By Madalin Necsutu
Since the jailing of the former leader of the ruling Social Democrats, PSD, and de facto chief of government, Liviu Dragnea, for corruption on May 27, the government in Romania led by Viorica Dancila has been trying to rebrand itself and shed the damaging heritage that Dragnea left behind.
Immediately after Dragnea was arrested, Dancila started a campaign to repair damaged relations in Brussels with EU partners.
She flew to the European Commission on June 4 and met the President of the Commission, Jean Claude Juncker and his vice-president, Frans Timmermans, both of whom have criticised the apparent manoeuvres of the PSD to subordinate the judicial system in Romania to political control.
Dancila assured EU leaders that she will put aside any further attempts to change the laws on justice and shift the focus of her government towards development, health and educational issues.
However, political analyst Radu Magdin told BIRN that regaining the trust of foreign partners and filling the power void left by Dragnea will not be an an easy task.
“Dragnea had the ability to lead the PSD easily, by a combination of power, finance and personality. Now, many former rivals are trying to rebuild their places in the upper levels of the party,” he said.
Magdin stressed that the coming period will be a test for Dancila to show good faith and convince Brussels of a changed attitude.
“The PSD has to communicate openly and honestly and abstain from new steps in the judicial field,” he added.
To look more credible in the eyes of Brussels, the PM has dismissed all of Dragnea’s henchmen at the top of the party, but also his Israeli political consultants.
Dancila brought new faces into her staff on Friday, including Anton Pisaroglu as her new international relations counselor.
According to the media, 35-year-old Anton Pisaroglu has good connections in the fields of security, intelligence and the media.
Pisaroglu is a former professional rugby player, after which he worked as head of security and adviser to two controversial Romanian international businessmen, Frank Timis and Dragos Dobrescu, according to profit.ro.
Subsequently, he became a partner to Alan Blaine Stone, founder and former CEO of the US defense company Circinus Defense LLC, as well a partner to Marshall Comins, a political consultant with projects in Russia.
Political and military expert Mihai Isac told BIRN that the choice of this new consultant, with extensive relations in the world of American lobbying, is a signal to US business partners that Dancila will take their interests in Romania into account, including in the area of military upgrades.
Pisaroglu was also a partner of Elliot Broidy, a top fundraiser for US President Donald Trump – who is now under investigation by US prosecutors.
Broidy prepared the visit of Dragnea and former prime minister Sorin Grindeanu to the US in January 2017 to meet Trump at a fundraising event.
As a token gesture towards taking a more communicative approach to Romanian citizens, Dancila opened a new Facebook page on Friday.
She closed her old one in February 2018, immediately after taking up her new position.
Dancila Models Herself on Churchill:
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal, what matters is the courage to continue,” Dancila wrote on her Facebook page, quoting Britain’s famous wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Thousands of negative messages were censored and removed from the Facebook page only hours after its launch.
“By publicly abandoning actions against justice, employing a new consultant [Pisaroglu] outside the PSD public relations system and with the launch of a new social media communication page, Dancila is trying to reinvent herself,” Isac told BIRN.
He added that Dancila had found herself in a new and unusual position as the real leader of the government and the PSD, without being in the shadow of Dragnea who had pulled all the strings up to now.
On the other hand, Dragnea’s removal from the scene has opened up the struggle for succession as party head – and recent statements by one of the most powerful local PSD leaders, Marian Oprisan, suggest that Dancila may be seen as a good compromise candidate to take over the leadership, and be acceptable also to the the PSD’s partners among the European Socialists.
The executive president of the PSD, Paul Stanescu, backed by Dragnea, resigned on Friday after a meeting of the PSD Permanent Bureau.
He had entered into a conflict with Dancila who wanted a quick party congress held by the end of the month where a new leadership would be elected.
However, Dancila faces strong opposition to this idea from the Mayor of Bucharest, Gabriela Firea, the Social Democrats’ best-placed candidate to win the presidential race due this autumn.
“At this time, the PSD cannot afford to change their prime minister amid the threat of a no-confidence vote that would be triggered by the opposition, and backed by President Klaus Johannis,” Isac concluded.