Local Government in Romania

Author:Angel-Manuel Moreno

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1. Brief historical evolution

During the medieval period in Romania, and even today, the locus of local self-government were the villages, which were grouped into associations that constituted historic regions (counties). These, in turn, established various kinds of relations and alliances among themselves and with neighbouring lands. Over time, the term [c4d][c58][c47][c48][c4f] (county) substituted [c4f][c4c][c51][c58][c57], and signified the administrative coordination among local entities providing self-government. Traditionally and historically, the village ([c52][c45][cfc][c57][c48][c44][c03][c56][c05][c57][c48][c44][c56][c46][c05]) was the local self-government unit, while [c4d][c58][c47][c48][c4f] designated a local entity between the State and the local self-government unit.1The modern Romanian state was founded in the later half of the 19th century and adopted the uniform structure of France’s institutional model for local government. The village was replaced by an imported entity called the «commune». The success of this «transplant» is still open to question. Although villages lost their legal significance as of 1912, a century later people still think in terms of the local entity. Villages were the tool that allowed local self-governing, and they remain in the collective mind, even though legislation has transferred the role of villages to the newly created «commune» or municipality.

After the unification of Moldova and Wallachia in 1859, Alexandru Ioan Cuza initiated the modernization of the newly created state, which included administrative reform. Romania was inspired by the French and Belgian mod-

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els of local administration and introduced rural and urban «comunes» (minicipalities) as public legal persons, representing the first level of local government. The law also declared that counties would represent the intermediate (coordination) level. Villages were obliged to regroup into larger rural «comunes» and pool the scant resources they had for economic survival. They also created a local budget to project further development.

The administrative organisation recreated a unified and central system of coordination that reflected European models and the existing tradition of centralism.2«Comunes» and counties were not the expression of a pre-existing local autonomy, and they provided adequate conditions for the uniform implementation of legislation.3Communal and county councils were to be elected at the local level, while the mayor and the prefect who were agents of central government in the territory, would be appointed as presidents of these councils.

The Second World War obliged Romania to adopt a collective effort and centralism took the upper hand again. Local self-government was not a top priority during the Communist regime, and it wasn’t until the events of December 1989, that decentralisation became part of the government’s agenda, as a result of international political pressure (Council of Europe, European Union).

Local government was divided into two tiers, and this has remained a constant feature despite the (all too) frequent changes in Romania’s system of administrative organisation. Driven by the priority to build a nation–state and a functional and coherent institutional structure at that level, Romania initially considered local self-government a secondary objective. Local authorities were originally conceived as being complementary to the central decision-making tier and enjoyed autonomy insofar as it did not undermine the general interests of the nation. This helps to explain an existing tendency to tolerate possible intervention by central government in local affairs.

Local self-government is not a firmly established feature of Romanian institutional culture, at least in comparison with other European countries. The process of decentralisation which started soon after December 1989 can be considered a challenge stemming from Romania’s need to synchronise with evolutions on a global level, but it is not clear that this would necessarily produce fully fledged entities endowed with local autonomy. The doubt arises from what appears to be a certain failure to incorporate the basic concepts and principles of local self-government. This is evident in the many «borrowed con-

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cepts» and/or «transplants» from foreign institutions or legislation, blithely carried out during more than a century by central governments (of all political persuasions), which were more interested in perpetual «updating» at the institutional and/or legislative level rather than effectively implementing local self-government. The end result is a perpetual on-going process of decentralisation, which is also common to other countries in the Balkans. Although, in theory, such a process should be aimed at building powerful local self-government in Romania, in practice it seems to generate more flaws and problems than merits and accomplishments.

The above discussion suggests that, in modern times, decentralisation became politically relevant and technically possible, primarily during periods of intensive state transformation that included political democratisation and economic liberalisation. Whether this process can be considered a precondition or catalyst to vigorous local self-government remains an open question.

2. Basic facts and figures

Romania has two tiers of local government, called «administrative-territorial units». These forms of organisation constitute entities with full legal capacity, possess their own assets, and are subject to public law.

The intermediate administrative level consists of counties ([c4d][c58][c47][c48][c4f][c48]). Today, Romania has 41 counties plus the municipality of Bucharest (although this local authority is a municipality, it is equivalent to a county in terms of its powers and responsibilities). Authorities associated with this (intermediate) level include: the county council (consiliul judetean), the chairperson of the county council ([c53][c55][c48][cfc][c48][c47][c4c][c51][c57][c48]) and the «prefect» (prefect).

In so far as they perform functions established by law, prefects constitute a public administration body according to article123 of the Constitution. According to legal scholars, however, they represent the central Government and run the decentralised public services, so this suggests that prefects are not part of the local government system, but instead are in charge of monitoring local authorities. On the other hand, Romanian legislation now appears to be moving away from the thesis that the prefect represents local administration. Amendments to Law no.215/2001 on Local Government have removed this figure from its legal framework and have added it to Law no.340/2004 regarding the institution of the prefect. It should also be noted that the prefect is funded from the state budget, the budget of the Ministry of Administration and Interior and other sources specified by the statute.

The basic local administrative level is comprised of 2,858 municipalities or comunes and 320 towns ([c52][c55][c44][cfc][c48]), including 103 municipalities (municipii); the most important towns are designated «municipalities». The «Comune» include one or more entities (with no specific legal meaning) called «villages» (sate). A

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total of 12,951 of these entities existed in 2008.4Authorities established at the local level are the local council (consiliul local) and the mayor (primarul).

According to article 20, paragraph 4 of Law no.215/2001, municipalities can be divided into «boroughs». To date, according to article 78 of Law no.215/2001 and Decree no.284/1979 on the establishment of boroughs (sector) in the municipality of Bucharest, only the capital city of Romania is divided into 6 boroughs.

3. Legal framework of local self-government

Romania signed the European Charter on Local Self-Government (ECLSG) on 4 October 1994, ratified by Law no.199/1997 (Monitorul Oficial al României no.331/26.11.1997), effective upon publication. Following ratification, Romania issued a reservation and an interpretative declaration. The reservation concerns article 7, paragraph 2 of the Council of Europe’s Charter, which will not be enforced in Romania. The interpretative declaration refers to article 4, paragraph 4 and paragraph 5 of the Charter, and concerns the concept of «region». Since Romania has only one level of intermediary administration, counties are considered regions. Thus, according to Romanian legislation, comunes, towns and municipalities come under the provisions of the ECLSG, whereas counties are to be dealt with as «regions».

According to article11 of the Romanian Constitution, international treaties become «the law of the land» once they are ratified. From this perspective, Law no.199/1997 contains two articles, the first of which refers to the ratification with the reservation, and the second mentions the interpretive declaration. This legal text is followed by the Romanian version of the ECLSG, which acquires the legal force of its ratifying document. The inclusion of the Charter in the Romanian legal system is formal, automatic and explicit, but this does not mean that it will be directly applicable, although it is legally binding.

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