Romania

Semi-Consolidated Democracy
56
100
DEMOCRACY-PERCENTAGE Democracy Percentage 55.95 100
DEMOCRACY-SCORE Democracy Score 4.36 7
Last Year's Democracy Percentage & Status
57 100 Semi-Consolidated Democracy
The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 1 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year. The Democracy Percentage, introduced in 2020, is a translation of the Democracy Score to the 0-100 scale, where 0 equals least democratic and 100 equals most democratic.

header1 Score changes in 2022

  • Local Democratic Governance rating declined from 4.50 to 4.25 due to the politicization of the status of prefect and subprefect and the partisan distribution of funds from the central to the local level.

As a result, Romania’s Democracy score declined from 4.39 to 4.36.

header2 Executive Summary

Throughout 2021, democracy in Romania was affected by a combination of three overlapping crises: a health crisis, a political crisis, and an energy crisis. While the leaders of the country’s main political parties quarreled over the distribution of positions, ministries, and funds, Romania suffered one of the highest COVID-19 death rate in the European Union (EU),1 experienced rising energy costs, and saw the fourth-highest rate of inflation among EU countries in October.2

After a three-month political crisis, Romania installed on November 25 its tenth government in as many years under the leadership of Nicolae Ciucă, a former army general and member of the National Liberal Party (PNL). The country’s largest political parties, PNL and the Social Democratic Party (PSD), are longtime rivals, but they buried the hatchet and settled on an unlikely coalition agreement along with the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR) to install Ciucă as prime minister. The coalition agreement foresees PNL swapping the prime minister’s post with PSD in May 2023. Romania’s next regularly scheduled general election will take place in 2024.

Romania’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic was underpinned by 30 years of poor investment and poor leadership in the public health system, and by a bumpy transition to democracy and a market economy following the fall of the country’s communist regime in 1989. The impact of COVID-19 on Romania has been devastating, with the country registering over 58,000 deaths from the virus by year’s end.3 Meanwhile, others have died from accidents such as fires at hospitals or simply due to hospitals’ incapacity to treat non-COVID-19 patients throughout the pandemic.4 These numbers could have been drastically reduced if decision makers had taken a strategic and planned approach towards managing this unprecedented health crisis.

Romania’s political crisis started in September 2021 following internal disputes within the center-right coalition5 of PNL, “Save Romania” Union (USR),6 and UDMR.7 Instead of taking advantage of what could have been a period of political calm, the coalition crumbled under the ambitions of then-Prime Minister Florin Cîțu to rule as he wished. Losing the support of its coalition partners, the Cîțu government collapsed in October following a no-confidence motion initiated by PSD and supported by all opposition parties in Parliament as well as the second-largest party in the erstwhile governing coalition, USR. The removal of the Cîțu government through this motion of censure intensified political tensions that had already led to a record depreciation of the national currency, the Romanian leu (RON).8 Although Romania is due to receive an estimated €29.2 billion from the EU as part of the bloc’s COVID-19 recovery program, the country’s prevailing political instability jeopardizes the management of these funds.

Another area of potential mismanagement is the newly adopted Anghel Saligny National Investment Program for local development, which has vague criteria for how projects should be selected, implemented, monitored, and audited. Instead of learning from past mistakes, such as previous national programs for local development (PNDLs)—widely criticized for their lack of transparency and objectivity in the attribution of funds and contracts, corrupt practices, and poor implementation—it seems that the Saligny program is essentially a carbon copy of the last two PNDLs. In order to adopt this program before the internal elections for PNL leadership in fall 2021, PM Cîțu first dismissed the USR justice minister (who opposed it) and then rammed it through via an emergency ordinance on September 3 in the absence of USR ministers. Given that the Saligny program is intended to provide over €10 billion to local authorities for various development works, this move was transparently meant to boost PM Cîțu’s standing among the party faithful in advance of the PNL elections.

On top of this, the Constitutional Court of Romania (CCR) decided to delay the vote on a motion of no confidence9 brought forward on September 3 by USR and Alliance for the Union of Romanians (AUR). This move arguably favored Cîțu in the PNL leadership elections on September 25, as the delay effectively ensured that he remained prime minister at least until the PNL leadership vote. The CCR’s intervention raises questions about its independence and political neutrality, although eventually, on September 28, it ruled that the motion should be debated and voted on in Parliament. Before this could be considered, however, the Cîțu government fell on October 5 in a separate vote brought by the PSD that recorded the highest number of supporters for a motion of censure in more than 30 years.

Another means of influencing the PNL leader elections at the PNL congress was PM Cîțu’s decision on September 7 to award over €18 million in new party subsidies, although by that point in the year the political parties had generally only spent half of their existing annual subsidies. Moreover, the fact that around 5,000 people gathered indoors at the PNL congress, despite restrictions on gatherings and soaring rates of COVID-19 infections, was a clear expression of how authorities could be overpowered by the will of political leaders. Finally, in hopes of getting reinstated as prime minister after the no-confidence motion, Cîțu, acting as interim PM, decided on October 7 to allocate over one billion RON from the state’s reserve fund to Romanian municipalities, disregarding any objective criteria for distributing the funds and clearly favoring municipalities led by PNL mayors. Meanwhile, cities and towns with hundreds of thousands of inhabitants led by USR mayors received no funding, as Cîțu blatantly sought to take revenge on the party.

The government’s incapacity to handle the health crisis was laid bare by the relatively low rates of vaccination in the country: by year’s end Romania’s COVID-19 vaccine uptake rate was among the lowest in the EU.10 This low enthusiasm for the vaccine could be explained by the widespread distrust in state authorities as well as high rates of skepticism and vaccine hesitancy among certain segments of the population. This skepticism was propelled by an increasing number of vocal antivaccination campaigners, including the newly formed AUR party. As dozens of civil society leaders pleaded with politicians to cease all contact with AUR members, the far-right party organized antivaccination protests, even at the height of the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hence, the alliance between the progressive USR and AUR to submit a no-confidence motion against the Cîțu government disappointed a large share of civil society and political figures, including the country’s president, Klaus Iohannis.

Some Romanian media played a role in diffusing conspiracy theories and distrust in the COVID-19 vaccine. State and private media are still at risk of political and commercial interference, especially regarding editorial content. Moreover, there is no transparency in political party spending on media marketing, nor on TV content paid for by political parties.

Judicial independence in Romania seemed to register positive trends in 2021, although no concrete progress was made in dissolving the prosecutorial special section for investigating magistrates (SIIJ), depoliticizing the CCR, or improving the stability and predictability of legislation. A set of amendments to the three laws that govern Romania’s justice system, necessitated by the former ruling PSD’s interference with the judiciary and state prosecution, remained subject to parliamentary debate in 2021, but the sheer number of amendments makes the duration and outcome of this legislative process unpredictable. Uncertainty over long-sought improvements to the penal and criminal procedure code are also a major challenge for the fight against corruption. This uncertainty, as well as the lack of a national anticorruption strategy, hampers Romania’s efforts in preventing and sanctioning corruption at all levels. In the meantime, high-profile cases of corruption continue to come to light.

