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Romania – Multi-level governance or still governing ?

by Laura Trofin


Regionalisation and/during enlargement in Romania

Is the young „regional structure“ challenging the centrality of the Romanian state ?

The transition from a highly centralised political-administrative system to a decentralised and regionalised one is not happening very smoothly or rapidly in Romania. Triggered rather by the enlargement process than by a felt and acknowledged domestic need to shift downwards competencies in order to transform an out-dated and corrupt system in an efficient one, this process stopped half-way while attempts to further the reform has remained without significant results.


Seen from the European level the scene presents some peculiarities. Firstly, the CEECs seems to have lived for a long time with the impression that there is a EU model of regionalisation which is to be “adopted” by them, process “facilitated” by the asymmetrical power position advantageous for the Commission in the negotiation process. In reality, regionalisation in the EU countries, even with a common input from the EU level, lead to very different results, this proving the strength of the national element. Secondly, because there is practically no (direct) aquis comunautaire to be implemented for the Chapter 21 the EC negotiation position is weaker than in other policy fields. Nevertheless, this is balanced to a certain extent by the accorded pre-accession aid to these countries and especially by the condition these have to fulfil in order to also receive it [1]. Creating or (re-)organising NUTS II regions, creating monitoring, financial management and control procedures and bodies in the spirit of the Structural and Cohesion Funds are among the most important of them. Within these limitations, the CEECs have had the liberty to organise their administrative system the way they considered most appropriate for national purposes and in some of them the results are more than satisfactory (Hungary, Czech Republic).

In this process a third peculiarity is to be noticed, i.e. the incongruity in the Commission’s position regarding administrative reform. If on one side the DG Enlargement advocates decentralisation and qualitative reforms of the administrative system, on the other side DG Regio promotes a centralised system for the implementation of pre-accession aid, exactly because the impact of these founds would be limited once in the hands of (several) inexperienced administrative structure. These dual position is obvious in Romania, where the administration of pre-accession aid is concentrated in the hands of the central government, only one slice of it being entrusted to a fragile regional structure. And even here the decision are taken at the central level.

Being an almost exclusively “accession-driven” process, regionalisation in Romania faces incumbent problems in articulating and implementing a coherent, valid domestic regional policy [2]. Several major, inter-related problems are contributing significantly to this. Among them we can count the non-administrative nature of the regions [3], the lack of an legislative body elected and/or responsible exclusively for them, and the lack of financial resources distributed exclusively for regional policy at regional level.

Institutional and legislative issues

The Council for Regional Development, the deliberative and (semi-)decisional body at this level is composed of local politicians feeling responsible towards the commune, town/city or department where they were chosen, where they draw their political legitimacy from and where they want to be re-elected. The Agencies for Regional Development, NGOs of public utility but genuine seeds for regional consciousness, are not a relevant centres of power but rather implementing instruments of (a part of the) pre-accession aid, whose quantum is decided by the European Union together with the central government. The rest of the pre-accession aid (SAPARD, ISPA, the second part of PHARE) is still managed in the old administrative structure, where the central government and the Commission, are playing a significant role. Despite the creation of new agencies as the SAPARD one their implementing role does not confer them decisional power either.

The institutions responsible with regional policy at national level lost their initial (relative) “autonomy” [4] after 2000. The National Agency for Regional Development was transformed in Minister for Planning and Development in 2000, to become last year, in 2003 a Department in the Minister for European Integration. The National Council for Regional Development, decision-making body, which doesn’t meet regularly, it has become a sort of a “phantom” of the system. The legal base for this structure, (Law 151/1998), obsolete for several years, should had been re-drafted till December 2003, as the European Commission, requested, in order to reflect these already effectuated changes and the necessary reforms in the field. Very frustrating for the (few) supporters of regionalisation in Romania, the constitutional reform conducted last year did not bring any significant change in the statute of the regions and their institutions, Romania having presently a serious handicap to catch up with in comparison not only with the 15 EU MS, but also with other CEECs, where regional governments have been in place for several years. Despite the declared governmental objective of finishing the negotiations till the end of the 2004, (including Chapter 21 on Regional Policy) it seems that the electoral year reserved other priorities to the government. Setting two very ambitious objectives for 2004, to win the elections and close all negotiating chapters might cost the party in power both of them, especially when for the first time Romania receives from the European Parliament a clear sign that without real and consistent reforms, the EU membership remains a very far perspective.

