Fresh News

Wednesday, 15 September 2021

Press briefing by Prime Minister Florin Cîțu, Minister of Energy, Interim Minister of Economy, Entrepreneurship and Tourism, Virgil Popescu, Minister of Labour, and Social Protection Raluca Turcan at the end of the Cabinet meeting of September 15, 2021

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Florin Cîțu: Good afternoon. We had today on the Cabinet meeting two ordinances in the first lecture, but I am sure we will debate them over the next period. Ministers of Labor, and Energy and Economy will come up with details. First of all, I discussed a draft emergency ordinance that establishes that public welfare institutions employees will have to provide proof of vaccination, or contrary, present a negative Covid test result, or that they went through Covid. This is a draft ordinance in the first reading. We have here more details that the Minister will present.

The second topic, the second ordinance in the first lecture, compensating energy and gas prices, we had a very good discussion at today’s Cabinet meeting. I mandated the Ministry of Labor, the Ministry of Energy and the Ministry of Finance to come up with a final form. I would like the form to be completed, as well as the scheme with solutions to compensate non-household clients. Until now, I have spoken about household clients. I would also like to talk about non-household clients, especially SMEs. The Ministry of Labor must be involved because it is about compensating household consumers and we are thinking of how to do this in the simplest possible way.

Also in the Government sitting today, we had discussions on capping the gas prices. I introduced this topic into the debate in the Government. Mr Minister, together with the Competition Council, will also discuss with the European Commission. There are several options we're considering, but we wanted to have this option as well. We are looking for the best solutions for this period in which gas and energy prices have gone up, for household and non-household consumers, especially until March 31. We also discussed a medium-term draft law which I discussed with Minister, to see how we boost production capacity, connectivity, as there are in fact the solutions to see smaller prices in the medium and long term.

We are coming with solutions for winter. These are the two emergency ordinances I wanted to present to you, and which we long debated in the Cabinet meeting. The two Ministers are here, will give details afterwards. If there are questions for me, at this moment.

Reporter: Good afternoon! Give us more details about gas prices capping. Is it an option that you further follow?

Florin Cîţu: I have started looking at this solution too, we already have solutions for compensation, and we wanted to make sure that non-household clients and household clients, therefore, SMEs and individuals will not pay the whole bill this winter, and we will have to think what is the simplest form, for people not to be compelled to fill in so many forms.

As regards capping the gas price, I want us to look at this solution, but to me, it is important not to distort very much the market, because, when we introduce such measure, you distort the market, the motivation to invest, disappears for companies, and I want to see how we can take this measure, to be least invasive in the market, but we need to admit that there is a special situation requiring special measures. I think that the three Ministries will come up with a compensation solution for household and non-household clients by next week. Discussion about gas price capping, together, Ministry of Energy, Competition Council and the European Commission will discuss it. As you know, several EU countries are having talks with the European Commission on this issue.

Reporter: At what level will they be capped...

Florin Cîţu: We don’t have these details yet. Let us take them one by one.

Reporter: Mr Prime Minister, the President of the Senate notified the Constitutional Court, made the announcement today because you did not come with ministers’ nominations in 5 days, as provided by the Administrative Code for the vacant portfolios. Under this procedure, please tell us why you did not make these proposals, apart from the fact that, we know, the interim may take 45 days and how you comment on the approach taken by Anca Dragu?

Florin Cîţu: I think that the president of the Senate wants to remove USR from the government because that is what she asks for in fact. The constitution is very clear and I understand that the President of the Senate says I have to come up with new nominations of ministers. If the configuration of the Government changes, there can be no ministers from USR PLUS. So the President of the Senate is telling us to remove USR from the government. It's a hilarious approach at least, but – good luck!

Reporter: Hello! Today, Nelu Tătaru had some rather sharp statements regarding wave 4. First of all, he said that our country is taken by surprise, as in the case of wave 3, that attention should be redirected to a mandatory test or vaccination, to avoid overcrowding of intensive care beds. Why are we taken by surprise again, given that it was an anticipated wave a few months ago and we already knew that the vaccination campaign did not go well during this period?

Florin Cîţu: The interim Minister of Health assured me that there are already an extra 200 beds, from the moment he took over this mandate. You know very well that I said, right at the end of wave 3, that I do not want anything to change in terms of COVID beds and ICU sections. I found out, of course, afterwards that they changed, there are fewer beds than before. Minister Cseke has the same mandate from me, for ICUs to have1600 beds as fast as possible. Of course, all resources, as we have done so far, will be allocated to the Ministry of Health, if needed. The Budget Law states very clearly that the Health Ministry can reallocate resources within the ministry if there are expenses for vaccination. For example, if 400 million lei remain unspent, the amount will be allocated to carry on the vaccination campaign through family doctors; this amount could have been redirected to something else. At the same time, I have made sure that payment will be made this week for vaccination centres, payment will be made on time and we will continue to do so in the next period.

