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European Regional Policy in Romania

0 Comments 🕔15.Jan 2015

This article is part of our EU Cohesion Policy 2014-2020 feature.

Tramway in Iaşi. Credit: Cezar Suceveanu

Tramway in Iaşi. Credit: Cezar Suceveanu

by Romana Salageanu


Romania was faced with being viewed as the misfit on the regional level before acceding to the European Union. Therefore, in a 1998 law, amended in 2004, Romania established eight NUTS II (Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics) development regions, with no legal personality and no administrative status, comprising four to six counties each. Each region has a regional development agency[1] that acts as an intermediary organism for the implementation of the Regional Operational Programme, and a regional development council with elected members from constituent counties and local councils.

To meet the concerns of the European Commission – that the competences and institutional frameworks of the regions were poor and unclear – the Romanian government attempted several regionalization reforms with marginal results. In 2012, the Romanian national authorities started to look into possible problems and lessons for the implementation of the cohesion policy for 2014–2020. The resulting strategic report identified problems, such as deficient institutional capacity in managing projects and funds, both from within the management authorities and from within the beneficiaries, mostly local public authorities.[2] After the election in 2012 and the formation of a new government coalition, the regionalization debate was revived in 2013.

The government program addressed the “regionalization-decentralization” reform, according to which the regions should pursue the economic development of the region, the limited regional management of European funds controlled by national management authorities, the modernization of infrastructure, and the promotion of regional interests. This reform required a constitutional amendment that would provide the regions with an administrative status. Furthermore, the regions would need a normative framework for their functioning and organization, and a framework for the decentralization of competences toward the regions.[3]

The Minister for European Funds (MEF) and the Minister for Regional Development and Public Administration (MRDPA) presented the government’s regionalization plans at the Regional Development Committee of the European Parliament (EP) and organized public debates in the development regions in 2013. They debated the results of the MRDPA’s consultative committee in charge of the regionalization project, which stated that the current development regions offer the most suitable functional solution. The project seemed to lack a clear strategy; it had no proposals for a new spatial configuration and institutional building, and no financial competences or autonomy for the regions. The constitutional amendment for the regionalization required a referendum, which was no longer organized in 2013 due to political unrest within the government coalition. The decentralization law enacted in 2013 transferred responsibilities only to the local level, due to the postponed referendum. Unfortunately, the law was eventually declared unconstitutional by the constitutional court. Therefore, the regionalization reform was postponed further and might only be addressed again after the 2014 presidential election.[4]

In 2007, all Romanian development regions were eligible for the “Convergence” objective.[5] The achievements of the funding period 2007–2013 included direct investments for more than 1,000 small and medium enterprises; the improvement of basic transport infrastructure; the upgrading of health, social, and education infrastructure and services; the provision of consultancy, training, and co-financing of major projects that connected parts of the population to basic water services; and projects for the improvement of waste management.[6] However, the projects did not contribute to an effective equalization of the regions, but rather increased inter- and intraregional differences. For example, the region around the capital city, Bucharest, was the only region that advanced from the convergence objective to the more developed regions category.[7]

According to the Common Strategic Framework, Romania had to prepare a Partnership Agreement (PA) for 2014–2020 ensuring effective coordination between European policies and instruments. As identified in the strategic report mentioned earlier, the lessons for 2014–2020 are the need for simplified procedures, externalized activities, and strategic technical assistance. Even though the government started to work on identifying weaknesses in June 2012, a lack of a clear development strategy and prioritization prevailed throughout the dialogue between the Commission and the Romanian authorities on the PA. After two revisions, the PA was adopted in August 2014. Three out of six Operational Programmes (OP) have been submitted for review to the Commission. The OPs set the priority axes, elaborated the strategic interventions required for identified needs, and set out necessary elements for the efficient use of European funds.

Table 1

Table 1. Operational Programmes for Romania 2007–2013 vs. 2014–2020 (author’s table)[8]


There are still projects in implementation due by the end of 2015. Of the 19.6 billion euros, the financial execution of the Commission corresponds to: 3.2 billion euros from ERDF, 1.5 billion euros from ESF, and 2.3 billion euros from CF. Of the committed amount, less than 50 percent has been paid by the Commission.[9]

The PA points out five main challenges that Romania needs to tackle through the use of European funds and for its sustainable development. These include:

1. People and society: This challenge should be tackled by targeting a 70 percent employment rate, a reduced number of people at risk of poverty, a target of ca. 11 percent of school leavers, and more than 25 percent participation in tertiary education.

2. Infrastructure: The improvement of accessibility of less developed regions, connectivity to the international market, reduced travel time on TEN-T (Trans-European Networks for Transport) networks, the improvement of traffic safety, and sustainable urban transport are all targets stated in the Transport master plan, the national strategic document providing the base for the transport infrastructure investment planning for the period 2014–2030, and upon which all European financial allocations for transport from the funds for 2014–2020 depend. This master plan should follow the European transport priorities according to the TEN-T routes and provide a strategy for all types of transport: roads, rail, naval, aviation, and multi-nodal, as agreed with the Commission.[10]

3. Economic competitiveness: This includes the need for a more compact and modern research and development environment, by taking into consideration business needs and promoting innovation within traditional sectors.

