Matei Bogdan
Publicat în 19 iunie 2019, 21:52 / 197 elite & idei

Mihai Sebe: The Europeanisation of representative democracy in Romania

Mihai Sebe: The Europeanisation of representative democracy in Romania

Romania has experienced a gradual ‘Europeanisation’ of its representative democracy model since joining the European Union. We therefore focused our research on describing the changes since 2007 in Romania and analysing the EU dimension of the national parliament and the relationship between EU politics and national representatives. Among our findings are that EU subjects are a key component of the parliamentary agenda, but they are still treated as second- or third-order issues, classed as ‘foreign affairs’ issues rather than internal or national ones. We also noted the absence of Eurosceptic mainstream parties in Romania’s political landscape. Introduction Romania’s representative democracy model has evolved since the country joined the European Union in 2007. Starting with the legal provisions that govern the relationship between the executive power and the legislative branch in the field of European affairs, we have seen changes in the parliamentary debate both internally and at the European level. By following what is happening in the EU legislation and acting in accordance with the ‘competences’ taken on, the national parliament has become a source of expertise (through its EU affairs committees) and an open forum for debate on European issues. 15.1 The post-2007 national context Romania’s integration into the European Union brought with it a much-needed constitutional reform in 2003. Law no. 429/2003 on the revision of the Constitution of Romania established the appropriate constitutional framework and the legal grounds for Romania’s envisioned Euro-Atlantic integration. It harmonised provisions with the main regulations of the European Union and underlined the right of Romanian citizens to elect and be elected to the European Parliament (Constitution of Romania). Romania is a semi-presidential republic whose president is elected by universal suffrage and has important powers; complementary to this role are the prime minister and ministers who have executive and governmental power and can remain in office as long as parliament does not oppose them. There is an indirect (representative) democracy model in which people control the government through elected political representatives. All citizens elect their representatives on a regular basis (e.g. every four years for parliamentary elections). In accordance with constitutional provisions, the president represents the Romanian state and is the safeguard of the nation’s independence, unity and the territorial integrity. The prime minister steers the government’s actions and coordinates the activities of its cabinet, while Parliament is the supreme representative body of the Romanian people and the sole legislative authority of the country, consisting of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. This semi-presidential government is reflected in the fact that the president appoints a candidate for the prime minister office, as a result of consultations with the party having obtained absolute majority in the Parliament, or if not the case, with the parties represented in Parliament. In this situation, the parties seek to form a governing coalition. A characteristic of Romania’s electoral system, from the 2008 legislative elections on, is that no political party has achieved a majority in Parliament, so all governments have been coalitionbased. According to the Freedom House reports, Romania’s multiparty system has ensured regular rotations of power, while civil and political liberties are generally respected (Freedom House, 2018). The only exception to the coalition-based government was Dacian Cioloș’s cabinet (November 2016 – January 2017), appointed in the aftermath of the Colectiv nightclub fire and the subsequent protests that led to the resignation of the socialist Victor Ponta’s cabinet. No member of the Cioloș cabinet was politically affiliated, REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY IN THE EU  279 making it the first entirely politically independent cabinet in Romanian history, composed only of technocrats. Yet expected risks, such as selective parliamentary support or the government’s failure to adopt projects and policies endorsed by parliament were real. Furthermore, the timeframe proved to be beneficial for the Socialists & Democrats, who had enough time to re-form and win the 2016 parliamentary elections (Sebe, 2016). Another specificity of Romania’s political system is the absence of mainstream Eurosceptic parties. Neither the members of the national Parliament, nor the representatives elected for the European Parliament were declared Eurosceptics: the good thing as regards the Romanian attitude towards the European Parliament elections is just the lack of interest for populist themes with a European impact. We are still dealing with a very parochial debate, where the accent is put mainly on domestic and local issues that don’t have a European impact. (Sebe, 2014).

This observation also stands for the 2019 European Parliament elections as the lessons of Brexit debate show that any such stance (e.g., a RO-Exit political platform) is a recipe for political failure. What has changed in the meantime is that, unlike the 2014 campaign, political discourse is more critical of the EU, notably on issues such as rule of law; Brussels’ ‘interference’ with the national judicial system; the accusation of ‘double standards’, and so on. Yet despite these issues, we can say that the above-mentioned observation still stands: no mainstream party promotes itself as having an openly Eurosceptic agenda. 15.2 The EU dimension of the national parliament As with any democratic system, the European Union in its postLisbon form promotes formal equality among citizens regardless of their country of origin, benefiting from the same rights and equal treatment by EU institutions and specialised bodies. National parliaments, which are the ultimate expression of the national sovereignty of European citizens (a notion introduced by the Treaty on European Union) are now more actively engaged in defining and running the Union than ever before, through their enhanced role in the decision-making process, especially when it comes to legislation where the EU does not have exclusive competence and the principle of subsidiarity applies. This marks an increase in the representativeness of national parliaments in the Union’s activities and of the democratic control of its citizens (Treaty on European Union, 1992).

