Romania’s multiparty system has ensured regular rotations of power through competitive elections. Civil liberties are generally respected but have come under growing pressure as entrenched political interests push back against civic and institutional efforts to combat systemic corruption. Discrimination against minorities and other vulnerable groups is a long-standing problem, as is control of key media outlets by businessmen with political interests.
- The ruling National Liberal Party (PNL) formed a new governing coalition under Florin Cîțu in December, after coming second in that month’s lower-house elections. The Social Democratic Party (PSD), which won a plurality of lower-house seats, also won the most Senate seats in concurrent elections.
- The chief prosecutor responsible for organized crime cases, Giorgiana Hosu, resigned in September after her husband, a former police officer, was convicted of illegally accessing a computer system. Hosu’s February appointment had been criticized by the Superior Council of Magistrates in an advisory opinion issued that month.
- Romanians encountered a strict COVID-19 lockdown between March and May. Public gatherings were suspended, though some of those restrictions were loosened in September. Sanctions for lockdown violations were invalidated by the Constitutional Court in May, and quarantine-and-isolation measures for some Romanians returning from abroad were ruled unconstitutional in June. Over 627,000 cases and nearly 15,600 deaths were reported to the World Health Organization at year’s end.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
The president, who holds some significant powers in Romania’s semipresidential system, is directly elected for up to two five-year terms. The president appoints the prime minister in consultation with the parliamentary majority, and the prime minister’s government requires the confidence of Parliament. Presidential and parliamentary elections held since 1991 have been generally free and fair.
Klaus Iohannis, a centrist who had belonged to the PNL, won a second presidential term in November 2019, winning 66.1 percent of the vote in a runoff. Viorica Dăncilă of the PSD won 33.9 percent.
Ludovic Orban, the prime minister of a PNL-led government, resigned after parliamentary elections were held in December 2020. Florin Cîțu of the PNL, who had served as finance minister, succeeded Orban later that month.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
Members of the bicameral Parliament, consisting of a 136-seat Senate and a 330-seat Chamber of Deputies, are elected to four-year terms in a closed party-list proportional system.
Elections for both houses were held in December 2020, though electoral campaigns were affected by COVID-19-related restrictions. Turnout for the Chamber of Deputies contests stood at 33.3 percent, a record low. The PSD won 28.9 percent of the vote and 110 seats, while the ruling PNL won 25.2 percent and 93 seats. The 2020 USR–PLUS Alliance—consisting of the Save Romania Union and the Party of Liberty, Unity, and Solidarity—won 15.4 percent and 55 seats. The Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR) won 5.7 percent and 21 seats. The nationalist Alliance for the Union of Romanians (AUR) entered Parliament for the first time, winning 9.1 percent and 33 seats. While the PSD won a plurality of seats, the PNL formed a coalition government with the 2020 USR–PLUS Alliance and the UDMR later that month.
In the concurrent Senate elections, the PSD won 29.3 percent of the vote and 47 seats, while the PNL won 25.6 percent and 41 seats. The 2020 USR–PLUS Alliance won 15.9 percent and 25 seats, the AUR won 9.2 percent and 14 seats, and the UDMR won 5.9 percent and 9 seats. Turnout for the upper-house elections stood at 31.9 percent.
Local elections were originally scheduled for June 2020 but were delayed to September due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Pandemic-related measures were enacted at polling places, though social distancing was not consistently observed. The PNL and 2020 USR–PLUS Alliance performed well, with the two groups’ candidate for the Bucharest mayoralty defeating PSD incumbent Gabriela Firea. The PSD also lost control of Constanţa to the PNL candidate, while the 2020 USR–PLUS Alliance candidate defeated the PNL incumbent in Timişoara.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||4.004 4.004|
The legal framework generally provides for fair and competitive elections. The Romanian electoral framework relies on a Central Election Bureau, which includes judges and political representatives, and a Permanent Electoral Authority, which manages voter registration, campaign finance, and logistics.
Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) observers who monitored the December 2020 parliamentary elections noted the complexity of the legal electoral framework. Observers criticized parliamentarians’ fast-tracking of electoral-law amendments that September, limiting public debate. OSCE observers also voiced concerns over the electoral authorities’ training efforts, which were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||4.004 4.004|
Romania’s multiparty system features active competition between rival blocs. Under the 2015 electoral law, the number of signatures needed to create a new party decreased dramatically, leading to the registration of many new parties. Some 217 parties and alliances competed in the September 2020 local elections; 24 parties and individual candidates competed for Senate seats that December, while 82 groups and candidates, including ethnic minority groups, competed for lower-house seats. The AUR, which was formed in late 2019, entered Parliament for the first time after the December poll.
Critics have argued that signature thresholds to register candidates for local and parliamentary elections still place new and smaller parties at a disadvantage. COVID-19-related legislation reduced the signature requirements for local candidates by half.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||4.004 4.004|
The country has established a record of peaceful transfers of power between rival parties, though no-confidence votes have been frequently held in recent years. A minority PNL government led by Ludovic Orban took office in November 2019 after a no-confidence vote removed a PSD-led government the month before.
