40 Members of the European Parliament sent a letter to Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, to the President of the Chamber of Deputies Liviu Dragnea, and to the President of the Senate Calin Popescu Tariceanu. They asked them to respect the sovereignty of their own people and to organize without delay the referendum on the definition of marriage that was requested by 3 million Romanian citizens. The referendum is currently being postponed by more and more procedural delays.
In a letter, the 40 parliamentarians who come from 11 countries highlighted the "unprecedented democratic support" in favour of the referendum. Two years ago, 3 million signatures were collected as part of a European Citizen's initiative. These signatures supported the proposal to revise the Constitution of Romania by defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
In July 2016, the Constitutional Court gave its unanimous opinion in favour of the organization of the referendum. However, the process remains blocked due to repeated procedural obstacles. Last February, the Constitutional Court rejected a complaint against the law on the organization of the referendum. Therefore, at this moment there is no legal impediment whatsoever for the organization of the referendum. However, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis sent back to the Parliament the law for the organization of the referendum claiming that there are certain provisions that need to be reviewed by the Parliament. Of course, this is a tactical move to delay the organization of the referendum. On the other hand, the President of the Senate, Calin Popescu Tariceanu said that "we can not ignore the three million signatures of the Romanian citizens" arguing that there is an obligation that the law goes through the different stages without delay. This was also asked by the 40 Members of the European Parliament.
Last Monday, the Romanian Parliament approved the law for the organization of the Romanian referendum. This means that the legal setting for the referendum has now been established. After the law enters into force, the next step will be the approval of the Citizens' Initiative by the senate. It seems that there is a momentum among Romanian political parties for the organization of the referendum now.
However, suddenly, Socialists president (and President of the Chamber of Deputies) Liviu Dragnes said that in addition to supporting the organization of the referedum, the adoption of a legislative framework for same sex partnership should be discussed. Similar legislative proposals have been rejected before by a large majority of the Romanian Parliament. The fact that this statement was welcomed by the Romanian National Council for Combating Discrimination (who also pleaded before the European Justice Court to recognize same sex marriage in the oral hearing of 21 November 2017) could be seen as an effort to confuse the discussions on same-sex marriage or an attempt to use this proposal to establish conditions for the Romanian referendum.
According to the Romanian Coallition for the Family: "it is the first time in Romania since December 1989 that a civic initiative has so many supporters, has complied with all the Constitutional requirements and has reached such an advanced stage in the legislative process". The 40 European Parliament Members are rightfully asking for the organization of the referendum without delay. It is good that the civil society is getting stronger and more united and that 3 million people signed the request for this referendum. On the other hand, the trust of Romanians in the politics is low. Therefore, this Citizens initiative in Romania should be taken very seriously. Instead of trying to find all means to frustrate the legal procedures to organize this referendum, it is better to organize this referendum as soon as possible and to focus more on campaigns.
American President Franklin D. Roosevelt said in a speech in 1938 that " (the) government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country." Three million Romanian citizens are simply asking for an opportunity to exercise their democratic rights within the existing framework of the Romanian law. It will be a big test for Romanian politics. Will the voice of so many people in Romania will be taken seriously or will they be silenced again by political games? If the latter happens, it will lead to disappointment and more distrust towards politicians.
The biggest threat for democracy are not protests on the streets or power changes. The biggest threat is an increasing lack of interest to vote because of distrust and the idea that politicians do not listen to the people and that voting and participating will not help in any way. The turnout in the latest Romanian elections was quite low. However, the good news is that the civil society is stronger and was able to collect 3 million signatures. If Romanian politicians heed the call of their citizens, more people will be interested in politics.
The political leadership in Romania has therefore to choose between two courses of action: will they seize this important moment to gain more trust by many of its citizens or will they choose to create more distrust? I believe that not only the referendum, but the Romanian democracy is at stake here whether you support the traditional definition on marriage or not.
(Article written by Lefteris Kaloterakis and Leo van Doesburg)