Freedom in the World 2023 - Romania

/ 100
Political Rights 35 / 40
Civil Liberties 48 / 60
83 / 100 Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.


Romania’s multiparty system has ensured regular rotations of power through competitive elections. Civil liberties are generally respected but have come under growing pressure as entrenched political interests push back against civic and institutional efforts to combat systemic corruption. Discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities and other vulnerable groups is a long-standing problem, as is control of key media outlets by businesspeople with political interests.

Key Developments in 2022

  • In November, the European Commission lifted the monitoring of Romania under a Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM), acknowledging that the country had made sufficient progress on judicial reform and in fighting corruption.
  • In December, Romania was denied a January 2023 entry to the Schengen Area. The Austrian government said it vetoed the accession over concerns about illegal migration through Romania.
  • All remaining restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic were lifted in March.

Political Rights

A Electoral Process

A1 0-4 pts
Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 4 / 4

The president, who holds some significant powers in Romania’s semipresidential system, is directly elected for up to two five-year terms. The president appoints the prime minister in consultation with the parliamentary majority, and the prime minister’s government requires the confidence of Parliament. Presidential and parliamentary elections held since 1990 have been generally free and fair. Klaus Iohannis, a centrist who had belonged to the National Liberal Party (PNL), won a second presidential term in November 2019, winning 66.1 percent of the vote in a runoff.

After parliamentary elections held in December 2020, Florin Cîțu of the PNL became prime minister. His government, which was originally supported by the Save Romania Union (USR) and the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR), lost a no-confidence vote in October 2021; the USR had withdrawn its support in September. Nicolae Ciucă of the PNL became prime minister in November 2021, after he formed a coalition with the Social Democratic Party (PSD) and the UDMR.

A2 0-4 pts
Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 4 / 4

Members of the bicameral Parliament, consisting of a 136-seat Senate and a 330-seat Chamber of Deputies, are elected to four-year terms in a closed party-list proportional system.

Elections for both houses were held in December 2020, though electoral campaigns were affected by COVID-19-related restrictions. Turnout for the Chamber of Deputies contests stood at 33.3 percent, a record low. The PSD won 28.9 percent of the vote and 110 seats, while the ruling PNL won 25.2 percent and 93 seats. The 2020 USR–PLUS Alliance—which consisted of the USR and the Party of Liberty, Unity, and Solidarity before their merger was officially recognized in April 2021—won 15.4 percent and 55 seats. The UDMR won 5.7 percent and 21 seats. The nationalist Alliance for the Union of Romanians (AUR) entered Parliament for the first time, winning 9.1 percent and 33 seats.

In the concurrent Senate elections, the PSD won 29.3 percent of the vote and 47 seats, while the PNL won 25.6 percent and 41 seats. The 2020 USR–PLUS Alliance won 15.9 percent and 25 seats, the AUR won 9.2 percent and 14 seats, and the UDMR won 5.9 percent and 9 seats. Turnout for the Senate elections stood at 31.9 percent.

A3 0-4 pts
Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 4 / 4

The legal framework generally provides for fair and competitive elections. The Romanian electoral framework relies on a Central Election Bureau, which includes judges and political representatives, and a Permanent Electoral Authority, which manages voter registration, campaign finance, and logistics.

Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) observers who monitored the December 2020 parliamentary elections noted the complexity of the legal electoral framework. Observers criticized parliamentarians’ fast-tracking of electoral-law amendments that September, limiting public debate. OSCE observers also voiced concerns over the electoral authorities’ training efforts, which were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

B Political Pluralism and Participation

B1 0-4 pts
Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 4 / 4

Romania’s multiparty system features active competition between rival political parties. Under the 2015 electoral law, the number of signatures needed to create a new party decreased dramatically, leading to the registration of many new parties. Some 217 parties and alliances competed in the September 2020 local elections; 24 parties and individual candidates competed for Senate seats that December, while 82 groups and candidates, including ethnic minority groups, competed for lower-house seats.

Critics have argued that signature thresholds to register candidates for local and parliamentary elections still place new and smaller parties at a disadvantage.

B2 0-4 pts
Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 4 / 4

The country has established a record of peaceful transfers of power between rival parties. Since 1996, the PSD and the PNL, the two largest parties in the country, have alternated in government with the exception of two times when they governed together. So far, no political party has governed two full terms in a row. Governments often fall in no-confidence votes; the grand coalition government led by Nicolae Ciucă was sworn in in November 2021 and has remained in office throughout 2022.

