INTERVIEW/Senate's Anca Dragu: I want to bring down physical, imaginary walls between Parliament and citizen

Discussions are being held with representatives of the civil society, included, regarding the issue of demolishing the walls around the Parliament Palace, Senate President Anca Dragu told an interview for AGERPRES. According to Anca Dragu, this is a larger 'opening up' project, which goes 'beyond the physicality of the wall's demolition'. In the interview for AGERPRES, she also spoke about the fact that the senators are to receive tablets, so as not to vote by phone any longer, until the beginning of February, when the budget law is to be put to the vote. Also, a document management system will be introduced in the institution, in order to know exactly their course and the extent to which the deadlines are met. The agenda of the Standing Bureau will be published on the Senate's website, the president of this forum mentioned. As regards the reduction of the number of parliamentarians, Anca Dragu declared that this topic will be an item on the agenda of the Joint Committee of the Senate and Chamber of Deputies on the Modernization of the Electoral Code. Moreover, the President of the Senate will be involved in the elaboration of some legislative initiatives aimed at: increasing companies' access to financing; combating domestic violence; implementing the "School from 8.00 to 17.00" program, according to which, between 8.00-17.00, students will participate in study classes in the morning, at noon they will have a hot meal, and in the afternoon they will do their homework and will be able to get involved in extracurricular activities. In the economic field, the former Minister of Finance advocates for the digitization and implementation of the measures deriving from the Green Pact, showing that Romania must become a leader in these sectors. AGERPRES: Among the first goals you have announced are to increase transparency and digitization. You took office only a few days ago, but are there any measures you have already taken or intend to implement in the near future? Anca Dragu: Yes, there are measures already taken and here I would refer to the introduction of tablets for the plenary vote. These tablets are available in the Chamber of Deputies. In our case, at the Senate, voting is still conducted by phone. We wanted to prepare to have this functional and coherent vote when we vote on the budget law in early February. I have identified the lack of a document management tool in the institution. Basically, we know when a document entered the institution, but we do not know this document's circuit, where it stayed, how many days it stayed and we have some statutory responsibilities regarding these deadlines. I will introduce this document management system in the institution. As for transparency, I have decided to publish the agenda of the Standing Bureau. So far, we only had the time and date when the Standing Bureau convenes, but I hope that in a week we will have - maybe even at the next Standing Bureau - the published agenda. This idea came to me, I even received a question from a journalist - when she saw the announcement about the last Standing Bureau - what we have on the agenda. I went to the Senate page and noticed that there was no published agenda and then I made the decision to publish this information. AGERPRES: Is there time for senators to have these devices until the budget law is put to the vote? Anca Dragu: Yes, because we started these demarches even before Christmas. It was a process that had already been started in the Chamber of Deputies. It is only a replication of that effort. We will have by the end of the month a training session with senators so that they know how to use these tablets. AGERPRES: Another goal you have announced is for bills to be adopted based on opportunity studies. Is it feasible to have such a study for each project? Anca Dragu: The current legislation stipulates that the Government prepares these impact studies. They are sometimes either ignored, even at the level of the Government or at the level of Parliament or in both institutions. Yes, I would like at least the main laws to be based on these impact studies. We should also have opportunity studies. We should have a much better relationship with the Government. There are human resources and knowledge in the Government so that these bills can be pursued. Through better cooperation with the Government and a more responsible attitude of senators we can have laws adopted based on impact studies. We should not imagine that things will happen one hundred percent like this starting tomorrow, but it is a direction we will follow. AGERPRES: A subject that has regularly returned to the public's attention is the removal of the wall around the Parliament Palace. What is your point of view? Anca Dragu: It will be part of a larger project through which I want to tear down the physical and imaginary walls between Parliament and the citizen. After our discussion, I have a meeting with representatives of civil society working on such a project. AGERPRES: Is it about the construction of Uranus Park? Anca Dragu: There are about two projects on the table. On Friday I had a discussion with the former secretary general this project that they started. Now I will discuss this project to tear down the walls. As I said, it will be a larger project, which goes beyond the physical appearance of the wall's demolition and only that. This is about a large opening project. AGERPRES: Are there any legislative initiatives you would like to table in the next period? Anca Dragu: There are several areas on which I will focus my attention and strength, in terms of legislative initiatives. An important area is that of access to finance, for small companies, for large companies, because, if you look at the economic activity in Romania and the success rate of Romanian companies, an important element is the often difficult access to financing. I have the technical knowledge and experience in this field, so it will be a field in which I will clearly act. Another area is that of