Nations in Transit - Romania (2003)

  • Author: Sandra Pralong, Mirela Apostol
  • Document source:
  • Date:
    29 May 2003

Capital: Bucharest
Population: 22,400,000
Polity: Presidential-parliamentary democracy
Economy: Capitalist-statist
Status: Free
PPP: $6,423
Private Sector as % of GDP: 65%
Life Expectancy: 71
Religious Groups: Romanian Orthodox (70 percent), Roman Catholic (6 percent), Protestant (6 percent), other (18 percent)
Ethnic Groups: Romanian (90 percent), Hungarian (7 percent), other, including German and Roma (Gypsy) (3 percent)

NIT Ratings199719981999200120022003
Electoral Process3.253.252.753.003.002.75
Civil Society3.753.753.
Independent Media4.254.003.503.503.503.75
Constitutional, Legislative, and Judicial Framework4.
Democracy RatingN/AN/AN/AN/AN/AN/A


The year 2002 proved to be a milestone for Romania. In November, the country was invited to join NATO, and in December it received confirmation that it is slated for European Union (EU) membership in 2007. This is a long way from where the country started a mere 12 years ago. Saddled with one of the harshest dictatorships in the Communist world, Romania had few hopes early on of catching up with its more liberal neighbors. Although well endowed with natural resources, the country had been mismanaged by a harsh command-and-control system that suppressed political rights, civil liberties, and economic initiative. The 1989 revolution to bring down dictator Nicolae Ceausescu ushered in a new era, but not the radical change for which many had hoped. Indeed, in the early 1990s it seemed that Romania was one of the few former Communist countries that was hesitant in its pro-Western orientation.

Having firmly chosen the side of freedom and open markets, Romania is now in possession of a young and growing democracy. Basic rights and liberties are generally secure, and governments of both the Right and the Left have gained and lost power. However, much work remains to be done to consolidate these hard-won gains.

For example, democracy in Romania today is somewhat weakened by the absence of a meaningful and constructive political opposition. Although there were no national elections in 2002, the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) used the lull to consolidate its power. The PSD now enjoys control over the central state apparatus, and the opposition is increasingly weak and fragmented. In addition, at the local level there has been an unprecedented political migration of local officials from the opposition to the ruling party.

A constitutional reform process, under discussion for several years, was finally begun in 2002 with help from civil society and various interest groups. Indeed, civil society was especially active in 2002 and influenced the adoption of several pieces of key legislation, such as the Law on Freedom of Information. At the same time, though, the government's proposal for a Law on State Secrets and Classified Information diminished any improvements achieved by allowing the public greater access to information.

In spite of the remarkable investigative work done by some daily newspapers, the media has seen its power decrease. In particular, the media's financial dependence on the state makes it increasingly beholden to political actors and vulnerable to corruption. Also, the government made several attempts in 2002 to restrict press freedom by proposing restrictive legislation regarding state secrets and the right of individuals to reply to information presented about them in the press.

Last but not least, corruption remained a major issue in 2002. Transparency International, for example, ranked Romania 72nd out of 102 countries monitored – one of the weakest showings of any former Communist country. Even though alarming corruption levels dampened investor enthusiasm, the economy was nevertheless quite strong in 2002. Inflation was stabilized at around 20 percent (though still among the highest levels in the region), and growth reached 4.5 percent.

Electoral Process (Score: 2.75)

Romania's electoral system is generally stable. Constitutional provisions on elections are respected, and international observers have considered all elections since 1989 free and fair. The system is also open to the rise and fall of governments from different sides of the political spectrum, and in both 1996 and 2000, incumbents lost power and made room for new leaderships. Further contributing to stability is the fact that ethnic minorities are represented in the country's political life, with 18 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Parliament, set aside for representatives of minority groups.

Nevertheless, the current electoral system, under which elections at all levels of government take place in the same year, fails to stimulate genuine political debates and competition. Instead, it focuses on the popularity and charisma of candidates. The absence of a centralized election commission also makes it difficult for the country to benefit from the knowledge and experience gained with each balloting. This not only creates administrative deficiencies, but also affects the interpretation of existing legislation. The establishment of a permanent body to manage and monitor elections and settle disputes is a prerequisite for building a strong, functioning electoral system.

The Constitution, the Law on Elections to the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, and the Law on the Election of the President of Romania regulate the country's electoral system. Although these two laws have been amended since their passage in 1992, the electoral system remains largely unchanged. Senators, deputies, and the president are elected to four-year terms according to a system of universal, equal, and direct suffrage by secret ballot. Romanian citizens aged 18 or older are eligible to vote. Although political parties may nominate presidential candidates, the Constitution prohibits the president from belonging to a political party or simultaneously holding any other public or private office.

The number of inhabitants in a single constituency determines the number of deputies who represent the locale in Parliament. Each constituency enjoys 1 deputy per 70,000 residents and 1 senator per 160,000 residents. Additional seats are allocated in the Chamber of Deputies for ethnic minorities. In the 2000 elections, the total number of seats awarded in the Chamber of Deputies was 345, including 18 for national minorities. Presidential candidates must secure votes equal to a majority of registered voters in order to win in the first round. As a result, runoffs are almost always certain. The candidate securing the most votes in the second round is the winner. Presidential candidates may receive nominations from political parties or run as independent candidates. To run, a candidate must collect 300,000 signatures.

Many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and voters have argued that the current electoral system, which is based on proportional representation, encourages individuals to buy slots on party lists and ultimately makes members of Parliament unaccountable to their constituencies. However, efforts to change the system have produced few results. For example, despite polls showing that a majority of Romanians support changes to the current system, a coalition of NGOs known as Civic Initiative for Responsibility of Political Acts has failed to gather the 250,000 signatures needed to submit a new draft electoral code to Parliament for debate. The group has proposed replacing the current electoral system with a mixed system based on both direct and party list voting. The proposal also seeks to decrease the number of members of Parliament, make party financing more transparent, allow campaign contributions, and establish a permanent election commission.