In the midst of an ongoing public health crisis, a full-blown political crisis was the last thing the Romanian population needed, given the interim government had failed to step up COVID-19 restrictions to contain the fourth wave of the pandemic.11 This last wave took over 20,000 lives, although many could have been saved if not for the political deadlock.12

  • 1Cristian Gherasim, “Romania reaches historic high in Covid deaths”, EUobserver, 5 November 2021, https://euobserver.com/coronavirus/153428
  • 2“October 2021 Annual inflation up to 4.1% in the euro area Up to 4.4% in the EU”, Eurostat 131/2021, 17 November 2021, https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/documents/2995521/11563383/2-17112021-AP-…
  • 3Sourced from: Worldometer, COVID-19 CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC, https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/
  • 4The Romanian health system had been under sustained pressure since long before the COVID-19 pandemic, being historically plagued by corruption, inefficiency and politicized leadership. However, the COVID-19 crisis pushed the health system to its limits and showed its incapacity to deal with the high influx of patients. To date, eleven fires were recorded at public hospitals since the onset of the pandemic, which resulted in dozens of deaths and catastrophic injuries. “Ard spitalele României. Lista neagră a tragediilor: 11 incendii în mai puţin de un an” [Romania's hospitals are burning. Black list of tragedies: 11 fires in less than a year], Adevarul, 11 November 2021, https://adevarul.ro/news/eveniment/ard-spitalele-romaniei-lista-neagra-…
  • 5“Romania to get a government for Christmas”, Euractiv, 22 December 2020, https://www.euractiv.com/section/elections/news/romania-to-get-a-govern…
  • 6USR and PLUS decided to merge at the August 2020 congress, but the decision was only approved by the court in April 2021. In October 2021, the party’s name changed from USR-PLUS to USR.
  • 7The PNL-USR-UDMR coalition had been in power between December 23, 2020 – November 25, 2021, and had in opposition PSD and the far-right Alliance for the Union of Romanians (AUR).
  • 8Nicoleta Banila, “Romanian leu hits fresh all-time low vs euro”, SEENews, 22 September 2021, https://seenews.com/news/romanian-leu-hits-fresh-all-time-low-vs-euro-7…
  • 9According to the Romanian Constitution, Article 13, a motion of censure must be debated 3 days after the date it was presented in the joint session of the two Chambers.
  • 10Partly because of scepticism against the vaccine, but also because of the prominence of misinformation in public discourse and the latent distrust in the authorities that exists in the country, vaccination rates in Romania are well below the EU average, in spite of a relatively steady start. On October 4, only 33.5% of Romania’s population was fully vaccinated, against the EU average of 73.5% Source: “COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker,” European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, https://vaccinetracker.ecdc.europa.eu/public/extensions/COVID-19/vaccin…
  • 11In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, a state of alert has been in place since March 2020. The new PSD- PNL-UDMR government is expected to take new measures to contain the spread of the virus, such as making the COVID-19 green certificate compulsory for all employees.
  • 12“Octavian Jurma, vești bune după peste 20.000 de morți din criza politică: Decesele SCAD sub 200 pe zi. SFAT pentru ministrul Rafila” [Octavian Jurma, good news after more than 20,000 deaths in the political crisis: Deaths FALL below 200 per day. TIP for Minister Rafila], Realitatea.net, 23 November 2021, https://www.realitatea.net/stiri/actual/octavian-jurma-vesti-bune-dupa-…

header3 At a Glance

In Romania, national governance is democratic yet dominated by clientelistic party politics. Elections are free, but the accumulation of significant sums by parties in power tilts the balance in favor of their reelection. Civil society is an active force in supporting democracy and defending the rule of law, but there is a need for more public consultation and support from the state. Media are relatively independent though at risk of political pressure and self-censorship. Local governance is democratic yet highly influenced by party politics at the national level. Judicial independence has seen positive developments over recent years, but concerns persist about legislative predictability, coherence, and stability. Some efforts to stamp out corruption have been sustained. However, the country clearly needs a well-resourced, stand-alone strategy to fight corruption at all levels of society.

National Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Considers the democratic character of the governmental system; and the independence, effectiveness, and accountability of the legislative and executive branches. 4.254 7.007
  • On January 29, a fire killed 17 patients at a COVID-19 hospital in the Romanian capital Bucharest.1 It was the second deadly hospital fire in the country in under three months2 (and not the last one of 20213 ). This, along with the alleged mismanagement of the COVID-19 crisis, drove the Social Democratic Party (PSD) to initiate a simple motion of no confidence against the Minister of Health, Vlad Voiculescu (USR), on February 17. The motion failed, but after a series of controversies in the public health sector, Prime Minister Florin Cîțu fired Voiculescu and the secretary of state in the Ministry of Health, Andreea Moldovan, on April 14.4 The copresident of USR and Deputy Prime Minister Dan Barna criticized the move as “politically unilateral and immature” and declared that his party no longer supported Cîțu as prime minister.5 Following Barna’s refusal to take over the Ministry of Health, Cîțu himself became the health minister on an interim basis. Although a new minister of health, proposed by USR, was sworn in on April 21,6 the incident marked the beginning of the erosion of trust between USR and Cîțu.
  • On May 26, Parliament voted on the law to ratify the EU Council Decision (EU, Euratom) 2020/2053 of 14 December 2020, a measure enabling the pandemic economic recovery instrument proposed by the European Commission to be made operational. Casting aside their differences, PNL, PSD, and USR deputies voted to ratify the measure, while deputies and senators from Alliance for the Union of Romanians (AUR) announced they were leaving the plenary before the vote. In total, Romania is to receive €29.2 billion from the instrument. On September 27, following the visit of European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen to Bucharest, the commission greenlit Romania’s Recovery and Resilience Plan (PNRR) for the funds.7
  • On June 15, a simple motion of no confidence8 against the Minister of Investments and European Projects, Cristian Ghinea (USR), was rejected. In the motion, the Social Democrats reproached the minister for blocking the absorption of funds for local authorities and “indebting” the country with 15 billion euros through the PNRR, claiming that the money taken through the recovery plan is “only to feed friends, consultancy firms, and party members who will vote in the PNL and USR congresses.”9 PSD and AUR deputies wrongly accused USR and PNL of rigging the vote by including votes cast from electronic tablets, which is normally allowed only for normative acts.10 On June 23, PSD submitted a no-confidence motion against the Cîțu government accusing it of endangering Romanians’ economic well-being and supporting “catastrophic reforms” through the country’s PNRR,11 in spite of the fact that PSD had voted on May 26 to adopt the PNRR. The no-confidence motion failed on June 29 after the leaders of PNL and USR refused to permit their deputies to vote.12
  • In August, news surfaced of Florin Cîțu’s conviction in the United States for drunk driving in December 2001.13 Moreover, on July 21, 2008, Cîțu was sued in an Iowa court for an unpaid debt of $6,698.73 on a credit card from Maryland National Bank.14 In response to the news, Cîțu refused to even contemplate the prospect of resigning from his position as head of government,15 further eroding the trust of his political peers.
  • September was marked by a political crisis between the governing parties PNL and USR. The crisis started on September 1 when PM Cîțu invoked a government meeting to approve the Anghel Saligny National Investment Program, a local development program (see “Local Democratic Governance”). USR-PLUS boycotted the meeting on the grounds that the Saligny program represented “the biggest robbery of Romanian money.”16 Later that day, Cîțu ousted Justice Minister Stelian Ion (USR) for blocking the program, as well as for failing to abolish the Section for Investigating Criminal Offenses in the Judiciary (SIIJ) (see “Judicial Framework and Independence”).17 In response, USR and AUR submitted a motion of no confidence against the Cîțu government on September 3. In the motion, the two parties argued that the Saligny program is “just a party piggy bank” with no clear criteria for project selection, monitoring, and auditing.18 They also made reference to what they viewed as Cîțu’s lack of moral legitimacy given the charges he faced in the U.S.
  • The Saligny program was approved in the absence of USR-PLUS ministers on September 3 through the Government Emergency Ordinance (OUG) 95/2021. There were no arguments supporting the urgency to approve the Saligny program by emergency ordinance19 other than PM Cîțu’s wish to influence the vote for his party’s presidency,20 which he won on September 25 (see “Electoral Process”). The high number of OUGs adopted by the government in 2021 (no fewer than 14521 ) raised concerns over their legal certainty and legislative quality as well as the separation of powers in the country.
  • Later, on September 7, all USR ministers resigned, and on September 8, Cîțu dismissed all secretaries of state, prefects, and subprefects that had been named by USR.22
  • On September 8, Cîțu filed a complaint to the Constitutional Court of Romania (CCR) challenging the constitutionality of the motion of no confidence initiated by USR-PLUS and AUR. The CCR announced it would rule on the constitutionality of the motion on September 28, which significantly delayed the vote in Parliament and indirectly favored the election of Cîțu to PNL leadership on September 27. Ultimately, the CCR admitted Cîțu’s complaint regarding a legal conflict between Parliament and the government arising from procedural misconduct in initiating the motion of no confidence. Yet, at the same time, the court also ruled in favor of debating and voting on the motion of censure in Parliament.23
  • Meanwhile, PSD also submitted a motion of censure on September 28 (adopted on October 5) that led to Cîțu’s dismissal with the highest number of votes recorded in the last 30 years for such a motion.24 The Cîțu government’s fall touched off weeks of political intrigue as President Klaus Iohannis and the parties represented in Parliament worked to form a new government and avoid fresh elections.
  • As part of the new governing deal between PNL, PSD, and UDMR, on November 23, Florin Cîțu was elected president of the Senate (upper house of Parliament),25 and the leader of PSD, Ion-Marcel Ciolacu,26 was elected president of the lower house , the Chamber of Deputies. Moreover, former prime minister Sorin Grindeanu (PSD) took the position of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Transport and Infrastructure. Grindeanu, who was Romania’s head of government for six months in 2017, managed to trigger the country’s largest post-revolution protests with the adoption of the emergency ordinance OUG13 for the amnesty for criminal offenses.27 Grindeanu also goes down in history as the first prime minister to be ousted by a motion of no confidence by his own party.28 The incoming government of Nicolae Ciucă also nominated the controversial29 former mayor of Bucharest, Gabriela Firea, as head of the newly created Ministry of Family and Youth and the only woman proposed as minister in the new cabinet. Firea is a strong supporter of the traditional family, does not agree with providing sex education in school without parental consent, and seeks to increase the birth rate in Romania.30 This raises public concerns that Romania may follow the conservative path taken by Poland and Hungary.
Electoral Process 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Examines national executive and legislative elections, the electoral framework, the functioning of multiparty systems, and popular participation in the political process. 4.755 7.007
  • No national executive or legislative elections were held in Romania in 2021, but several by-elections held on the local level revealed that old habits die hard. Numerous cases of electoral fraud were reported and substantiated; the police opened criminal proceedings over accusations of bribery in some cases, and in others, candidates had asked citizens to photograph their ballots, for which the voters were subsequently fined.1
  • Parliamentary elections had been held on December 5–6, 2020.2 On January 17, 2021, the think tank Expert Forum published a report on the poll, which highlights that, due to the late promulgation of the law stipulating the date of the elections, several key regulations were also published late and communicated ineffectively, leading to instability and uncertainty over the implementation of the election schedule. Moreover, while the authorities’ efforts to enable quarantined and isolated citizens to vote were more visible than in the preceeding local elections, there were problems using the special ballot box and protective masks. The report also indicated that transparency was significantly diminished since meetings of constituency electoral offices were not made public, while the Central Electoral Office (BEC) rejected requests from civil society organizations to publish the minutes from these meetings.3
