Freedom in the World 2017 - Romania

Freedom Status: 
Political Rights: 
Civil Liberties: 
Aggregate Score: 
Freedom Rating: 

Romania’s multiparty system has ensured regular rotations of power, and executive authority is often divided between a president and prime minister from different parties. Civil liberties are generally respected, though ongoing concerns include police brutality, discrimination against Roma and other vulnerable groups, and corruption and political influence in the judiciary. Key media outlets are controlled by businessmen with political interests. While political corruption remains an entrenched problem, prosecutors have made major progress in holding senior politicians accountable in recent years, raising tensions between investigators and elected officials.

Key Developments in 2016: 
  • The caretaker government installed in late 2015 took a number of steps to strengthen transparency and access to information during the year.
  • In March, the government enacted new regulations on prison and detention conditions that were expected to improve food and medical care, counseling, and communication with law enforcement authorities and families, and would allow electronic monitoring of convicts outside prisons.
  • Parliamentary elections were held in December, and a new government headed by the Social Democratic Party (PSD) was set to take office in early 2017.
Executive Summary: 

Parliamentary elections were held in December 2016 under a new electoral law adopted the previous year. It lowered the number of members needed to create a new political party from 25,000 to 3, leading to the registration of many new parties. The law also allowed mail-in voting for citizens living abroad, though participation was limited; fewer than 9,000 people registered to vote by mail, and some 4,000 ballots were cast by mail. New technological measures were introduced to help prevent fraud, including video cameras to record the ballot count.

The size of each chamber of Parliament was reduced in keeping with the electoral law, and all members were elected under a party-list proportional representation system. The PSD won a plurality, taking 154 of 329 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and 67 of 136 seats in the Senate. The National Liberal Party (PNL) placed second with 69 and 30. The Save Romania Union (USR)—a new, broad-based centrist party formed after the June local elections—came in third, taking 30 lower house seats and 13 in the Senate. The Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR) captured 21 and 9, the Alliance of Democrats and Liberals (ALDE) took 20 and 9, and the Popular Movement Party (PMP), led by former president Traian Băsescu, received 18 and 8. The remaining 17 members of the Chamber of Deputies represented ethnic minorities. A new cabinet led by the PSD’s Sorin Grindeanu in coalition with the ALDE, a PNL splinter party, was expected to be confirmed in early January 2017.

Despite the acknowledged improvements, the elections revealed some gaps in the new electoral code, such as flawed procedures for vetting candidate eligibility, registering as an observer, and conducting ballot recounts. Analysts also noted a scarcity of regulations on party financing.

For the year before the elections, Romania was governed by a technocratic caretaker cabinet, with Dacian Cioloş as prime minister. It sought to work with Parliament, but continued the practice of using emergency ordinances to pass legislation. The government also implemented a variety of administrative reforms aimed at improving transparency and access to information; for example, the new Ministry for Public Consultation and Civic Dialogue—created at the end of 2015—launched an online platform offering fiscal and budgetary information on thousands of public institutions and approved the creation of a registry for lobbyists.

The work of the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) continued to meet with resistance from much of the political class and their media allies, and related disputes were adjudicated by the Constitutional Court. In February, the court barred the DNA from using intelligence agency wiretaps, meaning prosecutors would have to build their own surveillance capacity. In June, the court ruled against decriminalizing abuse of power, but limited its application to actual breaches of the law rather than cases in which officials inflicted harm by doing their jobs improperly. In October, the court blocked a bill passed by Parliament in June that would have exempted many lawmakers from conflict-of-interest charges related to the hiring of relatives.

The DNA’s head, Laura Codruța Kövesi, was also the target of illegal surveillance and harassment during the year. A former Romanian intelligence officer was detained for such abuses in September, and members of a private Israeli intelligence firm admitted their involvement in October. Separately, Kövesi was cleared of academic plagiarism accusations in December, and her accuser, a businessman and former lawmaker facing corruption charges, fled the country.

Meanwhile, the DNA continued to pursue numerous cases against current and former high-ranking officials, and the caretaker government forced some of its own ministers to step down in response to scandals or poor performance.

Political Rights

Political Rights 35 / 40 (+1)

A. Electoral Process 11 / 12

A1. Is the head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?
A2. Are the national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?
A3. Are the electoral laws and framework fair?


B. Political Pluralism and Participation 14 / 16

B1. Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system open to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?
B2. Is there a significant opposition vote and a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?
B3. Are the people’s political choices free from domination by the military, foreign powers, totalitarian parties, religious hierarchies, economic oligarchies, or any other powerful group?
B4. Do cultural, ethnic, religious, or other minority groups have full political rights and electoral opportunities?


C. Functioning of Government 10 / 12 (+1)

C1. Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?
C2. Is the government free from pervasive corruption?
C3. Is the government accountable to the electorate between elections, and does it operate with openness and transparency?


Civil Liberties

Civil Liberties 49 / 60

D. Freedom of Expression and Belief 14 / 16

D1. Are there free and independent media and other forms of cultural expression?
D2. Are religious institutions and communities free to practice their faith and express themselves in public and private?
D3. Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free of extensive political indoctrination?
D4. Is there open and free private discussion?


E. Associational and Organizational Rights 11 / 12

E1. Is there freedom of assembly, demonstration, and open public discussion?
E2. Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations?
E3. Are there free trade unions and peasant organizations or equivalents, and is there effective collective bargaining? Are there free professional and other private organizations?


F. Rule of Law 12 / 16

F1. Is there an independent judiciary?
F2. Does the rule of law prevail in civil and criminal matters? Are police under direct civilian control?
F3. Is there protection from political terror, unjustified imprisonment, exile, or torture, whether by groups that support or oppose the system? Is there freedom from war and insurgencies?
F4. Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?


G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights 12 / 16

G1. Do individuals enjoy freedom of travel or choice of residence, employment, or institution of higher education?
G2. Do individuals have the right to own property and establish private businesses? Is private business activity unduly influenced by government officials, the security forces, political parties/organizations, or organized crime?
G3. Are there personal social freedoms, including gender equality, choice of marriage partners, and size of family?
G4. Is there equality of opportunity and the absence of economic exploitation?


Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)
X = Score Received
Y = Best Possible Score
Z = Change from Previous Year

Full Methodology

Explanatory Note: 

This country report has been abridged for Freedom in the World 2017. For background information on political rights and civil liberties in Romania, see Freedom in the World 2016.