In recent years, Romania has discouraged the hyperpluralism exhibited in the early years of transition, when more than 250 political parties were registered. In the 2000 elections, approximately 20,000 candidates and 80 parties competed for seats in Parliament. An emergency ordinance enacted that year raised the electoral threshold from 3 percent to 5 percent for political parties, independent candidates, and associations. A graduated scale was adopted for coalitions and alliances: 8 percent for groupings with two members, 9 percent for those with three members, and 10 percent for those with four or more members.

Romania's electoral system is multiparty based and represents the full political spectrum. However, representation in Parliament is no longer balanced, because parties representing the Right failed to pass the electoral threshold in the 2000 elections. The absence of a center-right party in Parliament skews debate and ultimately leaves Romania without a viable opposition. The National Liberal Party (PNL) and the nationalist Greater Romania Party (PRM) have been known to flirt with the ruling party, either overtly or behind closed doors, and the Democratic Party (PD), with less than 9 percent of the seats in Parliament, hardly constitutes a strong opposition.

The problem is even more acute at the municipal level. In the 2000 elections, the Social Democratic Party took only 1,050 mayoral mandates, or 35.55 percent of the total. However, within two short years it succeeded in taking control of the majority of local leadership posts through a process known as pesederizare, which provides incentives or puts pressure on mayors to switch parties and join the PSD. Almost all presidents of county councils now belong to the PSD; only 3 or 4 county council presidents have maintained their initial political affiliation. More than 600 mayors have joined the PSD as well.

Since the fall of Ceausescu in 1989, right-leaning parties represented by a coalition known as the Democratic Convention have led the government in only 4 of the intervening 12 years. Over time, this coalition has disintegrated amid political bickering and infighting and engendered a profound crisis of confidence among its supporters. Even the National Peasant Christian Democratic Party (PNTCD), the coalition's strongest member, proved unable to pass the threshold for securing parliamentary representation in 2000. As a result, Romania's political spectrum now consists only of the left-wing PSD; the ultranationalist PRM; the center-left PNL, the center-left PD, and the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR). The PSD, the main actor in Romanian politics, currently leads the country in a coalition with the small Humanist Party (PUR). Although the coalition enjoys a majority in neither house of Parliament, it has been able to secure parliamentary majorities by working with other parties, particularly the UDMR.

Political parties in Romania are clientelistic and based more on personalities than ideologies. The largest and best structured is the ruling PSD, which has inherited many of the former Communist Party cadres. The PSD is entrenched in the provinces and attracts new clients through both appropriate and illicit means. Slightly to the PSD's right – though still left of center – is the PD, which consistently draws 10 percent at the polls. Traian Basescu, the party's leader and the mayor of Bucharest, is very popular. Although Basescu is outspoken, confident, and deeply populist, the party lacks a strategic direction, strong local leaders, powerful voices in Parliament, and the ability to organize effective public campaigns. Contributing to the PD's difficulties is the fact that the PSD, in the name of "achieving social-democratic unity," has launched an offensive aimed at undermining the PD's unity and attracting its members to the PSD's ranks.

The PNL, which bills itself as a "social liberal" group, appeals more to the center right of Romania's political spectrum and has no serious competitors. On the far right is the PRM. The PNTCD, the central party in the former ruling coalition, now finds itself in deep turmoil and has split into two factions, each competing for the exclusive right to use the "Christian Democratic" label. The UDMR, which represents Romania's most important ethnic minority – the Hungarians – supports the PSD but is not part of the ruling coalition.

Although there are no barriers to political organization, a new draft Law on Political Parties seeks to raise the number of signatures required to form a new party. It also contains provisions that would dissolve parties failing to secure a minimum of 50,000 votes in two successive election cycles. The new law, if promulgated, is expected to favor the development of fewer but stronger parties.

The last elections for both Parliament and the presidency took place on November 26,2000. According to the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), "The 2000 polls further demonstrated that democratic elections are firmly entrenched in Romania. Important features of the legal and administrative framework promote an election process that is accountable, transparent, free, fair, and equal." The PSD secured a decisive victory in voting that produced the following results:

2000 Parliamentary Election Results (seats per party)

Social Democratic Party65155
Greater Romania Party3784
National Liberal Party1330
Democratic Party1331
Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania1227

In voting for the presidency, PSD candidate Ion Iliescu defeated ultranationalist Corneliu Vadim Tudor in the second round with 66.7 percent of the vote. Voter turnout was 57.5 percent. Although the OSCE declared the vote free and fair, it made a series of recommendations for improving the legislative framework that governs elections and overall transparency in the election process. The OSCE also called for the establishment of a permanent central election authority. Voter turnout has been in decline since 1990, when Romania held its first post-Communist elections. Turnout was 86.2 percent in 1990 and only 65.3 in 2000. At the local level, voter turnout has been even lower, starting at 72 percent in 1990 and declining to 46.9 percent in 2000. Women remain underrepresented in the country's political life, holding only 11 percent of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies and 9 percent in the Senate. However, 5 out of 27 cabinet ministers are women.

