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A look at the main headline-making events this past week
Local elections in the time of pandemic
46% of the Romanians with the right to vote went to the polls last Sunday to elect their local authorities. Although lower than at the previous such election, the turnout was good in the complicated context created by the pandemic, which imposed unprecedented health safety measures on election Sunday. The vote has already brought about changes and heralds a tough confrontation at the parliamentary elections due in December. For the first time, the governing Liberals won the political vote, practically doubling its number of county council presidents and winning the majority of town halls. Moreover, the National Liberal Party broke the monopoly of the Social Democrats in counties that had been loyal to them for 2 or 3 decades. However, the Social Democratic Party, with the largest number of members in parliament, is still the political party that holds most mayoralties and the first place with regard to the number of county council presidents. The great loss for the party is the one recorded in Bucharest, which it had totally controlled for four years. The independent Nicusor Dan, supported by the National Liberal Party and the Save Romania - PLUS Alliance will be the mayor of the capital, replacing Gabriela Firea.
The candidates of the center-right alliance created ad-hoc in Bucharest also won in three of the 6 sectors of the capital. At the Municipal Council, the Social Democratic Party is on the first position, but the Save Romania - PLUS Alliance obtained scores that will allow them to decide together the administration of a city rich in resources, but poor in vision and projects. Through the second place obtained at the political vote on Bucharest and the winning of some important municipalities like Timişoara and Braşov, in which they dethroned liberal mayors, the Save Romania - PLUS Alliance confirms its status as an alternative political force. The victory of a German in Timişoara and a French woman in sector 1, the richest in Bucharest, is the proof that the Alliance comes with something new in Romanian politics. Unperturbed by the pandemic, the electoral process is overshadowed by scandals and cross-fire accusations of fraud between the Social Democratic Party and the Save Romania - PLUS Alliance, especially regarding the number of votes obtained in Bucharest and sector 1 in particular.
Daily records of new coronavirus infections
This week, Romania has for the first time exceeded the threshold of 2000 daily infections. Specialists had anticipated that this would be the case, especially after the opening of schools. The number of daily infections is increasing throughout Europe and there is talk of the imminence of a second wave of the pandemic. In Romania, more than 130,000 cases of infection have been reported, and the number of dead is approaching 5,000. Some 500 patients are constantly in intensive care, but only one third are intubated and need ventilation, said the Minister of Health, Nelu Tataru. At national level, the incidence of COVID-19 cases is close to one in one thousand inhabitants, but the differences are big from one area to another. That is why the reintroduction of restrictions or even quarantine must be established according to the local situation of the coronavirus epidemic, and not at the level of the entire county, said Prime Minister Ludovic Orban. He also called on the authorities responsible for daily inspections to ensure compliance with health protection measures. The Ministers of the Interior, Transport, Labor and Health are called upon to draw up a plan containing clear actions for the implementation of these measures
The EC Report on the rule of law and Bucharest's response
The health crisis caused by the pandemic has consumed almost all the energy of the political actors in Bucharest. Thus, the commitment to put back on track the judiciary, severely affected by the controversial changes to the laws of justice and criminal and criminal procedure codes during the last left-wing government, seemed forgotten. In its latest report on the rule of law in Romania, the European Commission states that the laws of justice, the functioning of the National Audiovisual Council, access to public information and the excess of emergency ordinances are the main problems. The document emphasizes that in 2020, the Government reaffirmed its commitment to correct through judicial reforms the measures with negative impact adopted in the period 2017-2019, which led to the alleviation of tensions in the judiciary.
According to the evaluation, the controversial measures with a negative impact on judicial independence continue to apply, such as the functioning of the Section for the Investigation of Crimes in the Judiciary, which deals exclusively with prosecuting crimes committed by judges and prosecutors. Further implementation of these measures increases uncertainty with regard to the functioning of the justice system, especially through the effects they have together, the European Commission warns. On the day the report was published in Brussels, in Bucharest, the Ministry of Justice launched a public debate on the proposals to amend the justice laws. They aim at strengthening the role of the Superior Council of Magistracy in organizing and conducting competitions and examinations through the National Institute of Magistracy and professionalizing the process of selecting magistrates by eliminating any means of entering the judiciary without competition. Also, the line ministry decided the elimination of the early retirement scheme for magistrates, the strengthening of the principle of prosecutor impendence in the judiciary and the dismantling of the Section for the Investigation of Crimes in the Judiciary.
Less optimistic economic forecasts
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has revised downwards its forecasts regarding Romania's economic evolution in 2020 and 2021, as a result of the crisis triggered by the pandemic. According to the latest forecasts, Romania's economy would record a 5% drop this year, as to the 4% estimated in May. For 2021, EBRD expects a 3% expansion of Romania's GDP, against a 4% growth forecast in spring. Therefore, after a robust growth of 4.1% in 2019, Romania is facing recession in 2020. According to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the key transmission channels are lower consumption and declining exports. (M. Ignatescu)
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