Reporter: So you were basically saying that the system is not unprepared, but simply not enough people have been vaccinated?

Florin Cîțu: No ... I have always said that there should be 1,600 beds, we are not there, and the Minister will make sure that there will be 1,600 beds. But the minister has just taken over this ministry, will correct if there are problems, he will correct them in the shortest possible time.

Reporter: Mr Prime Minister, I wanted to ask you about the certificate ... Government sources said that it will be approved today. Have you changed your mind about ...?

Florin Cîțu: No.

Reporter: Or when is it to be approved and, especially, if it is extended to restaurants, for example, so that they can receive more customers, for cafes or just for private events, such as weddings, baptisms?

Florin Cîțu: Firstly, the CNSU [National Committee for Emergency Situations] Decision has to be adopted, for then to be a government decision in the government session. The direction we are going towards is the following: I don't want to close economic activities over 3 per thousand anymore and then, for these activities to remain open, we must have a form of monitoring. The green certificate, especially that now it can be checked through that QR code, is very simple, is one of the proposals for these activities to remain open, but on the basis of a green certificate. So, restaurants can remain open on the basis of a green certificate, it's a proposal, we see if it will be approved in the CNSU. The idea is, of course, we will speak after of restaurant staff; for example, they must wear a mask at all times, so there are a few conditions, but we are starting from the basic idea that we don't want to shutter economic activity at over 3 per thousand. Now we have a vaccine, we have a way to check if someone's been vaccinated, if they were tested or if they went through the disease, so we have this green certificate. It's a way to maintain the economy open, but, at the same time, to maintain certain rules.

Reporter: But this proposal - regardless of the incidence rate?

Florin Cîțu: I said over 3 per thousand incidence rate.

Reporter: Only over 3 per thousand.

Florin Cîțu: Over 3 per thousand, yes.

Reporter: And, if you allow me a clarification to my colleague's question: how many places, how many beds are currently available at ICUs across the country and in Bucharest?

Florin Cîțu: Mr Minister told me that he had increased the number of beds by 200. I know there were 864, so there should be over 1,000 beds available right now. I get the analysis at 3:00 pm every day and I'll see then.

Reporter: Do you know the situation in Bucharest?

Florin Cîțu: Yesterday, I think that there were 20 vacant beds in Bucharest, but you realize that things are changing, as every day, vacant beds add to them, so, there are vacant beds. You should know that we should not speak about ICU beds, we should discuss the vaccination campaign. In order not to need extra ICU beds, people should get vaccinated, it is the only solution. We can further allocate resources to have ICU beds, COVID sections and so on, or use the green certificate. We solve the issue through vaccination, it is the only solution to get rid of the pandemic if we want to do so as soon as possible.

Reporter: But speaking of vaccination, will we see in the next period other emergency ordinances by which, for example, doctors, teachers would be required to either get vaccinated or tested periodically? Also by emergency ordinance?

Florin Cîţu: Yes, we are going in this direction. We'll see what the best measure is. Clearly, we will ask for testing. I understand that 70% of the medical staff is already vaccinated, but we want them to be tested at least. We'll see the best option. Now, the discussion is about the normative act that will be taken over. We have this emergency ordinance today, some measures, we will see later.

Reporter: So also by emergency ordinance. That was the question.

Florin Cîţu: It is an ongoing discussion.

Reporter: Tested on their money?

Florin Cîţu: At the moment, this is the option.

Reporter: I would like to ask you about the separate opinions of the presidents of the two chambers on that notification sent to the Constitutional Court. You have certainly seen what happened in the Parliament, we also have an opinion of Mrs Dragu and the opinion of Mr Orban sent to the Constitutional Court, not those of the Parliament, basically. How was this difference seen from here, from the government and how does PNL see it, I would ask you.

Florin Cîţu: From my point of view, the Constitution must be observed and we will see what the Constitutional Court rules.

Reporter: So says Mr Orban.

Florin Cîţu: We will see, and then we will go to the Constitutional Court, which will decide who observes the Constitution.