Civil Society (Score: 2.75)

In 2002, civil society in Romania proved quite active. Groups mobilized repeatedly to promote changes to bills or decisions issued by public institutions that they considered unconstitutional or infringing on human rights. Among the most important efforts was the Constitutional Forum, a joint initiative of the Chamber of Deputies and a coalition of NGOs whose main goal was to consult citizens on proposed constitutional reforms. Another notable endeavor was a campaign organized by the Pro Democracy Association to urge revisions to the electoral code. Unfortunately, this initiative failed to gather the number of signatures required to submit its proposals to Parliament as draft legislation. The most significant success for civil society in 2002 was the adoption of the Law on Freedom of Information, which had been under discussion for three years. Eight large NGOs, including the Civil Society Development Foundation (FDSC), Transparency International, FreeEx (a program of the Media Monitoring Agency), and the Apador Helsinki Committee, organized the campaign to push for the law's introduction and to urge its passage.

According to the FDSC, Romanian NGOs are active in a number of areas, particularly culture and recreation, education and research, social services, and international affairs. There are also groups engaged in health care, law and advocacy, development and housing, environmental protection, philanthropy and voluntarism, business and professional issues, and religion. Although most NGOs are found in urban areas, in rural parts of the country the number of groups grew from 10 percent of the total in 1998 to approximately 14 percent in 2001. The FDSC also reports that approximately 25,200 NGOs have come into existence over the last 12 years; however, it considers only 10 percent of these as truly active. A report issued by the FDSC in 2002 suggested that the private sector is not sufficiently involved in philanthropic activities and fails to provide effective support to NGO initiatives.

According to the Society of Feminist Studies, 59 women's groups are registered and active in Romania. Of these, the most important groups are the Romanian Association of Women Journalists, which advocates for women's involvement in public life; the Association of Women of Romania, which promotes the importance of women as wives, mothers, and actors in the country's social, economic, and political life; the National Union of Women in Romania, whose mission is to provide aid to women in need; and the National Union for Women Rights in Romania, whose mission is to promote respect for human rights in general and women's rights in particular.

Ethnic minorities are increasingly represented in civil society. In March 2002, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe concluded that Romania, which is a party to the Council of Europe's Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, had made commendable efforts in supporting national minorities and their cultures. Moreover, the Department for InterEthnic Relations of the Romanian government has provided financing for the publication of textbooks in minority languages. At present there are 102 groups dealing with minority issues. Of these, 60 promote the rights of Hungarians, the country's largest minority. The new and private Sapientia Hungarian University of Transylvania successfully completed its first academic year in 2001-2002 with 450 students attending classes.

The rights of the Roma, the country's second largest minority, are addressed in the National Strategy for Improving Conditions of the Roma. The Roma Party and NGOs protecting Roma rights such as the Roma Center for Public Policies – AVEN AMENTZA, Romani Criss, or the Association of Roma Women in Romania contributed to the development of the strategy. Local Roma offices have been set up in every country, and nearly 400 Roma experts have been hired to carry out the action plan for 2001-2004. Also in 2002, Romanian courts ruled for the first time against employers and newspapers that publish discriminatory job vacancies restricted to non-Roma applicants.

The FDSC's 2000 Directory of Civil Society lists 124 NGOs registered as religious groups. Of these, 18 were located in Bucharest. According to the latest census, which was carried out in March 2002, there are 15 recognized religions and cults in Romania. All other groups are legally recognized as religious associations or foundations. Most religious groups are involved in charitable activities.

Article 37(2) of the Constitution, which regulates freedom of association, outlaws political parties and other organizations that promote antidemocratic principles or threaten Romanian sovereignty and independence. It also prohibits secret associations. An emergency ordinance issued in March 2002 banned fascist, racist, and xenophobic organizations and symbols associated with individuals who have committed crimes against humanity.

In 2001, Parliament ratified a new legal framework for foundations and associations, replacing a law that dated to 1924. Although the new ordinance seeks to facilitate registration, its requirement that a group show proof of initial assets (in-kind or in cash) worth at least 100 times the minimum gross salary in the country is prohibitive for many groups. Foundations whose exclusive goal is fund-raising for other associations or foundations must show assets worth at least 200 times the minimum gross salary. Foundations may engage directly or indirectly in commercial activities related to its statutory goals. The main achievement of the new law was its introduction, in line with EU norms, of public benefit organizations that have access to public procurement opportunities.

International organizations and donors such as the European Union, the United Nations, and the Open Society Institute provide the bulk of funding for Romanian NGOs. Groups receiving such support are usually financially viable in the short term. However, the long-term viability of most groups is uncertain, particularly since Western donors are scaling back their contributions and encouraging Romanian NGOs to take more initiative in raising funds.

Nonprofit organizations are not taxed for work carried out in pursuit of their statutory purposes. However, they are taxed like for-profit enterprises if they engage in commercial activities. The tax benefits for donors are insignificant. Specifically, Romanian law provides for tax reductions equal to the amount given and limits contributions to 10 percent, 8 percent, or 5 percent of one's annual income depending on the cause for which the money is given. Unfortunately, this does not provide sufficient incentives to boost giving. By law, foundations must publish an annual report and a balance sheet. Apart from public tax authorities, no other regulatory body oversees the NGO sector.

Current legislation provides for two forms of partnership between NGOs and the government: direct funding, as through grants and subsidies, or social contracting. Direct funding is available for work in areas such as sports, the provision of assistance to the disabled, and human rights. Through social contracting, government authorities essentially hire NGOs to carry out assistance programs. For the government, social contracting ensures the delivery of high-quality social services, often at lower prices and with less bureaucracy. For NGOs, it secures much needed funds and enables groups to fulfill the missions for which they were created. However, in these situations NGOs exercise much less decision-making ability and function more as passive service providers. Funding opportunities like these are announced in specialized publications such as the Grants Guide, a monthly publication produced by the FDSC, and the weekly electronic newsletter Volunteer.

