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Romania received an upward trend arrow due to the implementation of judiciary reform measures designed to meet the requirements for the country’s entry into the European Union.
In an effort to meet the requirements for membership in the European Union, Romania in 2006 implemented several important measures to combat corruption and reform the judiciary. As a result, in September 2006, the European Commission concluded that Romania had met all the membership requirements and set the accession date for January 2007.
Throughout the latter half of the Cold War, Romania was ruled by Nicolae Ceaucescu, one of Eastern Europe’s most repressive dictators. In late 1989, popular dissatisfaction with Ceaucescu’s regime led to his overthrow and execution by disgruntled Communists. A provisional government was formed under Ion Iliescu, a high-ranking Communist and the leader of the National Salvation Front (NSF). The 1992 parliamentary elections saw the NSF split into neo-Communist and reformist factions. In November 1996, Emil Constantinescu of the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR) defeated Iliescu in a presidential election. However, Iliescu won the post in 2000, and the former Communist Party, renamed the Party of Social Democracy (PSD), took power in that year’s parliamentary elections, with Adrian Nastase as prime minister.
The most recent elections for both president and Parliament took place in November 2004. Traian Basescu of the Alliance for Truth and Justice (comprising the National Liberal Party and the Democratic Party), Nastase, and 10 other candidates from smaller parties competed for the post of president in the first round of voting. Nastase, who won 41 percent of the vote, advanced to a runoff against Basescu, who captured 34 percent of the vote. Basescu won the December runoff with 51 percent of the vote, to Nastase’s 49 percent.
Although the PSD secured the most seats in the parliamentary elections, no party captured a majority. The PSD initially formed a coalition with the Humanist Party (PUR), its traditional ally, and the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR). However, Basescu’s surprising December presidential victory resulted in the PUR—which subsequently changed its name to the Conservative Party (CP)—and UDMR abandoning the PSD to join the Alliance for Truth and Justice in a ruling coalition. Meanwhile, the nationalist Greater Romania Party (PRM), which did unusually well in the 2000 elections, lost support in the 2004 balloting. Calin Popescu Tariceanu of the National Liberal Party (PNL) became prime minister.
Throughout 2005 and 2006, the ruling coalition was rather unstable. The divisions between the PNL and the Democratic Party (PD) hit a new low in June 2006, after Tariceanu proposed the withdrawal of Romanian troops from Iraq, a measure opposed by President Basescu, formerly of the PD. The two parties were further divided over constitutional reform, control of the security forces, and the holding of early elections. The two junior partners of the ruling coalition, the UDMR and the CP, have also appeared disgruntled and were considering aligning with other parties in 2007. In December 2006, the CP formally withdrew from the ruling coalition denying the remaining three parties a parliamentary majority. Later in December, the NLP split and a new Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), led by Theodor Stolojan, was created. At year’s end, the LDP was still waiting for legal registration, which is expected to be completed in early 2007.
Romania applied to join the European Union (EU) in 1995. Negotiations, which began in 2000, were completed at the end of 2004. In September 2006, the EU approved Romania’s entry and scheduled the accession for January 1, 2007. In order to fulfill the accession requirements, Romania’s government made a notable effort to speed up the reform of the judiciary and eradicate corruption. A European Commission report on the drive, published in May 2006, praised Romania’s progress. Among the improvements were the ongoing review of the Civil and Criminal Codes; a decrease in pending cases before the civil section of the High Court; improvements in recruitment, promotion, and disciplinary procedures for judges; and an increase in the operational budget for the courts. Moreover, new laws were put in place in December 2005 to assist low-income citizens in enforcing court judgments.
Romania’s anticorruption efforts in 2006 were equally substantial. In March, the National Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office was transformed into the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) and given the authority to investigate corruption at the highest levels of government, including the Parliament. An anticorruption agency within the Ministry of Administration and Interior, the General Directorate for Anticorruption, also increased its staff and stepped up its investigative efforts. As a consequence, the number and the quality of investigations into high-level corruption allegations increased significantly in 2006.
Romania is an electoral democracy. Elections since 1991 have been considered generally free and fair by international observers. The president, who is directly elected, does not have substantial powers beyond foreign policy. He appoints the prime minister, who remains the most powerful politician, with the approval of Parliament. The members of the bicameral Parliament, consisting of the 137-seat Senate and 332-seat Chamber of Deputies, are elected for four-year terms, and a 2004 constitutional amendment stipulates that the president is now elected for a five-year term. A 5 percent electoral threshold for representation in Parliament favors large parties; six parties are currently represented. The president is not permitted to be a member of a political party.
