Moving towards regional elections in Romania?

Posted by Dan Luca on 01/02/13

The Romanian government has called issues of regional elections and decentralization in Romania into question, especially the issue of better absorption of EU funds. Let’s remember that a few years ago, when discussing options on how to choose the MEPs in Romania, Vasile Puscas even proposed regional constituencies elections.

Views of politicians and experts are divided on decentralization in Romania. The subject is not easy – this new approach entails a series of changes that would require time for complete and correct implementation.

The theoretical understanding of the terms used here is important to consider. Regionalization, according to the dictionairy, means a “division into regions or administrative districts”. Regionalization is often confused with regionalism and is considered by some as a threat to national status. Regionalization is not a threat to the territorial unit of Romania. “Advocates for decentralization do not want to disintegrate the country or the state, but aim to improve overall economic performance by multi-level governance,” said Gratian Mihailescu in a recent article, while also outlining the significance of decentralization of the federation: “Decentralization is nothing but a guarantee of stability of a functioning democracy. Romania is a member of the EU and the European principle of subsidiarity is a basic term. Europe works with a structure of local decentralization, enabling collaboration and faster development of regions and local communities”.

“The structure keeps close ties with the national government on the one hand, and on the other hand it is a tool for better planning and policy coordination at the regional level, especially necessary to promote large investment projects, mainly funded with European money”, said Corina Cretu recently.

If the Romanian government intends to apply such an administrative redistribution, this would require a referendum. In order to pass the referendum, it is imperative to obtain more than ‘50% plus 1’ of the votes of citizens.

“Regionalization will not be made along ethnic lines, but on the basis of economic development. The main objective of the administrative organization is the establishment of administrative regions wich reduce development gaps,” said Deputy PM Dragnea, Minister of Regional Development and Public Administration, a few days ago.

Which leads us to the question: who will lead the region? Each region will be headed by a president elected directly by the citizens. This will not happen in 2013 or 2014, but only after the draft becomes law. In the first phase, an interim president will be elected by the Regional Council and local county councilors. But as of 2016, when local elections are scheduled, a regional president will be elected by direct vote of the citizens. By direct election of the ‘President of the Region’, the current heads of county councils will act as vice-presidents of the region.

However, “the county council chairmen will not be subordinates of the regional president. The region has duties different from the counties,” said Marian Oprisan. Nicusor Constantinescu, President of Constanta County Council, complements that: “I will be subordinate to the President of the Region, but the region can not give orders. If districts can not agree on a European project, the region decides what is the solution. Regions will co-exist with counties”.

Another regional driving force will be the Council, a local mini-parliament. According to the USL project, each region will have a president and a local parliament, which will include mayors of county seats and the county council president. These regional councilors are to be elected by the citizens as of 2016. Each counties will provide a different number of regional councilors depending on population.

“The Regional President and Regional Council will lead the region de facto. Regional budgets will be a mix of local budgets, European and cohesion funds,” explains Gandul Newspaper.

The same material addresses the new status of the Prefect, a new form after redistribution, but it also explains how to choose the “capital” of the region.

There is a second possible option: “indirect elections, ie the Regional Council  and the President of the Regional Council will be elected by the county mayors and councilors in the region”.

Prime Minister Ponta insists on regionalization the country in 2013, but is still debating if it is possible for the date for elections can coincide with the regional elections for the European Parliament in 2014 – can this be done so soon, or does it remain a draft until 2016.

Romania would have 8 regions, which would eliminate historical names. We’ll talk probably 4 or 5 counties grouped in a region like: south, southwest, center, northwest, etc..

There are conflicting views, including the number of regions – many of the eight regions as they are now planned are from my point of view are too big. “Take Moldova in the northeast for example: four million people. Clearly it would be best to split that into two. You must keep in mind of certain cultural and historical ties between counties. But the most important are the competences”, said Liberal Democrat leader Vasile Blaga.

Debates on this regionalization project and the regional elections in Romania exist already for a long time. Horea Uioreanu considers it premature to discuss regional elections, as long as there is no trace of the new regions. Late last year he said: “It is clear that Cluj is a regional center, this can not be otherwise questioned. I appreciate the desire of Bihor, but we can not go back 100 years back in time. You can not compare Cluj to Bihor, not the economic potential, nor the academic one.”

Regional elections are held in other EU countries such as Germany, Italy, Spain, Poland, and Portugal.

“Before any administrative change, the state philosophy requires a diagnosis – the political culture and traditions of each state are critical. It is important to consider both as well as external conditions, such as financial opportunities”, stated Jan Olbrycht few years ago at an event in Brussels.

Today, in Brussels, representatives of Member State regions (i.e. all Italian provinces, the German Länder region, the Slovak regions) are engaged in intense lobbying, dealing as well with European project management and external communication. One of the most successful regional offices in Brussels is the “Valencian Community”. Representing a heavily populated area in ??Spain (about 5 million people – 10% of Spains total population, and Valencia is the third largest city in Spain) this area has experienced fast economic growth, and is one with the fastest economic growth in the European Union. This was one of the reasons for opening a branch in Brussels to represent the interests of the area in the capital of Europe.

The Central Region Representation in Romania is visible in the capital of Europe, and also Romenian counties are represented in Brussels by the National Union of County Councils of Romania. Regionalization and regional elections would change this by default and outlines a regional representation strategy in Brussels.

Dan LUCA / Brussels

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