15.2.1 Overview of the legal provisions Law no. 373/2013, the Act on cooperation between the Parliament and the Government in the field of European affairs sets out the obligation of the government to notify the Parliament on all matters concerning legislative acts, as follows:

The Government shall forward without delay to the two Chambers of the Parliament the draft legislative acts of the European Union featuring on the Council’s agenda, along with accompanying documents. (Article 5) At the beginning of every rotating Presidency of the Council, the Government shall submit the following documents to the two Chambers of Parliament: a) the programme and priorities of the respective Presidency; b) the list of general mandates to be defined, for remarks and proposals. (Article 7)

The Government shall regularly submit the following documents to the two Chambers of Parliament: a) information note on the results of participation in the European Council; b) regular reports on activities carried out and the results of Romania’s participation in the decision-making process of the European Union, at Council level; c) bi-annual reports on the fulfilment of obligations to transpose EU legislation into national law. (Article 8). Therefore, while the Parliament must be notified on a regular basis, it also has the right to request any relevant document on EU affairs, if needed. Moreover, “within 10 working days prior to the meeting of the European Council, the Government shall present to the two Chambers of Parliament the proposal for mandate which the delegation of Romania aims to put forward.” (Article 18). The Parliament also plays an important role with regards to the persons appointed or named by the government to hold offices in the European Union institutions:

(1) The Government shall notify the Parliament of Romania about the appointment of persons to hold offices in the European Union institutions. (2) The responsible standing committees of the Parliament shall hear the person appointed by the Government to hold the office of member of the European Commission. (Article 19) 15.2.2 The parliamentary debate Just by looking at the legal provisions, we can see that EU affairs have their own place on the parliamentary agenda. However, sometimes the political discourse does not reflect this well enough. There are differences in how EU affairs are promoted and the actual work in plenary sessions, parliamentary committees and all the related structures. For the average citizen watching the news, only information about national legislation gets prime-time coverage, while European issues are of second or even third order.

As an indication of the nature of parliamentary debate about European issues, a data search using the keyword ‘European’ on the official website of the Chamber of Deputies (2019) returned 301 records corresponding to 93 plenary debates from 2016 to present. A statement delivered in the sittings of the Chamber of Deputies on 6 February 2019 addresses the close cooperation that should be pursued with the high representatives of the European institutions so that Romania might promote its vision on the future of Europe. Another three statements delivered in the sittings of the Chamber of Deputies on 19 December 2018 focused on solidarity and equal treatment for Romanians and Romania in the European Union; agriculture in the Netherlands is cited as an example for the European Union; and there is the European Parliament’s recommendation in favour of Romania’s and Bulgaria’s accession to the Schengen area.

15.2.3 How EU issues are mobilised To see how EU issues are deployed in a formal framework, we analysed the Annex to the 27th Bi-annual Report of COSAC, European issues are of second or even third order. 282  THE EUROPEANISATION OF REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY IN ROMANIA showcasing official written positions on the topic and how EU related-work is ‘mobilised’ in the domestic arena, namely the two chambers of the Romanian Parliament. First, we will look how the Chamber of Deputies proceeds in this specific field: • The EU proposals selected for parliamentary examination by the European Affairs Committee are submitted to the European Affairs Committee and the relevant sectoral committees. Then, sectoral committees pass on their opinion/reasoned opinion to the European Affairs Committee. The Committee is then charged with adopting its own opinion by taking or not taking into consideration the opinions of the sectoral committees. The latter is then subject to debate and adopted by MPs in the Chamber’s sittings;

In terms of the relationship between the Chamber and the national government regarding the scrutiny of EU proposals, the latter sends explanatory memoranda outlining its position on selected EU proposals to the Chamber; • Scrutiny of the government’s position on EU proposals by the European Affairs Committee or any other relevant sectoral committee happens on a weekly basis; • As for the tools the Chamber uses to monitor or scrutinise the government on the implementation of EU law, members may table a debate in the plenary or in the relevant committee; • Answers to the question “How could national parliaments further promote the European project?” focused on: a more effective scrutiny process throughout the legislative process; developing a set of instruments to support the Union, such as issue political documents in favour of the EU or react to actions against EU, engage in related debates at national and EU level, ensure access to information for citizens and swiftly counter fake news or anti-EU actions, collect citizens’ requests regarding EU politics/policies and transpose them into legislation or political action, combat anti-EU trends in the country and especially populist movements. Second, if we look at the answers related to the Romanian Senate, a couple of things are worth mentioning