The 1991 constitution provides for a seat to be allotted to each national minority that passes a special threshold lower than the 5 percent otherwise needed to enter Parliament. The number of these seats varies according to the number of eligible minorities, thus changing the total number of seats in the Chamber of Deputies. In the 2004 elections, 18 such seats were allotted. While the Hungarian minority is represented in the ruling coalition, political participation and representation of Roma are very weak.
Romania has significantly stepped up its anticorruption efforts in anticipation of its accession to the European Union (EU). The new anticorruption body, the DNA, has received sufficient funds and staff, enabling it to operate effectively. As a result, the number of successful investigations has increased, leading to arrests and convictions of several government officials, judges, and police officers. In July 2006, the government approved legislation to establish the National Agency for Integrity, commissioned to check the assets of public officials for any conflict of interest. In September 2006, 13 customs officials were detained and later prosecuted on charges bribery and extortion. Romania ranked 84 out of 163 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index.
The 1991 constitution enshrines freedom of expression and the press, and the media are characterized by considerable pluralism. The government increasingly respects media freedoms. A new criminal code—adopted in June 2005—stipulates that libel is no longer a felony and that slander, although a criminal offense, would not be punishable by imprisonment. The government does not restrict access to the internet.
Religious freedom is generally respected, although “nontraditional” religious organizations encounter difficulties in registering with the state secretary of religions. Lack of registration denies adherents the right to freely exercise their religious beliefs and prevents them from building places of worship and cemeteries. The government formally recognizes 18 religious groups in the country, each of which is eligible for some level of state support for clerical salaries and activities, including the building of houses of worship. The Romanian Orthodox Church remains dominant. In December 2006, Parliament passed a new law requiring all religions to have a membership equal to at least 0.1 percent of the population in order to be officially acknowledged. Moreover, nontraditional religions must now undergo a 12-year “waiting period” before they can be officially recognized. The government does not restrict academic freedom.
The constitution provides for freedom of assembly and association, and the government respects these rights in practice. In general, the government does not place restrictions on the work of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Romanian civil society sector is vibrant and able to influence public policy. NGOs are free from onerous requirements for registration, and several new groups became particularly visible in 2006. Ad-Astra, a network of academics at Romanian universities, is now often consulted by the media on educational matters and is actively involved in efforts to make the salaries of all university employees public. Workers have the right to form unions and to strike, but in practice many employers work against unions and illegal antiunion activity is rarely punished.
The judiciary is one of the most problematic institutions in Romania. However, a number of important and encouraging reforms were passed in 2006. The justice budget has increased, and the training for judges and clerks has improved. The court infrastructure underwent a process of renovation in 2006, and some 15,000 internet-enabled computers were installed in various court buildings.
Romania has 18 recognized ethnic minorities, the largest of which are the Hungarians. Minorities have the right to use their native tongue in communicating with authorities in areas where they represent at least 20 percent of the population. However, in about 13 percent of the country’s localities, the law is not enforced and minorities do not have any rights regarding the use of their language. Although the treatment of the Hungarian minority has improved in recent years, discrimination against Roma continues, especially in housing, access to social services, and employment. A National Agency for Roma created in 2001 has taken some steps, but change has not been significant. In a nationwide government survey, released in November 2006, over 60 percent of respondents said they would not hire Roma because “most of them are lazy and steal.”
People with disabilities in Romania face discrimination in various facets of life, including employment. Many government buildings are not equipped to provide access for the disabled. In August 2006, Human Rights Watch reported that thousands of HIV-positive Romanian children face widespread discrimination that prevents them from attending school and seeking medical care. The majority of these children—who were reportedly infected with the virus as a result of negligent government policies that exposed them to contaminated needles and blood between 1986 and 1991—rarely receive assistance when they report instances of serious abuse.
Romania’s unemployment rate has gradually decreased in recent years and registered at 5 percent in September 2006, a lower rate than for most other European countries. Moreover, the country has experienced notable economic growth while maintaining low inflation and increasing the standard of living for the population.
The constitution guarantees women equal rights, but gender discrimination is a problem. Only about 10 percent of the seats in parliament are held by women. Trafficking of women and girls for the purpose of forced prostitution has become a major problem. However, some progress has become evident. In January 2006, the government created the National Agency for Preventing Human Trafficking and Monitoring the Assistance Offered to its Victims, with the goal of evaluating antitrafficking efforts and providing help to victims. Moreover, between October 2005 and May 2006, the government broke up 10 trafficking networks and made dozens of arrests.