Romania’s interim prime minister: ‘Expectations are high’

Lally Weymouth is a senior associate editor for The Post. Dacian Ciolos, a 46-year-old technocrat who previously worked at the European Union, did not come to power in Romania through an election or a coup. After youths rioted in the streets of Bucharest in November demanding an end to corruption and forcing the resignation of the previous government, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis called to ask Ciolos to serve as interim prime minister. Ciolos has said he will remain in office only until the next prime minister is chosen after fall parliamentary elections. On a visit to Washington this week that included a meeting with Vice President Biden, Ciolos also talked with The Post’s Lally Weymouth. Excerpts:

Q. What do you hope to accomplish in these few months?

A. First of all, to maintain political, social and economic stability. Romania has a high rate of growth, and I don’t want to affect this growth by political or social instability. But [I also want] to at least start reforms in key sectors. We started the process of reform in the public administration.

What have you done?

For the first time in the last 20 years [the government has] ensured full transparency of public [spending] — how we use public money. All the public institutions are obliged to publish their spending. We started trying to reduce the bureaucracy, to cut the red tape. I hope that we will also have time to propose new legislation in order to increase the quality of the people working in public administration, to come with a new process of recruitment based on competency and professionalism. Up until now, each political party appointed people mainly [based] on political criteria.

The Americans just opened the EPAA [European Phased Adaptive Approach] site for missile defense in your country.

Romania agreed with the U.S. on this in 2011. First there were discussions, then implementation. Now we have this anti-missile system.

The Russians are protesting it.

This is their problem. We were very clear that this is not oriented against anyone; it is a purely defensive system. We don’t want to attack someone. We only want to discourage aggressions. It is a system of deterrence.

Russia went into eastern Ukraine and seized Crimea. Last fall, Russia sent troops into Syria. Aren’t you concerned?

We are concerned by this behavior, but we also think we have to clarify all things by dialogue. On the other hand, we have all rights to take measures to ensure our defense and to deter potential aggression.

Does Russia pose a threat to your country?

We have to be attentive, but we are neighbors. In the long term, both countries are interested to work together.

Russia has been funding right-wing parties in Europe. Have you seen evidence of that in your country?

I don’t think it is the case in Romania. We are one of the few countries in Eastern Europe without a strong extremist or populist party.

How are you doing so far?

I am not so popular, because the expectations are high, and there are many criticisms, saying that I do not do enough in the reform processes. We started, but we have to change some legislation. In order to do that, we need the support of political parties in the Parliament. It is possible that political parties don’t like an independent government.

Why don’t you run for prime minister?

In order to have the confidence of political parties, I prefer to keep my word. I promised at the beginning to be an independent prime minister and that I would not run. I was not a member of a political party in the past.

If you keep your word, won’t the government go back to the same old guys?

Not necessarily. Political parties are expected to use this year to reform themselves — to come with up with new faces and new people, and they still have this opportunity.

Are you in favor of keeping sanctions on Russia?

Yes, as long as Russia doesn’t respect the Minsk agreement, between Russia, Ukraine and the E.U.

What would you like to see Romania do with the U.S.?

The relationship is at the highest level in history. We have a strategic partnership, made concrete with defense and security projects. I am here in order to build on this good experience and to promote the development of our economic cooperation.

Do you want to see more cooperation with the U.S.? More military exercises?

We want more military exercises, more cooperation with all NATO allies. We will propose at the next NATO summit [that NATO] reinforce not only the northeastern flank in Europe but also the southeastern flank. Now the focus is on the Baltic states, which have a direct border with Russia.

Do you want NATO troops on your soil?

Yes, rotational troops, training together. Our proposal is to integrate Romania into this rotation of NATO troops.

What do you expect to come out of your visit?

I didn’t come to obtain something now. It is important to maintain the dialogue. I went to Detroit and am happy to see that Ford intends to increase its investment in Romania.

Can politicians take up where you leave off?

They do not have a choice. Every deep reform in a society is not easy. I am not criticized because I am corrupt, but because I don’t do enough. The expectation is very high.

What is your message to politicians after you?

Continue to prove that Romania can be a democratic country with transparent and efficient political parties and have the confidence of the people.

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