In this interview series, we reach out to some of our liberal party leaders to hear their thoughts on liberalism, Europe and beyond. Starting the series is Dan Barna, leader of ALDE member party Union Save Romania (USR). This interview was conducted in late March, when Europe started entering lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dan Barna, why did you decide to enter politics?
Politics is everywhere around us, and is defined and created by people. Once we realise this, we realise that achieving change in politics is not out of reach.
This is why I, and many others, decided to join Union Save Romania (USR). We are a party formed from the desire to change Romanian politics and the fate of our society. For three decades, we have witnessed the spread and perpetuation of corruption and incompetence in politics. It’s time for change.
In Romania, a tolerance for corruption has put citizens in danger for the last three decades, and the consequences are visible today. Our medical system has deteriorated and there is a lack of investment in hospitals, medical equipment and the training of doctors.
Now, amidst the Coronavirus pandemic, we feel the true cost of what the past 30 years have done to Romania. And this is one of the key reasons why USR entered politics – to create positive change in Romania, for the Romanian people.
"Politics is everywhere around us, and is defined and created by people"
USR is taking a stand against poor leadership because Romania needs a new kind of politics. Our party understands that every citizen can and must step forward and get involved in politics, in order to help foster change that will make Romania a better place – free from corruption, prosperous and more dedicated to deepening the European and Euro-Atlantic integration processes.
In 2019, you ran as a candidate in the Romanian presidential elections. What were the biggest lessons you learned from meeting and speaking with citizens and consitituents during your campaign?
I spent most of my presidential campaign talking to citizens, travelling thousands of kilometres to see and discuss with them, listening to their issues and opinions.
Perhaps this is why I understand the crisis today at a deeper level, because my colleagues and I have seen how things really look and how they are done at the regional level. Unfortunately, it is there where the COVID-19 pandemic hits the hardest, as conditions in hospitals are far from European standard. Our fate lays in the hands of doctors and medical personnel: they are the real heroes of Romania today and we have a duty toward them to understand what they are doing for us and to support them in return.
I understand this because during the presidential election campaign, I saw and created a strong connection with the real Romania, with our citizens everywhere. This is something that every politician has the duty to do and it is exactly what most Romanian politicians have failed to do for the past three decades. This is by far the most important outcome of the presidential campaign for me, regardless of the polling results.
On the other hand, I have learned that change cannot come over night. It needs time, it needs strength and it needs resistance. We have once again proved that we are the third-largest political force in Romania and that the old parties can no longer do whatever they want.
What are USR’s priorities this year?
Due to the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic, our main focus now is the security and safety of our citizens. USR supports the measures that the Government of Romania has taken in order to stop the spread of the COVID-19. But our support is not unconditional. We don’t hold back if we see things that we think can be done better.
However, our primary objective is to govern Romania and put into practice the changes we hope to see. Once we get there, we can start building a strong and promising tomorrow by, for example, enforcing the rule of law, investing in green energy and reducing pollution, reforming institutions, supporting the private sector and SMEs and creating a more competitive economy. We also aim to strengthen democracy, advance the processes of accessing the Eurozone and Schengen area and make Romania a predictable, trustworthy and relevant EU and NATO member and an advocate of democracy and European and Euro-Atlantic values.
"USR is the party that has always stood for citizens and with citizens"
To achieve this at every level, we will need to empower local council representatives and mayors to start change at local level, where corruption is a long-standing epidemic. Both USR and our political allies have many candidates who are capable and ready to bring integrity, competence and a citizen-oriented attitude to the front line of politics in every county, city, town and village.
We also want to achieve solid election results in future parliamentary elections together with our allies. We succeeded in this in the 2019 European Parliament elections and will continue on this path.
What differentiates USR from other Romanian liberal parties is the fact that since its founding, it has consistently advocated for European values and principles. These values are at the core of our activities and programmes – USR is the party that has always stood for citizens and with citizens.
The world around us is in turmoil – in this context, what does liberalism in the 21stcentury mean for you and USR, and how do you see the future of the EU?
For me, liberalism in the 21st century means, among others, liberty accompanied by responsibility; market economy and economic freedom; education and equal chances for everyone; religious freedom; respect for the law and the rule of law; freedom of expression and human rights. Liberalism in the 21st century EU means putting the citizen back in the centre and encouraging them to become a part of the decision-making process.
It means not only fortifying and focusing on European and Euro-Atlantic core values and priciples, but also making sure that these values are shared with partner states. Upholding democracy, prosperity, peace, values and principles is key for liberalism in the 21st century.
The COVID-19 crisis represents a turning point for the EU. Solidarity, unity and shared efforts in the fight against this common foe must be the main priorities.
We are part of the ALDE family and of the Renew Europe Group in the European Parliament and we are confident that it is within this family that the best solutions for safeguarding the EU will be identified.
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