Who governs Romania today and in whose name? After the Colectiv fire and the November protests, the “social-democratic” government of Victor Ponta has been replaced, after days of media-induced intrigue, by a government of technocrats. Sometimes referred to as “coming from Europe”, as in from the institutions and various bodies of the European Union, they are, as every technocrat, professionals in their field and disengaged from traditional political life.
However, their coming to power – however wrong the expression seems in this respect due to the imbedded political neutrality of technocrats – left political parties in a state of uncertainty. Who forms the governing majority, who is in the opposition? The liberals, previously in the opposition, have an ideological foothold in the liberal-minded PM Dacian Ciolos, but cannot act as if they are governing. PSD, on the other hand, still holds majority in the Parliament and regards the last measures they have taken from the position of governance as a continuation of their term.
Neither major parties of Romania can criticize the current government after it was given the vote of confidence by an extended majority in the Parliament. Moreover, as the technocrats are supposed to disappear from the public stage after the upcoming elections, criticizing them would be as if fighting a ghost. There is simply nothing to gain by politically attacking an opponent who does not seek re-election. But what is technocracy and its place in Romania?
To begin with, modern political parties exist and operate under the presupposition that individuals have an inherent political dimension, an identity that is evident during, but certainly not limited to, elections. It was the Christian revelation, building on Greek thought, which stated that each individual has to possess an identity which cannot be overruled, even by God: the soul. Drawing on this intellectual luggage, parties embody and instrumentalize the ideological divisions within a given society. Thus in the modern world each person has a political identity as they have a body. “The traditional binominal relation was soul-religion; the modern one is body-politics”, in the words of Horia Roman Patapievici.
Restraining our object of study to Romania, the lack of political culture after 1989 for both the Romanian political class and the general population had severe consequences. Electorally, the winning discourse for the last 25 years has been populist, centered on egalitarianism, combined with the assistance of the big, socialist state and the “archaic mantras” of the old right: the state, order, peace and quiet, the nation, religion and social harmony. This was the discourse of charismatic Romanian leaders after the Revolution, be they Ion Iliescu, Traian Basescu and, moderately, even Emil Constantinescu.
However, the fall of the Ponta government came as somewhat of a surprise. The cabinet, originally proclaimed “the most honest government” in post-1989 Romania, had to pay its due of corrupt ministers, more than ever before, under the gaze of the intentionally undermanned and underfunded DNA. The parliamentarian majority, however, did not falter, keeping in power time and time again a government that was successful in its policies only in the mind of its own elderly and economically illiterate electorate. As the internal structure of the governing social-democrat party and of the ruling coalition itself changed, ministers informally came under the direct authority of the new party leader, Liviu Dragnea, a usual “client” of DNA. The cabinet remained a shadow of its former self, desperately flying the colors of USL, the “monstrous alliance” of liberals and social-democrats that initially took power, in order to maintain appearances.
As the fires of passion which characterized the protests died down, a new Prime Minister was named in the person of former European Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos and a new technocratic Cabinet, supposedly free of the hated politruks, slowly took shape. As a phenomenon, technocracy, coined in the USA during the first half of the 20th century, is the tendency to give precedence to technological competence over political legitimacy, to prefer rational administration over the tumultuous and tenuous public debate. This type of thinking arose with the 1929 crisis and the subsequent massive unemployment that followed, creating a frustration that led to the desire for an alternative political organization that would better manage people and resource.
Technological competence was supposed to yield to spiritual power in the perfect society envisaged from as far back as the time of Saint-Simonians. In the Saint-Simonian religious frame, the judge of public interest became an apostle of progress. The most fundamental tendency at work through the adherence of so many engineers, among other professional classes, to Saint-Simonianism, and later to Fourierism, had rather to do with a profound denial of the fecundity of political and social conflict. The Saint-Simonian doctrine was all the more attractive to engineers, the stereotypical technocratic professionals, because it presented itself as an antidote to violent conflict between haves and have-nots.
Thus, a “technocratic minister” is someone “totally lacking in both parliamentary and party political background and having, rather, some specialist background that is related to the ministry he or she occupies”. For an extended definition, a prime minister or minister is a technocrat if, at the time of his/her appointment to government, he/she: (1) has never held public office under the banner of a political party; (2) is not a formal member of any party; (3) is said to possess recognized non-party political expertise which is directly relevant to the role occupied in government. Jean Meynaud, in turn, stressed that “when he becomes a technocrat, the expert becomes political”, contradicting commentators that have on occasion misleadingly referred to technocrat-led governments as “apolitical” or “non-political”.
In the Italian case, the Monti government, which was established during the most acute phase of the 2008-originated economic crisis and thus defined as an ‘emergency government’, was largely considered as the best temporary solution by both the previous outgoing centre-right majority and by the centre-left opposition. However, the arrival of technocrats strengthened the position of others, such as the Democratic Party and the Third Pole, and weakened the People of Freedom and the Northern League parties. The neutrality of governmental technocracy thus brings about a period of competitive unrest, probably to follow in Romania.
Technocracy was a theme of Habermas’s writing in the 1960s and ’70s, a period defined by the domination of ideologies. Back then, Habermas and the student protest movement to which he responded targeted paternalism, hierarchy, and large-scale bureaucracy. By contrast, technocracy today must be seen in the service of monetary economics. Its interventions are cast as exceptional actions to address unforeseeable contingencies, not as the normal business of government, and it entails a self-referential political arrangement, insulated from the public. The same insulation is the strongest argument against technocracy and its faceless and professional, Leviathanesque government.
The government of Dacian Ciolos is however not immune to the former, populist measures taken by Ponta, as Boc was plagued by the memory of Tariceanu. Electorates have a short memory in Romania. If you spend the money saved by another, you are viewed as a hero. Conversely, if you have to carry the debts and repair the mistakes of your predecessor, blame falls solely on you and yours. Governing is a matter of timing in that way. The Left was always good at coming to power in times of crisis, not only in Romania but everywhere, due to their discourse. In the same fashion, the Right was always better at saving money due to their view of the minimal state.
“Each society has its regime of truth, its ‘general politics’ of truth,” Foucault famously claimed. “That is,” he continued, “the types of discourse which it accepts and makes function as true; the mechanisms and instances which enable one to distinguish true and false statements, the means by which each is sanctioned; the techniques and procedures accorded value in the acquisition of truth; the status of those who are charged with saying what counts as true.” Communist regimes fell because their discourse contained no legitimacy whatsoever, be it in the minds of leaders or of the masses. After 1989, Romania struggles still with the acquisition of truth as the sanctioning of false truths is still in its incipient phase of institutionalization.
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Credits to Razvan Nae for the cover photo