  • In February, the Permanent Electoral Authority (AEP) reported that it had carried out no less than 3,396 control actions in 2019–20 on candidates, political parties, and natural or legal persons.4 This effort covered the European parliamentary elections of 2019, the national referendum in 2019, and the local elections of 2020. While all political parties were fined, sometimes as much as €13,000 per infraction, PNL received cumulatively the highest sanctions with an estimated €90,000 in fines for issues pertaining to campaign expenditures.5
  • Elections for PNL leadership, held on September 25, were marked by numerous voting irregularities. The media captured two people entering a polling booth simultaneously, while some voters photographed their ballots and ID cards as proof they had voted a certain way.6 Moreover, the police fined PNL 10,000 RON (about €2,000) for not observing COVID-19 public health measures.7 The fact that the party congress brought together some 5,000 people passed unnoticed by government authorities, although restrictions in force at the time8 stipulated a maximum of 200 people for private indoor events with all guests holding the COVID-19 Green Pass.9 The Prefecture of Bucharest justified this violation on the grounds that no government decision10 regarding the COVID-19 state of alert had made explicit reference to the word “congress,” implying that such activities were not envisioned by the provisions in force.11 This appears to have been a blatant abuse of power by PM Cîțu, who interpreted COVID-19 measures to suit his personal interests, endangering public health in order to get elected to his party’s leadership.
  • On September 7, PM Cîțu announced the allocation of an extra RON 90 million (about €18.2 million) in political party subsidies from the state budget in spite of having previously promised to cut the subsidy granted to parties.12 Given that political parties had spent only half of the subsidies received in the first six months of the year,13 it was hard to justify this sudden increase as anything other than an attempt to boost Cîțu’s chances of winning the PNL leadership and potentially even the parliamentary no-confidence vote. Moreover, PNL and PSD were the biggest beneficiaries of these new subsidies. The accumulation of significant sums by political parties up to 2024, the date of the next parliamentary elections, represents a danger to the fairness in electoral campaigns, especially for any new parties or forces, with an inevitable negative impact on democratic competition.14 In February, AUR proposed an amendment to Law 334/2006 on the financing of political parties and electoral campaigns, asking for the repeal of legal provisions by which the state subsidizes political parties. This proposal was rejected in the Senate in June.15
  • On September 20, Radio Free Europe published results of an investigation into political party spending, particularly by PNL, PSD, and USR. Evidently, over the past five years, parties have collectively received more than one billion RON from the state budget, but only USR has published information regarding how these funds were used.
  • 1“Cine a câștigat alegerile locale parţiale. La Deveselu, fiul fostului primar mort în campanie a pierdut în fața unchiului” [Who won the local by-elections. In Deveselu, the son of the former mayor who died during the campaign lost to his uncle], Stirile ProTV, 28 June 2021, https://stirileprotv.ro/stiri/politic/alegeri-locale-partiale-2021-in-r…
  • 2“Raport De Monitorizare Raport final privind observarea alegerilor parlamentare 5-6 decembrie 2020 – FiecareVot” [Monitoring Report Final report on the observation of the parliamentary elections 5-6 December 2020 – EveryVote], Expert Forum, 17 January 2021, https://expertforum.ro/raport-parlamentare-2020/
  • 3“Raport De Monitorizare Raport final privind observarea alegerilor parlamentare 5-6 decembrie 2020 – FiecareVot” [Monitoring Report Final report on the observation of the parliamentary elections 5-6 December 2020 – EveryVote], Expert Forum, 17 January 2021, https://expertforum.ro/raport-parlamentare-2020/
  • 4“AEP: Aproape 3.400 de acţiuni de control la competitorii electorali realizate în 2019 şi 2020” [AEP: Nearly 3,400 control actions on electoral contestants carried out in 2019 and 2020], Agerpres, 2 August 2021, https://www.agerpres.ro/politica/2021/08/02/aep-aproape-3-400-de-actiun…
  • 5“AEP: Aproape 3.400 de acţiuni de control la competitorii electorali realizate în 2019 şi 2020” [AEP: Nearly 3,400 control actions on electoral contestants carried out in 2019 and 2020], Agerpres, 2 August 2021, https://www.agerpres.ro/politica/2021/08/02/aep-aproape-3-400-de-actiun…
  • 6Radu Eremia “Ce nu s-a văzut la TV la Congresul PNL, „un spectacol jalnic al democraţiei”: negocieri până în ultima clipă, vot cu scântei, ruptura dintre tabere” [What was not seen on TV at the PNL Congress, "a pathetic spectacle of democracy": negotiations until the last minute, a vote with sparks, a split between the camps], Adevarul, 26 September 2021, https://adevarul.ro/news/politica/reportaj-nus-a-vazut-congresul-pnl-un…
  • 7Alexandru Toader, “PNL a fost amendat cu 10.000 de lei după congresul de la Romexpo” [PNL fined 10,000 lei after Romexpo congress”], Ziarul Financiar, 28 September 2021, https://www.zf.ro/eveniment/pnl-a-fost-amendat-cu-10-000-de-lei-dupa-co…
  • 8On September 25, the rate of COVID-19 infections per thousand inhabitants in Bucharest was 4,10. Source: “Informare COVID -19, Grupul de Comunicare Strategică, 25 septembrie, ora 13.00” [COVID Briefing -19, Strategic Communication Group, 25 September, 1 p.m.], Ministerul Afacerilor Interne, 25 Septembrie 2021, https://www.mai.gov.ro/informare-covid-19-grupul-de-comunicare-strategi…
  • 9“Care sunt riscurile ca desfașurarea congresului PNL să aibă loc în scenariul roșu COVID-19. „Bucureștiul are rată de dublare la aproximativ 10 zile”” [What are the risks of the PNL congress taking place in the red COVID-19 scenario. "Bucharest has a doubling rate of about 10 days"], Ziare.com, 21 September 2021, https://ziare.com/politica/congres-pnl/congresul-pnl-scenariu-rosu-masu…
  • 10Here reference is made to the provisions of GD 932 of 09.09.2021 on the extension of the state of alert, supplemented by GD 990 of 17.09.2021.
  • 11“Congres PNL cu 5000 de delegaţi - Arafat: Nu s-au dat derogări / Prefectura: HG privind starea de alertă nu face o referire expresă la această manifestare care are cuvântul ”congres” / Ce conţine răspunsul transmis liberalilor de Raed Arafat” [PNL Congress with 5000 delegates - Arafat: No derogations were given / Prefecture: the HG on the state of alert makes no express reference to this event which has the word "congress" / What is in the reply sent to the Liberals by Raed Arafat], News.ro, 24 September 2021, https://www.news.ro/politic-intern/congres-pnl-5000-delegati-arafat-s-a…
  • 12Mihai Roman, “Premierul Cîțu a mai dat 90 de milioane de lei partidelor politice în plină criză, deși promisese că le taie subvențiile” [Prime Minister Cîțu gave another 90 million lei to political parties in the midst of the crisis, even though he promised to cut their subsidies], G4Media, 7 September 2021, https://www.g4media.ro/premierul-citu-a-mai-dat-90-de-milioane-de-lei-l…
  • 13“Raport de Monitorizare Secretele subvențiilor politice” [Monitoring Report The secrets of political subsidies], Expert Forum, 9 August 2021, https://expertforum.ro/secretele-subventiilor-politice/
  • 14“Raport de Monitorizare Secretele subvențiilor politice” [Monitoring Report The secrets of political subsidies], Expert Forum, 9 August 2021, https://expertforum.ro/secretele-subventiilor-politice/
  • 15Camera Deputatilor [Chamber of Deputies], Last accessed on 29 November 2021, http://www.cdep.ro/pls/proiecte/upl_pck2015.proiect?idp=19176
Civil Society 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Assesses the organizational capacity and financial sustainability of the civic sector; the legal and political environment in which it operates; the functioning of trade unions; interest group participation in the policy process; and the threat posed by antidemocratic extremist groups. 5.506 7.007
  • Civil society organizations (CSOs) have played an active role in defending the rule of law in Romania.1 However, the country’s civic space is considered to be relatively narrow by international observers such as the European Commission and CIVICUS.2
  • Despite the supportive legislative framework for civil society, mandatory consultation procedures prior to the adoption of normative acts are seen as perfunctory: the number of public consultations and impact assessments remains limited, and the few bills that are subject to public consultation do not tend to have a major budgetary impact.3 Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on the rights to freedom of assembly and association of CSOs, as is the case throughout Europe.4
