6. Citizen and stakeholder participation in Romania

The OECD Recommendation of the Council on Open Government, to which Romania adhered in 2020, encourages governments to “grant all stakeholders equal and fair opportunities to be informed and consulted and actively engage them in all phases of the policy cycle and service design and delivery” (OECD, 2017[1]). The recommendation also notes the importance of governments making concentrated efforts to reach out to the most vulnerable, marginalised or underrepresented groups in society (OECD, 2017[1]) and defines different forms of involvement in the policy cycle and in service design and delivery, namely information,1 consultation2 and engagement.3 Furthermore, governments are encouraged to explore and promote innovative ways – including using new digital and technological tools – to involve citizens of all demographics in public decision making (OECD, 2017[1]).

In addition, the Open Government Declaration, which Romania adopted as a member of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) from 2011, emphasises states’ commitment to supporting citizen participation of all people, equally and without discrimination, in decision making and policy formation (OGP, 2011[2]). The declaration explicitly states the benefits of involving individuals, recognising that people’s knowledge, ideas and ability to provide oversight help ensure the effectiveness of governments. OGP members commit to “making policy formulation and decision-making more transparent, creating and using channels to solicit public feedback, and deepening public participation in developing, monitoring and evaluating government activities”, as well as to “protecting the ability of not-for-profit and civil society organisations to operate in ways consistent with [their] commitment to freedom of expression, association and opinion”. The declaration likewise contains a commitment to “creating mechanisms to enable greater collaboration between governments and civil society organisations and businesses” (OGP, 2011[2]).

The participation of both individuals and groups such as civil society organisations (CSOs) in public decision-making processes lies at the very heart of open government, while their ability to do so is at the core of a healthy and vibrant civic space. By considering and using citizens’ experience and knowledge, citizen participation helps public institutions tackle complex policy problems and leads to better policy results (OECD, 2022[3]). In the long term, effective participation can make government more effective, yield more people-centred policies, laws and programmes that focus on real needs, and ultimately help to increase trust in government (OECD, 2022[3]). As stakeholder participation is one of the core principles of open government, the contents of this chapter of the Civic Space Review of Romania are fully in line with the findings in the OECD’s forthcoming Open Government Review of Romania (forthcoming[4]).

The Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) Civil Society Participation Index, which measures the extent to which CSOs are routinely consulted by policy makers and includes other indicators, such as how widely citizens are involved in CSOs, shows that over the last decade Romania has had slightly lower scores than OECD Members and European Union (EU) member states on average. Despite a drop in 2016-20, Romania’s score stood at 0.76 in 2021, compared to the average scores of EU member states and OECD Members, both at 0.85 (Figure ‎6.1).

Generally, legislation in Romania covers many different forms of citizen and stakeholder participation, ranging from voting in elections and referenda to taking part in citizen petitions and consulting citizens and CSOs in public decision-making processes. Numerous related policies, mechanisms and bodies are in place (see section on the key legal and policy frameworks and institutions governing participation). In addition, there have been some examples of successful involvement of citizens at the local level, notably via specialised online participation platforms (see section on strengthening participation at the sub-national level, below). Moreover, certain non-governmental initiatives have galvanised support for policy issues, such as the online petitions and campaigns platform Declic4 (https://www.declic.ro/), which was established and is managed by citizens. The platform has had a positive effect on encouraging recent legal reforms, for example, with respect to changing citizens’ voting age, making amendments to the Criminal Code to ensure accountability for crimes and introducing revisions to legislation on the judiciary.

In a technical sense, relevant laws and mechanisms for citizen and stakeholder participation are largely adhered to in Romania; however, there is room for improvement. Efforts tend to focus on organised stakeholders, such as CSOs, trade unions and other formalised actors, rather than ordinary citizens. In general, involving citizens in policy- and law-making processes is not a prevalent practice and is not part of Romania’s administrative culture.5 While the law does provide for citizen and stakeholder participation in public meetings, this does not happen very frequently in practice (for more information, see the section on participation in public meetings). Furthermore, interviews with both government and civil society representatives indicated that, in practice, consultations among CSOs on laws and policies are often insufficient.6 In addition, the main law on consultations, Law 52/2003 (Government of Romania, 2003[6]), focuses mostly on consultations on draft legislation, not on citizen and stakeholder participation in the early stages of the policy- and decision-making process. Overall, participation processes are perceived as formalistic, with little focus on exploring additional, more innovative methods, uneven feedback mechanisms and limited understanding among public officials of the benefits.7

There is thus significant potential for Romania to seize opportunities identified in this Civic Space Review, the OECD Open Government Review of Romania (forthcoming[4]) and, crucially, the development of a national Open Government Strategy to take a more citizen-centred and innovative approach to citizen and stakeholder participation with benefits for the whole of society. Cross-learning across government will be key to the process to further recognise, exploit and communicate the benefits of collaboration in the public sector.

In practice, public bodies in Romania use a range of mechanisms to engage with citizens and stakeholders during public decision-making processes. Figure ‎6.2 illustrates that in-person meetings and roundtable discussions, online communication via social media and permanent, institutionalised bodies (e.g. social dialogue commissions and councils) are the most popular.

Figure ‎6.3 indicates that public bodies and ministries believe the extent to which they engage citizens and stakeholders is sufficient: 73% of respondents to the 2022 Survey on Open Government for Romanian Public Institutions said that they interact with citizens and stakeholders “enough” while only 9% said that interactions are “not enough” (OECD, forthcoming[4]). During the OECD fact-finding mission, it was noted, however, that many government interviewees appeared to see consultations and citizen participation as more of a burden or a legal duty than a useful tool for policy and law making or a way to enhance citizen-centred policy making and democratic governance more broadly.8 In fact, the current approach has occasionally led to the adoption of draft laws or policies while public consultations were still ongoing (see section on improving participatory processes for greater impact), as reported by civil society.9 A lack of understanding of the benefits of participatory processes and the potential advantages of improving them has in some cases led to a general lack of CSO interest in engaging with public officials. Overall, public officials and CSO representatives expressed feelings of mutual distrust during the fact-finding mission, and both groups lamented the absence of a clear path towards improved relations.10 These attitudes have consequences for the effective implementation of legislation on citizen and stakeholder participation, most notably Law 52/2003.The short- and medium-term effects are that although the law is followed de facto, the actual benefits of citizen and stakeholder participation are neither seen nor gained, as stated by the General Secretariat in its 2021 analysis (General Secretariat of the Government, 2021[6]). It cited the lack of a comprehensive approach to consultations in public institutions, bottlenecks and dysfunctions during consultations, and the failure to take up civil society suggestions, as reasons for this. Opportunities to introduce perspectives which are different from those of the government or parliament – by involving individuals who will be affected by new laws or policies and engaging with stakeholders who have in-depth, grassroots-level knowledge in key areas – therefore remain limited. The long-term effects of this approach, whereby the letter of the law is followed without achieving its actual purpose, are a lack of engagement and ownership of policies and services by citizens and civil society and low trust in public bodies. Ensuring better collaboration and fostering partnership in law and policy making, with civil society in particular, will require a change in the mindset of public authorities and necessitate a firm belief in the added value of citizen and stakeholder participation (for more on these matters, see the section on addressing obstacles to making participation more effective and inclusive, as well as Chapter 1).

Nevertheless, CSOs report improvements in both the quality and quantity of citizen and stakeholder participation over the past 3 years, with 38% of respondents to the Survey on Open Government for Romanian Public Institutions noting a slight improvement in the quantity and 43% observing a slight improvement in the quality of participation (Figure ‎6.4) (OECD, forthcoming[4]). There is therefore potential to build on perceived successes to further enhance CSOs’ willingness to participate in these processes. That said, it is not an entirely positive picture, as almost a quarter (24%) of surveyed CSOs underlined a slight decline in quantity and 29% a slight decline in quality, suggesting that their experiences likely depend on their areas of work, as well as on the public bodies with which they interact. It could be beneficial for the government to conduct research focusing on the needs of different parts of civil society to better understand their experiences, in addition to championing public institutions which are performing well.