B3 0-4 pts
Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means? 3 / 4

People are generally free to make political choices without undue pressure from unaccountable actors. However, clientelism in politics remains a problem both in local and national elections. In small towns and villages, mayors retain significant leverage over voters. Local mayors are known to switch parties to secure funding or other resources. Media reports documenting clientelism in national politics emerge regularly, implicating both government and opposition parties.

B4 0-4 pts
Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 3 / 4

Ethnic, religious, and other minority groups enjoy full political rights under the law. The constitution grants one lower-house seat to each national minority whose representative party or organization wins no seats otherwise, with a maximum of 18 seats allotted in this fashion. President Iohannis, an ethnic German and a Lutheran, is the country’s first president from either minority group. The UDMR, which represents the Hungarian minority, is part of the coalition government established in November 2021 and was a member of the previous coalition.

Roma, who make up 3.4 percent of the population, are underrepresented in politics. Social discrimination against LGBT+ people discourages political advocacy for their rights.

Data collection on gender representation is lacking, and there are no national-level policies to encourage female political participation. There are only two women in the 21-member Ciucă cabinet.

C Functioning of Government

C1 0-4 pts
Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 4 / 4

Elected officials are generally able to craft and implement government policy without outside interference.

C2 0-4 pts
Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 2 / 4

High levels of corruption, bribery, and abuse of power persist. Romania maintains a comprehensive anticorruption action plan, though the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) noted in a 2020 report that anticorruption bodies face pressure when pursuing high-level cases.

The National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) previously won international praise for fairly investigating corruption cases and securing convictions of powerful figures. However, the 2018 dismissal of DNA chief Laura Codruţa Kövesi was seen as a blow to its independence. Kövesi won a European Court of Human Rights judgment over her dismissal in 2020. In a September 2022 ceremony marking 20 years of activity, the DNA noted that it had prosecuted more than 15,000 people accused of corruption. However, the institution has not had the power to investigate the judiciary since 2018.

C3 0-4 pts
Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 3 / 4

Citizens have the legal right to obtain public information and can petition government agencies for it. However, processes for soliciting participation and input from various stakeholders and civil society experts are poorly defined, and the government widely utilizes emergency ordinances for legislating. COVID-19-related information was sometimes withheld, or was otherwise disseminated slowly, by authorities.

Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 0-4 pts
Are there free and independent media? 3 / 4

Although the media environment is relatively free and pluralistic, key outlets remain controlled by businesspeople with political interests, and their coverage is highly distorted by their owners’ priorities. Media outlets increasingly rely on publicly funded advertising and subsidies, jeopardizing the outlets’ independence.

There are rising threats and intimidation from state institutions against some journalists. For example, in January 2022, the home of Alin Cristea, the editor in chief of an online news outlet, was raided by officers from the Directorate for Investigating Organized Crime and Terrorism (DIICOT). The officers said they were investigating the alleged possession or distribution of child sexual abuse images based on material published by the journalist about a case of brutality against a minor that had been captured on video. Free speech advocates expressed concern that the raid was a form of retaliation connected to Cristea’s critical reporting about law enforcement. In November 2022, a court ruled that the case brought by DIICOT against Cristea was unjustified.

In April, a journalist involved in revealing cases of plagiarism in the doctoral theses of prominent politicians said that she was being harassed, intimidated, and threatened by unknown people as a result of her reporting, which led to the September 2022 resignation of the minister of education.

D2 0-4 pts
Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 3 / 4

Religious freedom is generally respected. While the Romanian Orthodox Church (BOR) remains dominant and politically powerful, the government formally recognizes 18 religions, each of which is eligible for proportional state support. Others can register as religious associations. There have been reports of discrimination and harassment against religious minorities, including vandalism in Jewish cemeteries and media articles referring to Islam and Muslim migrants as threats to Romania. The promotion of antisemitism was banned by legislation adopted in 2018.

Some religious ceremonies were impacted by COVID-19-related measures. In early 2021, the BOR criticized the government’s decision to restrict or cancel major pilgrimages. All pandemic restrictions were lifted in March 2022, and religious activities returned to normal.

D3 0-4 pts
Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 3 / 4

The government generally does not restrict academic freedom, but the education system is weakened by widespread corruption and politically influenced appointments and financing. School principals are sometimes appointed politically and receive funding according to their political affiliation and allegiance.