Excessive media coverage of negative NGO activities has shaken public confidence in the work of civil society. For example, media outlets often cover stories about poor or illicit management of international funds and political scandals involving groups set up by public officials to avoid payment of taxes. However, some groups are showing that they can work successfully and effectively, even in partnership with the government. In 2002, for example, the Estuar Foundation, an NGO providing social services for persons with mental health problems, established a community center in partnership with a district mayoralty in Bucharest. Similarly, Procter & Gamble donated 5 percent of its sales of baby diapers in Romania to a joint program run by the Romanian Save the Children Foundation and the Ministry of Education. The money was used to purchase computers for Romanian schools. The government is also relatively open to policy advocacy by civil society, and some ministries have prepared legislation in consultation with NGO representatives. However, there are still many cases in which political interests have prevailed over public interests and produced less effective results.

Article 37 of the Constitution guarantees freedom of association in trade unions and outlaws any interference by political parties or the government in their activities. However, in the 2000 elections, many trade unions exchanged votes for political representation on the PSD's party lists. In 2002, the involvement of trade unions in politics was the focus of parliamentary inquiries.

In 2002, there was significant interaction between trade unions and the government. For example, following a request from unions, the Ministry of Labor and Social Solidarity signed the European Social Security Code. Also in 2002, the Alpha Workers Confederation, the Democratic Confederation of Syndicates, the National Syndicate Confederation, and the National Union Bloc initiated public awareness campaigns about the rights of workers and unions enshrined in the International Labor Organization conventions that Romania has ratified. Trade union experts also designed a civic education manual for high school students that was introduced on a trial basis in the 2002-2003 school year.

Official government data suggest that only 2,610,000, or 58 percent, of the country's 4,500,000 registered workers are unionized. However, the total number of workers is likely much higher – and therefore the percentage of unionized workers much lower – owing to the size of Romania's shadow economy. Approximately 225,000 farmers (representing 5 percent of all unionized workers) and 120,000 workers in small business (2-3 percent) belong to professional associations.

The current government has announced that the adoption of a bill regulating the work of lobbyists is a high priority. Several government decisions already contain provisions on lobbying and interest group participation in politics. For example, bills that might have a significant impact on the business environment in Romania are forwarded to business associations and NGOs for comment. In 2002, NGOs were by far the most proactive and reactive actors on policy issues related to the proposed constitutional reforms.

There are a few effective think tanks in Romania, such as the Institute for Public Policies and the Romanian Academic Society. Generally, though, while groups like these produce solid research and analysis of public policies, they are not strong enough to affect actual policy-making processes. Instead, political interests usually prevail. In addition, some NGOs and think tanks are attracted to policy debates only when they are assured of boosting their public image or come under international pressure to act.

Romania's educational system is free of political propaganda. Private schools exist at all levels, but most are institutions of higher education. Some private schools have yet to complete the accreditation process with the state. According to UNESCO, nearly 60 percent of the country's academic institutions are private. However, more than 70 percent of students are enrolled in public schools.

Independent Media (Score: 3.75)

Romania's legislative framework for independent media, partly inherited from the Communist period, fails to meet European standards. In particular, punishments for insult and libel remain in the criminal code despite heavy international and European pressures to remove them. Moreover, in 2002 there were several controversial legislative initiatives on regulating journalistic activities. The defense minister became embroiled in a media scandal in 2002 when he stated publicly that journalists "ought to be careful, life is precious and easily lost." He later contended that he was only joking.

The Law on the Right of Reply, introduced in 2002, gives individuals the right to respond in writing to information presented about them in the press. Critics of the law charge that it gives disproportionate power to plaintiffs and thereby discourages the media from presenting critical opinions. Ultimately, the law further enshrines threats against press freedom contained in Article 205 (on insults) and Article 206 (on libel) of the criminal code. Parliament also approved in 2002 the Law on State Secrets and Classified Information, which the media and human rights organizations criticized strongly for provisions that they believe allow government administrations, state-owned enterprises, the military, and other public institutions to avoid public oversight and scrutiny. The law's provisions undermine the Freedom of Information Act, which Parliament adopted in February 2002. Finally, in June 2002 Parliament adopted the Law on Audiovisuals, which seeks to align Romanian policies on the issuance of broadcast licenses with European laws. However, critics charged that the law allows the government to retain strict political control over such licenses and gives the National Audiovisual Council the power to withdraw licenses from broadcasters for so-called transgressions that have been poorly defined.

In several instances in 2002, the ruling party interfered with freedom of the press and curtailed journalists' rights. One such case involved the dismissal of the director of Romanian State Radio on procedural grounds even though the state broadcaster had enjoyed a successful year both in terms of its finances and in terms of the size of its audience. Every member of the board, which had been appointed under the previous government, was also replaced. Another instance of blatant political interference with freedom of expression and judicial independence was the so-called Armageddon case, in which an individual was arrested and detained for 24 hours for sending an anonymous e-mail that was critical of the prime minister to a list of approximately 100 prominent personalities. The e-mail, which accused the prime minister of amassing a personal fortune by dishonest means, was eventually linked to an adviser in the previous presidential administration. In further interference, the prime minister finished the year by publicly admonishing the owner of Antena 1 TV, one of Romania's largest private television stations, for being too critical of the government. The station's owner is also the head of the PUR, the ruling PSD's minority partner.

Taken together, these incidents suggest that the government's tolerance of media criticism is limited and that its leaders are all too ready to curb press freedoms. A recent report by the FreeEx program of the Media Monitoring Agency provides additional support for the notion that freedom of the press in Romania is under threat. The report suggests that both public and private media are biased in favor of the government, mainly because they all rely on the government's assistance, advertising revenues, and goodwill to survive. Such dependence curbs critical reporting about the government.