Romanian law covers numerous different forms of citizen and stakeholder participation and, in some cases, goes even further than other states by regulating matters such as public consultations and meetings. Democratic participation in public life is encouraged at the highest level in Romania, with the constitution guaranteeing: citizens’ right to petition (Article 51); citizens’ right of legislative initiative (Article 74); obligatory co-operation between the government and “social bodies” (Article 102, para. 2); and the existence of the Economic and Social Council, which Article 141 describes as an advisory body of parliament and government (Ministry of Justice, 1991[9]). Law 3/2000, on the other hand, details the procedure for initiating and organising a referendum, which may be held based on a proposal to revise the constitution, on removing the president from office and on matters of national or local interest (Library of Congress, 2021[10]).11

The constitutional right to petition under Article 51 allows citizens and legally established organisations to address petitions to public authorities, with procedural details reflected in Government Ordinance 27/2002 on the Regulation of the Activity of Solving Petitions (Ministry of Justice, 2002[11]). At the same time, the right of legislative initiative under Article 74 of the constitution provides citizens with a more direct means of engaging in public affairs by allowing 100 000 citizens to submit draft laws to parliament, provided these citizens are entitled to vote, that they come from at least one-quarter of the country’s counties (plus Bucharest) and that in each of these at least 5 000 signatures are registered in support of the initiative. Citizens’ initiatives may not, however, touch on matters concerning taxation, international affairs, amnesty or pardon. Law 189/1999 on citizen legislative initiatives (Ministry of Justice, 1999[12]) details the procedure and conditions for initiating and submitting a draft bill by citizens (Library of Congress, 2021[10]).

Law 52/2003 on Decisional Transparency in Public Administration and Law 367/2022 on Social Dialogue are among the central acts concerning stakeholder and citizen participation in policy- and law-making processes, which is the main focus of this chapter (Government of Romania, 2003[6]; Ministry of Justice, 2022[13]). Romania is one of few countries to have as anything like Law 52/2003 dedicated specifically to citizen and stakeholder participation in the policy-making process (OECD, forthcoming[4]). Based on Article 2 of the law, authorities have a duty to inform the public and hold public consultations on all draft laws and regulations (Library of Congress, 2021[10]) (see sections on public consultations on draft acts and participation in public meetings below).

The general obligation to engage stakeholders and the wider public and to ensure their participation in public administration decisions, more specifically the drafting of legislation, is reflected in the basic “principle of transparency” set out in Article 8 of the Administrative Code of Romania, adopted through Emergency Ordinance 57/2019 (Ministry of Justice, 2019[14]). Under Government Decision 137/2020, the General Secretariat of the Government (hereafter “General Secretariat”) is responsible for elaborating and implementing policies relating to open government, transparency and access to information of public interest, in addition to public consultations and increasing the operational capacities of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) (Ministry of Justice, 2020[15]).

Law 367/2022 on Social Dialogue (Ministry of Justice, 2022[13]) was adopted and entered into force at the end of 2022. Replacing and updating the previous Law 62/2011 of the same name, it regulates communication and the conclusion of agreements with so-called “social partners” (meaning trade unions or trade union organisations, employers or employers’ organisations, as well as representatives of public administration authorities) on matters of common interest. Ministries and other public institutions involve these partners in decision-making processes on a regular basis via social dialogue bodies and commissions, thereby creating more permanent channels of participation which go beyond discussions on individual draft policies and laws.

Law 248/2013 on the Organisation and Functioning of the Autonomous Economic and Social Council outlines the independent nature of this body, providing impartial and neutral oversight of draft normative acts prior to their finalisation and adoption, and conducting research and monitoring tasks described in the law. The law likewise outlines the tasks and functioning of the council. Laws 350/2006 and 272/2004 respectively address the participation of young people and children in decision-making processes (see Table ‎6.1).

Law 52/2003 outlines different forms and processes for citizen and stakeholder participation, notably public consultations on draft acts and participation in public meetings (Government of Romania, 2003[6]). This law does not apply in cases where the drafting of acts and meetings involves classified information,12 information that needs to remain confidential in the interests of fair competition13 or information on personal data (Article 6). According to Article 2, involvement in decision making and drafting of acts must follow certain rules. Namely, related sessions and debates organised by public authorities and institutions should be public and these debates and minutes of such events recorded, published and, in the case of minutes, archived. Where a public administration authority drafts a law or other regulation, Article 7 of the law stipulates key obligations for the relevant authority, which include:

  • Publishing an announcement regarding the drafting of the act on its website (at least 30 working days prior to its endorsement by the competent public authorities).

  • Displaying the announcement at its premises in a space accessible to the public.

  • Forwarding the announcement to central or local media.

  • Transmitting the act to all persons who have submitted an application to receive related information.

Article 7 states that the announcement should include the full text of the act itself, as well as supporting documentation, notably a “statement of reasons” (such as the reasons behind the draft act), an impact and/or feasibility study, and the time (at least ten calendar days) and manner in which interested persons may submit recommendations. In practice, draft acts are published online, on the websites of different ministries and municipalities (for further information, see Table ‎6.3), and most comments are likewise received online. The process is open, with no restrictions on who may provide input; the only limitation is that recommendations must be provided in writing. While the law foresees citizen participation, there are few cases of direct involvement of citizens in decision-making processes, at least at the central level (for examples of sub-national citizen platforms, see Box ‎6.1). A review of key ministry websites demonstrated that, in practice, regardless of the topic or complexity of a draft act, citizens and stakeholders are usually asked to submit their input within the minimum period of ten calendar days provided by law,14 which can be a restrictive deadline.

Similarly, a 2021 analysis from the General Secretariat evaluating central and local administration practices in decision-making processes confirmed that, among public authorities surveyed, only 24% frequently organised public consultations beyond the 10-day term established by law (General Secretariat of the Government, 2021[16]). At the same time, this analysis identified a trend whereby in the 3 preceding years, only approximately 50% of the acts adopted had undergone public consultations; of the other acts adopted, fewer than 10% had been passed via emergency procedures, indicating that the application of such procedures was not the reason for the low number of public consultations undertaken prior to legislation being passed.

Where public consultations do take place, legally established associations or other public authorities may request in writing that a public debate be held on a draft act (Article 7); in such cases, the competent public authority is obliged to organise such a debate within ten days of its being announced. Public debates follow special rules set out in Article 7, para. 10 of the law, based on which the initiating authority needs to publish information on the procedure of the debate and ensure all participants have had the opportunity to express their recommendations on the act in question. Debate minutes, as well as collected written recommendations, different draft acts, endorsement reports and the act’s final version should be made publicly available on the website of the public authority within ten calendar days.

Law 52/2003 also applies to stakeholder participation at the local level, for county councils, local councils, mayors, institutions and public services of local or county interest (Article 4). Likewise, local administrations are stakeholders with respect to acts drafted at the central level and must be consulted, as set out in Article 86 of the Administrative Code. Based on this provision, central public administration authorities engaged in legal drafting are required to consult associative structures of local public administration authorities, including associations of Romanian communities, cities, municipalities and a union of county councils.

In the abovementioned 2021 analysis, the General Secretariat noted that while the current normative framework establishes legal mechanisms capable of stimulating participation and establishing a solid collaborative relationship with civil society, the use of such mechanisms fails to make a real contribution to improving the quality of public decision making (General Secretariat of the Government, 2021[16]). In this regard, it has identified as key challenges the need to improve the overall legal and procedural framework regarding the organisation of consultation processes and its lack of uniform application, noting discrepancies in how different public authorities interpret the law (General Secretariat of the Government, 2021[17]). To remedy this, and as required by Emergency Ordinance 16/2022, the General Secretariat released Methodological Norms on the Application of Law 52/2003 (Ministry of Justice, 2022[18]), which were adopted by the government at the end of June 2022 via Government Decision 831/2022 (Ministry of Justice, 2022[19]). This methodology aims to standardise the processes set out in law, while ensuring that not they do limit public entities’ capacity “to establish additional activities to facilitate citizens’ access to the processes of drafting normative acts and administrative decision-making” (Article 1, par 2). In addition to clarifying the responsibilities of key state actors, the methodology provides detail on the different steps and communication with respect to consultation proceedings, as well as organising, conducting and recording consultation events. Significantly, it states that all public institutions must provide feedback to participants and communicate the results of each participatory process. This exhaustive document includes seven annexes with templates for public consultation, meeting and debate announcements, for collecting, analysing and providing feedback to input received during such events and for the contents of annual reports.

