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Romania Names 3rd Prime Minister in a Year Amid Struggle Over Corruption

January 28, 2018

Speaking before the vote, Ms. Dancila focused on plans to raise the minimum wage, improve transport and reduce bureaucracy. Romania’s economy was one of the fastest growing in Europe last year, but the country is still one of the poorest in the European Union.

“The goal of my mandate is for Romania in 2020 to be in the top half of the E.U.’s strongest economies so that young people no longer leave from Romania, and those that have left want to return,” she told lawmakers.

“Maybe she is a very good person, but we don’t know anything about her,” said Cristian Pirvulescu, the dean of the political science department at the National University of Political Studies and Public Administration in Bucharest. “She hasn’t had any important political experience until now — she was just a member of a small city council and then after that a member of the European Parliament.”

Professor Pirvulescu said there was a simple explanation for why she had become prime minister: “After difficult experiences with the two previous governments, Liviu Dragnea wants a government he can be absolutely sure of.”

Others also questioned Ms. Dancila’s experience.

“She’s not been among the prominent M.E.P.s, and wasn’t very visible in Brussels. I knew she existed, that she was a Social Democrat M.E.P., but that’s where it ended,” said Paul Ivan, a former Romanian diplomat and a senior policy analyst at the European Policy Center in Brussels.

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Ms. Dancila was nominated after her predecessor, Mihai Tudose, resigned on January 15 after losing the support of his Social Democrat colleagues, in particular Mr. Dragnea. His appointment came after the resignation of Sorin Grindeanu last June, after he lost a no-confidence vote brought about by his own party.

Both were felt not to have given their full backing to efforts to overhaul the justice system, a party priority, and to have sought more autonomy from party leaders like Mr. Dragnea.

After a year of on-again, off-again protests over attempts to weaken anticorruption efforts, the composition of the new government dampened hopes that it would offer a different approach to leadership.

Several cabinet members, including the new business minister, Radu Oprea, have faced allegations of corruption. The new minister for European funds, Rovana Plumb, was forced to resign from the same post late last year over allegations related to land transfers.

Professor Pirvulescu said that the main focus of the new government in the short term was likely to be on completing highly disputed changes to the judiciary, an effort that has been met with strong criticism from the country’s allies, including the United States and European Commission.

“Romanians don’t have the capacity to block this, even with big protests,” he said, before referring to the emergence of populist movements in the region. “We have this illiberal environment in Eastern Europe, and Romania isn’t an exception.”

Opposition groups were also disinclined to give Ms. Dancila and her cabinet the benefit of the doubt.

“Dancila seems like she will be more obedient to Mr. Dragnea, so it won’t be better, and it could be worse,” said Florin Badita, an activist who has helped rally people through a Facebook group he created after a deadly nightclub fire in 2015. “Her appointment won’t have any impact on the protests.”

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