As regards the relationship between the Senate and the national government with regard to scrutiny of EU proposals, the government needs a parliamentary mandate before taking a position in the Council. Moreover, it should brief the Parliament before taking any step; • Answers to the question “How could national Parliaments further promote the European project?” focused on: discussing the impact of the four freedoms on national economies; running impact assessments on legislative packages, specifically keeping in mind the four freedoms; proposing ways in which the European Commission and other European institutions ensure the observance of the four freedoms; discuss how national parliaments could secure and promote the development of the four freedoms during COSAC meetings.

15.2.4 How scrutiny works in the Chamber of Deputies and in the Romanian Senate

According to the Act on Cooperation between the Parliament and the Government in the field of European affairs, both the Romanian Chamber of Deputies and the Romanian Senate scrutinise the annual work programme of the European Commission with the purpose of identifying a list of draft European acts that will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny procedure during that year.

According to the above-mentioned pieces of legislation, the EU Division delivers the necessary expertise to all bodies of the Chamber involved in the process. Since its creation, back in 2009, through its subdivisions it provides professional expertise (i.e. background notes, documentation, syntheses, analyses and studies) in the field of European policies and legislation. Starting in April 2011, the main recipients became the selected Committees, and the European Affairs Committee of the Chamber, involved with either the scrutiny process of the EU acts taking place within the Chamber, or the domestic legislative procedure on the European directives to be implemented in the national legal framework, as well as the parliamentary delegations attending parliamentary events on EU matters. All in all, the Division offers support and information to the MPs exercising their participatory rights in the parliamentary deliberations on EU matters.

In order to analyse the scrutiny process, we searched the Chamber of Deputies’ website to see which topics were scrutinised and assessed in the past year. The official website presents 48 EU official documents on various subjects corresponding to the work programme of the Commission. Among these, we can mention: circular economy, working conditions in the EU, impact of EU research and innovation, completion of the Capital Markets Union, access to social protection for workers and the self-employed, FinTech Action Plan, European Agenda on Migration, digital transformation of healthcare in the Digital Single Market, Multiannual Financial Framework for 2021- 2027, artificial intelligence, EU Enlargement Policy, role of youth, education and cultural policies. Almost all documents (43 out of 48) were completed by the beginning of February 2019 (Figure 15.1), leaving five other nonlegislative documents open for scrutiny. The remaining topics refer to the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality, the European Union framework on endocrine disruptors, the single market and the European strategic long-term vision for a climate neutral economy, and the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy.

Figure 15.1 Number of EU documents submitted to scrutiny – Chamber of Deputies, Romanian Parliament Source: Own calculus, based upon the data publicly available on the Chamber of Deputies website. 118 71 118 43 60 61 49 48 0 20 40 60 80 100 120 140 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY IN THE EU  285 A similar process takes place in the Senate to scrutinise documents from the European Union and monitor compliance with the principle of subsidiarity (Table 15.1).

15.3 Relationship between EU politics and national representatives

15.3.1 Influence of EU politics on political realities at national level

Currently, Romania is represented by 32 MEPs, the majority of them being members of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D, 14) and the European People’s Party (EPP, 13) groups in the European Parliament. In terms of national parties, the best represented are the Social Democratic Party (PSD, left-wing, 13) and the National Liberal Party (PNL, right-wing, 8), while eight MEPs are independent or non-affiliated. The turnout for Romania in the 2014 European elections was 32.44% (an increase from the 27.67% which went to the ballot box in 2009).

All PSD MEPs are part of S&D and all PNL MEPs are members of EPP, which shows that on a European level the proverbial left-right divide across the Romanian political spectrum is driven by seemingly common interests and converging political ideas. Nevertheless, it should be noted that, although the left-right divide may be described as a division between social identities based on race, class, gender or region, it is far from being a fierce struggle between contrasting political creeds, either inside the EP or in Romania.

As a symbol of how European and national politics are intertwined, in March 2019 Manfred Weber, the EPP’s lead candidate for the President of the European Commission, was in Bucharest to publicly express his support for PNL’s list of candidates and to launch his bid as head of the next EC (Calea Europeană, 2019).

