A hardcore advocate for "Greater Romania" could be the country's next president
Seven years after the UK voted for Brexit, nationalist movements are robust almost uniformly across the EU. Few countries are holdouts on right-wing nationalist parties holding seats in parliament: Lithuania, Malta and Ireland are basically the only countries on that list. But, of course, there is significant variation in the character and intensity of nationalists in each country.
Across Eastern Europe, as an example, parties with an explicitly irredentist bent have gained ground very recently. Hungary’s “Our Homeland” manages to stake out a position to the right of Orban, calling for a more aggressive approach to settling historical grievances over the Treaty of Trianon, which cut Hungary down to size in the wake of WW1. In Bulgaria, the “Revival” party dedicates a plank of its platform to “unification” with neighboring North Macedonia, which many Bulgarian nationalists consider to be part of their patria.
It is in Romania, however, that this strain of politics could perhaps have the most real-world impact. AUR, the “Alliance for the Unity of Romania,” entered parliament towards the end of 2020, despite dim prognostications for the party’s debut performance. Some pollsters did not even ask about them prior to the election. They ended up with around 9% of the vote.
In the interceding time, AUR has managed to leverage that score into double-digits polling. The current average from Politico sees AUR at 18% of the vote, neck-and-neck with the center-right PNL at 19%. In their best polls, the party has reached over 20%.
AUR, affiliated with Meloni’s ECR group in the European Parliament, possesses many standard traits of EU far-right parties. Arguably, AUR’s campaign centerpiece in 2020 was its opposition to Covid measures, a dynamic that propelled significant right-wing activity on the continent for a time. But AUR’s reason for existence, as its name points to, is reunification with Moldova, an integral part of the nationalist conception of a “Greater Romania.”
Unification with Moldova is a popular idea across the political spectrum in Romania, and AUR is not the first party to push for this. It is, however, by far the most hardcore party on the issue, and the party’s leader George Simion has been banned by Moldova in the past for political agitation. Opinion polling has shown that Moldovans are much more skeptical of joining Romania, though there has been a shift in recent years.
That owes to a complicated national history in Moldova, a former member of the Soviet Union where “Moldovan” was promoted as an identity and language separate from Romanian for decades. Only this year did Moldovan officials take steps to characterize their language as legally “Romanian.”
Speculation has abounded that AUR could forge a coalition government with the Social Democrats after the next election, especially if the current polling is confirmed. That may sound like a strange alliance, but Romania’s Social Democrats have a reputation for their conservatism, with reports that Salvini’s alliance was courting them in the 2019 EU vote.
AUR will have two opportunities to cement their influence, though. Romania’s presidential election is scheduled for next fall. At the moment, it appears likely that Romania will hold its legislative polls at the same time, setting up a “super-election” of major consequence.
According to the most recent poll taken for that presidential election, AUR leader Simion is tied for first place. Other polls to date had seen him with significant support, but observers across the continent should take note of the growing potential of a Simion win here.
Despite drawing a ban from the Moldovan government, Simion is actually somewhat of a “moderate” relative to his party. Other AUR figures include former co-leader Claudiu Târziu, who has expressed sympathy for the World War 2-era fascist Iron Guard government.
And given the reins of power, it’s not only possible that members of the party similar to Tarziu would end up at the helm of ministries. It would practically be a guarantee.