  • On January 4, the Law on Measures for Preventing and Combating Antigypsyism5 entered into force. This is an important development for the protection of the Roma ethnic minority, which accounts for up to 10 percent of Romania’s population yet experiences discrimination and is distrusted by 7 out of 10 Romanians.6
  • On February 3, several Romanian intellectuals and dozens of civil society leaders sent a letter to the PNL, UDMR, and USR asking government representatives to cease all contact with the far-right political party AUR. The petition characterized AUR as a radical-populist party, with fundamentalist and nationalist themes, that promotes anti-globalist and anti-individualist notions and conspiracy theories while spreading ideas of the extreme right.7
  • On March 29, more than 1,000 people protested in Bucharest and several other cities against restrictions aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19. The demonstrations were mainly organized by AUR, which supported anti-vaccination protests.8 More demonstrations took place on May 31, when people requested a suspension of the vaccination campaign for people under 18 years old on the grounds that there was not enough information about any possible adverse impacts of the vaccine.9 On October 2, at the height of the devastating fourth wave of the pandemic in Romania, AUR gathered thousands of protesters in Bucharest to demonstrate against the government’s COVID-19 restrictions.10 Some of these protests turned violent, with many police officers injured and hundreds of protesters investigated for vandalism or for breaking COVID-19 measures.11
  • On July 27, after almost 20 years of some of the most diversified and effective forms of protest in Romania, the Roșia Montană mining site became a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site.12
  • A European Parliament resolution proposing that LGBT+ families and same-sex couples should have equal freedoms of movement and the same family reunification rights in all EU countries, adopted on September 14, has divided Romanian politicians into two camps: those supporting the traditional family and those advocating equal rights for all. Only 6 Romanians in the European Parliament supported the resolution—all MEPs from USR—while 18 opposed it, mainly MEPs from PNL and PSD. Given that the resolution said that Romania should be sanctioned for failing to update legislation on same-sex couples, the USR members were accused by other Romanian MEPs of voting against Romania and of “aligning with neo-Marxism.”13 Currently, same-sex marriages are not recognized in Romania, and the country’s civil code limits civil marriage to people of the opposite sex. In 2021, the advocacy group ILGA-Europe ranked Romania twenty-fifth in the EU for LGBT+ rights protection, just above Latvia and Poland.14
  • On September 17, journalists and environmental activists filming a documentary on illegal logging in Suceava, in the north of the country, were beaten with sticks and axes by a group of 20 individuals.15 This attack joined a long line of serious events that have endangered civic space and press freedoms, and encourage illegal logging. A series of NGOs appealed to the Minister of Interior to take emergency measures regarding the violence in Suceava and to step up efforts to combat illegal logging.16
Independent Media 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Examines the current state of press freedom, including libel laws, harassment of journalists, and editorial independence; the operation of a financially viable and independent private press; and the functioning of the public media. 3.504 7.007
  • Across the country, there were increasing signs of the use of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs), whereby politicians,1 church officials,2 or businesspersons with links to the state3 sue well-established newsrooms of investigative journalists—such as Recorder, RISE, or Libertatea—to stifle legitimate criticism through the abuse of existing laws, most notably defamation laws.
  • The activity of the National Audiovisual Council (CNA), the state media regulator, was interrupted between February 10 and May 114 because four senior positions were left vacant and could only be filled with parliamentary approval. Concerns regarding the regulator’s financial and budgetary viability have persisted since 2020.5
  • The 2021 Rule of Law Report published by the European Commission on July 20, notes that transparency of media ownership continues to be incomplete, while state funding (a key source of media sector financing) raises concerns over editorial autonomy.6 Moreover, the state funds allocated in 20207 to support media during the COVID-19 pandemic have been criticized for favoring larger outlets and being conducive to clickbait as well as for increasing the risk of political pressure and self-censorship.8 Aside from the European Commission, external observers like the Center for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom9 and Reporters Without Borders have also sounded alarms about the state of media freedom in Romania.10
  • On September 16, the Romanian Union of Journalists MediaSind appealed to the authorities to urgently implement the European Commission’s recommendations on the protection of journalists, and called on the Commission to rapidly set up a mechanism to monitor the ways in which EU Member States ensure the protection of journalists as well as public access to information of public interest.11
  • Radio Free Europe revealed that in 2021 almost 25 million RON (about €5 million) of the state subsidy given to political parties was used for press promotion and propaganda. Here, there is the further important issue of transparency: TV channels insufficiently informed their audiences about the distinction between different types of content, especially between their own editorial content and airtime bought by political parties, and to signal who is paying for such content.12
  • 1For example, on 27 May 2021, a court ruling was issued to delete two materials published by Rise Project and targeting Adrian Streinu-Cercel, the former manager of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases "Matei Balș", institute where a fire killed 17 people in January this year. According to the ruling, Rise Project was ordered by the Bucharest court to pay Streinu-Cercel 10,000 RON (approx. €2000) in moral damages, to publish the contents of the ruling on the riseproject.ro website and in three national newspapers, to withdraw the two articles targeting him and to publish a right of reply from him. See: https://www.libertatea.ro/stiri/cum-echipe-de-jurnalism-de-investigatii…
  • 2A former bishop has filed a defamation lawsuit against the Center for Investigative Media (CIM), Dela0.ro and three journalists, Ovidiu Vanghele, Vlad Stoicescu and Diana Oncioiu, over a series of articles published on safielumina.ro alleging sexual abuses and rape in an Orthodox Christian high school in Romania. See: https://fom.coe.int/alerte/detail/97308654
  • 3On 3 November 2020, Simona Ciulavu and a private company, BSG Business Select SRL, sued for 500,000 euros the RISE investigative journalism project over the article "The shady side of the masks business" on the corrupt sale of faulty masks to public hospitals. On 15 June 2021, the Bucharest Court rejected the lawsuit. See: https://fom.coe.int/alerte/detail/101422058
  • 4On May 11, the four positions were filled with candidates backed by the government (Mircea Toma, Valentin Jucan, Ionel Palăr) and by the presidential administration (Dorina Rusu). See: https://www.paginademedia.ro/cna/parlament-vot-membri-cna-20178393
  • 5“2021 Rule of Law Report: Country chapter on the rule of law situation in Romania,” European Commission, 20 July 2021, https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/default/files/2021_rolr_country_chapter…
  • 6“2021 Rule of Law Report: Country chapter on the rule of law situation in Romania,” European Commission, 20 July 2021, https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/default/files/2021_rolr_country_chapter…
  • 7No funds were allocated in 2021 to support media during the COVID-19 pandemic, other than those earmaked by the state in 2020.
  • 8“2021 Rule of Law Report: Country chapter on the rule of law situation in Romania,” European Commission, 20 July 2021, https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/default/files/2021_rolr_country_chapter…
  • 9In 2021, Romania’s press freedom index was 24.91, which was an improvement compared to the previous year when it was 25.91. This sees Romania rank 48th place worldwide out of 180 countries and in 21st place in the EU. See: “2021 World Press Freedom Index, Ranking 2021,” Reporters Without Borders, https://rsf.org/en/ranking/2021
