Ex EU commissioner to become Romanian prime minister

Former EU Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos is set to become Romanian prime minister, will lead national unity government until next planned elections in December 2016

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Former EU Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos was on Tuesday appointed Romania's new prime minister, following last week's resignation of Victor Ponta after mass anti-government protests sparked by a deadly nightclub fire.

"I designate Dacian Ciolos for the post of prime minister," President Klaus Iohannis said after talks with the parliamentary factions on the formation of a new government.

"We need an independent prime minister, or a what we could call a technocrat -- a person of integrity who has not been implicated in scandals and who has been shown to be capable of managing complicated situations."

Ciolos now has 10 days to form a government and to win parliament's vote of confidence.

Thousands of Romanians have taken to the streets in mass protests since the deadly October 30 blaze at the Colectiv nightclub in Bucharest, which according to an updated toll left 48 dead and left scores more badly wounded.

Many viewed compromised safety standards at the club as emblematic of a wider problem with rampant corruption in one of the European Union's poorest nations.

Iohannis had on Sunday appealed for the protesters' support in reforming the country, but was shouted down by demonstrators seeking "profound change" as he visited Bucharest's University Square, the focal point of nearly a week of protests.

Ponta, who had been under pressure for weeks as he goes on trial on corruption charges, quit last week, saying it was right for top officials to take responsibility for the fire.

Ciolos, the EU's agriculture commissioner from 2010 to 2014, has since July been special adviser on international food security for European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

The 46-year-old was minister of agriculture in Romania's centre-right government between 2007 and 2008.

"I assure you that I will do my best to be up to this task," Ciolos said, adding that he would seek to "work closely with parliament" and Romanian society "in order to ensure progress" in one of the EU's poorest nations.

In a country where so many ministers have been allegedly involved in corruption -- or suspected of it -- Ciolos's record is clean.

Under pressure to effect change, Iohannis said the "best solution would be to form a government of technocrats".

"The political parties have understood the issue and mostly agreed, with some exceptions, with this idea," he said.

Ciolos is assured the support of Iohannis's opposition conservatives and two other main groups, as well as representatives of ethnic minorities.

Ponta's Social Democratic Party (PSD) has its support for Ciolos would depend on the proposed cabinet line-up and his new government's programme.

PSD leader Liviu Dragnea has already made it clear he is open to dialogue Ciolos as long as he takes the party's policies into consideration "in order to ensure the country's economic stability".