Nations in Transit 2013 – Romania

National Democratic Governance
The year 2012 began with a shakeup of Romania’s government, followed by a power grab on the part of the country’s new leadership. After the resignation of Boc and a no-confidence vote that ended the brief tenure of his successor, Prime Minister Ponta’s government took numerous steps to circumvent checks and balances on its authority, including ruling by emergency ordinance, annexing state institutions, and seeking to alter the country’s voting system. External intervention by the EU was needed to defend the country’s rule of law during a presidential impeachment crisis that stretched over the summer. Parliamentary elections in December brought a decisive victory to the Ponta-led alliance. Due to a series of destabilizing political events and problematic government decisions that undermined checks and balances,/Romania’s rating for national democratic governance declines from 3.75 to 4.00.

Electoral Process
Romania hosted three national votes in the midst of its political crisis: local elections, a referendum on the president’s impeachment, and parliamentary elections. Although polling processes were relatively free and fair, parties in power took steps to manipulate electoral legislation to their advantage. The Constitutional Court and pressure from international actors were able to check these steps to some extent. Nepotism and clientelism also persisted within the country’s electoral landscape, as did politicians’ frequent migration between parties. Romania’s electoral process rating remains unchanged at 3.00.

Civil Society
Civil society in Romania began the year with a strong demonstration of power in anti-government street protests. However, the protests eventually lost momentum and did not translate into a sustainable political movement. Throughout the year, violating promises to be different from its predecessors, Prime Minister Ponta’s government subjected nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to undemocratic legal restrictions. Moreover, civil society remained widely politicized, and many NGOs suffered from the government’s incompetent management of EU funds./Romania’s rating for civil society remains unchanged at 2.50.

Independent Media
The year’s political turmoil exposed just how fragile and narrow the space for independent media in Romania has become. Journalists covering January’s protests experienced violence and harassment, and government officials exhibited hostility toward independent outlets while seeking to use legislation to influence the dissemination of information. Politicization and polarization plagued the media sector, which remains dominated by a group of corrupt media moguls.
Romania’s rating for independent media declines from 4.00 to 4.25.

Local Democratic Governance
Local elections in June brought success to parties of the Ponta government, delivering a blow to President Ba(sescu and his allies. The year was also characterized by a tug-of-war among municipal, county, and national authorities over the politicization of discretionary funding. The process of decentralization and local empowerment continued to stagnate, due in part to Romania’s low absorption rate of EU funds.
Romania’s rating for local democratic governance remains unchanged at 3.00.

Judicial Framework and Independence
The 2012 political crisis required the Constitutional Court to adjudicate a number of contentious issues. Some of its decisions upheld democratic principles, but others exposed problems with the court’s consistency and impartiality. There was little progress in various areas of judicial reform, including the appointment process for prosecutors. The politicized and opaque nature of these appointments was evident in disputes surrounding the selection of public prosecutors./Romania’s rating for judicial framework and independence remains unchanged at 3.75.

In January, the public issued strong and clear demands that the government address Romania’s pervasive culture of graft. Agencies tasked with addressing corruption had various rates of success and experienced intense political pressure. There was also a series of high-profile corruption cases in 2012, such as the conviction and sentencing of former prime minister Adrian Na(stase and one far-reaching case against Basescu appointees, which was brought about by the president’s party losing political power. The country’s corruption rating remains unchanged at 4.00.

Outlook for 2013
The year 2012 began with promising demands for change but ended on the heels of an unprecedented political crisis that challenged Romania’s democratic credentials and drew sharp criticism from the international community. Still emerging from the throes of this crisis, the country is primed for further confrontation between its political factions in 2013. Prime Minister Ponta and President Băsescu, now intense rivals, will both remain in office. However, with PSD’s landslide electoral victory and the referendum on Băsescu’s impeachment fresh in the public’s memory, Ponta has the upper hand politically. The two sides are likely to clash over multiple issues, including legal and judicial reform, political appointments, corruption investigations, and local budgets. Although the sides have agreed to respect Romania’s international and regional obligations, including protection of the country’s fragile rule of law, continued animosity is likely to elicit more concern from the EU and raise new questions about Romania’s suitability as a member state.
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