National Liberal Party (PNL)

National Liberal Party (PNL). The National Liberal Party claims to be the heir of one of Romania’s two major inter-war parties. The pre-war PNL had predominantly represented Romania’s urban elite and been one of Romania’s two largest parties.

The PNL was one of the first parties to be registered after the fall of the Ceausescu regime. Originally a rather minor party, the party emerged from the Democratic Convention government of 1996-2000 as the strongest member of the former alliance and the torchbearer of its economically liberal, reformist, democratising zeal.

The PNL is a right-wing liberal party with conservative tendencies in some areas. Like its predecessor it is predominantly a party of urban elites and the intelligentsia. It is popular amongst the young and was long seen as the least corrupt mainstream Romanian party, though it is by no means seen as totally clean. The PNL is perhaps the least religious and most socially liberal Romanian party, however this is very relative in a country in which the Orthodox Church still maintains significant power over public life and some PNL members are very conservative.

The party is the biggest proponent of free markets in Romania and has historically tended to push low, flat, taxes. Under the PNL Romania adopted a flat tax of 16%. Until the financial crisis the PNL desired to push this even lower.

In recent years, the party has come to have certain nationalist tendencies and instincts, refusing to govern with the ethnic Hungarian UDMR, for instance.

The PNL had originally been quite friendly towards Basescu, running in alliance with them in the ‘Justice and Truth Alliance’. PNL PM Popescu-Taraceanu’s spectacular falling out with Basescu, however, forced the PNL into opposition to Basescu, though the party managed to continue holding the premiership and the government without the President’s support until the 2008 election. The party attempted to impeach him in 2007, while this failed, it could hardly be said to have improved relations between the two parties.

The PNL thus begun to more softly move towards the PSD. After winning a majority in the 2008 parliamentary election the two tried to form a government, but the cunning Basescu managed to prevent them from doing so.

The PNL would later form the junior partner to the PSD in the Social Liberal Union alliance. Yet once again the PNL would come to experience infighting with its coalition partner. The PNL believed, not unfairly, that Prime Minister Ponta was attempting to side-line while it, Ponta accused it of being a party solely dedicated to the election of its leader, Crin Antonescu, as President. The formation of a PSD alliance with fellow USL members, the Conservatives and the tiny opportunist UNPR, leaving the PNL isolated within the governing coalition led the PNL to withdraw from government in early 2014.

The PNL is now the largest opposition party in Romania and polls in a distant second place to the Social Democratic Party.

The PNL was traditionally a rather pro-European party. It is a big supporter of expansion of the EU, and supports a common EU migration policy and security and defence policy. It does, however, support common EU tax or social policies.

The EU’s tacit support for Basescu has led the PNL to become more Eurosceptic however. Antonescu has made controversial comments that Merkel and other European leaders planned to ‘federalise’ Romania and stated that Romania’s leaders would not be ‘servants’ of the EU.

The PNL is a member of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe. The party maintains 98.5% loyalty to ALDE, the second highest after the Belgian VLD, the party of the ALDE leader, Guy Verhofstadt.