The political stakes of special pensions: why Marcel Ciolacu wants to speed up the reform, despite Nicolae Ciucă’s strong opposition
Marcel Ciolacu, PSD president and future prime minister if the coalition protocol is respected, made two consecutive appearances on Wednesday and Thursday dedicated almost exclusively to the reform of special pensions, an important milestone in the NRPP. In both public appearances, Ciolacu called on his coalition partners to resolve the issue quickly and criticized, for the first time, the position of his liberal partner Nicolae Ciucă. Why is this such a big issue for Ciolacu?
The simple answer is that any failure to reform special pensions would be paid for during his term as prime minister. Which would make Marcel Ciolacu the only Romanian prime minister during whose term the country has lost EU funds.
In fact, Ciolacu has stressed in his two appearances – on Europa FM and in Parliament – his determination to reform special pensions: „I cannot accept a total abandonment of special pension reform. I will not agree to it in the current government or in the future. Romania needs special pension reform”.
He openly criticized the current Prime Minister Nicolae Ciucă for not taking on the reform of military pensions, magistrates’ pensions, etc., even though he was Defense Minister in the Cîțu government, which signed the PNRR.
The timetable of the NRPP clearly shows the path of this milestone of special pension reform:
Payment Request No. 3 (which includes the reform of special pensions) must be submitted to Brussels by the end of June 2023.
The European Commission has two months to consider and object (so September 2023)
The technical discussions between the European Commission and the Romanian authorities can be extended for another 2-3 months (as is the case with the current payment claim 2), i.e. up to December 2023.
If the European Commission decides that Romania has not met the reform milestone, it takes the decision to suspend the payment, which means that Romania has the amount decided by the Commission based on a precise algorithm blocked. The most likely deadline would be January 2024. And Marcel Ciolacu, as prime minister at that time, will have a major image problem.
Afterwards, there may be further negotiations between the European Commission and Romania if Romania decides to reverse the reform. If the steps are not sufficient, the European Commission will decide within a few months that the amount is lost forever.
Given this timetable, for Marcel Ciolacu it is essential that the special pension milestone is resolved as quickly as possible, so that the possible settlement of a failure is not charged to his account.
In addition, the PSD leader also has the parliamentary calendar on his side. The bill on special pension reform is due to be tacitly adopted in the Senate on 31 March. If it is not amended by the Senate by then, Ciolacu argues, it will not be able to be substantially amended in the Chamber of Deputies because it would violate the principle of bicameralism.
That is why Ciolacu publicly called for coalition leaders to adopt the amendments requested by the European Commission on Sunday 26 March, so that they can be tabled and voted on in the Senate by 31 March.
The PSD leader’s desire to resolve the special pension reform quickly was evident during Thursday morning’s statements in Parliament, when he said that if there is a need for revisions to the legislation, „we will call our colleagues back from parliamentary recess if necessary, so that the milestone is met”.
The biggest brake at the moment, however, comes from Nicolae Ciucă, head of the PNL, who has repeatedly declared, most recently on Thursday in Chisinau, that military pensions are not special pensions and should not be changed. Ciucă is a retired general in the Romanian army.
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