On January 31, at midnight the Romanian coalition government passed a decree, which was ordered without any input from the parliament and would have stopped all the investigations pending for corruption offences and freed officials imprisoned for corruption and would decriminalise abuse in office by officials if the sums involved were less than around $48,500. More than 2,000 people have been arrested and imprisoned since 2014 for committing corruption offences.
This resulted in strong condemnation among the citizens of Romania and lead to a weeklong sequence of protests that took place for the first time since the fall of communism in 1989. The E.U. criticised the decision of the government and warned Romania not to back out from the fight against corruption. “The fight against corruption needs to be advanced not undone” -Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Vice-President Frans Timmermans said.
But the Romanian government is portraying a different picture of the current political situation in Romania. The Prime Minister, Sorin Grindeanu said, “These changes were needed to align some laws with the constitution and reduce prison overcrowding”. The critics think there is a high possibility that the decree can be an attempt to allow the allies of Grindeanu caught in country’s anti corruption movement to escape censure. The society is divided among those who want to have a government which is based on rules and respect and another half which feels very comfortable in having a system of governance based on corruption and being able to have their way out of the offences and its consequences by just bribing the officials. One of the most benefited people from this decree is the President of Social Democratic Party Liviu Dragnea, blocked from becoming the prime minister due to corruption charges including to defraud the state of around $26,000. Dragnea accused the shadowy forces of starting the protests and called it an organised plan, not a spontaneous movement.
Even after the withdrawal of controversial executive order, the protests continued and demanded ministerial resignations or the entire government to dissolve. The government is still planning to free about 2,500 prisoners serving sentences of less than five years through a different decree still due to be reviewed in the parliament.