D4 0-4 pts
Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 4 / 4

People are generally free to express their opinions without fear of retribution. In the past, some social media users received fines after they were accused of insulting police.

E Associational and Organizational Rights

E1 0-4 pts
Is there freedom of assembly? 4 / 4

Romania’s constitution guarantees freedom of assembly. Public gatherings were restricted under pandemic-related measures in March 2020, but public-assembly restrictions were gradually loosened beginning in September 2020. In March 2022, all remaining restrictions were lifted.

E2 0-4 pts
Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 4 / 4

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operate without major formal restrictions. Nevertheless, many human rights and governance groups suffer from funding shortages and face hostility and smears from politicians and other actors.

E3 0-4 pts
Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 3 / 4

Workers have the right to form unions, have a limited right to strike, and can bargain collectively, though laws against the violation of these rights are not well enforced. There are legal constraints on the ability of unions to participate in political activity.

F Rule of Law

F1 0-4 pts
Is there an independent judiciary? 3 / 4

The judiciary is generally independent and progress in this area was reflected in the lifting of the CVM by the European Commission in November 2022. Nevertheless, the judiciary continues to face pressure from the executive and legislative branches. A special prosecution unit focusing on magistrates was disbanded by a March 2022 law; the unit had been criticized by magistrates’ associations and supranational bodies, who feared it would allow for the intimidation of magistrates and other abuses. However, the European Commission for Democracy Through Law criticized the haste with which the law was passed and expressed concern about the efficacy of the systems replacing the controversial unit.

In August 2022, the government adopted new justice laws in spite of major criticism from the judiciary and civil society that the laws would diminish judicial independence. Prime Minister Ciucă pushed for the laws, saying they would bring the CVM for Romania to an end and would facilitate the country’s accession to the Schengen Area.

F2 0-4 pts
Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 3 / 4

The law provides safeguards against arbitrary arrest and detention which are generally respected. However, the right to a fair and timely trial is often undermined by institutional problems including corruption, political influence, staffing shortages, and inefficient resource allocation. Many government officials and lawmakers have retained their positions despite criminal indictments or convictions by exploiting such weaknesses in the system. The hearing of noncriminal matters remained slower in 2022 than it was before the pandemic.

F3 0-4 pts
Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 3 / 4

The population faces no major threats to physical security, but prisons and detention centers feature harsh conditions, and the abuse of detainees by police and fellow prisoners remains a problem.

F4 0-4 pts
Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 3 / 4

The law provides broad protections against discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and other categories. However, people with disabilities, LGBT+ people, Roma, and HIV-positive children and adults face discrimination in education, employment, medical service provision, and other areas. In July 2021, the AUR, which entered Parliament in 2020, announced that it was drafting a bill that would restrict the discussion of sexual orientation or identity in educational settings. In April 2022, the Senate passed a similar bill initiated by the UDMR, but the Chamber of Deputies had not scheduled a vote on the measure by year’s end.

The constitution guarantees women equal rights, but gender discrimination remains a problem in many aspects of life.

G Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights

G1 0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 4 / 4

Citizens generally face no significant restrictions on freedom of movement, whether for internal or external travel, and can freely change their place of employment or education. In March 2022, all travel restrictions related to COVID-19 were removed.

G2 0-4 pts
Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 2 / 4

Property rights are protected by law, but there are still some problems with the restitution claims for property confiscated during the communist era. Bureaucratic barriers, corruption, and broader weaknesses in the rule of law hamper some private business activity. In March 2022, the government issued rules that speed up the expropriation process for public development projects included in the National Recovery and Resilience Plan.

G3 0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 3 / 4

While personal social freedoms are generally protected, domestic violence remains a serious problem, and laws meant to combat it are poorly enforced. Same-sex marriages are not permitted under Romanian law. However, in 2018, the Constitutional Court recognized the residency rights of same-sex couples married elsewhere, provided that one spouse is an EU citizen.

Some political actors, including the AUR, employ antigay rhetoric to galvanize conservative parts of society against political adversaries.

G4 0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 3 / 4

The law provides basic protections against exploitative working conditions, though they are unevenly enforced, particularly in the large informal economy. Economic opportunity varies widely between urban and rural areas, and such disparities limit social mobility for some. Human trafficking for the purpose of forced labor and prostitution remains a serious problem. Women and Roma children are especially vulnerable to forced begging.