Law 52/2003 thus provides a solid grounding for conducting public consultations on draft laws, with guidance explicitly allowing for more innovative and proactive approaches by public authorities, e.g. engaging in participatory processes that go beyond consultations, involving citizens as well as stakeholders, engaging them earlier in the drafting process and providing more time to give feedback beyond the minimum consultation periods set out by law. At the same time, elements of the law may hinder its effectiveness in practice and could be reviewed and amended. Thus, when a public consultation announcement is made, under Article 7, authorities are obliged to submit it to all persons having made a prior application to this effect, but not to others who might be affected or potentially interested.15 This leads to limited public communication on new draft laws. Additionally, the law only requires public debates to be held if requested by a legally constituted association (which leaves open the question of whether informal associations may also make this request) or by another public authority and does not explicitly mention whether public authorities may do so of their own accord.16

The General Secretariat’s 2021 analysis indicates that more than 50% of debates organised in the 3 preceding years were initiated by public authorities, while less than 10% were organised based on requests from citizens (General Secretariat of the Government, 2021[16]). Only 23% of CSOs surveyed for the analysis stated that they had requested a public debate in the 3 preceding years, with mixed results. The percentage of cases where such debates were always held, or where they were held most of the time, or rarely, or never, were roughly equal respectively (between 22% and 27% of the time for all categories).

Evidence suggests that, in practice, public debates on draft laws or other regulations are few and far between. Reports from public authorities on the implementation of Law 52/2003 indicate that the average annual number of such events is below 10 for most ministries and other government agencies; the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (81 debates in 2021) and the Ministry of the Environment, Water and Forests (15 debates in 2021) alone reported a larger number.17 In terms of participation in such debates, the 2021 government analysis notes that 53.3% of consulted public authorities responded that, on average, such debates were attended by fewer than 10 persons per consultation, due to short deadlines for consultation, which discouraged involvement by larger groups.

In theory, public meetings can create spaces for general policy discussions (as opposed to public debates related to specific draft laws and similar acts) among public authorities, citizens and stakeholders (OECD, 2022[3]). As outlined in the OECD Guidelines for Citizen Participation Processes, public meetings often involve “gathering the public in face-to-face meetings with public authorities, in order to provide information and openly discuss topics of interest” (OECD, 2022[3]). These meetings allow public bodies to inform citizens and stakeholders about proposals and create a space “to have a loosely structured exchange and receive broad initial feedback” (OECD, 2022[3]).

In Romania, principles guiding participation of any interested person in public decision-making processes, notably in public meetings, are also set out in Law 52/2003 (Article 8) (Government of Romania, 2003[6]). This provision specifies that public institutions should post information on public meetings (including information on the time, date, venue and agenda) at the headquarters of the respective public authority and on its website, forwarding such communications to the media at least three days beforehand. In addition, the notice must be brought to the attention of persons and CSOs who have submitted written recommendations relating to the meeting’s subject. The methodological norms (Ministry of Justice, 2022[18]) provide further details on announcing, organising and conducting such meetings, as well as reporting modalities. These public meetings are the mechanism whereby the authorities, mainly local authorities, conduct their decision-making processes, with decisions themselves being taken in meetings which are open to the public. When decisions are taken at the central level, notably by ministries or other central agencies, decisions are taken by adopting draft normative acts, which are then later adopted by the government. At the local level, based on Article 133, para. 1 of the Administrative Code, local councils hold ordinary meetings at least once a month, when convened by the mayor, but may also have extraordinary meetings (Article 133, para. 2); the same mechanism applies to county councils. For further details, see the section on strengthening participation at the sub-national level.

During relevant meetings, the official who chairs the event is required to give persons and CSOs attending on their own initiative an opportunity to express their views (Article 9). Meeting minutes are published on the website of the organising authority and displayed on its premises, along with information on any votes by participants during the meeting (excluding secret ballots) (Article 11). Recordings may be made public on request, in line with relevant access to information legislation. Where citizens’ or organisations’ written recommendations are not taken into consideration, competent public authorities are obliged to justify their decision in writing. Administrative complaints may be filed in the event of any breach of rights (e.g. individuals not being allowed to attend public meetings or participate in law-making processes).18

Priority access to such meetings is granted based on “the interest of legally constituted associations in relation to the subject of the public hearing”, as established by the meeting’s chair (without limiting access to media representatives) (Article 8, paras. 3 and 4). While it is understandable that space may at times be limited, this could effectively exclude members of the public, informal groups or CSOs. It may be worthwhile considering other less subjective access regulations; in any event, the size of a meeting room is best suited to the estimated audience size, in other words to the public interest that a certain topic may generate.

At the same time and despite the legal framework in this area, annual reports from public authorities on the implementation of Law 52/2003 indicate that, at the central ministerial level (as opposed to the local level), such public meetings do not occur very frequently and in some cases not at all. Romania could rethink the existing format, to explore ways of making relevant processes more open, less structured and more adapted to seeking input from a wide array of citizens and stakeholders, in line with guidance in the OECD Guidelines for Citizen Participation Processes (2022[3]). Notably, such meetings could take the form of open meetings or town hall meetings (which could be streamed online) which do not seek to gather input on a particular issue but rather constitute a means for public authorities to engage with the public directly, understand the needs of citizens and inform them of actions taken as well as upcoming decisions.

Law 367/2022 on Social Dialogue establishes the general framework for informing and consulting social partners on matters of common interest (Ministry of Justice, 2022[13]). The law mentions different social dialogue bodies, namely the National Tripartite Council for Social Dialogue19 (Title IV) and social dialogue commissions at the central and local (county and municipality) levels (Title V). These commissions function within ministries and other public institutions, but also at the local county level. The commissions are of an advisory nature and must be consulted on any legislative or other initiatives in the economic or social sphere. Their work aims to ensure permanent and regular exchange of information between different stakeholders on matters in the field of interest of the administration or social partners (Article 90). The new Law 367/2022 retains the main titles of the previous Law 62/2011, although the numbering has been updated after some titles were repealed. For example, under Title V on social dialogue commissions at the central and local levels, changes have been made which seek to ensure more frequent meetings.

While this form of consultation allows for close co-operation with public officials, it may, however, limit collaboration with formalised groups, such as trade unions, employer associations and particularly CSOs. During the OECD’s public consultation for this report (see the section on methodology underpinning the Civic Space Review of Romania in Chapter 2), CSOs indicated that the practice of selecting civil society members for such bodies was not sufficiently transparent.20 It is therefore important that, where they exist, such structures are open about their selection processes and criteria, and do not remain the only or main avenues for collaboration with civil society. In this regard, Romania could take inspiration from the Public Policy and Civil Society Councils in Brazil and Chile, which allow for multi-level participation at national and sub-national levels (Box ‎6.1).

The Economic and Social Council, composed of representatives from employer organisations, trade unions, and non-governmental associations and foundations, is an advisory body to the parliament and government but has a somewhat different focus to the bodies described above. Established under Law 248/2013 on the Organisation and Functioning of the Economic and Social Council (Ministry of Justice, 2013[27]), the council does not advise government or parliament in matters pertaining to their daily work but is rather an autonomous body which provides opinions on draft acts prior to their adoption, in addition to other research and monitoring tasks described in the law. The government, parliamentary deputies and senators are obliged to consult this body on draft acts which regulate matters falling into certain categories set out by law. The council has up to ten working days to provide its input; beyond this time frame, the initiator of a draft act may proceed with its adoption. It is noticeable in this context that, while legislation such as Law 52/2003 provides stakeholders and citizens with a minimum of ten days to submit input, Law 248/2013 includes an upper limit of ten days for providing input, which would seem to place it at a disadvantage.

There are many other examples of consultative bodies. For example, Law 202/2002 on Gender Equality provides for central and local commissions on equal opportunities for women and men that are responsible for gender mainstreaming in national policies and include public officials alongside representatives from trade unions, employer organisations and CSOs (Ministry of Justice, 2002[28]). Additionally, many public institutions have specialised advisory councils to deal with specific themes or topics, such as sustainable development, fiscal administration, Roma community issues, persons with disabilities and digital transformation. In practice, Romania thus has numerous consultative bodies in ministries and local administrations. Some of these bodies are chaired by ministers or other heads of authorities; the setup, composition and procedure differ depending on the needs of the individual public authority (see Table ‎6.2). At times, these bodies create working groups to address specific issues.