The Orban government lost a no-confidence vote in early February 2020, though Orban remained in office on an interim basis until a new government under his leadership was formed in March. The PSD attempted to remove the Orban government in August, but that effort failed for lack of a quorum.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||3.003 4.004|
People are generally free to make political choices without undue pressure from unaccountable actors. However, clientelism in local politics remains a problem. In small towns and villages, mayors retain significant leverage over voters. Local mayors are known to switch parties to secure funding or other resources.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||3.003 4.004|
Ethnic, religious, and other minority groups enjoy full political rights under the law. The constitution grants one lower-house seat to each national minority whose representative party or organization wins no seats otherwise, with a maximum of 18 seats allotted in this fashion. President Iohannis, an ethnic German and a Lutheran, is the country’s first president from either minority group. The UDMR, which represents the Hungarian minority, is part of the coalition government that took office in December 2020.
Roma, who make up over 3 percent of the population, are underrepresented in politics. Social discrimination against LGBT+ people discourages political advocacy for their rights. Data collection on gender representation is lacking, as is a policy to encourage female political participation. Women represented 23 percent of candidates in the September 2020 local elections, a slight improvement over local elections held in 2016. Women held 18.5 percent of lower-house seats and 18.4 percent of the Senate after the December 2020 elections. Only one female minister was appointed in the Cîțu government.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||4.004 4.004|
Elected officials are generally able to craft and implement government policy without outside interference.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||2.002 4.004|
High levels of corruption, bribery, and abuse of power persist. Romania maintains a comprehensive anticorruption action plan, though the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) noted that anticorruption bodies face pressure when pursuing high-level cases in a report released in September 2020.
A new prosecutor general, chief anticorruption prosecutor, and chief organized-crime prosecutor were appointed in February 2020. In an advisory opinion released that month, the Superior Council of Magistrates criticized the appointments of Gabriela Scutea as prosecutor general and Giorgiana Hosu as chief of prosecution at the Directorate for Investigating Organized Crime and Terrorism. Hosu resigned in September after her husband, a former police officer, was convicted of illegally accessing a computer system.
The National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) previously won international praise for fairly investigating corruption cases and securing convictions of powerful figures. However, the 2018 dismissal of DNA chief Laura Codruţa Kövesi was seen as a blow to its independence. Kövesi was confirmed as head of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office by the European Parliament in 2019, though the Romanian government opposed her candidacy. In May 2020, Kövesi won a European Court of Human Rights judgment over her dismissal from the DNA.
Anticorruption bodies pursued cases related to COVID-19-related procurements during 2020, with the DNA disclosing in May that 33 such cases had been opened. In June, the head of a state-owned company was charged with corruption after he was accused of seeking bribes.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||3.003 4.004|
Citizens have the legal right to obtain public information and can petition government agencies for it. However, processes for soliciting participation and input from various stakeholders and civil society experts are not well defined, and the government still widely utilizes emergency ordinances for legislating. During the COVID-19-related state of emergency between March and May 2020, authorities had 60 days to respond to information requests, double the preemergency limit. President Iohannis’s mid-March pandemic-related decree exempted public procurements from preexisting tender practices.
Pandemic-related information was sometimes withheld by authorities. In March 2020, the Ministry of Internal Affairs ordered local prefects not to publish the number of COVID-19 tests performed or the number of positive results. In a September report, the Center for Independent Journalism (CJI) noted that health-care staff were often prohibited from discussing the pandemic to media outlets.
|Are there free and independent media?||3.003 4.004|
Although the media environment is relatively free and pluralistic, key outlets remain controlled by businessmen with political interests, and their coverage is highly distorted by their owners’ priorities. Media outlets increasingly rely on publicly funded advertising and subsidies.
President Iohannis’s March 2020 decree allowed authorities to restrict access to webpages or websites that disseminated purportedly false COVID-19 information. The OSCE criticized the decree that month, warning that users had no avenue to appeal the removal of content. The country’s telecommunications regulator restricted access to 15 websites during the pandemic-related state of emergency, though access was restored by May.
OSCE monitors who observed the December 2020 parliamentary elections noted that television channels either did not devote significant airtime to the polls or offered extensive coverage to public officials and President Iohannis.
Media outlets saw private advertising collapse as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the CJI reporting that some outlets saw income fall by at least 70 percent between March and April 2020. In its September report, the CJI warned that authorities were effectively gaining editorial access through publicly funded advertising.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||3.003 4.004|
Religious freedom is generally respected. While the Romanian Orthodox Church remains dominant and politically powerful, the government formally recognizes 18 religions, each of which is eligible for proportional state support. Others can register as religious associations. The have been reports of discrimination and harassment against religious minorities, including vandalism in Jewish cemeteries and media articles referring to Islam and Muslim migrants as threats to Romania. The promotion of antisemitism was banned by legislation adopted in 2018.
