Introducing the session, Scheele noted that technocratic government is usually defined as government by experts, not elected by the people, but accountable to Parliament. Most political scientists do not approve of such an arrangement, since it seen as a cop-out by the political class. There is also debate as to whether such governments actually work, or whether they just kick difficult issues down the road. In Romania in October 2015 a night club fire had killed over 100 people. It was seen as due to corrupt licensing procedures, and there were protests across Romania. The Prime Minister resigned on November 7. The President called in Dacian Ciolos and asked him to form a government; on November 17 the new technocratic government was sworn in. It ruled until 4 January 2017, when it handed over to a new elected government. By February 2017 there were again protests, over government plans to change the law on corruption.
Dragos Tudorache, who had also worked for the EU, was first Head of Chancery for the PM and later Interior Minister; he explained the initial challenges. They had had 2-3 days to put the programme together, with people who largely did not know each other. He had been helped by mechanisms already in place but never used — for instance, EU money had been spent to develop sophisticated IT tools, which were then left dormant. He set common ownership and objectives for his team, and made the work accountable to the media and the people.
This was the first time a whole government had been formed of technocrats, and derived from the fact that none of the political class wanted to form a government at that point. He had found it hard to change existing mentalities, so set up a Chancery where strategic thinking could be developed. He had interesting discussions with counterparts in other countries, including the UK. In the first few weeks the phones did not stop ringing, with calls from people all over the world who wanted to come back to Romania to help; this was very motivating. There was a very hierarchical structure in place; people asked him what he was going to order them to do. But with the right signals many had blossomed, and the dynamic had started to change. His main challenge as Interior Minister, had been to organize elections — the first elections to not be challenged. The main instrument throughout the government had been transparency.
Raluca Pruna, who had practised as a lawyer and worked for the EU, became Justice Minister; she spoke of her work to reform the judiciary. Romania was perceived as a corrupt country and, in tackling this, her biggest challenge was that she could not advance her legislative agenda without the cooperation of parliament. Judicial issues had been a key element in Romania’s Eu accession negotiations — it had been the last chapter to be closed, and still had red flags on the table. Accession included a mechanism for judicial monitoring by the Commission, to address continuing corruption. This was not an easy mandate, despite several meetings per year to assess progress. In 2016 the terms of office of the chief prosecutor and the head of corruption came to an end, and she had advised the President on their successors: an important role for the minister.
The Romanian Constitution guarantees the independence of the judicial system, and the Constitutional Court had found a number of government decisions to have been unconstitutional. Working with Parliament to address these was a challenge. There were repeated postponements, as Parliament saw that the technocratic government was time-limited. Four ministers plus the PM were from Brussels, and none in the political class had an interest in having the government being seen as doing a good job.
Within a month of coming into office, the successor government had begun attacking the judicial system, and trying to change the rules. Nevertheless, she remained optimistic: a large majority in Romania still supports the EU, and membership will in the end lead to better governance.
Dacian Ciolos had been an agriculture specialist in the EU Commission Delegation, and was later Romanian Agriculture Minister and then EU Agriculture Commissioner, before becoming Prime Minister in the technocratic government. He said he had been surprised to be asked to be PM, although he had accepted quickly. He had a complex mandate; all parties had differing expectations. The President wanted to maintain economic and social stability in a fragile region. The political parties were uncomfortable with being in opposition. It was clear that the one year until elections would not give much time for reforms. Of 22 ministers, he knew only 5 before appointment. Initially the politicians supported the government, but within 2-3 months he realized that they did not want his government to succeed: they were worried he might then run in the election.
The principal legacy was that a government had been in place that behaved differently from other Romanian governments. It had put in place an IT system for each ministry showing how they spent their money. It had achieved some reforms in healthcare, education (addressing plagiarism) and in the management of state companies. But the most important reform was that people could see a government that worked for the people not the party. 600,000 people came on to the streets afterwards demanding better governance; there had been pressure on the technocrats to run in the next election.
Heidi Maurer pointed out that technocratic governments that had more than a purely caretaker role were a rarity; of 24 technocrat-led governments since 1945, only 6 had been made up of a majority of technocrats. And 2 of 3 of since 2000 had been very short-lived, with only the Monti government in Italy being longer. The Romanian experience was quite special. While it was reasonable to see their legacy principally in terms of a change in standards, mentalities and expectations, the question was how long people could keep hoping that things could be better in the face of constant disappointment.
In the Q&A, Ciolos reported that he had been asked by Parliament at the outset whether he wished to run for election himself. He had been honest in stating his independence from politics. Parliament had nevertheless been nervous almost from the start about his government, putting out that it was rule by Brussels or by “Soros”. He had recognized he would need legitimacy, so he said he would just start the reforms. Subsequently he came under pressure to run as head of one or other of the parties; he declined, but two of his ministers did run. Finally, he did decide to support the parties with agendas close to his. However, after the events of January 2017 and the subsequent pressure on the justice system, and the modification of the fiscal code — important reforms by the technocratic government — he indicated that he would run in the next election. This will be based on a civil movement, rather than a traditional party. He had registered his movement in May, and very quickly gained 35,000 followers. The Constitution is clear: it is very hard to have early elections. Thus, there are three years to go — time to build up the political movement so that it peaks at the time of the elections.
Charles Enoch (Director, PEFM, St Antony's College, Oxford)