education and we have in the governing program this measure, the school from 8:00 to 17:00 hrs, which involves the extension of the pilot program "Hot Meal", initiated by the Ciolos government in 2016 and which, in fact, is my pet project. It involves more than that, it means that any child will go to school, will learn at school, will have extracurricular activities, a balanced nutrition in school, will do the assignments there and parents will be able to take the child home at the end of the working day, so both parents and children be able to have an efficient activity. I am also a mother and I know what it means to run with the child on the roads, to take him to school, to activities, to be worried that maybe he is not fed properly. However, this program aims to reduce the dropout rate, integrate children from disadvantaged areas and, in general, it has a very strong social component. Education is the zero priority for Romania, in my opinion. Another area in which I will get actively involved is domestic violence. Moreover, we are talking about protecting vulnerable people in general, whether they are women or children, maybe even men. But harassment and domestic violence are still topics, open wounds in Romanian society. AGERPRES: You encouraged a greater involvement of women in the social and political life. What do you think are the main reasons for which women are not as present in leadership positions and in the political life? Anca Dragu: I kept reading about this topic. For leadership positions, in the private sector, women in Romania are present. Even the studies show that those companies in which the board of directors has a significant number of women, have good economic results. Furthermore, women are more present in Romania than in Western European Countries in the fields of IT. For these more rugged sectors, of science, in Romania there are over 25% female employees, whereas the European average is somewhere around 16%. Also, the difference in income between men and women in Romania is smaller in comparison with all other European countries, of only 3%. So, men are paid 3% better than women. The European average is somewhere around 14-15%. I believe the biggest wage gaps are in Estonia - 22% and Germany - 20%, because women do not have access to significant positions, important ones, in the private sector, where there are also better salaries and bonuses. In various areas of the economy and society, Romania sits well when it comes to female representation. In politics, it is true, we are a bit behind. What I can do in this sense is to give an example to the women in Romania that you can be a political leader, you can have a balanced, harmonious life. You can have a family, a political and professional career. You can achieve all of those just as any other member of society. Also, I am a feminist, but not in the way in which I deny others' qualities. I believe that men and women complement each other in many other regards. Yes, women are more caring, have more empathy, but maybe the less empathic male style is important in some moments where decisions are being made or in certain positions. AGERPRES: You said at some point that a woman in a leadership position is more likely to be contested. Did you encounter this issue, or maybe even now, when you took over this position? Anca Dragu: I did not have this feeling in the Senate. Also, the cooperation with all my colleague senators was an extraordinary one. Up until this point I have had a very good cooperation with all senators from the parties in Parliament. Also, with the Senate staff I have very good relations. There are many women that work in the Senate. I did not feel this pressure now. AGERPRES: What is the stage of the merger of USR PLUS? When would the congress take place for electing the new leadership? Do you have a position in the the party's leadership? Anca Dragu: We hope that the merger take place in a few months. It depends on the last term the Court will grant to this legal process. Regarding the leadership position, I believe that it is not important, to hold or not a leadership position in a party. What matters is sharing the values of that party, to work, to get involved. I was a simple member, I was a founding member, too. And now I am part of the National Bureau of the PLUS Party, but I believe I can just as well contribute from any position. AGERPRES: A measure which you supported throughout the campaign is that of zero tax for the minimum wage. Minister Claudiu Nasui announced that agriculture would be the sector to fit best, regarding the implementation of this progressive measure. Still, among the contesters are those who support that such measure could encourage not declaring the real income. Anca Dragu: The "Zero taxes for minimum wage" comes in to right a wrong, that of poverty among those who have a job, receive a salary, but it is not enough to cover a bare minimum. As such, although the person works full-time, at the end of the month, the money he earns is not nearly enough to ensure a comfortable life. That is why I supported this measure, which, as I said, is meant to correct this injustice. I also noticed that in the field of Agriculture, the work poverty situation is the most severe and we should indeed adopt and gradually implement, in different areas of activity, and in the salary's value, too. Regarding declaring or not declaring income, this is actually a matter of tax evasion. The state must be capable of fighting against tax evasion. We cannot make laws for a certain part, let's say a minority of society, that does not comply with the tax regulations. All the more so, digitization will lead to eliminating these loopholes regarding the tax evasion. So, it is a fear that I do not share, honestly, and through the digitization and professionalisation of the National Agency for Fiscal Administration (ANAF), the way we are thinking of them, USR PLUS, but also in the governing coalition, these elements will be closed. AGERPRES: You recently referred to the establishment of a select committee tasked with assessing the reports of the Court of