Reporter: And a little clarification. Mr Nazare said that when there were discussions on PNRR, you did not take him to the negotiations. I mean, he was in Brussels, but he didn't go to negotiations with you. Did that happen, or exactly what happened during those discussions, that he didn't participate in? He made a statement.

Florin Cîţu: I have nothing to comment on here, I really have nothing to comment on. I am sorry. You didn't say anything then, it seems strange to me to complain about something after many months when you didn't say anything then. Thanks.

Reporter: The only way out of this political crisis at the moment could be resolved by President Klaus Iohannis, with a tête-à-tête discussion. This is the statement made today by the PNL president, Ludovic Orban. Have you had such a discussion with the President or do you consider that such a discussion is necessary in order to get out of this crisis?

Florin Cîţu: The president decides if he wants to have a discussion and with who. I said that the solution was a very simple one: a minister of justice, right away, who would do his job and not obstruct the governmental act. It wasn't that solution. Very well. There was another solution - withdrawing the censure motion. This did not happen either. We'll see later what the solutions are on the table in the future.

Reporter: Would it be a solution for you, to solve the current political crisis, to stand down from the Government's helm?

Florin Cîţu: Never. I am not an irresponsible person. To plunge Romania into chaos, to leave Romania without a Government on the eve of winter, when we already have, as you see, so many problems - the fourth wave (of the COVID-19 pandemic), we have the energy price, the discussion on the minimum wage will follow, the budget for next year. To plunge Romania into chaos - I am not irresponsible, I will not do this. I see the Dragnea method being adopted by other colleagues, but it will never be adopted by me.

Reporter: A few clarifications on another topic, please. Regarding the green certificate for attending events, if you can tell us at least when it could enter into force, given that there are people who have events scheduled in the next period and we see that more and more localities are quarantined.

Florin Cîţu: Next week, at the latest.

Reporter: Will it be adopted in the Government?

Florin Cîţu: Yes, yes.

Reporter: You also mentioned the restaurants, and also that you do not want to close the businesses, but we are going in the direction that other states have gone. In Italy, for example, this certificate is required on public transport means. And, if so, when do we have a decision on this subject?

Florin Cîţu: I said, this week, we will have more discussions, especially with INSP, with the Ministry of Health, to see what the best formula is. I tell you my preference: as I said in terms of school, that I want it to have in-person attendance, to find the measures so that we have schools with in-person -attendance, so I tell you that I do not want to close the economy, even before the wave 3, we will keep the economy open. It is one of the options. We need to come up with this decision as soon as possible so that people know exactly what the measures are for when we exceed a certain threshold or 3 per thousand.

Reporter: You said that people will pay the cost of testing from their pockets...

Florin Cîţu: Regarding this option, in the first lecture.

Reporter: Many people cannot pay as the tests have to be done weekly.

Florin Cîţu: This option is in the first lecture, which means we keep on debating, waiting for other solutions from elsewhere.

Reporter: Would the solution be that state defrays ...?

Florin Cîţu: The state provides free vaccination. It is free and non-mandatory vaccination in Romania.

Reporter: Mr Prime Minister, in August, you had a meeting with ANRE, Energy Minister, Competition Council /.../, and you gave assurances that you will not cap prices. You said that we will not cap prices, but you will complete a short–term solution, that of compensating bills, that will happen next week, as you said.

Florin Cîţu: Yes.

Reporter: What has happened so far? Has any connection with PSD that initiated a draft law on capping the prices or it announced that it will initiate?

Florin Cîţu: No, it has no connection. PSD has copied it. Many of the measures promoted by PSD are copied after ours. No. It is what I can see at the European level. There are six EU countries that mentioned capping on prices. If prices are capped in all EU countries, it would be odd that we remain the country with the highest price and bear all costs in this market,  then, it is not a free market anymore. If there are countries that cap their prices, Romania cannot simply look at them. That is the difference between then and now. 

Reporter: Allow me another question, related to the price increase. There is an alarming increase in prices in the insurance market. It is a very big crisis here, yet another big insurer, leader of the insurance market, leader of the insurances and RCA market, City Insurance, is close to bankruptcy. ASF would have to supervise somehow. Today, a decision is awaited, it was not taken last week...

Florin Cîțu: There are two ordinances in the approval circuit. I discussed today in the Competition Council. It should have been on the Government table next week, an ordinance which refers to prices, and one which refers to this situation of City Insurance, if it reaches there, to make sure that people will not remain ...or to have a claim, therefore, we make sure that they will finally pay the guarantee fund.

Reporter: Two emergency ordinances?