Based on feedback received from government representatives, most ministries and local authorities co-operate well with their respective social dialogue commissions when preparing draft laws or policies. These commissions have existed for more than ten years and co-operation between authorities and the bodies represented in the commissions is generally smooth and marked by mutual trust. At the same time, some interlocutors said the respective commissions advising their ministries were not very active and rarely opposed or criticised draft laws or policies.21

Regarding the Economic and Social Council, government and civil society representatives alike agreed that this form of civil society involvement and oversight generally works well.22 However, some CSOs reported obstacles to the effective functioning of the council, notably lack of time given for review, regardless of the length or complexity of a draft act. In situations where numerous draft acts are pending before the council, responding may become a challenge, especially as the council has no full-time employees and works mostly with scanned documents, which cannot be searched or edited.23 The ten-day review period set out in law is considered too short, especially if more than one act is under review at the same time, and opinions of the council are not always taken into account prior to sending a draft act to parliament, sometimes without providing reasons.24 Moreover, Law 248/2013 is considered unclear with respect to the question of how civil society members of the council are appointed and dismissed. For example, 13 of the 15 members were replaced in 2018 in what some observers felt was an opaque process (Romania Insider, 2018[29]).

Similar consultative bodies exist in other OECD and non-OECD Members, such as France25 and Morocco.26 Notably, the French Economic, Social and Environmental Council (CESE) may, following reforms in 2021, receive petitions and organise public consultations with citizens selected by lot,27 either on its own initiative or on the initiative of the government or either chamber of parliament. The CESE may involve citizens in its committees; hybrid working groups can be formed from time to time, comprising both members of organised civil society and citizens selected by lot.

The following provides an overview of four key areas where there is potential to strengthen current citizen and stakeholder participation practices: by improving participatory processes for greater impact; strengthening participation at the sub-national level; creating opportunities for more inclusive dialogue involving underrepresented and marginalised groups; and reducing the use of emergency measures in law making.

Participatory processes that involve both citizens and stakeholders in public policy and law making are useful tools to strengthen the quality of laws and policies. When undertaken in a meaningful way, participation helps to make decision-making processes more transparent, thereby increasing trust in public institutions. In order to implement Romania’s commitments to open government and ensure greater involvement of citizens and stakeholders, it is important for state actors to actively seek to make existing practices more effective. In general, the overall approach needs to be re-evaluated, based on a broader understanding of the nature and benefits of stakeholder participation, to embrace a more collaborative, democratic culture of public governance, complete with a clear government-wide vision as to why greater involvement of citizens and stakeholders in public decision making is needed. This will necessitate a significant shift across the public sector and more outreach to citizens and civil society, coupled with a more open, less legalistic approach, under the umbrella of a coherent and forward-looking government policy agenda.

With respect to regular consultation processes, government and civil society counterparts noted the following as the main obstacles to more effective and impactful participation: 28

  • A lack of capacity in certain parts of the public administration fuelled by frequent rotation of staff. This has reduced the ability of ministries and public bodies to develop and implement a long-term vision regarding participation.

  • A lack of awareness among, and little training for, public officials on how to conduct effective public consultations and effectively involve citizens and CSOs in decision making.

  • A lack of capacity within civil society, with few training and other support options offered.

  • Short consultation deadlines, meaning that if citizens/CSOs do not check relevant websites regularly, participation opportunities may easily be missed; additionally, these deadlines are rarely extended in consultations concerning potentially complex or lengthy draft legislation.

  • A limited pool of involved stakeholders; typically, the same organisations are consulted for many years, with other affected or interested stakeholders welcome but not actively sought.

That said, the Romanian government has initiated programmes and training opportunities, and drafted methodologies and guidance documents, to address some of the above concerns. These include the recently adopted Methodological Norms on the Application of Law 52/2003 (Ministry of Justice, 2022[18]) and A Guide to Innovative Approaches to Citizen Engagement in the Decision-making Process, prepared based on collaboration with the OECD Observatory of Public Sector Innovation (OPSI) (General Secretariat of the Government, 2021[30]).29

However, the resources of the General Secretariat are limited and are hampered by frequent staff turnover within government structures and restructuring of ministries and other public institutions after changes in government. As a result, there is often a loss of institutional memory on progress and learning. In this context, opening public decision-making processes to stakeholders and the wider public will require a clear and sustained commitment from top levels of government, protected from political cycles and institutional changes.

Participation portals are increasingly used by governments to consolidate sources of information from across the government, communicate updates of interest to citizens, garner feedback and respond to citizens. Government-wide portals have the advantage of providing a “one-stop shop” for citizens to learn about past, current and future opportunities for participation (OECD, 2021[31]). According to the results of the 2020 OECD Survey on Open Government, 44% of OECD Members have a single government-wide portal, while 41% have several, and 9% have an institution-specific portal (Figure ‎6.5).

In Romania, information on draft laws and other important policy matters has so far mostly been published via institution-specific portals, namely the websites of individual ministries and other government agencies. Central public bodies for the most part have separate websites related to “transparency of decision-making” (pertaining to the implementation of Law 52/2003) where they post draft acts for consultations, publish annual reports on implementing the law and provide other relevant information. Some specific online platforms also exist, such as the Unique Register of Transparency of Interests (RUTI, n.d.[33]) (see Chapter 5) which allows registered CSOs to engage and communicate with public decision makers. In addition, the Public Procurement Electronic System (SEAP) publishes open calls for public-private partnerships (SEAP, n.d.[34]). Overall, three different kinds of portals are in use: ministry/agency websites; sub-national websites; and the E-Consultare centralised platform (Table ‎6.3).

The Romanian government launched the E-Consultare platform in 2016, with a new version containing new functions launched in 2019 (Box ‎6.2) as a promising first step in centralising public consultation opportunities on one platform.

This platform has the potential to help Romania harmonise practices among public institutions, facilitate more interactions with citizens and stakeholders, and simplify access to participatory opportunities. That said, the government has noted the difficulty of ensuring uniform use of the platform by central and local public administration authorities and considers this an obstacle to more effective participation (General Secretariat of the Government, 2021[17]). Moreover, because the website is updated manually (although on a regular basis), it is not always accurate.

Currently, the General Secretariat is taking considerable steps to update the platform and extend its functionality within the framework of Romania’s Recovery and Resilience Plan. Important first steps in terms of corresponding legal provisions have been taken with adoption of Government Decision 831 (Ministry of Justice, 2022[19]). According to this decision, all public institutions under the scope of Law 52/2003 must publish on the platform an announcement about the purpose of a draft act as well as related public meetings (Art. 6). Additionally, all public institutions are required to upload their annual reports on the implementation of Law 52/2003 to the platform (as well as their own website) each year (Art. 11). These reports must follow a standard reporting model, thereby potentially facilitating data collection by the General Secretariat as well as providing clear and consistent information for interested citizens and stakeholders.

Moving forward, the General Secretariat is improving platform functionality to make it a “one-stop” portal for decision-making transparency (Art. 12) that allows for the above requirements. These improvements are ongoing until the end of 2023. Additional planned modifications include the possibility for individual public bodies to upload draft acts subject to consultation, thus eliminating the old practice of General Secretariat staff uploading acts to the platform. Furthermore, the platform will evolve to include updates on the implementation of legislation related to access to information (Art. I and III, Government Decision 830).

As part of implementing these reforms, consideration may also be given to further technological upgrades which would reflect functions seen in other countries’ participation portals. For example, Romania could take inspiration from more dynamic platforms, such as the Decidim project, which began in Spain30 and is now used by cities and municipalities globally (Decidim, n.d.[37]). This platform allows citizens to participate in decision making by debating proposals online regarding policy matters. In some cities, such as Barcelona, citizens are involved on a regular basis in decisions above a certain funding limit. Another example from Spain is the CONSUL project, initially launched by Madrid City Council and since adopted by governments around the world (CONSUL, n.d.[38]). This platform prioritises user experience and goes beyond mere consultation, with a citizen proposals module which allows individuals to submit, support and vote for initiatives. It benefits from open-source code, and so is free for any government or CSO to use and propose improvements (CONSUL, n.d.[38]).