According to the Media Monitoring Agency, 90 percent of the population gets its information through television. Only 18-20 percent of the public reads newspapers. Nevertheless, approximately 1,500 periodicals compete for readers in Romania today. There are also 308 radio stations and 120 television stations throughout the country. Most television and radio stations in the country are private. The only state-owned periodical is the Official Gazette, which publishes the text of laws and acts. A law adopted in 2002 transferred oversight for the Rompres National News Agency from the Ministry of Public Information to Parliament. However, the law stipulates that Rompres is an autonomous public institution and that the "content and structure of its services [are] protected from any interference by public authorities, as well as from influence by social-political groups, trade unions, or other pressure groups."

According to the Audit Bureau's figures for September 2002, Romanian periodicals enjoyed the following average number of readers per edition: Libertatea, 841,000; Evenimentul Zilei, 789,000; Pro Sport, 645,000; Gazeta Sporturilor, 523,000; Adevarul, 451,000; and Romania Libera, 404,000. Foreign investors are becoming dominant forces in the print media market. Already, the Swiss company Ringier has acquired both Libertatea and Pro Sport. In addition, Bertelsmann/Gruner & Jahr owns Evenimentul Zilei, and the German group WAZ owns Romania Libera.

In terms of urban viewership, only the public broadcaster Romania 1 has almost full national coverage. The public Romania 2 reaches around 70 percent of the population. The private commercial channels ProTV and Antena 1 have a combined audience that is nearly equal to that of Romania 1. At 63 percent of the market, Romanian State Radio enjoys the highest listenership in the country, followed by the private stations Radio Europa FM (13 percent), Radio Pro FM (8.7 percent), and Radio Contact (6.6 percent).

Media outlets are subject to the same tax regulations as other private companies. The absence of any financial incentives or economic protections makes Romanian media vulnerable to political and economic interests, especially since most advertising contracts still come from state-owned enterprises. In addition, during the period covered by this report, some press outlets were even accused of blackmailing officials and private concerns to secure good advertising contracts.

At around US$7 per capita annually, advertising expenditures in Romania are modest. There is a significant imbalance between the low amount of available advertising dollars and the relatively high number of media channels in the country. To cover costs, many media outlets engage in blackmail, take "gifts" from state-owned companies or public institutions, or accept sponsorship from business moguls who usually have close ties to particular political parties. Some media owners are willing to lose money because they can trade news coverage for benefits in other areas of business.

Although the press in Romania are theoretically free, the criminal code inherited from the Communist regime contains articles and provisions that threaten freedom of speech. According to the Ministry of Justice, there are 300 to 400 open cases against journalists, most of them based on provisions in the code that address insults and libel. In 2002, the government issued Emergency Ordinance 58, which effectively amended the articles in question by reducing the penalty for insult from a maximum of two years in prison to a fine and the penalty for libel from a maximum of three years in prison to two years. The punishment for insult or defamation of a civil servant was reduced from a maximum of seven years in prison to four years. A provision of the code that had imposed up to five years' imprisonment for any "offense against authority" was withdrawn as well. Despite these improvements, critics denounced the ordinance for failing to eliminate altogether the provisions on libel and insults. The National Audiovisual Council also has regulations on "irresponsible journalism."

Lawsuits against journalists and media outlets are the most common form of harassment. In 2002, journalists from the newspaper Ziarul de Vrancea had more than 130 cases filed against them for producing articles critical of a local government official. The journalists complained that in addition to the lawsuits, they were victims of a "bullying and intimidation" campaign.

The main journalistic associations are the Romanian Press Club (CRP), the Romanian Journalists Society, the Romanian Journalists Union, and the Association for the Protection and Promotion of Freedom of Expression. There also is a Romanian Association of Women Journalists. In 2002, a new federation bringing together around 40 media associations was created to counterbalance the influence of the CRP, which is dominated by media owners.

According to a survey carried out by the firm GFK-Romania in October 2002, only 13 percent of Romanians use the Internet. More than 50 percent have never used the Internet, and more than 30 percent have never even heard of it. Half of those who reported accessing the Internet do so in Internet cafes; another 25 percent access the Web from their offices, and 20 percent do so from home. There are no restrictions on Internet access to private citizens.

Governance (Score: 3.75)

Romania is a semipresidential republic in which the government exercises executive power. Although the president only has formal jurisdiction over national security and foreign affairs, he also wields control over the secret services and all other matters of state security. Added to the considerable influence of the bully pulpit, the president's actual powers are therefore quite significant. The resultant ambiguity between governmental and presidential authority creates problems that should be addressed in proposals to revise the Constitution.

Romania's bicameral Parliament consists of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. Parliament elaborates and adopts judicial norms with which all other normative acts must comply. Only Parliament may amend the Constitution. Both chambers are responsible for debating, amending, and adopting laws. Proposed constitutional reforms call for the creation of a unicameral Parliament – a change that, if approved, would speed up legislative processes.

Since the 2000 elections, Parliament has promulgated approximately 683 legislative initiatives; it has rejected only 37. Although these numbers suggest a significant amount of activity, they mask the fact that the Chamber of Deputies has a limited capacity to scrutinize legislation. One-third of the aforementioned laws were put forth by the executive as emergency ordinances that enter into force immediately. Since Parliament approves most of these ordinances in their initial form or only with minor amendments, there is serious concern about the failings of democratic debate and consultation.

The Constitution regulates the transparency with which various governmental bodies operate. The government's ability to share information with the public has increased as agencies and departments have created their own Web sites and public relations offices. However, in practice individual civil servants still decide what to disclose, and their tendency to keep information secret often prevails.

