Is Romania fit for the EU Council presidency?

Romania's EU Council presidency remains controversial. Bucharest has been under fire for months over its legal reforms, which have also triggered major protest within the country. Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker recently voiced his own doubts about Romania in an interview. Commentators fear a phase of instability and call on Europe's social democrats to take action.

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Tageblatt (LU) /

Impel PSD to respect the rule of law

Europe's social democrats should be more critical of their colleagues in Bucharest's ruling Partidul Social Democrat, Tageblatt urges:

“The Party of European Socialists (PES), which for years has rightly criticised the conservative European People's Party (EPP) for years for allowing Viktor Orbán's Fidesz party to remain a member, should do a better job of things and put pressure on their Romanian colleagues. Demanding respect for the rule of law cannot come second to party politics. Romania's EU Council presidency and the European elections in May offer the PES a chance to put things straight and improve the credibility of Europe's social democrats.”

Krónika (RO) /

A shaky presidency

The legal battle between the Romanian government and the opposition puts the country's EU Council presidency on shaky ground, writes Krónika, a Hungarian-language newspaper:

“According to a ruling by the Constitutional Court the Council of the Supreme Court has been put together unlawfully for years, meaning that a large number of major corruption cases must now be retried from the beginning. And the trial of the leader of the Partidul Social Democrat, Liviu Dragnea, is also progressing slowly. ... The war [between the government and the opposition] will certainly become even fiercer in 2019, with two elections on the agenda. All this does not bode well for the Romanian EU Presidency at the start of 2019.”

Turun Sanomat (FI) /

Nationalistic, Eurosceptic and corrupt

Turun Sanomat takes a dim view of Romania:

“New member states have taken on the EU Council presidency ever since 2008, but the risk of failure is much greater for Romania than for the other new members. Romania is the most corrupt country in Europe. The governing Social Democrats have very little in common with their Northern European sister parties. The leadership is seen as nationalistic, Eurosceptic and thoroughly corrupt. ... And as the country's EU Council presidency kicks off its domestic affairs are a complete mess. For Finland, which attaches great importance to the EU's fundamental values, a failure on Romania's part would be anything but trivial. If the country can't handle the job Finland would have to assume the Council presidency ahead of schedule.”

Ziare (RO) /

Country is out of its depth

The Romanian government isn't up to the job of presiding over the EU Council, web portal Ziare believes:

“During the six-month presidency there will be two major events for the EU: the Brexit, which is scheduled to take place on 29 March 2019, and the European elections to be held from 23 to 26 May. Over the next six months the EU's political orientation for the next five years will be decided. How can a head of government like Viorica Dăncilă, who can't even express herself coherently in her mother tongue, shape this debate? It's hard to imagine that she could.”

Český rozhlas (CZ) /

Bucharest must dispel reservations

Romania isn't the first new EU member state whose ability to act as EU council president for six months was questioned from the start, Český rozhlas recalls:

“With any luck history will repeat itself in the first half of 2019. People were also worried when Bulgaria held the EU Council presidency, but in the end Sofia did a good job. During the Czech presidency the government was even toppled, but that didn't stop people from rating Prague's performance as positive on the whole. Romania must find the strength to overcome its inner conflicts. The country simply can't afford to be disgraced. That would also have negative consequences for the rest of the EU.”

El Periódico de Catalunya (ES) /

Discarding the Dracula image

And writing for El Periódico de Catalunya political scientist Ruth Ferrero-Turrión sees the next six months as a major opportunity for the country:

“With Romania, one of the poorest and most peripheral countries in Europe has taken over the EU Council presidency - in a tumultuous situation full of uncertainties and challenges. ... It's a trial by fire and a chance to convince doubters that Romania really is a worthy EU member. Bucharest can demonstrate its skills and negotiating competence to EU partners who have viewed the country with mistrust and even disdain ever since its accession. For the country, which is known to many as the cradle of Count Dracula and as a main source of migrant workers, this presidency is an opportunity to overcome prejudices and stereotypes.”

Financial Times (GB) /

EU must be equipped to deal with problem cases

Romania's assuming the EU Council presidency despite serious violations of European values underscores the urgent need for democratic protection mechanisms, Financial Times concurs:

“The case for reforming the way the bloc handles rule of law issues is now overwhelming. One element should be to submit all EU members to an annual review of respect for judicial independence, democracy and human rights. This would neutralise complaints of double standards from newer member states. It would also help to ensure potential violations are flagged up earlier. ... Such scrutiny should be backed by a more flexible range of penalties.”

Deutschlandfunk (DE) /

Criticism comes too late

Juncker's doubts may be justified, but for Deutschlandfunk they smack of hypocrisy:

“Only a few months back the same Juncker who is now criticising the Romanian government attested, while on a visit to that same government, that despite the obviously controversial legal reform, Romania was absolutely capable of mastering the EU presidency. One wonders what brought about this change of tune? And why the EU commission president did not - either then or ideally much earlier - step up to the soapbox to voice his doubt about Romania's suitability? ... If you actually want to change something you need to do a bit more than a last-minute newspaper interview.”

Deutsche Welle (RO) /

Good for the opposition

The EU Council presidency could also have a positive impact on the country, comments the Romanian service of German broadcaster Deutsche Welle:

“It is absolutely clear that this regime of kleptocrats and illiterates couldn't lead a Europe in perfect condition, never mind one battered by crises. ... Nonetheless the international visibility that holding the EU presidency entails could prompt the kleptocrats to tread a little more quietly over the next six months of the new year. This would give the opposition and citizens who are putting up resistance a reprieve and the chance to regroup and fight more effectively for the country's interests.”

Jutarnji list (HR) /

Presidency no longer so important

The EU Council presidency is mostly symbolic these days, according to Jutarnji list:

“The shift came above all once the Treaty of Lisbon had come into force, changing the role of the president of the European Council and the high representative for security affairs and foreign policy. ... This does not mean that the presidency and the role of the country presiding over the EU is not important. It is an opportunity for self-promotion, especially for countries who hold it for the first time. But success - particularly when it comes to finding consensus on high priority matters - does not depend on the presidency but on numerous other factors over which that country has no influence.”