The quality and impact of public consultations depends in large part on the manner in which citizens and stakeholders can participate. Public communication on relevant engagement mechanisms is key; to ensure a wide range of perspectives and inputs are gathered, stakeholders first need to know that these processes are ongoing. For this reason, information on consultations should be disseminated through a multi-channel approach to reach all societal demographics.

In Romania, most public consultations take place online (see section on public consultations on draft normative acts). Usually, information provided includes the draft act and related documents,31 along with the necessary announcement regarding the consultation deadline but with little additional information or instructions. CSO representatives interviewed during the OECD mission noted that information provided on the circumstances, scope and aims of draft acts is often insufficient and not always spelled out in accessible, clear language32; for the most part, relevant government websites do not include information on government contact points and how to reach them in the event of queries.

In this respect, more training for public officials on how to plan, manage and communicate public consultations is key. Such training could firstly focus on emphasising the added value of such processes, before providing public officials with concrete tools for their implementation. The National Institute of Administration, which is responsible more broadly for training public officials, could consider developing training modules on how to communicate and engage with stakeholders and citizens. It is welcome that the methodology on implementing Law 52/2003 now requires a descriptive paragraph to be added to announcements regarding new laws, outlining the solution proposed by the law, the expected impact and other relevant information (Ministry of Justice, 2022[18]).

The 2022 OECD working paper, Accessible and inclusive public communication: Panorama of practices from OECD Members (Cazenave and Bellantoni, 2022[39]), builds on the OECD Report on Public Communication: The Global Context and the Way Forward (2021[40]) and provides guidance on: adapting public communication to the needs and expectations of citizens to guarantee equal opportunities; ensuring inclusivity in the digital age; promoting training and capacity-building in public administration on interacting with stakeholders; and evaluating public communication in a systematic way. For example, publishing information in an informative, clear and to-the-point style, with a particular emphasis on short, well-structured content that uses simple vocabulary, is advisable. Online content must be easy to find on public websites. Some good practices have emerged from the United Kingdom, which has developed guidance for government officials on how to convey different content in a user-friendly manner.33

Participatory processes yield the best results when they are planned and targeted, with a clear idea of their purpose. Thus, before engaging with citizens and stakeholders, an internal planning process may help clarify the information being sought, and how to communicate desired outcomes accordingly. In this context, Romania could consider guidance from the OECD on strengthening relevant participatory processes (Box ‎6.3).

When conducting public consultations or engaging in other forms of participatory process, it is essential that the voices of citizens and stakeholders are truly heard and evaluated. This requires inviting inputs when changes to a draft policy or draft act are still possible and realistic. In Romania, while public institutions may consult with the advisory and working bodies that they collaborate with regularly at the initial stage of drafting policies or legislation, in practice,consultations usually happen at the end of the law-making process, once a final draft has been prepared and is ready for adoption. This is contrary to the ten steps of the OECD guidelines outlined above (Table ‎6.4). The 2021 General Secretariat analysis evaluating central and local public administration practices in decision-making processes indicates that only 27% of the public authorities surveyed always organise some form of pre-consultation session, with 18% doing this most of the time and the remaining 55% organising such pre-consultations sometimes or never (General Secretariat of the Government, 2021[16]). Generally, there are few public debates or consultations on laws or policies before they are drafted, although some notable exceptions include areas such as education reform and digital authentication tools, as well as online discussion platforms in certain municipalities (see Box ‎6.4 for good practices).

As a result, citizens and stakeholders have very little influence on the agenda-setting and conception stages of law and policy making. Exacerbating matters, while they are consulted on draft legislation in line with the law, there is also little clarity on how their input is reflected. This tendency to conduct consultations towards the end of the law-making process is similar to practices observed in many OECD Members (OECD, 2021[31]). However, this form of consultation leads to limited outcomes, as it focuses on testing ideas already developed rather than seeking early advice from the end users of the policy, based on their needs.

That said, there are some positive examples of more inclusive, early participatory processes taking place prior to the drafting of legal acts that Romania could build on (Box ‎6.4).

Participation processes are more useful where adequate mechanisms are in place to collect inputs and assess and incorporate them into draft acts as relevant. Moreover, for those participating in consultations and similar processes, it is crucial to see whether and how their comments and concerns were addressed. A lack of transparent feedback may lead to consultation fatigue as well as a reduced sense of ownership and loss of trust in the process and the relevant public institutions. In Romania, while Law 52/2003 requires public bodies to publish information on input received from stakeholders during public debates, in addition to the improved versions of draft acts (Government of Romania, 2003[6]), it does not detail the manner in which feedback should be provided.

Article 7 of Law 52/2003 stipulates that all proposals, suggestions and opinions or recommendations received must be recorded in a register, along with the date of their receipt and contact details for the persons submitting the input (Government of Romania, 2003[6]). Input must be taken into account before a final version of the draft normative act is submitted to the respective public authorities for endorsement. Each public administrative authority is required to designate a contact point responsible for the relationship with civil society.

In its 2021 analysis (General Secretariat of the Government, 2021[16]), the General Secretariat noted that most respondents had a person or structure in place to engage with civil society. In practice, the above structures or contact points may overlap with similar structures which public authorities are obliged to set up to enhance collaboration with associations, foundations and similar entities under Government Ordinance 26/2000 on Associations and Foundations (Ministry of Justice, 2000[45]). With respect to the functioning of these types of structure in practice, 47% of institutions surveyed by the General Secretariat answered that they did not encounter any problems, while 29% noted challenges due to overlaps in respective officials’ work tasks with other fields of activity and the remaining respondents noted other challenges such as: insufficient technical staff, lack of staff training and lack of prioritisation of such matters by management. At the same time, only a third of public authorities surveyed (33%) confirmed they had a register to record feedback from public consultations.

Law 52/2003 specifies that after consultations, improved versions of draft acts must be published (in various stages of elaboration) along with other documentation regarding consultations and/or debates.34 However, crucially, Article 7 does not go into detail on whether feedback reports for participants in consultations are required. While annual reports prepared by some ministries and other public bodies on implementing Law 52/2003 indicate that, in some cases, reasons are provided when recommendations are rejected,35 other authorities do not provide such information. In some instances, the reasons for not taking up civil society proposals into final legal or policy documents are not explained, even in situations where responsible authorities have sent a draft act to parliament that was quite different from what had been discussed and agreed during consultations.36

Moving forward, this situation may be improved by Article 4 of the Methodological Norms on the Application of Law 52/2003, which outlines different steps that must be taken by an initiating authority when conducting public consultations (Ministry of Justice, 2022[18]). One of these steps includes informing participants about how the proposals, suggestions and recommendations made by stakeholders during the process have been incorporated, by recording and publishing the special register containing the different types of input received. Annex 3 to this methodology provides a template which public authorities are required to follow in collecting and analysing proposals received. This template includes a column for justifications where recommendations are not taken on board.

According to Article 13 of Law 52/2003, public authorities are required to publish on their websites annual reports on decisional transparency and to display these reports on their premises or present them during public meetings (see the chapter on monitoring and evaluation in the OECD Open Government Review of Romania).37 In practice, implementation of the annual reporting requirement varies greatly, with not all public authorities publishing reports on their websites every year. Thus, in some cases, the latest annual reports are from 2021, while in others, they date to 2020 or 2019.38 Annex 7 of the methodology on implementing Law 52/2003 provides a template for the structure and contents of these annual reports.

Generally, reports list the annual number of draft acts consulted upon, the number of recommendations received and the number of public debates held, among others, but do not go into detail as to how many or what kind of recommendations were received for which specific act or how many provoked changes, in addition to any reasons for rejecting them.39 Closing the feedback loop is considered by the OECD Guidelines for Participatory Processes as essential; it pushes authorities to remain accountable to participants and the broader public. If they do not receive proper feedback, there is a risk of participants becoming frustrated and less likely to participate in the future or to trust government efforts in establishing such processes (OECD, 2022[3]).

Based on these reports, among others, the General Secretariat monitors and evaluates how public authorities and institutions implement legislation on access to information and transparent decision making. It also bases public policies and government decisions on improving consultation processes in public institutions on the data, and has organised training and information sessions and issued recommendations to ministries and other government agencies on strengthening consultation processes.40 In this sense, these reports serve as important sources of information to measure the openness of public administration more broadly, which is discussed in further detail in the OECD Open Government Review of Romania (forthcoming[4]).

