reduced by more than 10%, after in 2020 it was already reduced by the Orban government by 24%, despite the corona crisis. This year’s budget deficit will exceed 7% of GDP, but Florin Cîțu, a financier, explains that the welfare state cannot be wasteful and that spending cuts are needed. Instead of achieving economic development through higher incomes and consumption, How much is based on the flow of European funds, including through the recovery and development program, which will also have a positive impact on the whole economy. But under the current right-wing government, business and technocratic institutions will obviously have an advantage in society. They are also working to resume the fight against corruption – another sign that the technocratic segment of society is growing stronger …

This year, in an article in Ziarul Financiar, Prime Minister Florin Cîțu was compared to Margaret Thatcher. The text says that he now has the chance to implement a local version of thatcherite policies and visions in Romania. The article specifically states that if he wants to become Thatcher of Romania, Florin Cîţu must fight against the union in the medical industry who want too much, but give too little.

Thus, the Romanian society enters 2021 with new divisions and tensions, the labour unions seeming to be the only force able to resist the governmental austerity. The oppositional Social Democratic Party seems reluctant to govern and has accepted its subordinate position in parliament. The other opposition force, the Alliance for the Union of Romanians, is active, seeking contact with the protesting labour unions and expressing support for their actions. However, much of Romania’s liberal elite opposes the alliance, so its actions could make unions less attractive to urban elites. In Romania, the middle class is the decisive layer that leads the country forward. And the alliance with this middle class is the social foundation for the Cîţu cabinet, which brings together the National Liberal Party (member of the European People’s Party), the Save Romania Union (party member of the liberal group of macronists in the European Parliament) and the Hungarian Ethnic Party – the traditional balancing party in Romanian politics.

The government is already showing nervousness towards the unions and campaigns to discredit the unions in the press are underway. In the context of the corona crisis, drastic political changes are hardly possible. But trade unions are large organizations with hundreds of thousands of members. So, the dispute between the government and the unions seems to mark Romanian politics this spring.

Photo: Protest of the labour union of medical workers SANITAS in February 2021 (source: SANITAS)

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