Party of European Socialists Freezes Ties with Romania’s Social Democrats
The leadership of the Party of European Socialists (PES), the European Union-wide political grouping of social democratic national political parties, announced on April 10 that relations between the PES and Romania’s ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) are considered “frozen, pending a formal discussion.” This statement is in regards to the PSD’s continued membership in the PES at the next PES leadership meeting scheduled for June.
The announcement came at the conclusion of a meeting among the PES leadership and EU heads of government, commissioners, and party leaders hailing from parties affiliated with the PES.
The move by the PES is motivated by outstanding and increasingly acute concerns about the rule of law in Romania from other governments in the EU and members of the European Parliament. There have been recent developments in domestic Romanian politics, including the PSD government’s proposals to amend the country’s penal code through emergency decrees; and EU politics, such as Romania’s assumption of the Presidency of the Council of the European Union for the first half of 2019 and the deadlock over the appointment of Romania’s ex-anti-corruption chief to head the EU’s new public prosecutor’s office. These developments have directed much attention to Romania’s perennial fight against corruption and apparent backsliding on progress made on establishing the rule of law since the end of the Cold War.
Romania’s PSD responded to the PES decision on April 11, asserting the move was “unacceptable.” PSD leadership called for “colleagues in the PES who have concerns about the rule of law in Romania” to explain their concerns, going as far to say that the PSD “can expect groundless accusations from PSD political opponents, but not from our own family.”
Additionally, the PSD appeared to blame PES President Sergei Stanishev of Bulgaria for the decision to freeze ties, which “does not reflect the overall opinion of PES.” The PSD press statement on the matter also claimed that the PES concerns on rule of law in Romania “is a question motivated by campaign logic rather than a real concern. All this fuss will die out after the May 26 [European Parliament] elections.”
The decision by PES leadership regarding the PSD means that the PSD will not be invited to PES events and PES leaders will not campaign for PSD candidates in Romania in the upcoming European Parliament elections. Should the PSD remain a member of the PES and fare poorly in the May elections or if the PSD is expelled from the PES at deliberations in June, the PES may be sacrificing crucial seats in the 751-member legislative body.
Such discord between EU-wide political groupings and the individual member-states’ national political parties, especially those hailing from Eastern Europe, has been accentuated in recent months in the run-up to the impending European Parliament elections. The center-right European People’s Party (EPP) suspended Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party in late March after long-standing disagreements over the conduct of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban with regards to rule of law in Hungary and particularly vocal eurosceptic positions boiled over into open political confrontation.
The liberal Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) group, acting in tandem with fellow EU-wide grouping PES, also announced on April 11 that it would consider suspending Romania’s Alliance of Liberals and Democrats — currently the junior coalition partner of the ruling PSD. In addition, the EPP requested that the rule of law in Romania be placed on the European Parliament’s agenda on the same day; the debate on the matter is scheduled for April 15.