  • 10On July 20, the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom (CMPF) released the 2021 Media Pluralism Monitor country report for Romania. The report considered Romania’s media pluralism according to 20 indicators and concluded that there is a medium risk for fundamental protection of media (39%), and a high risk for market plurality (84%), political independence (68%) and social inclusiveness (69%). Under market plurality, all the indicators registered a high level of risk, with the indicators ‘online platform concentration and competition enforcement’, and ‘commercial and owner influence over editorial content’ registering a very high risk (97%). With regards to political independence, the areas with the biggest problems relate to the independence of public service media governance and funding (high risk with 97%) and political independence of media (high risk with 90%). See: Marina Popescu, Roxana Bodea, Raluca Toma, “Monitoring Media Pluralism in the Digital Era : Application of the Media Pluralism Monitor 2020 in the European Union, Albania & Turkey : Country Report : Romania,” EUI Centre for Media Pluralism and Freedom, July 2021, https://cadmus.eui.eu/bitstream/handle/1814/71959/romania_results_mpm_2…
  • 11“Federația Internațională a Jurnaliștilor cere Comisiei Europene să monitorizeze statele membre care nu asigură protecție jurnaliștilor” [International Federation of Journalists calls on European Commission to monitor Member States that fail to protect journalists], Starea Presei, 16 September 2021, https://www.stareapresei.ro/federatia-internationala-a-jurnalistilor-ce…
  • 12The National Broadcasting Council (CNA) cannot force broadcasters to report receiving money from parties. The law on the financing of political parties stipulates that income from state budget subsidies can be used for media and propaganda expenditure. Under this legislative system, parties and TV stations can enter into collaboration, without the viewer having to be directly informed about it. See more in the article: Cristian Andrei, “Propagandă pe bani publici la TV. Publicul nu știe când se uită la o emisiune plătită de partide” [Propaganda on public money on TV. Audiences don't know when they're watching a programme paid for by the parties], RFE/RL, 21 September 2021, https://romania.europalibera.org/a/cna-fara-putere-telespectatorii-nu-s…
Local Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Considers the decentralization of power; the responsibilities, election, and capacity of local governmental bodies; and the transparency and accountability of local authorities. 4.254 7.007
  • On January 27, the government approved the amendment OUG 57/2019 to the administrative code regarding the status of prefects1 and subprefects, allowing these positions to be classified as “offices of public dignity”2 and their holders to be party members.3 Previously, Romanian law did not allow a prefect to belong to a political party, and to qualify for such a position, the candidate had to be a public-sector employee.4 The politicization of prefects brings more instability from the national to the local level, as was the case in September when PM Cîțu dismissed all prefects and subprefects who were named by USR (see “National Democratic Governance”).
  • On June 27, partial local elections took place in 36 localities where incumbent or former mayors were either deceased or unable to hold office due to criminal proceedings. While the leaders of PNL and PSD both claimed victory,5 PSD won 17 mandates, PNL 15, UDMR 1, and 2 mandates were won by independent candidates.6
  • On July 23, the Prefecture of Bucharest imposed a state of alert in Sector 1 of the capital due to high amounts of uncollected waste. Sanitation operator, Romprest, had stopped collecting waste on grounds that the administration of Sector 1 had not paid its bills. Clotilde Armand, mayor of Sector 1, accused Romprest of blackmailing her administration, issuing bills with “unjustifiably high and illegal tariffs,” and failing to honor contractual obligations that were already paid.7 The situation was proof of the inability of many local administrations to defend against abusive and illegal practices of state-contracted providers.
  • On September 26, two local referendums were organized in Buzau8 and Brasov9 counties. Both were historic firsts for the counties yet failed due to insufficient turnout,10 showcasing a lack of citizen participation in local governance matters.
  • The race for PNL leadership saw two candidates, former PM Ludovic Orban and then-PM Florin Cîțu, make competing promises to local elected representatives in exchange for their support, including pension entitlements and extra funding for municipalities. At the time, PNL counted 1,250 mayors, whose votes at the party congress on September 25 turned out to be crucial. While Orban positioned himself in favor of keeping mayors’ special pensions,11 Cîțu won the hearts of local leaders through the adoption on September 3 of the Saligny program, an initiative that would provide some 50 billion RON to local authorities over the next few years for water and sewage projects, gas networks, and road construction.12
  • The Saligny program is meant to replace the National Local Development Program (PNDL) launched by PSD in 2015. The PNDL program has been widely criticized for the corrupt ways in which contracts were awarded and implemented as well as for their poor standards and wildly inflated prices.13 Representatives from the civic sector and politics have already criticized the Saligny program for repeating many of the same mechanisms of the PNDL and for ignoring some of the shortcomings of its predecessor program that have been identified by the Court of Auditors and independent monitoring reports.14 Moreover, while the goals of the Saligny program are in the public interest, this alone fails to justify the haste with which PM Cîțu adopted it.15
  • On top of the Saligny program, Cîțu decided on October 7—after the motion of no confidence against him had been adopted—to allocate more than one billion RON to municipalities from the state’s reserve fund. However, it seems that the way in which this money was allocated to administrative-territorial units was arbitrary, strictly based on political criteria, and reminiscent of the period when former PSD leader Liviu Dragnea would distribute public funds among party insiders and supporters. Out of 41 cities and sectors led by USR mayors, only 5 received funds from the government, leaving cities with hundreds of thousands of inhabitants, such as Alba Iulia, Bacau, Brasov, Sectors 1 and 2 of Bucharest, and Timișoara, with no funding.16 A Radio Free Europe analysis showed that PSD was also disadvantaged in the distribution of funds, with cities led by the party receiving only about 25 percent of the amount allocated even though PSD has the largest number of mayors.17 Winners in this split were cities with PNL leadership, but also Covasna, Harghita, and Mureș where UDMR is strong.18
  • The lack of medical infrastructure and personnel, especially in rural areas, has contributed to the failure of the country’s vaccination campaign, given that about 44 percent of Romania’s population lives in rural areas.19
  • 1A prefect is the representative of the Government in each of Romania’s 41 counties, as well as in the Municipality of Bucharest. A prefect generally oversees regional development, the implementation of laws and emergency responses, while mayors and local councils are in charge or local administration.
  • 2An office of public dignity is a public office held by direct mandate, following elections, or indirectly by appointment, such as the President of the country, the Speaker of Parliament, the Prime Minister, the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, the First Deputy Prime Minister, Members of Parliament.
  • 3“Guvernul a aprobat ordonanța de urgență care le permite prefecților și subprefecților să fie membri de partid. Constituția prevede că atribuțiile prefectului se stabilesc doar prin lege organică / Cseke Attila: Terminăm cu ipocrizia” [The government has approved the emergency ordinance allowing prefects and sub-prefects to be party members. The Constitution stipulates that the prefect's powers are only established by organic law / Cseke Attila: Let's put an end to hypocrisy], G4Media, 27 January 2021, https://www.g4media.ro/guvernul-a-aprobat-ordonanta-de-urgenta-care-le-…
  • 4István Fekete, “Amendment transforms prefect position into political function,” Transylvania Now, 29 January 2021, https://transylvanianow.com/amendment-transforms-prefect-position-into-…
  • 5“PSD și PNL revendică fiecare victoria în alegerile locale parțiale” [PSD and PNL each claim victory in local by-elections], Digi24, 27 June 2021, https://www.digi24.ro/stiri/actualitate/politica/psd-si-pnl-revendica-f…
  • 6“Cine a câștigat alegerile locale parţiale. La Deveselu, fiul fostului primar mort în campanie a pierdut în fața unchiului” [Who won the local by-elections. In Deveselu, the son of the former mayor who died during the campaign lost to his uncle], Stirile ProTV, 28 June 2021, https://stirileprotv.ro/stiri/politic/alegeri-locale-partiale-2021-in-r…