It is worth mentioning that the May 2014 EU election saw the lowest voter turnout (42.61%) since 1979, when such elections were held for the first time. Turnout is seen as a litmus test for the Parliament’s democratic legitimacy, but it has constantly fallen, from 62% in 1979 to 43% in the 2009 election (European Parliament, 2014). And, with recent developments hinting at broader trends of political fragmentation and volatility across the continent, disinformation campaigns both from within and outside the EU, and an overall inward-looking sentiment present in most member states, there seems to be little chance of reducing the ‘democratic deficit’. According to a snap assessment of the situation at the beginning of the 2017 autumn season, Ioan Mircea Pașcu (PSD), member of the S&D, was the most influential Romanian MEP at the time (Vote Watch, 2017). However, in a move that sparked controversy, Pașcu, who at the time of writing is one of the VicePresidents of the European Parliament, was excluded from his party’s list for the 2019 EP elections. Referring to the VoteWatch assessment, he was followed by Adina-Ioana Vălean (PNL) and Siegfried Mureșan (PNL), both members of EPP. Siegfried Mureșan, Vice-Chair of the Parliament’s Budgets Committee, also features high in Politico’s list of 19 “key Romanians you need to know from Brussels”, in the context of Romania’s EU Council Presidency, published in January 2019 (Politico, 2019). The fellow MEPs Marian Jean-Marinescu (PNL/EPP) and Cristian-Silviu Bușoi (PNL/EPP), joined him in the first batch of MEPs Romania sent to Brussels after its accession to the EU in 2007.

An interesting fact about the dynamics of alliances among national parties at the European level and the increased importance of transnational political networks may be observed in the debate on the rule of law in EU countries. Mainstream political groups have a strong incentive to protect their political family members from Brussels’ criticism, and a track record of doing so (Verfassungsblog, 2019). For example, while the S&D has been very vocal in criticising the Hungarian (EPP, Fidesz) and the Polish (ECR, PiS) government’s actions, it adopted a softer tone when it came to the Romanian and Maltese governments (Social Democratic) faced with similar accusations. The Romanian ruling party, the PSD has been subject to various forms of criticism from Brussels for its reforms of the Romanian legal system and its anti-corruption legislation, prompting MEPs to urge the Romanian government to do more to promote European values by being more consistent. As such, in November 2018, no pro-PSD alliance seemed to matter when the European Parliament passed a non-legislative resolution on the rule of law in Romania, declaring itself

deeply concerned with the revision of the judicial and criminal legislation in Romania, especially because of the possibility that it could lead to the structural undermining of the independence of the judicial system and the latter’s capacity to efficiently fight corruption in Romania, as well as to the weakening of the rule of law. (European Parliament, 2018)

In a common statement earlier that year, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and First Vice-President Frans Timmermans voiced their concern about developments in Romania “regarding the independence of Romania’s judicial system and its capacity to fight corruption” (European Commission, 2018). On a similar note, the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, in an opinion adopted in October 2018, expressed its grave concern about draft amendments to the Criminal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code in Romania, which it felt had the potential to seriously weaken the effectiveness of the country’s criminal justice system to fight corruption offences (Venice Commission, 2018).

For this reason, in recent years, civic movements have focused on the perceived threats concerning the fight against corruption. In February 2017, nearly half a million citizens took to the streets, all over the country, to express their discontent at the passage of an emergency decree to decriminalise several low-level corruption offences. It is worth noting that, unlike in other member states plagued by populism and anti-systemic Euroscepticism, Romania’s protest movements have so far not challenged the very foundations of the political system, including the basic principles of representative democracy. Nevertheless, they did challenge the alleged attempts of the governing majority to modify the criminal legislation without an open dialogue with all relevant stakeholders. There, it was not about protests against the institutional framework per se, but against specific parties and politicians.

15.3.2 Influence of national parliamentary work on EU political realities

Within the Early Warning System procedure, we observed that the Romanian Parliament has used and politicised the public debate concerning the ‘yellow card’ procedure in 2016, namely in the case of the Posted Workers Proposal on the grounds of conflict with the right to subsidiarity. The main focus of criticism the proposal’s principle of equal pay for equal work, which would apply to posted and local workers. Romania and other opposing member states believed this impinged on national jurisdiction in setting wage levels, and wanted the text to be withdrawn (Eurofound, 2016).

The proposed directive was one of the most debated in the recent years within the Romanian Parliament, the European Affairs Committee within the Chamber of Deputies, which made it its ‘flagship’ case throughout 2016, a year that was also marked by national parliamentary elections.

It was also a high-level media case that gained traction not only in the political sphere but also among an ad hoc coalition of trade unions and other interest groups that ran intensive advocacy campaigns both at the national and European level, either being for or against the directive.