Florin Cîțu: Yes, there are two, one for prices, it is about prices...it is in the approval circuit, I understood at the Competition that one is under analysis, the other..

Reporter: The RCA insurance price?

Florin Cîțu: Insurance policy.

Reporter: What do you want to do with them more precisely?

Florin Cîțu: They have not reached me, I want to see the final form, and afterwards, I tell you what they want to do. The Competition Council assured me that it is in the approval circuit, when I see the final form, we will see what it is about, more precisely.

Reporter: The second, linked to the City?

Florin Cîțu: If something happens, let us make sure that all clients are protected, but that is the idea in fact.

Reporter: Thank you.

Reporter: Mr Prime Minister, recently, another alleged plane of smugglers from Ukraine flew non-stop over the Romanian airspace and if last time the Ukrainian plane seems to have been detected by the border police, now it has not even been noticed. Not only do the planes enter the country undisturbed, we also see cocaine that passes through Constanța, that arrives in banana boxes, etc. I would like to ask you, in these circumstances, what are our chances of persuading our European partners that we deserve to join Schengen if you have discussed with the relevant ministers and what measures will be taken to prevent such incidents from happening again?

Florin Cîţu: I have always been in contact with line ministers on this issue, they assured me that they will allocate even more resources and that they will soon come up with solutions. This is, in fact, all about. But you know very well that on the ANAF side, for example, there is that issue with scanners and we still have a discussion to hold in this respect. I have proposed every time, and I think that this is eventually the solution, to take this discussion to CSAT and there to find a solution to be implemented as soon as possible.

Reporter: And I would also like to ask you about a topic that has inflamed public opinion quite a bit. At the beginning of the school year, you appeared together with the mayor Popescu Piedone. For many people and especially for the survivors of the Colectiv Fire, relatives and victims, he is a symbol of the impunity and cynicism of the Romanian authorities who manage things in such a faulty way, so that young people burn alive. I would like to ask you if you were informed that he will attend the ceremony and why you did not refuse, you could participate in the opening of the school year at a school where the mayor did not raise so many questions.

Florin Cîţu: I was not informed. I was invited by Minister Cîmpeanu and the director of Gheorghe Lazăr, an elite high school, which undertook a pilot program. That's how the invitation was made to me, I took it as such and attended the event. I will not comment on more.

Reporter: Do you have a message for the relatives of the survivors who have ...

Florin Cîţu: I said before and I repeat it even now, justice must take its course, and we all wait for justice to do its duty.

Reporter: Mr Prime Minister, I would like to return a little to the increase in electricity and natural gas prices. How will you help companies get over this huge rise in natural gas and electricity prices? This law on the vulnerable consumer only applies to household users and this emergency ordinance also ...

Florin Cîţu: This emergency ordinance in this form. The discussion we had today, in the Cabinet meeting, was for us to complete the emergency ordinance with the non-household consumer, especially SMEs because there are facilities for large consumers. And the solution will come for the non-household consumer, in the same ordinance, when it is approved.

Reporter: What compensation will they be able to receive, can you tell us?

Florin Cîţu: Which of them?

Reporter: SMEs or large companies. These increases will also be reflected in the price of food, goods and services ...

Florin Cîţu: Here is the idea. We'll see what the final form will be. We know what we can do for the household consumer. I am waiting for the solution from the Ministry of Energy for the non-household consumer, but it should be included in the same ordinance. Yes, it must be eventually significant. You know, compensation does not help lower prices because they, the costs, are the same, only who adjusts ... The cap helps, but in the short term, because if prices continue to rise elsewhere, there is this short-term solution. After all, the only long-term solution is to increase energy production capacity in Romania and, therefore, investment is needed. And you've seen it this year. Although I had a memorandum asking for 90% of the dividends of all companies, when companies came, and especially energy, and said they would make available to the Government only 50% of dividends because the rest will be for investment, I agreed. But at the same time, I asked the ministry to monitor very well that this money will go into investments and will not remain in the account until the end of the year. If something like that happens, next year, it will not happen on my part to reduce that contribution.

Reporter: And if you allow me a question about the conflict between the Government and the Parliament. What point of view did you send to the Constitutional Court’s judges today or yesterday?

Florin Cîţu: The government sent a point of view to the judges which will be made public after this press conference. You will see it publicly on the Government's website, so everyone can read it.

Reporter: Has it already been conveyed?

Florin Cîţu: Yes, I signed it. The Government sent the point of view to CCR. It is very simple, you will see it there. Thank you very much!  Minister of Labour, please, if you can provide details on the ordinance. Thank you!

 

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