Because the above annual reports are limited to general statistics, their findings do not lend themselves to a comprehensive analysis. The evaluation section for such reports is a good start but it remains to be seen whether this template will result in public authorities engaging in more in-depth reflections which go beyond a simple positive or negative evaluation of the process. It may be useful to eventually expand the current short statistical reports into more extensive evaluative analyses, with greater emphasis on the topics of consultations, including what worked well and what did not. A community of practice on open government, with, for example, cross-governmental discussion boards, could also prove useful alongside these annual reports, as such platforms allow for an exchange of experiences (OECD, forthcoming[4]). This might make it easier for oversight bodies such as the General Secretariat to identify trends and potential areas for reform.

At the sub-national level, Romania has two tiers of government: counties and a municipal level composed of communes, towns and municipalities. Both tiers have self-governing bodies, namely county councils and local councils, with counties co-ordinating the activities of communal, town and municipality councils. National government may issue legal acts to which adherence by local authorities is compulsory. The central government appoints a prefect in each county and, as a representative of the government at the sub-national level, this person has the right to control the legality of acts issued by the local authorities (SNG-WOFI, 2022[46]).

Public bodies at the sub-national level are often at the forefront of open government reforms and more innovative forms of citizen and stakeholder participation. This is unsurprising given they are often the closest point of contact with government for many citizens. Furthermore, citizens are more likely to be directly affected by the policies and service delivery in their own communities and thus have more incentive to be involved in the public decision-making process. This is central to the OECD’s concept of an open state, when public institutions beyond the central level including the sub-national level of government and other branches of the state pursue an open government agenda. The OECD Open Government Review of Romania (forthcoming[4]) discusses in more detail the potential for Romania’s move from open government to an open state.

As discussed in the section on key legal and policy frameworks and institutions governing participation, Law 52/2003 (Article 4) applies equally to national and sub-national authorities (Government of Romania, 2003[6]). Moreover, the Administrative Code contains specific principles for the general organisation and functioning of local public administration, including the principle of “citizens’ participation in resolving issues of particular local interest” (Article 75) (Ministry of Justice, 2019[14]). Thus, based on Article 138 of the code, meetings of local councils are public and resident citizens have the right to attend and access draft decisions and minutes. The ways that “interested persons” may participate in such meetings is regulated by the respective local council's rules of procedure.

During consultations on draft acts prepared at the central level, associative structures of local administration authorities (namely associations of Romanian communities, cities and municipalities, and a union of county councils) are not given much time to provide input, based on Article 86 of the code: the consultation period starts at least 15 working days before the act’s adoption and associative structures have a minimum of 10 working days to submit their input. These time periods may be reduced further in urgent cases, which limits the ability of local-level structures to impact pending draft acts. During the OECD fact-finding mission, interlocutors noted that in practice, communication between central and local levels works well at times but that there are instances when feedback provided by local counterparts is not sufficiently taken into account in the final text of a draft act.41

Data collected by the OECD suggests that bodies at the sub-national level use diverse tools to interact with citizens. As shown in Figure ‎6.6, public in-person consultations are the most common way to interact with citizens (used by 80% of respondents to the Survey on Open Government for Romanian Public Institutions), followed by agenda-setting mechanisms (76%), participatory budgets (64%) and public meetings (60%). In addition, several Romanian municipalities implemented good practices such as online platforms for agenda setting or participatory budgets which could inspire other municipalities or counties, presenting an opportunity for cross-municipality and cross-government learning and building on success (Box ‎6.5). The OECD recognises this diversity as beneficial and as presenting a positive foundation on which to build more ambitious open government agendas. However, in order to do this, public authorities could move beyond the sole use of consultations (online or in-person) to more innovative and impactful approaches including co-creation mechanisms or deliberative processes.

To facilitate interaction between public authorities and citizens, some municipalities have prepared guidelines for public officials which outline the benefits of participatory decision making while providing specific ideas on organising meaningful processes and increasing administrative transparency (Box ‎6.6). The existing guidelines could be enriched by the methodology, good practices and principles included in the OECD Guidelines for Citizen Participation Processes (2022[3]). However, evidence from the OECD fact-finding mission suggests that most sub-national authorities do not have a dedicated officer or administrative support in charge of designing and implementing participatory processes. In most cases, interviewees said that involving citizens in participatory processes can be perceived as an additional “legal burden” for sub-national public officials.

Seeking to move beyond involving people who typically engage in participation processes (more active, better educated, self-selecting citizens and CSOs) is key and requires targeted strategies and initiatives. Engaging individual citizens is as important as engaging organised stakeholders and, while the difference between these groups can be blurred at times, both can enrich discussions and contribute varied inputs from a diverse range of perspectives (OECD, 2022[3]). As noted by the OECD Guidelines for Citizen Participation Processes, some types of participation are better suited to CSOs than citizens, while others can be adapted to both types of participant (OECD, 2022[3]).

When seeking to involve citizens in decision-making processes, special efforts may be needed to motivate them to participate. Generally, citizens may be under the impression that they do not have an impact on decisions or the expertise to adequately contribute: clear messaging on the types of contributions sought can help address these concerns. Analysis from the General Secretariat evaluating central and local public administration practices notes that among public authorities surveyed in 2021, only 16% had developed programmes or pilot projects to improve collaboration with citizens (General Secretariat of the Government, 2021[16]). This demonstrates that overall, there is potential for Romania to create and offer more opportunities for citizens to advocate for themselves on an individual as well as a collective level.

Targeted outreach to the public and underrepresented groups is essential to gathering a plurality of views. Vulnerable or otherwise underrepresented groups (see section on equality and non-discrimination in Chapter 3) often do not have equal access to opportunities to participate or are less able or willing to participate for a variety of reasons, ranging from a lack of education and awareness to a lack of trust in public authorities. Public institutions thus have responsibilities to these communities and are encouraged to make extra efforts to counteract their disadvantaged position (OECD, 2017[1]). Perceptions of “procedural justice” or fairness – in terms of being listened to and views being taken on board – are central, to avoid exacerbating existing societal inequalities.

Moving forward, it is essential that Romania actively seeks to engage underrepresented groups in discussions of draft laws and policies, with a view to more cohesive and inclusive policy making and as a way of building trust at local and national levels. This principle is reflected in the OECD Recommendation of the Council on Open Government (OECD, 2017[1]), which stresses how important it is for governments to make efforts to reach out to the most vulnerable, marginalised or underrepresented groups in society. Currently, there is a perception among CSOs representing vulnerable, discriminated or other excluded groups, notably the Roma community, persons with disabilities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) groups, of not having equal access to all ministries or other public authorities.42 Targeted outreach to such groups, in addition to other minorities, women, youth, the elderly and rural communities, could help in this regard. Romania could learn from the Finnish example of engaging youth and marginalised groups in decision making around issues that particularly affect them (Box ‎6.7).

The government could consider disseminating targeted invitations by high-ranking figures including named invitations to relevant participatory processes. Such outreach could also be communicated in minority languages to ensure maximum awareness and inclusivity. It is positive that at the local level, Article 94 of the Administrative Code already foresees the use of minority languages by local public administration in areas where members of national minority communities make up more than 20% of inhabitants; where their percentage is lower, local authorities may decide to do this of their own accord. Travel by government officials to different parts of the country to engage communities in person can also be helpful.

It is important to create safe spaces for debate during consultation events, both online and offline, to ensure that people from relevant groups can speak their minds without fear or stigma. Notably, it may be helpful to place emphasis on non-digital means of conducting public consultations, to avoid excluding individuals or groups who are not online (see the section on bridging the digital divide by enhancing information and communication technology (ICT) literacy in Chapter 4). In particular, poor and marginalised groups and persons of a certain age may experience difficulties in engaging via online tools and it is important that their perspectives are sought and taken into account; non-digital channels of communication can be explored for this purpose, in close co-operation with representatives of these groups.

In addition, informal opportunities for dialogue and recognition can help to raise awareness of underrepresented groups. The Resource Centre for Public Participation (CeRe) hosts an annual Public Participation Awards Gala, as part of which it rewards citizens and organisations which successfully pressure public bodies to take action and highlights “the most interesting advocacy or public consultation initiatives” (CeRe, n.d.[56]). The General Secretariat could consider hosting a similar annual event to recognise outstanding contributions from CSOs and citizens to policy making, including underrepresented groups, as well as to celebrate instances of public officials or bodies making particular efforts in their participation and outreach efforts.

