Romania’s fight against high- and medium-level corruption, a model in Southeastern Europe over the past decade, suffered significant setbacks between 2017 and late 2019 due to a concerted campaign under the previous government to weaken anti-corruption efforts, the criminal and judicial legislative framework, and judicial independence. Judicial institutions, NGOs, the EU, and NATO allied governments raised concerns about legislative initiatives that furthered this trend during that time period. In Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index, Romania remained 44 out of 100. This is among the lowest ranking of EU member states, tying with Hungary and Bulgaria. The current government began rolling back the negative actions of the prior government, but this effort will take some time to have full effect.
Domestic and international rule-of-law observers and law enforcement criticized the wide range of amendments that the former government introduced to the criminal code and criminal procedure codes as weakening the investigative toolkits, including in fighting corruption between 2017 and 2019. In July 2019, the Constitutional Court found these changes unconstitutional, and the current government plans to revise these codes.
The European Commission under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM), and the Council of Europe’s (COE) Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO) prepared 2019 reports prior to the National Liberal Party (PNL) government taking power in November 2019. The October 2019 report, which covered actions taken through June 2019, confirmed the backtracking from the progress made in previous years and set out in the November 2018 report. The report also emphasized that key institutions needed to collectively demonstrate a strong commitment to judicial independence and the fight against corruption as indispensable cornerstones, and to ensure the capacity of national safeguards and checks and balances to act.
GRECO’s July 2019 Interim Compliance Report warned that statutes enacted through emergency ordinances, or with insufficient transparency and public consultation, weaken judicial independence. A June 2019 Venice Commission report was also highly critical of the use of Emergency Ordinances. A May 2019 non-binding referendum banned the use of Emergency Ordinances for issues related to the justice sector. The chapter on Romania in the EC’s 2020 report on the rule of law situation in the EU noted that in 2020 the government continued to affirm its commitment to restore the path of judicial reform after the reversals between 2017 and 2019.
After a political and media campaign against the National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA) resulted in the dismissal of the Chief Prosecutor of the DNA in 2018, the position remained vacant until a new government filled the position in March 2020. The DNA’s 2020 performance report showed that the failure to correct the legislative framework to incorporate the Constitutional Court decisions have negatively impacted the agency’s efficiency. The special prosecutor’s office set up by the previous government to investigate and prosecute judges and prosecutors, which appeared to only be undertaking politically motivated cases, continues to operate.
The current government has resumed efforts to have the special prosecutor’s office disbanded. Successful court challenges of the High Court of Cassation and Justice’s procedures triggered the review of numerous high-level corruption cases. Both the national Cabinet and Parliament adopted codes of conduct, yet their overly general provisions have so far rendered them inconsequential. Conflicts of interest, respect for standards of ethical conduct, and integrity in public office in general remained a concern for all three branches of government. Individual executive agencies enforced sanctions slowly, and agencies’ own inspection bodies were generally inactive.
In June 2019, the previous government adopted a sizable Administrative Code by emergency ordinance. The Code weakened the authority of the National Civil Service Agency to oversee civil service by merit-based selection, lowered the voting requirements for transferring management of properties by local councils, and limited local elected officials’ legal liability for official acts by shifting it to civil servants. Implementation of the 2016-2020 national anticorruption strategy, which the previous government adopted in 2016, has been slow, especially on prevention efforts. The government plans to draft the strategy for the 2021-2024 period based on a review of the previous one, which focused on strengthening administrative review and transparency within public agencies, prevention of corruption, increased and improved financial disclosure, conflict of interest oversight, more aggressive investigation of money laundering, and passage of legislation to allow for more effective asset recovery. The current government made more aggressive asset recovery a priority and has worked on a strategy for strengthening the National Agency for Managing Seized Assets (ANABI).
Romania implemented the revised EU Public Procurement Directives with the passage in 2016 of new laws to improve and make public procurement more transparent. The National Agency for Public Procurement has general oversight over procurements and can draft legislation, but procurement decisions remain with the procuring entities. State entities, as well as public and private beneficiaries of EU funds, are required by law to follow public procurement legislation and use the e-procurement system. Sectoral procurements, including private companies in energy and transportation, must follow the public procurement laws and tender via the e-procurement website. The February 2020 EU Country Report for Romania points out that public procurement remains inefficient.
In October 2016, the “Prevent” IT system, an initiative sponsored by the National Integrity Agency for ex-ante check of conflicts of interests in public procurement, was signed into law. The mechanism aims to avoid conflicts of interest by automatically detecting conflict of interests in public procurement before the selection and contract award procedure.
Laws prohibit bribery, both domestically and for Romanian companies doing business abroad. The judiciary remains paper-based and inefficient, and Romania loses several cases each year in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) due to excessive trial length. Asset forfeiture laws exist, but a functioning regime remains under development. Fully 80 percent of cases in the court system are property related.
While private joint stock companies use internal controls, ethics, and compliance programs to detect and prevent bribery, since 2017 the government has rolled back corporate governance rules for state-owned enterprises and has repeatedly resorted to profit and reserves distribution in dividends to bolster the budget. U.S. investors have complained of both government and business corruption in Romania, with the customs service, municipal officials, and local financial authorities most frequently named. According to the EC’s 2020 European Semester Country Report for Romania, the share of companies that perceive corruption as a problem increased in Romania in contrast with the EU average, which continued to decrease (now at 37 percent). Overall, 97 percent of businesses think that corruption is widespread in Romania, and 87 percent say it is widespread in public procurement managed by national authorities. On a more positive note, 50 percent of respondents think that those engaged in corruption would be caught by police, and 43 percent think that those caught for bribing a senior official receive appropriate sanctions. These results are both higher than the EU average.
Romania is a member of the Southeast European Law Enforcement Center (SELEC). NGOs enjoy the same legal protections as any other organization, but NGOs involved in investigating corruption receive no additional protections.
UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery
Romania is member of the UN Anticorruption Convention and the Council of Europe’s Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO). Romania is not a member of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention.
Romania expressed interest to join the new anti-corruption working group of the Open Government Partnership initiative.
Resources to Report Corruption
Contact at government agency responsible for combating corruption:
National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA)
Str. Stirbei Voda nr. 79-81, Bucuresti
+40 21 312 73 99
Contact at “watchdog” organizations:
Strada Semilunei, apt 1, Sector 2, Bucuresti
+40 21 211 7400
Freedom House Romania
Bd. Ferdinand 125, Bucuresti +40 21 253 2838
+40 723 627 448