4. Resources: Romania needs to increase its environmental achievements.

5. Administration and government: The optimization of the institutional environment and the improvement of the quality of services in the administration and justice must be achieved.[11]

These challenges are accompanied by disturbing factors that the PA brings forward. According to the World Economic Forum, corruption, tax rates, government bureaucracy and inefficiency, lack of access to finance, tax regulations, inadequate infrastructure, inflation, and an inadequately educated workforce hinder good practices for the development of strategies and their implementation, especially in the field of business development.[12] The Romanian state needs to make substantial reforms to achieve its Europe 2020 strategy goals. Its public administration needs to be efficient, predictable, and coherent. The quality of decisions and development policies must be improved. Planning, monitoring, and implementation must be coherent and integrative. These goals can be achieved only if the following structural factors can be properly solved: the politicization of the public administration that affects the efficiency of governance, the misallocation of public funds and resources, the fragmented public administration and unclear delegation of responsibilities, the lack of trust among political and administrative layers, the lack of transparency, and de-professionalization.[13]

A proper regionalization should improve the professionalization of the regional administration and clarify competences and responsibilities at the regional level. The competitiveness among regions with the same competences should provide accountability for the development measures of regional authorities and increase public trust in the implementation authorities. The programming for the cohesion policy 2007–2013 lacked long-term perspective and used inadequate analysis and policy coordination capacity.[14] But the government is learning; e.g., for the new funding period there will be only three[15] management authorities (MA) instead of one MA for each OP. The application requirements will be reduced and financial support will be granted for the best project.

The Romanian authorities need to adopt the OP before the implementation of the current funding period can start. The use of European instruments for development should not be hindered by political campaigns. The lack of commitment from political actors to implement assumed reforms hinders the achievement of a consensus for a long-term national development strategy. Such a strategy should find acceptance within all political parties and needs to be accepted and implemented beyond the lifespan of a government.


Romana Salageanu is a PhD student at the Faculty for European Studies, Babes-Bolyai University Cluj-Napoca, Romania, and Otto-von-Guericke University, Magdeburg, Germany. This paper is a result of doctoral research made possible by the financial support of the Sectorial Operational Programme for Human Resources Development 2007–2013, co-financed by the European Social Fund, under the project POSDRU/159/1.5/S/132400 – “Young successful researchers – professional development in an international and interdisciplinary environment.”


This article is part of our EU Cohesion Policy 2014-2020 feature.

[1] Only these eight regional development agencies have legal personality.

[2] “National Strategic Report concerning the implementation of structural and cohesion funds,” Romanian Government 2012, Available at <> (accessed October 12, 2014).

[3] “Memorandum – The Adoption of necessary measures necessary for starting the regionalization-decentralization process in Romania,” Ministry for regional development and public administration, available at <> (accessed May 23, 2014.

[4] Information was acquired through the presence of the author at the regionalization presentation in Cluj-Napoca, in 2013.

[5] More on the convergence objective as an eligibility criteria for cohesion policy 2007–2013 is available at: <>.

[6] “Results of the negotiations of Cohesion Policy and programmes 2007–2013,” European Commission, available at <> (accessed September 12, 2014); “Cohesion Policy and Romania,” European Commission, available at <> (accessed September 12, 2014).

[7] See “Eurostat regional yearbook,” Eurostat, available at <> (accessed October 22, 2014).

[8] Sources: “Results of the negotiations of Cohesion Policy and programmes 2007–2013,” European Commission, available at <> (accessed September 12, 2014); “Cohesion Policy and Romania,” European Commission, available at <> (accessed September 12, 2014).

[9] “EU Payments to Member States with a breakdown by programming periods, Member States, Funds and years,” European Commission, DG Regio, available at <> (accessed October 10, 2014).

[10] “Presentation of the Master-Plan for Transport,” Management authority for the sectorial OP Transport (2007–2013), available at <> (accessed October 20, 2014). This strategy has been a highly debated project. The Ministry for Transport has had several transport ministers during the preparations of this particular strategy.

[11] “Cohesion Policy and Romania,” European Commission, accessed October 10, 2014, available at <> (accessed October 10, 2014).

[12] “Partnership Agreement,” p. 19, Romanian Ministry for European Funds, p. 19, available at <> (accessed September 17, 2014).

[13] “Partnership Agreement,” Romanian Ministry for European Funds, available at <> (accessed September 17, 2014).

[14] Dragos Pislaru, “Fondurile europene si dezvoltarea economica a Romaniei-Invataminte pentru articularea politicii de coeziune 2014–2020,” in Sapte Teme Fundamentale pentru Romania 2014, ed. Dan Dungaciu, Vasile Iuga and Marius Stoian (Bucuresti: RAO, 2014), 70.

[15] Two MA for the structural and cohesion funds and one for the agriculture funds.


“Cohesion Policy and Romania.” European Commission. <>. Accessed September 12, 2014.

“Eurostat regional yearbook.” Eurostat. <>. Accessed October 22, 2014.

“Memorandum – The Adoption of necessary measures necessary for starting the regionalization-decentralization process in Romania.” Ministry for regional development and public administration. <>. Accessed May 23, 2014.

“National Strategic Report concerning the implementation of structural and cohesion funds.” Romanian Government 2012. <>. Accessed October 12, 2014.

“Partnership Agreement.” Romanian Ministry for European Funds. <>. Accessed September 17, 2014.

Pislaru, Dragos. 2014. “Fondurile europene si dezvoltarea economica a Romaniei-Invataminte pentru articularea politicii de coeziune 2014–2020.” In Sapte Teme Fundamentale pentru Romania 2014, ed. Dan Dungaciu, Vasile Iuga, and Marius Stoian. Bucuresti: RAO.

“Presentation of the Master-Plan for Transport,” Management authority for the sectorial OP Transport (2007–2013). <>. Accessed September 17, 2014.

“Results of the negotiations of Cohesion Policy and programmes 2007–2013.” European Commission.<>. Accessed September 12, 2014.

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