Capacity among public officials is widely recognised as a challenge.43 The provision of training courses and capacity-building events can be a way of ensuring that both public officials and non-governmental stakeholders embody open government principles. Such training is widely available in countries adhering to the OECD Recommendation of the Council on Open Government (OECD, 2020[32]). In particular, 78.9% (30 respondents to the 2020 Survey on Open Government) offer training on access to information, followed by training on open government data (73.7%, 28) and citizen and stakeholder participation (63.2%, 24). While the number has been growing, for the time being only 36.8% (14) of respondents have dedicated training on open government. Similarly, the provision of guidelines and toolkits in certain areas is widespread, for example on open government data (34, 89.5%) and citizen and stakeholder participation (31, 81.6%). Integrated resources on open government, however, are available only in 13 responding countries (34.2%).

An additional cross-cutting area that requires attention is the use of emergency ordinances. In cases where an emergency or exceptional circumstances require immediate solutions to avoid prejudice to the public interest, Article 7 par 13 of Law 52/2003, based on relevant provisions of the constitution, stipulates that the adoption of a draft act may take place, using a fast-track procedure without need for public consultation (Box ‎6.8).

While it is important for states to be able to pass emergency legislation rapidly in a crisis situation, as evidenced since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, international guidance suggests that such actions need to be limited to what is necessary and proportionate under the circumstances, need to be temporary in nature and subjected to regular parliamentary and court scrutiny (ELI, 2020[57]). Sparing use is also advised because such emergency mechanisms essentially circumvent existing checks and balances in the law-making process, especially commitments to involve stakeholders (ELI, 2020[57]). Moreover, where emergency ordinances are frequently adopted, they risk compromising the quality and foreseeability of legislation, given the lack of parliamentary oversight and input by other stakeholders (ELI, 2020[57]).

The frequent use of emergency ordinances in law making means that, in practice, consultations take place on some but not all draft acts. Thus, according to the General Secretariat, in cases where draft acts are passed using this type of urgent procedure, 80% of public institutions responding to a survey noted that less than 10% of these types of draft act were submitted for consultation (General Secretariat of the Government, 2021[16]) . This may have potentially serious consequences for the quality of such laws, and also for the transparency of the law-making process and legal certainty. During the OECD fact-finding mission, several civil society interviewees noted that many important and fundamental matters are regulated by emergency ordinances or similar regulations.44 The European Commission’s recent rule of law report on Romania likewise noted the effects that regular use of emergency ordinances may have on the stability and predictability of legislation, referring to reports indicating that not all draft emergency ordinances presented substantiated reasons to justify extraordinary situations (EC, 2022[63]). Similarly, the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission noted in 2019 that routine use of emergency powers in Romania affected the quality of legislation due to the lack of consultation with stakeholders, disturbed legal certainty, weakened external checks on government and disregard for the principle of the separation of powers (Venice Commission, 2019[58]).

As long as there are no clear and transparent criteria in Romanian law defining what constitutes an emergency situation, this practice will continue to raise concerns regarding the foreseeability and legality of normative acts. The new government decision (Decision 1173), with its reiteration of what is set out in the constitution, and its overview of what the Constitutional Court has said on the matter, provides guidance in this regard but it remains to be seen whether on its own, without additional clear regulations, it will help to change existing practice in relation to emergency ordinances.

The last few decades have witnessed a transformation of citizen and stakeholder participation practices in many countries through new forms of dialogue and innovations, many of which have been introduced as a response to declining citizen trust in traditional institutions and processes (Kamlage and Nanz, n.d.[64]).

In Romania, as discussed above, pockets of good participatory practice can be found at national and local levels. However, a 2021 analysis by the General Secretariat evaluating central and local public administration practices in decision-making processes shows that only 18% of surveyed public authorities had taken steps to implement innovative practices to stimulate public participation, including the live transmission of meetings, establishment of working groups including CSOs and other stakeholders or the introduction of forms for collecting opinions and recommendations (General Secretariat of the Government, 2021[16]). Overall, public bodies remain hesitant to move beyond established practice to experiment with different participation methods emerging around the globe and to engage citizens at large.45 There has so far been no emphasis on co-creation, meaning the joint preparation of laws and policies by public bodies and civil society stakeholders. An upcoming report on Strengthening the Innovative Capacity of the Government of Romania prepared by the OECD Observatory of Public Sector Innovation (OPSI) notes that while there have been some positive attempts to change this, innovation strategies are currently not being implemented consistently or in a comprehensive, long-term manner (OECD, forthcoming[65]). Reasons for this include, among others, a preference to maintain the status quo in public policy making (rather than take risks and engage in radical change), coupled with hierarchical and multi-layered decision-making processes and a lack of capacity within the public sector which is exacerbated by frequent staff changes.

Instead of being required to adhere to relevant legal frameworks alone, public officials could be afforded the freedom, or even be incentivised, to try new methods, whether in person or through the use of digital tools. Training may usefully be offered to encourage this, including new methods of participation. As illustrated by the 2020 OECD Survey on Open Government (2020[32]), this would be in line with practice in many OECD Members: 59% of OECD respondent countries hold training for public officials on citizen and stakeholder participation, including advisory mechanisms, consultation mechanisms and co-creation mechanisms.46 As mentioned above, creating a platform or community of practice for exchange and cross-learning between public bodies could allow officials to report on what works and what could be improved in the future. Indeed, during the fact-finding mission many government representatives noted with regret the absence of co-operation and communication mechanisms across the public sector, where ministries and other public institutions share experiences and lessons learnt in the field of citizen participation.47

Adopting practices that encourage and facilitate more innovation will necessitate a significant cultural shift within the public sector (OECD, 2014[66]). Senior officials could delegate authority to those implementing participatory practices and facilitate the use of different methods, in addition to providing the necessary budgets and allowing adequate time for consultations. Romania could take inspiration from France in this regard (Box ‎6.9).

Romania could draw on the co-creation process it undertakes as part of the elaboration of the OGP National Action Plans (OGP, n.d.[67]). Although the latest Independent Reporting Mechanism report on Romania’s 5th Action Plan 2020-2022 (OGP, 2021[68]) found some weaknesses in the Romanian process, including “low levels of civil society involvement and a weak exchange of ideas”, the design of such a participatory process has value as a model for decision making in other policy areas.

E-democracy is a useful way to gauge citizens’ opinions or involve the population in policy issues. Online methods of participation can expand the reach of government communication and foster a multi-channel approach to ensure all social groups participate on an equal basis. However, digital conversations should not replace more traditional forms of participation in consultations and consultative bodies, which allow for long-term, direct and high-quality interaction with public bodies. It is thus important to ensure that a variety of consultation tools, both digital and non-digital, are available to people (see section on bridging the digital divide in Chapter 4).

At the European level but also globally, a variety of increasingly popular e-democracy initiatives are taking place48 (ELF, 2017[69]) which allow citizens to make informed choices on matters of public policy. Some of these, such as public consultations via platforms such as E-Consultare and citizens’ legal initiatives, already exist in Romania and could be developed further. Other forms of digital democracy may be considered for the future, though the need for, and benefits of, such mechanisms will depend on the issue at hand. For this reason, Romania could continue exploring, experimenting and supporting collaboration with digital ecosystems including public innovation laboratories, civic technologies (CivicTech) and GovTech.49 The General Secretariat could lead by example in this area by promoting new forms of participation and communicating learning on what works best. Regular impact evaluations of such efforts, in relation to participants’ own perceptions of inclusion and their sense of their opinion being valued, would help to shed light on how to improve such practices.

Furthermore, as the 2020 OECD report Innovative Citizen Participation and New Democratic Institutions: Catching the Deliberative Wave (2020[70]) finds, many governments have been embracing innovative ways of engaging citizens through mechanisms such as citizens’ assemblies, juries, panels and other representative, deliberative processes, to better understand priorities and concerns (OECD, 2020[70]). These types of process involve gathering a randomly selected group of people who are broadly representative of a community and who spend time learning from experts on a policy problem and collaborating to form collective recommendations for policy makers (OECD, 2020[70]). The benefits of representativeness and deliberation are manifold, often leading to better policy outcomes, as they result in well-thought-out public judgment rather than public opinions and empower ordinary citizens to make their voices heard and to engage with governments continuously. Furthermore, evidence shows that these processes have helped public authorities make difficult decisions on a wide range of policy issues, especially those affected by political stalemate (OECD, 2020[70]). Such processes have the potential to target and address a rising trend of citizen malaise with democratic institutions. Romania could take inspiration from countries that have undertaken deliberative practices, at both the national and local levels (Box ‎6.10).


