How the Romanian state steals its own hat. The bill paid because we are unable to change a 1968 law

Romania has the same administrative organization since the time of Nicolae Ceaușescu, but three decades after the Revolution no party has had enough political will to reform it. The political scientist Cristian Pîrvulescu explains why this reform, insisted on by the business environment, cannot wait any longer and what benefits it would bring.

Regionalization would bring a series of benefits to Romania. PHOTO: The Truth Archive

In 1968, the former dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu, seen as a true reformist at the time, changed the administrative organization of Romania, responding to a certain extent to the needs of the times.

Only the years have passed, and 56 years since then and 35 since the Revolution, although all parties have succeeded each other in power, none has found enough political will to adapt it to the times.

Cristian Pîrvulescu spoke with “Adevărul” about this subject, from a double perspective, that of a political scientist and a sociologist. In his opinion, the administrative reform, which would involve the administrative reorganization of the country, would bring a lot of benefits, including economic ones, and would meet the needs of the 21st century. The current organization, the current system, has proven its limits and is no longer functional – believes Pîrvulescu.

In fact, including the Minister of Development, Public Works and Administration, Adrian Veştea, recently said, at a press conference, that financially, but also administratively, the old system can no longer be sustained and that hundreds of cities and thousands of communes cannot against operating costs due to insufficient local revenues. These are veritable black holes for the national budget and contribute to a certain extent to the budget deficit that is recorded year after year.

Too many cities and towns

Cristian Pîrvulescu believes that we have too many municipalities and too many cities and that the only solution would be to merge them.

“We have too many municipalities, too many localities, not only cities. In 2020, the Ministry of Development made an analysis of the degree of sustainability of the localities in Romania. And of the 3,600 territorial administrative units, which also means counties, cities, and communes, only a part had the possibility to be self-supporting“, says Pîrvulescu.

And if most of the communes and villages no longer have money to pay their mayors, local councilors and other administrative expenses, they are automatically a burden for the state.

Cristian Parvulescu.  PHOTO: The Truth Archive

Cristian Parvulescu. PHOTO: The Truth Archive

“What people don't understand is that it doesn't mean that I'm moving people out of the commune, it means that the administration of that locality doesn't make sense. That as I have a commune with 10 villages, I can have a commune with 20 villages“, he says.

Condemned to underdevelopment

The problem is that these localities are condemned to underdevelopment, because the state does not have enough money. Many of them are aging, and the population has decreased with the migration of young people to big cities or to other countries to build a future. This means that they will not be able to get financing for the necessary projects and will remain practically frozen in time.

It is clear that it is an economic, resource and financing problem. If I don't have money, who lends a commune with 2,000 inhabitants or 3,000 inhabitants, mostly pensioners, to develop its public services? No one. In the market, no one will take such a commune seriously. As a result, it will depend on the budget, it will never be able to develop, it will never be stimulated to become inventive, and we will all suffer because we will have to continue to fund the inefficiency of this administration forever.“, he adds.

In total, says Cristian Pîrvulescu, it would amount to tens of billions of lei annually, given that the expenses of each municipality and each city exceed millions or even tens of millions, from case to case.

“We are talking about tens of billions of lei in total. A commune like this can mean expenses of 50 million lei per year, because it is an entire administrative apparatus that must be supported”he also states.

Regionalization, a solution to solve the problem

But not only the communes should be merged, but also the counties. This would solve another problem – regionalization – which has also been talked about a lot, but for which no concrete steps have been taken.

By merging some counties and regionalization, a series of benefits would be obtained. First of all, the national budget would be relieved of a series of expenses it has with the county administrations, most of the time unnecessary. And here we would be talking about important savings in the state budget, money that could be directed towards important projects.

Regionalization increases the level of competence. And the question is: do they regionalize by keeping the counties or not? It is probably much more efficient to abolish the counties, to merge, for example, four counties into one county, because the problem is to have, for example, a million taxpayers who can provide me with the necessary sums to be able to have serious policies“, says Pîrvulescu.

He gives Bucharest as an example, where the sector mayors have come to have money available for their own projects, something unimaginable in the past.

Look in Bucharest, a sector mayor can afford to build an overpass or an underground passage. 14 years ago they could not afford such a thing. Including at the level of sector 5, there is money because there are taxpayers”he explains.

Furthermore, in Romania there are counties where only a few tens of thousands of people have jobs and contribute to the county and local budgets. However, merging these counties, four or five into one, would change the whole perspective.

“There are counties in the country that have a number of taxpayers of several tens of thousands of people. Instead, you need a number of one million taxpayers to have an administrative-territorial unit capable of managing regional policies. So here's a reason why Bucharest is developing and watch the big cities, Cluj, Brașov, Oradea, Timișoara, which have also developed their hyperland and see that you are approaching 500,000 people. Somehow, this development is directly dependent on the number of the population“, adds Pîrvulescu.

But that would not be all. Through the emergence of the regions, the new entities would obtain easier access to external financing, whether it is non-reimbursable European funds or one-off loans, for certain projects that are in progress.

Who opposes and what can be done

For 35 years, although there have been numerous proposals and ideas, none of the parties that have succeeded in leading the country has been able to move on to actual administrative reform – although formally, they all supported it. The same is happening today, but every day lost means unnecessary expenses and lost European funds.

The opponents of this idea are mostly the mayors of villages, communes, towns, councilors, local politicians from all parties, administrative officials in general, who would lose their benefits.

Cristian Pîrvulescu proposes the Polish model, which could solve this problem. “We could take over the Polish model from 1998, when immediately after winning the elections those who won made the reform, without anyone having time to oppose“, he says.

However, there is also a serious impediment.

“Article 3 of the Constitution regarding administrative organization should be changed. But not in terms of abolishing communes, but only in terms of regionalization. The merger of communes can be done by law. They have no personal protection. Counties are provided for in the Constitution. The Constitution does not say that Romania is divided into 42 counties. It says that it is divided into counties. So in the end I can use the same unit, but four counties are entered in one county”, concludes Cristian Pîrvulescu.

The business environment demands reorganization

The Romanian business environment, through the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Romania, requested the administrative-territorial reorganization of Romania, so that Romania has 15 counties, a commune – over 5,000 inhabitants and a city – over 10,000 inhabitants.

The current system, an extremely fragmented one, dates back to 1968 and is considered by many economists and sociologists to be one of the causes of gaps and poor infrastructure. Their claims were supported by the political environment, but even if everyone talked about the need for a territorial reform, until this moment there is no concrete governmental or parliamentary initiative.