Most draft laws are published on the Internet and in the Official Gazette after promulgation. However, it is still difficult to follow in real time the process of amending and adopting laws. The public is entitled to attend plenum sessions in Parliament but may not attend the meetings of specialized committees without an invitation. In practice, it is extremely difficult to attend parliamentary deliberations, and the war on terror has given authorities an excuse to curb public access even further.

In 2001, Parliament approved the Law on Access to Public Information (544/2001) under considerable pressure from domestic and international NGOs. Adoption of the law was contentious, because it compels reluctant public institutions to make available to the public any requested documents that are not considered classified information. Almost immediately after passing the law, though, Parliament also passed the Law on State Secrets and Classified Information, which essentially lets bureaucrats and politicians determine arbitrarily what actually constitutes classified information.

In addition to constitutional provisions concerning local public administration, a series of laws regulates this sector, namely the Law on Local Elections (70/1991), the Law on Administrative Jurisdiction (29/1991), the Law on Local Taxes (27/1994), the Law on Local Autonomy (199/1997), the Law on Local Public Finance (189/1998), the Law on Civil Service (188/1999), and the Law on Local Public Administration (215/2001). To all these, one might add ordinances, governmental decisions, the orders of ministers and prefects, and the decisions of local and county councils. Mayors are chosen in direct elections, while local councillors are selected in voting for party lists. International observers have found Romania's local elections generally to be free and fair.

By law, local governments may introduce local taxes and earmark the revenue for specific purposes. In theory, then, the central government encourages such action so that communities can become more self-reliant. However, this often fails to happen in practice. In fact, there have been instances in which county prefects have sued local councils for trying to introduce new taxes. Some government ministers have reprimanded local councils for levying "unreasonable taxes on the already impoverished population." The media often scorn such local initiatives as well.

Nevertheless, Parliament was expected to amend the Law on Local Taxes in 2002 to give local governments even more authority to levy taxes. However, passage had not been completed by year's end. The Law on Local Public Finance is likely to be replaced in 2003 to make Romania's system of revenue sharing more transparent. The Law on Local Public Administration provides for local autonomy, the decentralization of public services, and citizen consultation on issues of public interest. A process of decentralizing responsibilities to local governments has begun, but further measures are necessary. In particular, local capacities to fulfill decentralized responsibilities are limited. Systems for managing human resources are underdeveloped, training is limited, and turnover among local civil servants is high.

The 1999 Law on Civil Service (and its amendments) provides the legal framework for the selection and functions of civil servants. Additional legislation addressing such issues as disciplinary committees, performance evaluations, and the management of recruitment exams has also been passed. Further reforms are needed to deal with fundamental issues like remuneration, career structure, and accountability.

In 2002, Parliament approved the establishment of the National Institute for Administration, which is subordinated to the Ministry of Public Administration. The institute will provide intensive training for new recruits as well as continuous education for existing civil servants. The institute will also be responsible for managing a network of eight regional centers that will provide training for local officials and civil servants. It was charged with preparing and implementing a national training strategy for the 2002-2003 academic year.

Although civil servants enjoy protection from inappropriate firings, political interference remains an important factor in recruitment and promotion. The Romanian central administration is still characterized by inflated staffs owing to clientelism and nepotism. In October 2002, for example, it was made public that the annual budget for the government's General Secretariat, with only 550 employees, was 1,000 billion Romanian leu (ROL). The Senate's budget, by contrast, was a mere 600 billion ROL for 1,057 employees.

Constitutional, Legislative, and Judicial Framework (Score: 4.25)

The separation of power among the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government is one of the most important features of political organization contained in the Romanian Constitution. Article 58 (1) stipulates that Parliament is the supreme representative body and the sole legislative authority of the country, while the president and the government hold executive power. However, despite demands from NATO and the EU for stronger checks and balances, successive governments continue to legislate through emergency ordinances.

A parliamentary commission established to consider constitutional reforms has suggested the following changes: separating, and therefore streamlining, the legislative prerogatives of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate; guaranteeing private ownership of property (to date it is only "protected" by law); introducing an ombudsman's office for human rights; codifying certain areas of Romanian sovereignty in advance of accession to the EU; transforming the Supreme Court of Justice into a court of cassation; and sanctioning a variety of fundamental rights of Romanian citizens. In addition to the parliamentary commission, the Constitutional Forum has been established to bring together political leaders, public policy specialists, political analysts, NGOs, trade unions, journalists, and others to facilitate open debate and discussion during the amendment process.

The Constitutional Court has two main areas of competence. It examines laws before their promulgation by the president, and it evaluates laws already in force when their constitutionality is challenged before ordinary courts. The Constitutional Court confirms the election of the president of Romania and validates his term in office. It is the only institution that can declare a political party unconstitutional or illegal. The Court's rulings are published in the Official Gazette and are enforceable. In 10 years, the Constitutional Court has received over 3,700 complaints and has issued 2,700 decisions. Challenges to the constitutionality of laws account for 80 percent of the Court's activity.

One of the most recent examples of judicial enforcement of the Constitution is the Law on State Secrets and Classified Information, which both chambers of Parliament passed in a form that threatened fundamental freedoms. The Constitutional Court declared the law unconstitutional owing to a point of procedure associated with the way in which Parliament approved it. Parliament then made minor amendments and passed it a second time. The president promulgated the law in 2002.

Other controversial laws persist. The executive's Emergency Ordinance 58/2002 issued in April eliminated imprisonment as a penalty for insult and reduced the length of detention applicable in cases of libel. Article 238 of the criminal code, which deals with offense to public officials, was also abrogated via the emergency ordinance. However, the actual offenses of insult and libel remain preserved in the criminal code. Following a regional conference on freedom of expression organized by the Council of Europe in 2002, it was decided that Romania would receive advice and assistance from Europe on removing insult and libel from the code.