  • 7“Stare de alertă în Sectorul 1 al Capitalei / Prefectul Alin Stoica a aprobat cererea lui Clotilde Armand: „Contractul cu Romprest nu va fi reziliat, dar va fi o nouă firmă care să ajute la colectarea gunoiului” / Ce spune primarul UPDATE” [State of alert in Sector 1 of the Capital / Prefect Alin Stoica approved Clotilde Armand's request: "The contract with Romprest will not be terminated, but there will be a new company to help with garbage collection" / What the mayor says UPDATE], Hotnews.ro, 23 July 2021, https://www.hotnews.ro/stiri-administratie_locala-24933967-ultima-ora-s…
  • 8The referendum in Buzău municipality was organized to consult citizens on the modification of the boundaries of the administrative-territorial unit of the city Buzau and the commune of Țintești, in the sense of the union of the two administrative entities. If the citizens of the two localities had voted in favour of unification and had reached a quorum in each of them, there would have been a first in the last 30 years: the voluntary merger of two administrative territorial units. See: https://www.g4media.ro/referendum-local-la-buzau-pentru-unificarea-cu-c…
  • 9The local referendum in Codlea, Brasov county, was organized in order to consult the citizens on whether or not to agree to the municipality taking on the cost of constructing a bypass road. See: http://www.romania-actualitati.ro/referendum_local_la_codlea-160630
  • 10“Referendum eșuat în Codlea pentru construirea centurii ocolitoare / La o prezență de 10,5% nu se mai numără voturile” [Failed referendum in Codlea for the construction of the ring road / At a turnout of 10.5% the votes are no longer counted], G4Media, 27 September 2021, https://www.g4media.ro/referendum-esuat-in-codlea-pentru-construirea-ce…; “Referendumul pentru alipirea comunei Țintești la Buzău a eșuat: Doar 10% din buzoieni s-au prezentat la urne” [The referendum for the annexation of Țintești to Buzău failed: Only 10% of Buzois turned out to vote], G4Media, 27 September 2021, https://www.g4media.ro/referendumul-pentru-alipirea-comunei-tintesti-la…
  • 11Special pensions for mayors, deputy mayors, heads of county councils or their vice-presidents were adopted in 2019 by Viorica Dăncilă's Cabinet, by emergency ordinance. However, at the end of 2019, the Parliament adopted the postponement of the entry into force of the special pensions for mayors, through an amendment by USR. After last year's parliamentary elections, the Cîțu government adopted an emergency ordinance at the end of 2020, postponing special pensions for mayors for another year. On December 17, the Ciuca government adopted an OUG to renew the postponement of the mayors’ special pensions for another year. See: Daniel Ionașcu, “Pensiile speciale ale primarilor, o nebuloasă de 600 de milioane de lei. Edilii ar putea primi banii, deși partidele s-au lăudat că-i taie” [Mayors' special pensions, a 600 million lei nebula. Mayors could get the money, even though the parties bragged about cutting it], Libertatea, 18 October 2021, https://www.libertatea.ro/stiri/pensiile-speciale-ale-primarilor-o-nebu…; “Pensiile speciale ale primarilor vor fi amânate cu un an / Salariile din educaţie şi a unei părţi din sistemul medical ar putea crește / Totul se discută în ședința de Guvern de vineri” [Mayors' special pensions to be postponed for a year / Salaries in education and part of the healthcare system could rise / All to be discussed at Friday's government meeting”, G4Media.ro, 14 December 2021, https://www.g4media.ro/pensiile-speciale-ale-primarilor-vor-fi-amanate-…
  • 12Maria Dinu, “Orban şi Cîţu calcă pe urmele PSD: promisiuni de pensii speciale şi bani pentru primari” [Orban and Cîțu follow in PSD footsteps: promises of special pensions and money for mayors ], Adevarul, 1 September 2021, https://adevarul.ro/news/politica/orban-citu-calca-urmele-psd-promisiun…
  • 13Stefan Vlaston, “Se amplifică scandalul dintre PNL şi USR PLUS pe tema jafului din bani publici prin PNDL” [The scandal between PNL and USR PLUS over the looting of public money through PNDL is growing], Adevarul, 12 August 2021, https://adevarul.ro/news/politica/se-amplifica-scandaluldintre-pnl-usr-… ; https://recorder.ro/drumurile-si-hotia/
  • 14“COMENTARII OUG PRIVIND PROGRAMUL SALIGNY Programul Saligny este de facto PNDL 3” [COMMENTS ON THE SALIGNY PROGRAMME Saligny program is de facto PNDL 3], Expert Forum, 25 August 2021, https://expertforum.ro/saligny-e-pndl3/; “Cristina Prună continuă criticile la adresa PNDL: PNDL 1 şi 2, furt şi risipă pentru a cumpăra primari. PNDL 3 ce poate să fie?” [Cristina Prună continues her criticism of PNDL: PNDL 1 and 2, theft and waste to buy mayors. What can PNDL 3 be?], Adevarul, 12 August 2021, https://adevarul.ro/news/politica/cristina-pruna-continua-criticile-adr…
  • 15“Avocatul Poporului refuză să sesizeze Curtea Constituțională privind OUG Saligny” [The People's Advocate refuses to refer Saligny EO to the Constitutional Court], Expert Forum, 14 September 2021, https://expertforum.ro/avp-ccr-saligny/
  • 16Alexandru Mihaescu, “DOCUMENT Primarii USR, excluși de la împărțirea banilor de către guvernul Cîțu. Doar cinci din 41 de localități conduse de primari USR primesc fonduri “ [DOCUMENT USR mayors, excluded from money distribution by Cîțu government. Only five out of 41 municipalities led by USR mayors receive funds], G4Media, 7 October 2021, https://www.g4media.ro/document-primarii-usr-exclusi-de-la-impartirea-b…
  • 17According to the results of the local elections of 27 September 2020, even if PNL obtained a better result in terms of votes, according to BEC data, PSD has the most mayors. See: https://www.digi24.ro/alegeri-locale-2020/rezultate-finale-alegeri-loca…
  • 18Cristian Andrei, “Un miliard pentru primari din pușculița premierului Cîțu | Marii câștigători sunt de la PNL și UDMR” [A billion for mayors from Prime Minister Cîțu's piggy bank | The big winners are from PNL and UDMR], RFE/RL, 6 October 2021, https://romania.europalibera.org/a/bani-primari-pusculita-lui-citu-mari…
  • 19Sandine Amiel, “Why did Romania's vaccination campaign derail after such a good start?”, Euronews, 8 June 2021, https://www.euronews.com/2021/06/08/why-did-romania-s-vaccination-campa…
Judicial Framework and Independence 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Assesses constitutional and human rights protections, judicial independence, the status of ethnic minority rights, guarantees of equality before the law, treatment of suspects and prisoners, and compliance with judicial decisions. 4.254 7.007
  • In the latest Cooperation and Verification1 (CVM) report regarding Romania’s judicial independence, issued on July 20, the European Commission concluded that a strong and renewed impetus had been given to reform this area and reverse the backsliding that had been registered between 2017 and 2019.2 While the CVM benchmarks have seen a “clear positive trend,”3 some problems persist. The report criticized, among other issues, the behavior of the Constitutional Court of Romania (CCR) in interpreting EU court decisions, the unexplained delay of several key reforms, and the staffing crisis in the judiciary. The Commission also raised concerns regarding the stability and predictability of legislation, as acts are frequently amended and, as a result, laws can come to contradict one another.4
  • The 2021 CVM report once again explicitly asked Romanian authorities to abolish the prosecutorial Section for Investigating Criminal Offenses in the Judiciary (SIIJ).5 Indeed, this was one of the key issues that was supposed to be addressed by the Romanian government in 2021; nevertheless, the Special Section6 is still in place and fully operational. In its ruling of May 18, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) concluded that the section resembles an instrument of political pressure7 that could intervene to change the course of certain criminal investigations or judicial proceedings concerning, inter alia, high-level corruption.8 However, the CJEU left it to the national courts to actually invalidate the SIIJ.9
  • On June 7, the Pitesti Court of Appeal was the first to apply the ruling of the CJEU, declaring the existence of the SIIJ as unjustified by objective and verifiable requirements pertaining to the sound administration of justice and therefore lacking the authority to investigate cases brought before it.10 However, on June 8, the CCR ruled that the SIIJ is constitutional and its abolition may only be decided by Parliament. Moreover, the CCR warned ordinary court judges that they cannot apply the CJEU decision to the detriment of CCR decisions. Basically, the Constitutional Court ruled11 that domestic law is stronger than EU law,12 setting up a potential confrontation with the EU.
  • In February, Parliament rejected a proposal to examine the draft law on the dissolution of the SIIJ through an emergency parliamentary procedure, thus respecting the results of the May 2019 referendum whereby a majority of citizens voted in support of banning the use of emergency ordinances in the area of justice.13