Financial issues

Financing the activity of the Agencies for Regional Development was problematic in their first years of existence. These institutions were to be financed by (voluntary) contributions of the local authorities, which were not motivated to do this, as long as they were not beneficiary of European money. This provision lead in some regions to crisis, and a new arrangement has to be found. Presently the activity of the Agencies is financed half by local authorities and half with European money. But the most important financial aspect is actually the fact that the regional policy implemented in the macro-regions is not a genuine one. Even if (bottom-up) Regional Plans of Development are drafted by the Agencies, they are realised on the guidelines of the EU regional policy and the funds available for the actors in a regions are rather following the interests and respecting the conditions set by the EU than the domestic needs. There is, of course, a certain match between the two, but important is that they are decided top-down, not bottom-up. The implementation of the Plans for Regional Development means actually implementing by the ARD of the Economic and Social Cohesion dimension of the PHARE programme, not the plan per se. There are certainly also some investments made from Romanian public money alone, but these are managed at the level of judete, NUTS III regions, and not at the regional level. Examples of co-operation between judete, which would lead to “regional” projects are few.

Concluding remarks

The difficulty of analysing regionalisation in Romania lies in the lack of a solid and coherent theoretical framework developed for regionalisation in the CEECs. The Romanian case of regionalisation does not fit a pattern, except to the one of “countries in transition” and even in comparison with this one it presents deviations. A second major shortcoming would be the relative novelty of the concept of regional policy and of a regional “government” as well as their political instrumentalisation (regionalisation equal separatism) in Romania. Despite the pre-II WW history, the 50 years of communism and communist nationalism were (more than) enough to determine the profile of a political culture and structure limited to few variables, among which and some of the most important, the central state and its pre-existent territorial organisation (judete-departments).

What is nowadays presented in Romania as regional policy is actually a two-sides coin : on one side EU regional policy and on the other macro-economic policy implemented in territory by the central government through local authorities and, to a limited extent, through Agencies for Regional Development. Regional Policy in the first form explained at the second footnote of this article is present in a very incipient form. One could rather speak of a cohesion policy, to the extent revenues from Transilvania, the (historical) region with the highest economic development level are transferred through the central budget to other poorer regions [5].

From the multi-level government point of view, rather than shifting downwards some competencies of the central administration, the regional structure represents actually an appendage to the existing administrative apparatus, whose functioning is well controlled and co-ordinated by central and, to a significant lesser extent, local actors. The latter, forming the Councils for Regional Development, are obviously not representing the regional but the local interests, as source or political capital and legitimacy. The position of the central government, i.e. Ministry of European Integration, represented by the National Coordinator of the Non-refundable Assistance, was actually reinforced, this being the unique interlocutor for the EU in matters of pre-accession aid.


[1] This is not the first context in which the EU/EC makes financial aid dependent to political democratic change. This “conditionality”element was introduced with the Lomme Agreements with the ECP countries in the 70s.

[2] We should stipulate that there are three shapes RP can take : 1. RP as set of divers policies drafted, decided and implemented at regional level by a regional government ; 2. policy of redistribution of income from wealthier regions to less developed ones, managed by the central government (in principle with the agreement of the region) ; 3. EU RP, which is a specific form both of the latter. Here we mean RP in its first form.

[3] In Romania the 8 macro-regions, NUTS 2 (see the first paper on this web page), are “voluntary” groupings of regions, with no administrative and constitutional status.

[4] This is nevertheless a big word. The idea behind it is that, till 2000, there was an institution whose unique preoccupation was regional policy and development, even if it was directly under the co-ordination of the Prime Minister. After compiling and transforming it in divers Ministries the tendency to centralisation and the lower significance accorded to this policy field became obvious.

[5] This happens indeed, and fuels regionalist feelings and requests for separate administration for this region.

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