In summer 2002, Parliament approved a law granting pardons and subsequent release to thousands of inmates serving prison terms of up to five years. The decision was intended to deal with Romania's acute problem of prison overcrowding. Prior to the law's passage, the ratio of up to 10 detainees per staff member put Romania far beyond accepted European standards of 2 inmates for each staff member.

According to the code of criminal procedure, only prosecutors may authorize searches. Both prosecutors and magistrates may issue warrants. In recent years, human rights organizations such as the Romanian Helsinki Committee have investigated several cases of abuses committed by the police and have reported the use of excessive disciplinary measures. At the same time, these organizations have acknowledged some positive steps such as the lessening of subjective attitudes and arbitrariness in the treatment of prisoners and detainees by penitentiary staff.

Over 9 percent of prison detainees are being held in pretrial detention. Although no data are available on the length of pretrial detentions, the legal limit is rather high – half of the maximum period of imprisonment for a given crime. The Romanian Helsinki Committee has reported cases in which the number of days detainees have spent in confinement before a trial's closure are not deducted from their final prison term. Although Romanian law authorizes detention without a warrant for a maximum of 24 hours, police may extend that period for an additional 24 hours to establish a suspect's identity.

In August 2002, Parliament adopted the new Law on the Status of the Policemen, which now recognizes policemen as civilian public servants. The law also transfers responsibility for dealing with crimes committed by policemen to civilian courts and prosecutors. The intention of the new law is to improve respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms by decreasing discrimination and arbitrariness in the work of the police.

By and large, Romania has been eager to bring its guarantees for human rights in line with international standards. The Constitution guarantees, and the state generally guarantees in practice, a broad range of civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights. Romania is also a signatory to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

In January 2002, the government approved an ordinance on preventing and punishing all forms of discrimination. In April, it signed an agreement with the World Organization of Intellectual Property to provide increased protection for intellectual property rights and to institute training in this area in Romanian law schools. As of August 2002, individuals and groups who feel they are being discriminated against on the basis of gender, age, religion, ethnicity, or other criteria may notify the new National Council Against Discrimination. The council has a director's college of seven persons, and its president is named by the prime minister for a period of seven years.

One area that remains particularly contentious is that of property rights. In its current form, the Romanian Constitution protects private property. However, the addition of explicit guarantees for property rights is among the constitutional reforms under consideration. Although legislation has been passed to return buildings and land, church property remains a controversial issue. Moreover, the state has engaged in the sale of confiscated property to existing tenants and has proposed to compensate original owners by offering them titles or shares for bankrupt state-owned enterprises – a move that has infuriated the former owners. Numerous individuals have sued the state before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg over the arbitrary enforcement of existing property laws.

The Constitution guarantees freedom of religion. According to the March 2002 census, Romania has 15 recognized religions. The Orthodox Church remains predominant, with 86.7 percent of the population claiming to be adherents. While not widespread, there have been sporadic cases in which the Orthodox Church or individual priests have used their predominant position to restrict or impede the activity of other churches – particularly small or nontraditional groups.

In its 2002 regular report, the European Commission concluded that judicial reform had been limited during the reporting period. The report particularly noted that "the involvement of the executive in judicial affairs has not been substantially reduced, the courts remain overburdened, the General Prosecutor retained an extensive right to introduce extraordinary appeals, and the combination of a lack of resources and an inadequate human resources policy means that the judicial system is severely strained." Likewise, the Open Society Institute in its 2002 report on the Romanian judicial system stated that the Ministry of Justice continues to have "a useless and centralized authority over the courts, intervening in the selection, promotion, and assessment of judges' performance, a problem arising from possible political interference." Finally, in its annual report for 2002, Amnesty International stated that the ruling "PSD has given instructions to magistrates on how to deal with certain cases and disposed biased dismissals and appointments in the judicial system."

According to an order issued by the Ministry of Justice in 2002, judges and prosecutors are now promoted on a merit basis following open competitions. However, the selection of the 17 members of the Superior Council of Magistracy, which appoints prosecutors and magistrates, still lacks transparency. In particular, the minister of justice easily can exercise influence over the council. Likewise, the National Institute of Magistracy, the entry point for young judges and prosecutors, is subject to potential political influence owing to a legal provision stipulating that individuals who have been magistrates, general inspectors, or legal councillors in the Ministry of Justice may be appointed as judges or prosecutors without having to pass a competitive examination.

According to the civil procedure code, legal aid is granted to persons who cannot afford the legal costs of a civil case. Moreover, mandatory legal aid is provided in criminal cases to all minors and during hearings for cases in which the punishment exceeds five years' imprisonment or in cases where defendants are not able to defend themselves. Such legal assistance is organized by the country's various bar associations, and payment is provided by the Ministry of Justice. However, the quality of representation is often low.

Enforcement of judicial decisions is the responsibility of private bailiffs and is carried out effectively in most cases. Nevertheless, the Open Society Institute in its 2002 report on Romania's judicial system noted that "although Romania has made some progress this year toward obtaining legal independence, the justice system remains 'unprofessional'."

Corruption (Score: 4.50)

Corruption remains a serious problem in Romania. Official EU reports single it out. Foreign ambassadors make speeches about it. And the media write about it. Yet when anticorruption measures are taken, usually to great fanfare, they seem to have little practical effect. If anything, observers report that the situation is worsening, and the sustained political will to make substantial improvements appears to be weak.

