Acting Romanian PM Citu angers opposition with €200mn gift to mayors

Acting Romanian PM Citu angers opposition with €200mn gift to mayors
By Iulian Ernst in Bucharest October 8, 2021

The Romanian Social Democrats’ leader Marcel Ciolacu said that his party would press criminal complaints against acting Prime Minister Florin Citu over the way he spent RON1bn (€200mn) out of the reserve fund at his disposal, accusing him of using the money to “bribe” the Liberal mayors who voted him in as head of the National Liberal Party (PNL).

While the case may not result in an indictment, it didn’t help the ongoing negotiations on the formation of a new coalition. 

In fact, the move indicates that the Liberals and President Iohannis are actually not seeking to form such a coalition — but expect to somehow squeeze a minority government through parliament the way they did last year at the beginning of the pandemic, using the difficult health situation as justification. From this perspective — given the record number of COVID-19 infections, very low vaccination rate and rising death toll — such a strategy makes sense.

Romania’s interim government on October 6 disbursed RON1bn from the special reserve to local administration entities, for helping villages, towns, cities and counties cover their expenditures with investment projects or simply their current expenditures.

Of the €200mn distributed by the acting executive, the biggest share (around 60%) went to villages. No breakdown by projects or type of expenditures was provided.

The move prompted criticism from the opposition Social Democrats (PSD) and reformist USR, who claim that the funds were arbitrarily distributed by prime minister Florin Citu to local representatives of the PNL in exchange for their votes in the September 25 internal leadership elections held by the party.

Citu defeated former PNL leader Ludovic Orban with 60% to 40% of the votes after Iohannis vocally backed the head of the government.

In a reaction to the government handing out €200mn with no specific procedures, Ciolacu said that he would file a criminal complaint against Citu.

Citu “bought” his position with public money, Ciolacu claimed.

Mayors and other local representatives of the PNL and its partner the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR) received 80% of the money, he claimed.

In response, Citu said that 25-30% of the money went to Social Democrat mayors.

The mayors of Timisoara (USR), Alba Iulia (USR), Craiova (PSD) and Galati (PSD) confirmed that they received no funds from the RON1bn. In Sibiu county, 95.95% of the money distributed by the Government from the reserve fund ended in the hands of the PNL mayors, according to a G4media survey.

Despite broad public criticism of the decision, Iohannis defended Citu in a public statement and said that those who complain “are simply frustrated for they are not where the money is”.

He said that he is sure that Citu distributed the money “in full compliance with the law” to those in need ahead of the winter season. Mayors from the opposition claim accused political bias, though. 

Apart from defending the allocation of public money (which should be an exception operated on a case-by-case basis), the president’s aggressive statements against the opposition do not bode well for the coming consultations on the formation of a new government.