Accounts. What steps could this committee take? Of a regulatory nature? Anca Dragu: The Court of Accounts puts out several reports every year. They reach Parliament, the ministries, possibly the state-owned companies. Evaluations by international experts but also by Court of Accounts representatives have shown that these reports could be put to better use if Parliament, for example, had a select committee in place to examine all the reports and forward them to those responsible, and if there were a political accountability of institution heads, of government representatives, for implementing the conclusions of the reports. I would like this process of assessing the efficiency of the use of public money to be strengthened. It's a shame to squander resources. Public resources are limited - all resources are limited, public resources in particular. We need to be more responsible when it comes to public money. AGERPRES: You said that you support the creation of a select committee that should identify and settle inequities throughout the pension system. How long would it take for this committee to be set up and when could it deliver the first results or conclusions? Anca Dragu: There have been a lot of inconsistencies in these 20 - 30 years in the law regarding pensions, as well as in public pay legislation, which is why there are different pension amounts for similar working conditions and pay, and for this reason the state has this responsibility of standardizing the public pension system, of bringing all these deviations that occurred over time to a common denominator. It is frustrating to sit next to someone who has the same seniority but who collects a different pension for the mere reason of having retired under another, more favorable law. We must give such a committee a long period of time to look into the inequities in the public pension system. My priority is not time, but the quality of this work. It would be incorrect to say that I want this to happen in two months and the committee to do a sloppy job. So, the goal is the quality of the evaluation and then taking the best measures. AGERPRES: Regarding the committee that would analyze the issue of the number of lawmakers, do you think you will have the support of the other parties as well? Anca Dragu: It's possible. Just before sitting down with you, I had a meeting with civil society representatives who are campaigning for an electoral code. The issue of a 300-strong Parliament will be a point on the agenda of this joint Senate-Chamber of Deputies committee, for the modernization of the Electoral Code. Currently we have six or seven electoral laws. There are contradictions even inside the same law, between the law and the annex thereto, and between the laws. We have different regimes for different types of elections, although this makes no sense. As such, at this moment we want this Electoral Code Committee, which, I hope, will be set at up at the beginning of February, to analyze all aspects related to the electoral process in Romania. And, as I said earlier at the meeting with the civil society representatives, at the next elections in four years, we want us to have a flexible, logical, consistent Electoral Code which - as I see it - should be a benchmark for other European countries that want to modernize their electoral system. AGERPRES: Is the mask model worn by AUR MP Diana Sosoaca compliant? Did you receive an answer in this regard? Anca Dragu: I think this topic is already closed. Representatives in Parliament of all parties wore masks. Regarding mask compliance, we analyzed the legislation in force and did not find any details about compliance. But, as I said, after a first day of bickering, all the senators came to the meetings wearing masks. AGERPRES: You have already said that you will support increasing access to finance for companies. I'd like to ask you, as an economist, which do you think should be the Romanian economy's directions to be supported in the next period? Anca Dragu: We were faced with a very strange situation, very different from what we had experienced before: the pandemic. The pandemic has sped up the digitization process. Whether we wanted or not, we all went digital. Honestly, I don't think you can imagine so many meetings taking place online and somehow becoming the default way of solving many activities. State-owned institutions were forced to turn online more than they would have done it in absence of the pandemic. As such, digitization is obviously what we should be headed for. Then there are all the measures deriving from the European Green Deal. We must, in general, have a greener life, a greener economic activity. Transportation, energy, food, everything should be based on green, recyclable manufacturing processes and on the protection of the environment. There are new fields of activity - green, digital - where Romania must be a leader. We need to develop and support these areas through public policy. They are all included in the governing program of the USR PLUS Alliance, but also of the ruling coalition, and we must turn from followers into EU leaders in these activity fields. AGERPRES: You remarked at some point that trust in MPs is very low and I would like to ask you what your message is, what measures will you support to increase the level of trust? Anca Dragu: Trust is very, very low. Less than 10 percent of the Romanians trust Parliament. Confidence is very difficult to gain and is lost very quickly. This mistrust is the result of 30 years of deception, of misbehavior. It is our duty, of the MPs, and even more so the duty of the new politicians, to come together with the people, with the citizens, to talk to them, tell them what we think, how we think we should proceed, find out how they would want things to happen, what expectations they have from state institutions and together get Romania back on track. AGERPRES (RO - author: Irinela Visan, editor: Mirela Barbulescu; EN - authors: Simona Iacob, Catalin Cristian Trandafir, Simona Klodnischi, editors: Iacob Simona, Maria Voican)

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