Some religious ceremonies were impacted by COVID-19-related measures. In October 2020, the Orthodox Church criticized the government’s decision to restrict or cancel major pilgrimages.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||3.003 4.004|
The government generally does not restrict academic freedom, but the education system is weakened by widespread corruption and politically influenced appointments and financing.
Romanian higher-education institutions were affected by an amendment to the National Education Act that banned gender studies programming, which was passed in June 2020. Protesters called on President Iohannis to withhold his assent at a Bucharest demonstration that month. Iohannis sought a ruling from the Constitutional Court in July and the court annulled the amendment in December.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||4.004 4.004|
People are generally free to express their opinions without fear of retribution. However, the September 2020 CJI report noted that some social media users received fines after they were accused of insulting police.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||4.004 4.004|
Romania’s constitution guarantees freedom of assembly. Public gatherings were restricted in March 2020, when a state of emergency was declared. Public-assembly restrictions were maintained when it expired in May, as the government then declared a state of alert. Some assembly restrictions were loosened in September. Small election-related rallies were held, but attendance was low due to fear of COVID-19 transmission.
Despite these restrictions, demonstrations were held during the year. Several dozen protesters called on President Iohannis to reject a gender-studies ban in Bucharest in June. Protests against COVID-19 measures were also held; protesters who participated in May and July events in Bucharest violated pandemic-related measures, leading to the issuance of several fines.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||4.004 4.004|
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operate without major formal restrictions. Nevertheless, many human rights and governance groups suffer from funding shortages and often face hostility and smears from politicians and other actors.
In December 2020, interim premier Nicolae Ciucă removed Adriana Radu, the head of a women’s rights NGO, from an advisory council. Radu, who was selected by civil society representatives, was reportedly the only nominated individual to be kept off the council.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||3.003 4.004|
Workers have the right to form unions, have a limited right to strike, and can bargain collectively, though laws against the violation of these rights are not well enforced. There are legal constraints on the ability of unions to participate in political activity.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||3.003 4.004|
The judiciary is generally independent, but faces pressure from the executive and legislative branches. A special prosecution unit focusing on magistrates has been criticized by magistrates’ associations and supranational bodies, who feared it would allow for the intimidation of magistrates and other abuses. The unit remained active in 2020, however.
In September 2020, the Justice Ministry introduced proposed legislative amendments that would affect the judiciary; the public debate period on the amendments was scheduled to conclude in March 2021.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||3.003 4.004|
The law provides safeguards against arbitrary arrest and detention which are generally respected. However, the right to a fair and timely trial is often undermined by institutional problems including corruption, political influence, staffing shortages, and inefficient resource allocation. Many government officials and lawmakers have retained their positions despite criminal indictments or convictions by exploiting such weaknesses in the system.
The hearing of noncriminal matters was limited for part of 2020 due to the COVID-19 state of emergency.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||3.003 4.004|
The population faces no major threats to physical security, but prisons and detention centers feature harsh conditions, and the abuse of detainees by police and fellow prisoners remains a problem.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||3.003 4.004|
The law provides broad protections against discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and other categories. However, people with disabilities, LGBT+ people, Roma, and HIV-positive children and adults face discrimination in education, employment, medical service provision, and other areas. The constitution guarantees women equal rights, but gender discrimination remains a problem in many aspects of life.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||4.004 4.004|
Citizens generally face no significant restrictions on freedom of movement, whether for internal or external travel, and can freely change their place of employment or education.
During the March-to-May 2020 state of emergency, the government instituted a strict COVID-19-related lockdown. In May, the Constitutional Court invalidated legal sanctions over lockdown violations. In June, it ruled that compulsory quarantine and isolation measures for Romanians returning from areas deemed high-risk were unconstitutional. New quarantine and isolation measures came into force in July in response to the ruling.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||2.002 4.004|
Property rights are protected by law, but despite significant progress, the country has struggled to adjudicate restitution claims for property confiscated during the communist era. Bureaucratic barriers, corruption, and broader weaknesses in the rule of law hamper private business activity.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||3.003 4.004|
While personal social freedoms are generally protected, domestic violence remains a serious problem, and laws meant to combat it are poorly enforced. Same-sex marriages are not permitted under Romanian law. However, in 2018, the Constitutional Court recognized the residency rights of same-sex couples married elsewhere, provided that one spouse is a European Union citizen. Antigay rhetoric is still sometimes instrumentalized by political actors in order to galvanize conservative parts of society against political adversaries.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||3.003 4.004|
The law provides basic protections against exploitative working conditions, though they are unevenly enforced, particularly in the large informal economy. Economic opportunity varies widely between urban and rural areas, and such disparities limit social mobility for some. Human trafficking for the purpose of forced labor and prostitution remains a serious problem. Women and Roma children are especially vulnerable to forced begging.
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