Romania’s prime minister on Sunday abandoned a controversial emergency decree that would have protected corrupt politicians from prosecution. The decree, initially passed Tuesday without parliamentary consent, sparked the country’s largest protests in decades and drew criticism from abroad.
The decree would have decriminalized abuse of power in offenses involving less than 199,102 Romanian leus — the equivalent of about $47,500 (or €44,000) — and potentially freed dozens of officials jailed for corruption. In response, an estimated 250,000 people took to the streets in protest Wednesday — the largest demonstrations the country has seen since the fall of Communism in 1989.
Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu scrapped the decree just six days after his cabinet approved it — a move made to restore calm in the country, an anonymous source told the BBC. Grindeanu’s comments, televised while an estimated 170,000 people chanted “Resign, resign!” outside his office, Reuters reported, reflected a similar sentiment.
“I don’t want to divide Romania,” he said. “It can’t be divided in two. Romania in this moment seems broken in two.”
Liviu Dragnea, head of the ruling party the Social Democrats (PSD) facing fraud charges involving $25,885 (or €24,000), was a clear beneficiary of the decree. While Dragnea’s criminal conviction prevented him from becoming prime minister himself, many view him as the real power behind Romania’s new PSD-controlled government.
Nine countries, including the United States, condemned the original decree. “The fight against corruption needs to be advanced, not undone,” Head of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker said.
Romania is seen as having one of the worst corruption problems in the European Union. Decades of corruption, ranging from low-level bribes to high-level fraudulent activity, have chipped away at public trust of government. In 2015 alone, the DNA handled 1,250 corruption cases.