Health minister removal ignites government crisis in Romania

With the ink on the coalition agreement not even dry, the government crisis is on, and at this point, a solution is not obvious due to the ongoing statement war between the parties.

It was known that the governing coalition was fragile from the start, but the fissures started showing publicly the other day when Health Minister Vlad Voiculescu was fired by the Romanian prime minister over his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. The alliance between the Save Romania Union and Freedom, Unity and Solidarity parties (USR-PLUS), to which the former health minister belongs, has cried wolf and now wants the head of the prime minister, PNL member Florin Cîțu.

Members of the coalition government, which consists of the National Liberal Party (PNL), USR-PLUS, and the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (known by its Hungarian acronym of RMDSZ), have different opinions about the activities of Voiculescu.

And there seems to be a discrepancy between the members of the USR-PLUS alliance itself: While the Alliance communicated that there is no way to collaborate with Florin Cîțu, the leaders of the USR and PLUS parties haven’t made a clear decision about whether the alliance is ready to go all the way and leave the governing coalition if the PM is not removed.

USR ministers want to continue their work, didn’t ask for a government crisis

Many of the USR-nominated ministers don’t want to lose their positions after just a couple of months, considering that ministries have been the topic of hard negotiations since the end of last year. Apparently, these ministers have convinced the alliance members to attend the government meeting on Thursday, while just a day earlier, they had threatened not to attend.

Leaving the government would put an end to USR president Dan Barna’s role as deputy prime minister, but the party would also lose strong ministries such as Transport, European Funds, and Justice. Behind Barna’s strong public opposition to PM Florin Cîțu are his own political ambitions to position himself as the new leader of USR-PLUS, and he seems to be winning the votes of PLUS party members. Others, however, don’t have personal ambitions and would like to continue the work they started in the government, Romanian news portal Digi24 wrote in a quick crisis analysis.

This may be the reason why Kolozsvár/CLuj Napoca Mayor Emil Boc, a PNL member, asked for calm dialogue and political maturity, adding that one cannot make one’s personal problems into a national issue. He was likely referring to Barna’s ambitions.

Rushed demand

The USR-PLUS coalition partners have no reason to change the prime minister, Deputy Prime Minister Hunor Kelemen, the president of RMDSZ, said in an interview with DigiFM. “I am convinced that if they use such logic to persist with this request, they will realize that this was a rushed demand […] It is not the time to insist on this request. It is unacceptable,” Kelemen added.

Disputes between coalition members

of the government could easily escalate into an internal war if they don’t

find a solution quickly.

The Dacian Cioloș-led PLUS party seeks to recoup its honor, lost with the removal of Vlad Voiculescu, and refused USR’s offer to nominate Dr. Adrian Wiener as the minister of health.

There is a strong need for coalition members to sit down at the negotiating table, but that is not scheduled until Monday. Liberals say they chose this late date for the meeting to give USR-PLUS members a chance to cool down. Until then, if the cracks spread further, President Klaus Iohannis may intervene to settle the dispute; however, at this point, the presidential office remains silent on the matter.

Title image: Dacian Ciolos (left) and Dan Barna (right). Image source: Inquam Photos / Octav Ganea

Author: István Fekete