Since joining the EU ten years ago, Romania has instituted a number of anti-corruption measures as part of its struggle to counter long-standing government level corruption. However, on 31 January 2017, Romania’s Social Democrat led government ruled that low-level corruption should be decriminalized and that corruption would only be punishable when sums exceeding €44,000 were involved. Known as Emergency Ordinance 13, the ruling was designed to halt investigations into those currently facing corruption charges and to reduce the sentences of officials already imprisoned on corruption charges.
The move was clearly a backward step, prompting the EU commission to state, “The fight against corruption needs to be advanced, not undone.” The EU also warned that implementation of the Ordinance could affect the funding it offers Romania. There was also public criticism of the Ordinance from within the Romanian government; most prominent was Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, who hoped to take the decree to the Constitutional Court, while the National Liberal Party and the Save Romania Union stated that they would file a no-confidence motion.
Romanian citizens were also outraged. For five days, Romanians nationwide hit the streets to protest, with over 600,000 people estimated to have taken part. In the largest protests since the fall of communism in Romania in 1989, some demonstrators set fire to street signs and threw bottles and stones at security. On Saturday the government gave in to public pressure and Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu announced that Emergency Ordinance 13 would be repealed. He stated that he did not wish to “divide Romania.”
Despite this, protests continued. On the following Sunday, over 300,000 demonstrators made their way to the capital’s Victoriei Square, where they sang Romania’s national anthem and held a five-minute silence in memory of those who died in the 1989 revolution. The continued protest reflected the public’s lack of confidence in Grindeanu and his party’s intentions. Journalist David Chater said that the public want both “the government and the party to step down.” The public is not alone, with a number of opposition politicians also calling for those who supported the Ordinance to step down.
While Grindeanu and his party do not appear to be heeding calls to quit, the protests and their success thus far have given Romanians a glimmer of hope. Demonstrators came from all walks of life, united in their moral outrage against corruption. Even those who did not actively protest helped out, with some restaurants offering demonstrators free food and drink. In a remarkable demonstration of solidarity, Romanian citizens joined hands and successfully pushed back against injustice.