A rare unanimous vote was also registered in the Chamber of Deputies on this occasion, on 13 April 2016, in favour of the negative Opinion issued, which was later sent to the Romanian government (Chamber of Deputies, 2016). Following the feedback of the European Commission, which disregarded this position, the then head of the European Affairs Committee of the Chamber of Deputies, Ms Ana Birchall, put forward an even more proactive proposal on this issue than before; namely, to sign a common letter (by the parliaments that were opposing) to send to the European Commission.

This was coupled with an active campaign by the Romanian Parliament along with other member states to secure a blocking minority. In the words of Ms Birchall, “we, in the Parliament, we have done our duty as we were supposed to do and drawn attention to the dangers concerning the EU’s fundamental principles” (Birchall, 2016). REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY IN THE EU  291

Another, earlier use of the yellow card procedure was in 2013 when the Chamber of Deputies used it against the European Commission’s proposal on the establishment of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (‘EPPO proposal’). The Reasoned Opinion argued that criminal investigations and prosecutions are a matter of national sovereignty and EPPO would limit the national competence,

…believes that, as a fraud is committed at national or local level, fighting appropriately against this fraud depends mainly on measures taken at these levels; in this framework, the exclusive competence of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office in investigating, prosecuting, and bringing to judgment the perpetrators of offences against the Union’s financial interests and ancillary competence of prosecuting linked offences rise uncertainties concerning the compliance with the principle of legal certainty as this competence is not subject to any review. (Chamber of Deputies, 2013)

This is not a common procedure for Romania as the general perception issued from national reports was that “the European Union integration led to the relativization of the national sovereignty”. The same study recommended in 2016 the creation of a ‘late card’ through

which national parliaments would keep control even after the closure of the European legislative procedure, as currently they only control the European Commission’s proposal and not the result of the negotiations. The rationale of such a card resides in that, following negotiations, a new modified text is born, compared to that examined by national parliaments, and the latter is no longer presented to them in its final form. (Chamber of Deputies, 2016)

Figure 15.2 Reasoned opinions regarding compliance with the subsidiarity principle sent to the European Commission by the Romanian Parliament

The Romanian Senate also proved to be an active stakeholder in this process. Although this might not seem obvious from just looking at the official website, the Romanian Senate ranked among the top ten of the 41 parliamentary chambers that submitted the highest number of opinions in 2016 and was also considered to be one of the most active in 2017.

Ms Gabriela Creţu, Chair of the European Affairs Committee, stressed in this context that „the record does not consist of the number of opinions sent, but in the constant effort to define our interest here in the country for each field. Transmitting to the European institutions is only the final step. Sometimes we like to cultivate our frustrations and complain that we have no voice in the Union. The work of the European Affairs Commission – together with the specialized committees involved – wants to say something else. To be heard, you have to talk! We will do this further, especially since the parliamentary dimension of the Romanian Presidency also offers us the microphone to talk to and to make us heard. ” (Creţu, 2018)

Figure 15.3 Projects of EU legislation under subsidiarity control at the Romanian Senate

Source: Own calculus, based upon the data publicly available on the Romanian Senate website.


The chapter offers an overview of how the Romanian representative democracy model was Europeanised after 2007. We structured our research along three main areas: the changes in the national context after 2007; the EU dimension of the national parliament; and the relationship between EU politics and the national representatives (Brussels and Bucharest-based).

First, we considered the legal provisions that govern the systems of EU affairs in Romania from a parliamentary point of view and concluded that although the parliamentary agenda often focuses on debating EU subjects, they are mostly seen as secondorder issues and are not framed in a national perspective.

Second, we looked at concrete political realities and analysed the influence of EU politics on the national representatives based in Brussels and on the Bucharest-based MPs. One conclusion deriving from the analysis is that in Romania we did not have any Eurosceptic party currently winning elections and, while being in office, challenging the core values of the EU and the democratic 10 10 10 5 1 0 2 4 6 8 10 12 2007 2010 2011 2015 2017 294  THE EUROPEANISATION OF REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY IN ROMANIA foundation of our state. And, as the latest Standard Eurobarometer confirms, Romanians are among the most Europhile citizens in the EU.

With all this in mind, there are still important challenges characterising the political spectrum that define Romania as a flawed democracy (The Economist Intelligence Unit Limited, 2019). The passing in Parliament of acts decriminalising low-level corruption offences is a case in point and has attracted much public ire. Romania’s score for civil liberties also fell as a result of the implementation of several laws that have a negative impact on the judiciary system. Therefore, considering the improvements that have characterised the parliamentary dimension (e.g. the professionalisation of the parliamentary committees and subsequent structures), there is room for improvement when it comes to transparency, civic consultations and democratic accountability.


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