Ukraine six months from the Russian invasion
Ukraine had a sad anniversary this week: it celebrated 31 years since it declared independence from the Soviet Union, coinciding with the six month mark since the Russian invasion. President Volodimir Zelensky promised he would get back every bit of Ukrainian territory, and western leaders, who have been supporting him from the beginning, have expressed their willingness to continue this support. In his online speech at the second summit of the Crimea Platform, PM Nicolae Ciuca underlined that democratic states have to stay firmly united in supporting Ukraine's independence and integrity. The head of government in Bucharest said that, with this illegal and brutal war, Russia has shown the world that it is a state that does not refrain from committing flagrant aggression, from violating international law, including humanitarian international law, and is a state that conducts openly a policy of spheres of influence.
He recalled that, as the EU and NATO member state with the longest ground border with Ukraine, Romania and its people have done their utmost to help Ukraine, and the over two million refugees that sought shelter from the war here.
High energy prices the bone of contention within the ruling coalition
Energy, more precisely its surging costs, is a source of tension between the political parties in the ruling coalition in Bucharest, mainly the SDP and the NLP. Last spring, they decided together that the solution for the population is setting a ceiling on prices and subsidizing bills. The measures were supposed to be standing until March 31 next year. However, energy bills went haywire, and the initial estimates by the executive regarding the burden placed by these measures on the budget have been proven too optimistic. In July, the average price for electricity alone went up four times compared to the same month last year. The Social Democrats would be inclined to revert to energy sector regulation, which clashes with the Liberal's free market policies. The SDP blame the Liberal line minister, Virgil Popescu, for failing to manage better the gas and electricity price crisis. The opposition USR party accuses the energy minister of putting a 30 billion lei debt on the country. Popescu eventually reacted by assuring everyone that the ceiling and subsidy program remains standing. In order to secure money from the budget, the minister is relying on additional taxation across the entire energy chain, not just on producers.
This week, the agricultural land surface affected by drought surpassed 400,000 ha in over three quarters of the counties in Romania. A EC report, in fact, mentions Romania as part of an extended area that includes Slovakia, Hungary, and the Republic of Moldova which is affected by the drought. The worst affected by this phenomenon are the center and south of Portugal, the whole of Spain, the south of France, the center of Italy, and the south of Germany. At the same time, the authorities in Bucharest claim that Romanians should not fear food shortages. The NIS had good news in this regard: in the first five months of this year, Romania exported grain and grain based foodstuffs worth 2.155 billion Euro, up 77% as compared to the same period last year. In the same vein, the Ministry of the Environment launched this week its 2030 National Forest Strategy. According to Environment Minister Tanczos Barna, the strategy has a new approach on controls and restrictions. It provides increasing forested areas by 56,000 ha by 2026, and it provides a new future for Romania's forests, according to the minister.
Bills for justice criticized by experts and the opposition
The government passed the three bills for the justice system on the status of judges and prosecutors, judicial organization, and the status of the Higher Council of Magistrates. Previously endorsed by the HCM, the bills had been under public debate, and magistrates' associations leveled criticism against them. Line minister Predoiu defended his bills, and emphasized that they are part of a series of changes committed to towards European partners in order to modernize the justice system whole cloth. Other parties, such as the USR, claim that in its present form, the regulations would have Romania stray from its path to reform, and the justice system would still be under political influence. Among the major shortcomings identified by experts is the removal of measures related to the appointment and dismissal of police who take part in investigations by order of the General Prosecutor. They claim that removing these provisions would open the way towards political influence on judicial police.
Performance midway in the Olympic cycle
Romania's period of grace in sports continues this summer. Catalin Chirila won the bronze in the 500 m single canoe event last Sunday at the European rowing championships in Munich. He had gotten the gold in the 1,000 m single canoe event. Early this month, the Romanian athlete triumphed in the 1,000 m single canoe event and the 500 m single canoe event at the World Championships in Canada. A week earlier, also in Munich, in rowing events in general, Romania won no less than 8 medals, 5 gold and 3 bronze. Romanian athletes are comfortable in swimming too, with Catalin Popovici and Catalin Preda winning gold and silver medals respectively in the 27 meter high jump. The undisputed world star of the European Championships in Rome was 17 year-old David Popovici, champion in the 100 m freestyle event with a new world record, and in the 200 m freestyle event. Romanian athletes also reaped medals in European table tennis and athletics. Even Romanian soccer, usually lackluster, provided some satisfaction: champions CFR Cluj and vice-champions FCSB have qualified for the Europa Conference League groups.