Romania’s turn to take the helm of the European Union’s rotating presidency on January 1 could not come at a worse time. The country is facing an extraordinarily critical and questionable moment in its young history as a nation.

In fact, Romania is going through a difficult period and its government is under a constant attack by the opposition. That’s not all. Romania’s civil society is under pressure. The past weeks have been marked by massive demonstrations against the government, which critics accuse of fuelling corruption and diminishing the rule of law.

Dan Barna, the leader of Save Romania Union (USR), Romania’s third largest party in the parliament, sounds clear about what the real problem is. It’s a lack of transparency.

In an interview with European Interest, Barna explains the situation in Romania as it prepares to assume the EU presidency. He says the government is not prepared for this historical opportunity and that the leaders of the coalition parties will most likely use the presidency in order to boost their image and public relations.

And since security and cybersecurity issues are high on Romania’s agenda for the EU presidency, the leader of the USR notes that his country’s participation in Nato has helped to boost cyber security.

European Interest: Romania’s President Klaus Iohannis called again for a renewed fight against corruption. Is there any improvement as regards this issue ahead of the Romanian EU Presidency?

Dan Barna: Unfortunately, the ruling political majority in Romania has only major objective, regardless of any other events such as the Romanian Presidency of the EU Council: to protect corrupt politicians leading PSD and ALDE from criminal liability. We are currently expecting a new series of emergency ordinances from the government that would once again attempt to change the justice system in Romania so that it would advantage Liviu Dragnea and Călin Popescu Tăriceanu. Further, we have witnessed attempts from the political majority to take over the main justice institutions and one of the most relevant aspects in this matter is the forced postponement of proceedings in criminal investigation files opened in the name of Mr. Dragnea, Mr. Tăriceanu and their partners.

Union Save Romania will continue to fight against these abuses side by side with President Iohannis and any other political and civic force in Romania whose goal is to save our country from the disaster prepared by PSD and ALDE. We have repeatedly called for President Iohannis to make use of his constitutional prerogatives and lead every Government meeting in the next period and prevent the Government controlled by Liviu Dragnea from taking other emergency ordinances on the Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code. We are glad that President has announced he will participate to the Government meetings in the next period.

Do you think the Romanian government is prepared to assume the EU Presidency?

I honestly would have liked to say that Romania is very well prepared to assume such major responsibility. Unfortunately, I can’t. The Romanian government is not prepared on any level for this unique moment for the European history of Romania so far.

Today, because of a group of incompetent, irresponsible and corrupt politicians who are in power, Romania has become a questionable member of the EU. The independence of the justice system, the respect for the rule of law and for the citizens’ rights and freedoms and our very own future in the EU, all of them are issues of debate and reasons of doubt regarding Romania due to the actions of PSD and ALDE.

The entire process of preparations for this unique moment in our history is characterised by a simple and unfortunate expression: the lack of transparency.

At declarative level, the prime minister and other members of the government keep telling us that they are very well prepared, keep trying to convince us of their level of professionalism and dedication. But when someone really wants to prove all that, there is no need of words. We need facts and in Romania facts are against those words. Whether we speak of the priorities of the presidency, of the budgetary allocations, of the events scheduled or of the trainings and experts’ preparations, the current ruling majority hasn`t organized real, professional debates and public consultations, didn`t involve the parties in the opposition on a complete matter.

PSD and ALDE did everything on their own and only came to present us the results of their own consultations dictated by their interests. Furthermore, they are contradicting their words with their own politics regarding justice and the rule of law. They speak of respecting the EU fundamental values, but they are fighting against one the most important pillars of the European edifice, which is the rule of law.

Yes, but it is a fact that Romania will assume the EU Presidency on January 1. What do you expect from the Romanian Presidency?

Realistically speaking, I believe the Romanian Presidency of the Council of EU will be reduced by PSD and ALDE to propaganda and image opportunities for Liviu Dragnea, Viorica Dăncilă and their friends, relatives and subordinates. We are on the edge of having a Presidency of the EU Council with no stakes, no targets assumed and no perspectives – an organism that will permanently function in a state of emergency.

This is a rather negative perspective, don’t you think?

Romania could have done so much more. We will hold the Presidency of the Council of EU during a very special and important period, with many important issues on the agenda and with many challenges yet to come. We should use all this period to strengthen the European integration in Romania and other member states, to advance in identifying solutions for the  European Agenda on Migration, to create real and lasting perspectives for the partner countries in the Eastern Europe and the Western Balkans, to help EU continue to be safe, secure and prosperous and be able to export security, prosperity, modernity, development as well as the European values and democracy in the neighbourhood. We could and should have been deeply involved in the negotiations over Brexit and for the next Multiannual Financial Framework. We have a huge opportunity to find safe and resilient solutions to make the EU move on and get stronger.

There is still time for change, before it gets too late. We at USR put our faith in the technical apparatus of Romania, in the experts that we have in Brussels and that are already doing a fine job in the EU institutions. We put our faith in the many dedicated experts that we have working in the public institutions in Romania and in the institutions themselves, without whom we might have been in an even worse situation today. We hope they will be resilient enough to counterbalance the incompetence and wrong doings of the politicians. And even more than this, we put our faith in the Romanian citizens, who are currently among the most pro-European citizens in Europe.

Cybersecurity is one of the many topics the Romanian Presidency will address. How prepared is Romania on this topic?

I have good news and bad news on this issue. Fortunately, Romania is one of the EU and Nato member states benefiting from well prepared institutions that successfully fight cybersecurity, while also being able to export cybersecurity to our partners and allies. We must take into account the Romania hosts a Nato centre on human intelligence in Oradea and that our country is the lead-nation in the Nato Trust Fund for developing Ukraine’s cyber defence.

Of course, there is a lot more to do and we need to continue to be an integrated part of the common efforts in this field at the EU and Nato level. And there is a lot more to do at the internal level too. President Băsescu and President Iohannis have put the subject high on the public agenda in Romania with the Cybersecurity Strategy of Romania and the National Defence Strategy of Romania. This process must be continued, deepened and upgraded at the level of every institution. We need to constantly improve our cyber and electronic infrastructure and be able to handle in time every vulnerability or risk.

Also, we have a lot to do on increasing the level of awareness in the society. We need to develop educational programs on increasing the level of awareness for youth in the cyberspace starting with the youngest age, we need to improve the communication with and help develop the academia and civil society representatives in cybersecurity and to develop the public-private partnerships in this area. All these can be boosted and achieved during the Romanian Presidency of the Council of EU.