A date has been set for when Romanian citizens will vote on whether to change the definition of “the family. On 6th and 7th October, the country will vote in the referendum, which has been widely condemned around Europe as “backward” and unacceptable. Politics in Romania has captured the world in the last 12 months as corruption and scandal has outraged millions of the Romanian public. Although this referendum has been branded as a constitutional one, it could potentially damage the country’s reputation and status within the EU, as well as further divide the nation on the political and moral issues.
The detail of the referendum is rather complicated; Romanian citizens are voting on whether to change the definition of “family” which is in Article 48 of the country’s constitution. If the country voted in favour of the reform, it would potentially rule out legalising same-sex marriage. It is rather an extraordinary vote, considering the country is a member of the EU and part of western and European culture.
However, much of the country’s build up to this vote has gone unheard; the referendum has been triggered by a citizen’s initiative from the “Coalitia pentru Famillie” (the coalition for family) in 2015. A petition needs 500,000 signatures to initiate a constitution amendment referendum, but this petition gathered over 3 million signatures. Presently, the Romanian constitution defines family as the “free-willed marriage between spouses”. However, the referendum will aim to change it to “free-willed marriage between man and woman”.
Many western Europeans would assume that the Romanian politicians are shocked at this backward-looking referendum. However, this could not be further from the case; as most politicians support the amendment, as well as most religious groups. The Chamber of Deputies approved the initiative in May 2017, with a vote of 232-22. Surprisingly, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis is against the amendment, which is unlikely to make him popular as Romania is expected to support the amendment.
However, the EU are furious, and the European Commission on Sexual Orientation Law filed a challenge with the Constitutional Court. Moreover, this referendum will differ from past ones as previously there must be a 50% turnout for the result to be valid, but now it has been lowered to 30%, meaning the vote is nearly certain to be acted upon.
The referendum has been delayed twice due to ongoing political protests happening all over the country in the last 12 months. The main issue is political corruption; in July President Iohannis approved the dismissal of anti-corruption prosecutor Laura Codruta which was met with outrage and disgust from citizens. Furthermore, the government has passed a decree meaning that politicians jailed on corruption charges can now be freed. Over 150,000 people gathered in Bucharest to protest against these decisions; hence why the referendum has been delayed.
Romania’s situation certainly brings a moral dilemma when forming an opinion. From an EU perspective, they have every right to be furious about this situation; due to it being a backward approach which goes against neoliberal western society. The EU are not afraid to express their views and to intervene, as they are currently doing with the Hungarian refugee crisis.
However, on the other hand Romania’s internal democratic values and affairs is a domestic issue. Therefore, it can be argued that the EU should not be intervening, even bullying, a national democracy. Romania’s citizens have a more traditional opinion on family and marriage, and 3 million signing a petition certainly gives the country a mandate to hold a vote. Whatever people may feel, it will be very interesting to see which way the country votes on October 6th and 7th, and what the EU’s response will be!