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On January 1, Romania took over the rotating presidency of the European Union from Austria. The social democratic PSD-ALDE government led by Prime Minister Viorica Dăncilă, in cooperation with President Klaus Iohannis from the liberal PNL, will take on important European dossiers like migration and the multi-annual EU budget. Romania will also have to facilitate Brexit on March 29.

There are doubts, both in Brussels and Romania, about whether the current Romanian government is up to the task. The Minister for European Affairs, Victor Negrescu, resigned in early November, supposedly because of conflicts within his party, as well as his own desire not to be blamed for the possible failure of the EU presidency term. Meanwhile the PSD-dominated government has been much criticized inside Romania. Its uncontested leader Liviu Dragnea, who is not allowed to serve as prime minister because of corruption charges against him, is a particular source of controversy. As a result of this and other scandals, Romanians have taken to streets in large numbers since the December 2016 elections, demanding the resignation of the social democratic government.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag on December 30 that “Romania is technically well-prepared” for the presidency. He also said that he believed “the government in Bucharest has not yet fully understood what it means to take chair over the EU Member States.” The New York Times Romania correspondent Kit Gillet has written an excellent piece about the challenges facing Romania’s upcoming EU presidency:

The government of Romania is on a collision course with the European Union at the very moment it is scheduled to take a leadership role in the organization.

The presidency of the Council of the European Union — the body through which the bloc’s 28 member states help guide legislation and coordinate policy — moves from one country to another every six months. On Tuesday, it will be Romania’s turn for the first time since it joined the union 12 years ago.

At the same time, however, the government in Bucharest is pressing ahead with changes to its justice system that have been strongly criticized in Brussels, and top officials in the country are defending the government’s position with increasingly Euroskeptic language.

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