Existing anticorruption legislation includes Law 78/2000 on preventing, detecting, and punishing acts of corruption, Law 115/1996 on the obligation of public officials to declare their personal wealth, Law 21/1999 on the prevention and punishment of money laundering, Law 115/1999 on ministerial responsibility, and various other standing orders and statuses of conduct. During the period covered by this report, several corruption scandals erupted in the Romanian press about senior government officials, including Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, Senate Speaker Nicolae Vacaroiu, and others. In large part, these cases involved alleged violations of "conflict of interest" provisions in Romanian law. The problem, however, is that "conflict of interest" is not properly defined or regulated in a single piece of legislation. Instead, it is addressed in a series of provisions in separate laws that often are not properly enforced.

For example, Law 78/2000 forbids persons holding public office "to make use of their positions, responsibilities, or duties in order to obtain, for themselves or for others, money, goods, or any other unjustified advantages." Unfortunately, the law fails to properly define corruption and to distinguish between petty and more serious forms of corruption. This often leads to punitive sanctions for petty corruption and lenient punishments for acts of grand corruption.

Law 188/1999 forbids civil servants to take outside employment in any organization engaged in for-profit activities. However, it is not properly enforced. In addition, Article 57 of the law allows civil servants to undertake activities in private trading companies provided there is no connection with their public duties. In 2002, the government issued Ordinance 5/2002, which forbids elected officials and civil servants from serving as managers, administrators, or board members or in other prominent positions in private companies. The ordinance applies to the president, ministers, vice ministers, magistrates, and directors of agencies and national commissions.

Law 115/1996 obliges public officials to declare their personal wealth. The president, members of Parliament, cabinet members, state secretaries, magistrates, county and local councillors, mayors, prefects, and other persons in senior government positions must submit declarations of their wealth each year they acquire new assets. At the end of their public service, they must submit a declaration on the assets they possess to date. Declarations must include real estate and securities, cars, farming machines, boats, yachts, hard-currency bank deposits, and other assets that could generate net revenues of over ROL 100 million per year (about US$3,000).

In October 2002, Prime Minister Nastase declared that "there are obviously cases of corruption [in Romania], still they have to be proved." He reported that as of that date, there were 115 open corruption cases in Romanian courts. Under pressure from Western authorities, Romania has expanded its legal framework for fighting corruption in recent years. For example, in addition to passing the Freedom of Information Act, Parliament has ratified the Council of Europe's Civil Law Convention on Corruption (April 2002), its Criminal Law Convention on Corruption (July 2002), and the Convention on Laundering, Search, Seizure, and Confiscation of the Proceeds from Crime (August 2002). Recently, the government also has set up the National Committee for Preventing Criminality as the main body for integrating, coordinating, and monitoring public policies to prevent crime.

Four additional types of control and oversight instruments can be used to prevent corruption: the ombudsman's office, the court of audit, the government's Department of Control, and parliamentary oversight. Even though the ombudsman does not have direct competencies in fighting corruption, persons holding this position may track corruption or corruption-related cases brought to their attention by the public. The court of audit also has no direct responsibilities in the area of corruption. However, it has access to financial documents that may contain evidence of corrupt offenses. The court reports annually to Parliament and in principle is independent of executive pressure. The government's Department of Control is under the authority of the prime minister and has oversight responsibility for public institutions and authorities subordinated to the government. Theoretically, it could be a very useful tool for fighting corruption, but there are no reported cases of it being used in that way.

Finally, parliamentary oversight, while important, lacks effectiveness. For instance, the Committee for Petitions and the Inquiry of Abuses and Corruption may not interfere in the work of other institutions and must notify them about irregularities reported by Romanian citizens. The number of reported cases increases each year, yet few are ever resolved. The committee's competence is limited to investigative measures that may result only in recommendations for action; there is no real cooperation between it and investigative authorities such as prosecutors.

Since 1996, in an effort to meet the criteria for EU and NATO membership, successive Romanian governments have made fighting a "war against corruption" a top priority. In 2002, the government even adopted a national anticorruption strategy and established the National Anticorruption Prosecutor's Office (PNA). With regional branches housed with the country's 15 courts of appeal, the new body is intended to address serious cases involving more than US$100,000 and high-ranking officials. Though not yet fully staffed, the PNA eventually will include 75 prosecutors, 150 judicial police officers, 35 financial experts, 50 auxiliaries, and 10 administrative positions. The president appoints the PNA's chief prosecutor; the minister of justice appoints the remaining prosecutors. This gives the ministry considerable powers and influence, which at times could compromise the effectiveness of its investigations and ultimately undermine the PNA's independence.

Another development in 2002 intended to help fight corruption was the passage of the Law on Public Procurement (468/2002). As of March, information about the public procurement process was available online at At the close of the year, public institutions declared that they had saved approximately 24 percent by contracting for services or purchasing products through the system.

Although these electronic procurement procedures should be welcomed as valuable tools in the fight against corruption, the system does have problems that need addressing. In particular, it actually seems more prone to corruption than before, because no independently appointed body exists to supervise the operation. Several media reports have raised questions about the fact that a good number of the winning bidders thus far have been companies close to the ruling party.

There is no reliable statistic data about the magnitude of official corruption. Nevertheless, surveys conducted on this issue reveal that the public perceives corruption to be widespread. In a survey carried out by the Soros Foundation in November 2002, for example, the majority of respondents said they believed corruption in Romania had increased under the current government. Only 9 percent said that it had decreased. In addition, Romanians reported that they are skeptical about measures undertaken by the government to prevent and punish corruption: 39 percent were convinced that nothing would change in the next year, while 23 percent believed that corruption would increase. The public's signal is clear: 79 percent of the respondents noted that the high level of corruption in the country has become the principal cause of uncertainty and discontent in their lives.


Sandra Pralong is an advisor to the United Nations Development Programme for Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States. Mirela Apostol, director of the Bucharet-based research and communications consulting firm Synergy Group, provided research for this report.

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