  • In March, the Ministry of Justice launched a public debate on the draft law on the protection of whistle-blowers in the public interest,14 which transposes Directive (EU) 2019/1937 on the protection of persons reporting breaches of EU law. In its current form, the draft law seems to not exclude whistle-blowers who leak information directly to the press and preclude the possibility of carrying out inquiries in the case of anonymous whistle-blowing.15 The deadline for the transposition of the directive was December 17, 2021.16
  • Questions regarding the integrity of the legal system and judicial reform were also at the heart of the political crisis that divided the ruling coalition in September. PM Cîțu’s dismissal of Minister of Justice Stelian Ion (USR) was pinned on Ion’s inability to dismantle the SIIJ.17 In March, the Chamber of Deputies adopted the bill on the abolition of the SIIJ but with several amendments, including one proposed by UDMR that would have granted super-immunity to magistrates.18 Following Ion’s solicitation, the Venice Commission said in July that the amendments adopted in the Chamber of Deputies raised questions about content and procedure, and recommended that these amendments be removed completely.19 Coalition leaders were supposed to agree on a timetable for abolishing the SIIJ in extraordinary session, as well as on the final form of the draft law abolishing it, but discussions were blocked ultimately by various UDMR proposals for amendments as well as the political crisis in the governing coalition.20 The new coalition led by Nicolae Ciucă has set a deadline of March 31, 2022, for abolition of the SIIJ.21
  • In March, a full set of amendments to the three justice laws was sent to the Superior Council of Magistracy (CSM), the judiciary’s self-governing body, for an opinion but are still the subject of debate and public consultation. Civil society representatives criticized that the judicial reforms were proposed for approval in their entirety despite totaling around 550 articles, each subject to parliamentary debate and possible further amendments.22 This makes it difficult to predict the duration and outcome of the legislative process through which the three justice laws are amended.23 Moreover, the Expert Forum think tank considers some of the proposed legislative solutions to be problematic or insufficiently explained, or that they may incorrectly transpose decisions of the CCR or could create difficulties in practice.24 For example, the procedure for appointing the Prosecutor General and the Chief Prosecutors of the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) and the Directorate for Investigating Organized Crime and Terrorism (DIICOT)25 is amended by introducing the assent of the Section of Prosecutors of the CSM. This raises constitutionality issues and creates a major imbalance in the appointment procedure, giving de facto full power to the CSM, contrary to the jurisprudence of the CCR. The CSM would thus become the main actor in criminal matters, which exceeds its constitutional role.26
Corruption 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Looks at public perceptions of corruption, the business interests of top policymakers, laws on financial disclosure and conflict of interest, and the efficacy of anticorruption initiatives. 4.004 7.007
  • In 2021, one of then-PM Cîțu’s commitments was to adopt a new National Anti-Corruption Strategy for 2021–25, including measures aimed at preventing corruption, promoting organizational integrity and anticorruption education, as well as procedures for recovering losses generated by the commission of crimes. On July 28, the Ministry of Justice launched a period of public debate on the draft government decision approving the new strategy,1 which had not been adopted by year’s end.
  • In the 2021 Rule of Law Report published on July 20, the European Commission noted that experts and business leaders still perceive a high level of corruption in the Romanian public sector.2 In Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index, Romania had a score of 45/100, placing it twenty-fifth in the EU and sixty-sixth globally.3 This perception has remained relatively stable over the last five years.
  • Uncertainty over the investigation, prosecution, and sanctioning of high-level corruption, particularly on the admissibility of evidence, remains a major challenge in the fight against corruption.4 This uncertainty has had a negative influence over the work of the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA), which had to restart at least 67 investigations to comply with a CCR decision of April 6 regarding the investigation of disjoined cases.5
  • In the spring, investigative journalists from the media platform Recorder published a report showing how several heads of forestry directorates across the country had been changed through a blackmail campaign coordinated from the top of the Ministry of Environment.6 Similar practices were discovered at the National Administration “Romanian Waters.”7 This was further proof that the politicization of public institutions continues and is being directed from the highest levels. Officials ousted through blackmail campaigns were replaced by politically connected directors who handed out contracts to firms that were associated with political parties. To recover the cost of bribes, these firms accordingly overvalue the work undertaken.8
  • On March 3, former Senate President Călin Popescu-Tăriceanu was indicted by DNA prosecutors in a corruption case in which he is accused of receiving material benefits worth some $800,000 from representatives of an Austrian company in 2007–08, while he was prime minister.9 In another case, a prosecutor from the Prosecutor General’s Office asked judges of the High Court of Cassation and Justice on November 9 to acquit Popescu-Tăriceanu for abuse of office and complicity in misuse of official capacity, almost a year after he was sent to trial.10 Popescu-Tăriceanu was accused in December 2020 of failing to put to a vote in the Senate plenary the termination of the mandate of Senator Cristian Marciu, even though a final court decision declared Marciu “incompatible” and no longer able to hold office.11 The court adjourned the case until December 7, 2021, when it acquitted both Popescu-Tăriceanu and Marciu.12
  • In May, an amendment allowing for electronic submission of assets and interests disclosures became operational. This should facilitate the work of the National Integrity Agency (ANI) in investigating conflicts of interest or unjustified wealth.13 However, ANI faces a leadership deficit given that the presidency has been vacant since 2019 and the vice-presidency since 2021.14
  • On May 17, DNA prosecutors indicted Liviu Dragnea, former PSD president, in connection with his January 2017 visit to the United States to attend Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration.15 Dragnea is accused of influence peddling. While serving a sentence of 3.5 years for the case of “fictitious employment” at Teleorman Child Protection Service,16 he was given a conditional release by the Giurgiu Court on July 15 after having spent only 781 days in prison.17
  • On June 14, the DNA closed the European funds fraud case concerning former USR deputy prime minister Dan Barna for lack of evidence.18 The case was opened in the middle of the 2020 presidential campaign while Barna was a candidate.
  • On July 8, Recorder published an investigation presenting compelling evidence of how the forestry administration had systematically—and illegally—felled oaks and other valuable trees in a “forest hygiene” operations meant to clear woodlands of dry timber. The Ministry of Environment’s investigation undertaken in response spoke of a “destructuring” of forests administered by the Muntenia Forestry Office, in violation of the most basic forestry rules, and proposed drastic sanctions against the forestry administration.19
  • On September 21, the DNA announced it had opened a criminal file into how Romania had purchased doses of COVID-19 vaccine since the start of the vaccination rollout under the auspices of the EU’s vaccine strategy. The criminal prosecution will assess whether abuse of office took place or any actor obtained undue advantage.20
  • On September 22, the DNA began the criminal prosecution of then-PM Cîțu for abuse of office. The decision was taken after a document on government letterhead was made public in which advisors employed in the executive branch were consulted on Cîțu’s political strategy in the internal struggle for the leadership of the National Liberal Party.21

Author: Claudia Badulescu is a PhD Researcher in Political and Social Sciences at the European University Institute (EUI) where she is studying Europeanization of post-communist public administrations from the CEE and the Western Balkans. At EUI, Badulescu has worked on a variety of international research projects, including the Horizon 2020 project InDivEU, the ERC Synergy program SOLID , the POLCON project, and the euandi 2019 project. Previously, she worked as a Senior Project Manager at France’s ENA, where she had a leading role in the management of international projects supporting administrative reform in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

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