Evolving relations between the European Union's eastern and western members is one of the main themes we identified for Europe in our 2018 Annual Forecast. In recent months, the bloc has expressed concern about the rule of law in some of its eastern member states. In Romania, for example, the European Commission believes more needs to be done to ensure the country's institutions are transparent. But continued political instability could make it hard for Bucharest to comply with the request.
The political turbulence in Romania continues, as yet another prime minister has resigned after losing support from the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD). On Jan. 15, Mihai Tudose announced his resignation and became the third person to leave the job over frictions with PSD leader Liviu Dragnea since Romania's general elections in December 2016. Because the PSD and its junior coalition partners, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats, control a majority of seats in the Romanian Parliament, new elections probably won't take place. Instead, the PSD nominated Romanian politician and member of the European Parliament Viorica Dancila for prime minister on Jan. 16.
To withstand turbulent times, Romania has a semi-presidential system in which the president and prime minister share government responsibilities. Because of this, the new prime minister will now have to be approved by Parliament and appointed by President Klaus Iohannis. After that, a combination of government fragility, political infighting and growing popular dissatisfaction with the political system could make it hard for Bucharest to introduce the political and economic reforms its western partners want.
Romania is under international pressure to ramp up its fight against corruption and strengthen its democratic institutions. In a November report, the European Commission expressed concern that the nation was slowing down its anti-corruption efforts. And in December, seven EU countries sent the Romanian government a letter asking it to stop a controversial judicial overhaul plan that would allegedly weaken the Romanian judiciary's independence. Unlike it did with Poland, which has also faced pressure over its judicial reforms, the commission has not threatened to punish Romania with sanctions. But EU officials are worried about a generally weakening rule of law on the bloc's eastern border.
Romanian politicians are under domestic pressure as well. Throughout 2017, hundreds of thousands of Romanians took to the streets in Bucharest and other cities to protest corruption. Though the protests have died down in recent weeks, a new demonstration is scheduled in downtown Bucharest for Jan. 20. The protest was organized through social media but is supported by Romania's main opposition parties, which are calling for the current government to resign and for new general elections to be held.
Institutional opacity has already had an impact on Romania's status in the region. Though the country aspires to join the European Union's passport-free Schengen zone, its slow compliance with EU recommendations is stalling the process. And other integrations, such as joining the eurozone, are even further off. Political instability has so far not significantly impacted the Romanian economy, which is one of the fastest growing in the European Union. But an inefficient government and a widespread perception of corruption could eventually take their toll on what is already one of the poorest members of the Continental bloc.