Mapping Local Democracy in Romania

Mapping Local Democracy in Romania

Dragos Dragoman (Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu, Romania)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0320-0.ch008
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Abstract

In East European settings, during transition, local democracy experienced great difficulties in turning from a theoretical model into a functional mechanism. As basis for citizens' political involvement, local democracy can be mapped in various ways. The authors intend to draw a map of local democracy in Romania by focusing on the function and scope of local government (second tier government), the relationship between local and central government, and the outcomes of the recent reform process. The authors intend to evaluate the quality of local democracy by the interactions between elected councilors and citizens. How elected councilors imagine their functions and responsibilities and how citizens support candidates, especially independent candidates and minor parties' lists is at the core of our investigation. From this perspective, local and regional parties are to be seen as valuable assets for local democracy, as they help promoting local interests and local elites and fuel national wide parties with political ideas and personnel.
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Background

The regionalization in Romania is a very slow process. It began in 1997, when the Green Paper for Regional Policy in Romania, the document issued by the Romanian government with the support of the European Commission, designed new regions for boosting regional development and complying with the European Union (EU) statistical requirements, but had no real willingness to empower the new regional units it created (Dragoman, 2011). Since then, the regions in Romania are not legal persons, but merely statistical regrouping of existing counties (județe), the largest regional unit acknowledged by the constitution.

The incipient regionalization made in 1997, continued by the Law 151/1998 regarding the regional development, was not conceived as a process of decentralization, with the perspective of full autonomy of the new regions. It was rather a development tool, used by the government as preparation for the future EU’s financial structural aid and as a compliance with the European territorial statistical system (NUTS). This represents a clear government strategy of creating functional regional structures for administrative and statistical purposes, without devolving real competences to the newly created regional entities (Dobre, 2005). According to the Law 315/2004, which upgraded the previous law on regional development, the development regions are run by regional development councils and agencies, under the general coordination of a National Council for Regional Development and of a specialized ministry for regional development and European integration. A Regional Development Fund finances the agencies and the subsequent regional policies they coordinate at the regional level, fueled mainly by the national budget and the EU financial contribution. The agencies are not legal persons, but non-profit and non-governmental organizations that project, implement and overview development policies at the regional level.

Figure 1.

Counties in Romania

The regrouping of the counties made back in 1997 was decided following several criteria, mainly the potential for cooperation between counties and the variation in development indices. The Green Paper for Regional Policy in Romania divided the national territory into 8 macro-regions corresponding to the European NUTS 2 level having in mind the heterogeneity of each macro-region. The purpose of regrouping of the counties into larger development regions was to create a potential for development by including central and peripheral sub-regions. Thus, each peripheral sub-region, which displays human development indices below the national average, could benefit from the positive influence of central regions. On the one hand, they might be considered as a priority area and a target for future development actions (Hansen, Ianoș, Pascariu, Platon & Sandu, 1997). On the other hand, the heterogeneity of each new macro-region was a fair premise for a harmonious territorial development, with a clear purpose to bridge the gap between central and peripheral sub-regions inside macro-regions rather than between the macro-regions themselves. As long as Romania was not an EU member state, and the EU funding and the foreign investments were limited, the Romanian government managed to keep under control the existing development gaps between regions (Dragoman, 2011).

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