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[42] ADR (2021), “ADR puts up for public debate the proposal to amend the European Electronic Identity Regulation (eIDAS)”, Authority for the Digitalisation of Romania, https://www.adr.gov.ro/adr-pune-in-dezbatere-publica-propunerea-de-modificare-a-regulamentului-pentru-identitatea-electronica-europeana-eidas/ (accessed on 13 July 2022).

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[49] Com’ON Cluj-Napoca (n.d.), About, https://www.comoncluj.ro/rules (accessed on 28 October 2022).

[38] CONSUL (n.d.), Homepage, https://consulproject.org/en/ (accessed on 27 October 2022).

[53] Debanat.ro (2021), “The municipality of Timișoara is thinking about implementing participatory governance”, https://debanat.ro/2021/10/municipalitatea-din-timisoara-se-gandeste-la-implementarea-guvernarii-participative_349387.html (accessed on 13 July 2022).

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[27] Ministry of Justice (2013), Law 248/2013 on the Organisation and Functioning of the Economic and Social Council, Ministry of Justice Legislative Portal, https://legislatie.just.ro/Public/DetaliiDocument/150073 (accessed on 22 July 2022).

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[28] Ministry of Justice (2002), Law 202/2002 on Equal Opportunities and Treatment between Women and Men, Ministry of Justice Legislative Portal, https://legislatie.just.ro/Public/DetaliiDocument/35778.

[45] Ministry of Justice (2000), Government Ordinance 26/2000 on Associations and Foundations, Ministry of Justice Legislative Portal, https://legislatie.just.ro/Public/DetaliiDocument/20740.

[12] Ministry of Justice (1999), Law 189/1999 on the Exercise of Citizens’ Legislative Initiative, Ministry of Justice Legislative Portal, https://legislatie.just.ro/Public/DetaliiDocument/20219.

[9] Ministry of Justice (1991), Constitution of 21 November 1991, Ministry of Justice Legislative Portal, https://legislatie.just.ro/Public/DetaliiDocumentAfis/47355.

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[32] OECD (2020), “2020 OECD Survey on Open Government”, OECD, Paris.

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[1] OECD (2017), Recommendation of the Council on Open Government, OECD, Paris, https://legalinstruments.oecd.org/en/instruments/OECD-LEGAL-0438.

[66] OECD (2014), Innovating the Public Sector: From Ideas to Impact - Building Organisational Capacity for Public Sector Innovation, OECD, Paris, http://www.oecd.org/innovating-the-public-sector (accessed on 20 July 2022).

[4] OECD (forthcoming), Open Government Review of Romania, OECD Publishing, Paris.

[65] OECD (forthcoming), Strengthening the Innovative Capacity of the Government of Romania, Observatory of Public Sector Innovation, OECD, Paris.

[68] OGP (2021), Romania Action Plan Review 2020-2022, Open Government Partnership, https://www.opengovpartnership.org/documents/romania-action-plan-review-2020-2022/.

[2] OGP (2011), Open Government Declaration, Open Government Partnership, https://www.opengovpartnership.org/process/joining-ogp/open-government-declaration/.

[67] OGP (n.d.), Co-Creation Process, Open Government Partnership, https://www.opengovpartnership.org/glossary/co-creation-process/.

[61] People’s Advocate (2022), Exception of Unconstitutionality lodged on 24 March 2022 with the Constitutional Court, https://avp.ro/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Ecx-OUG-16-2022.pdf.

[22] Pogrebinschi, T. (2014), “Turning participation into representation, innovative policy making for minority groups in Brazil”, in Sirianni, C. and J. Girouard (eds.), Varieties of Civic Innovation: Deliberative, Collaborative, Network, and Narrative Approaches, Vanderbilt University Press, https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctv16755q8.11.

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[44] President of Romania (2022), Educated Romania, http://www.romaniaeducata.eu/ (accessed on 13 July 2022).

[29] Romania Insider (2018), “Romanian PM changes almost all civil society representatives in Economic and Social Council”, https://www.romania-insider.com/romanian-pm-changes-epresentatives-economic-social-council (accessed on 21 July 2022).

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[34] SEAP (n.d.), About, Public Procurement Electronic System, https://www.e-licitatie.ro/pub (accessed on 24 November 2022).

[46] SNG-WOFI (2022), “Romania”, Country Profile, World Observatory on Subnational Government Finance and Investment, https://www.sng-wofi.org/country-profiles/.

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[52] Timișoara City Hall (2021), Methodology for Operationalising Participatory Governance, https://www.primariatm.ro/administratie/consiliul-local/proiecte-de-hotarari/?uid=235CD6DE73B431F3C22587740022A67D (accessed on 13 July 2022).

[54] Timișoara City Hall (2021), Public Debate, https://www.primariatm.ro/2021/10/27/dezbatere-publica-8/ (accessed on 13 July 2022).

[50] Timișoara City Hall (n.d.), Decidem Timișoara, https://decidem.primariatm.ro/ (accessed on 13 July 2022).

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[58] Venice Commission (2019), Opinion on Emergency Ordinances GEO No. 7 and GEO No. 12 Amending the Laws of Justice (Romania), https://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/default.aspx?pdffile=CDL-AD(2019)014-e.


← 1. Participation via information: An initial level of participation characterised by a one-way relationship in which the government produces and delivers information to stakeholders. It covers both on-demand provision of information and “proactive” measures by the government to disseminate information.

← 2. Participation via consultation: A more advanced level of participation that entails a two-way relationship in which stakeholders provide feedback to the government and vice-versa. It is based on the prior definition of the issue for which views are being sought and requires the provision of relevant information, in addition to feedback on outcomes of the process.

← 3. Participation via engagement: When stakeholders are given the opportunity and necessary resources (e.g. information, data and digital tools) to collaborate during all phases of the policy cycle and in service design and delivery.

← 4. By its own account, the platform has led to the withdrawal of certification for illegal timber products and has had a positive impact on the conservation of the Nera River. Individuals may create their own petitions and seek support via this platform, which according to Declic’s website has already organised more than 100 online campaigns, with support from over 800 000 Romanian citizens to date.

← 5. In a 2021 analysis evaluating central and local public administration practices in decision-making processes, the General Secretariat of the Government (hereafter “General Secretariat”) noted that in 76% of cases, decision-making processes took place at the initiative of public institutions, with only 20% of such processes based on proposals from civil society, experts or academics (General Secretariat of the Government, 2021[16]).

← 6. Interviews with government and civil society representatives, February-July 2022.

← 7. Interviews with government and civil society representatives, February-July 2022.

← 8. Interviews with government representatives, February-July 2022.

← 9. Interviews with civil society representatives, February-July 2022.

← 10. Interviews with government and civil society representatives, February-July 2022.

← 11. As Romania has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), it is obliged to adhere to the provisions of this instrument, including Article 25 on the right to public participation, providing every citizen with the right and opportunity to take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives.

← 12. This relates to information pertaining to national defence, national security and public order, the country’s economic and political strategic interests and classified deliberations of authorities.

← 13. This includes information on the values, deadlines, and technical and economic data of commercial or financial activities, provided that their publication violates the principle of fair competition.

← 14. Interviews with government and civil society representatives, February-July 2022.

← 15. Draft acts relevant to the business environment are automatically shared with businesses and other entities operating in that sector (see Article 7, para. 3, of Law 52/2003).

← 16. However public debates are at times held by authorities of their own accord or at the request of other public bodies, according to the annual reports on implementation of Law 52/2003, e.g. the Ministry of the Environment, Water and Forests and the Ministry of Justice both indicated they had organised public meetings ex officio in 2021, while the report from the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure indicated this for 2020.

← 17. The majority of reports reviewed covered the period 2019-21.

← 18. People whose rights under the law have been violated may file administrative complaints in accordance with Law 552/2004 on Administrative Litigation; these complaints will be dealt with via an emergency procedure (Article 14 of the Law 52/2000). Public officials who do not allow persons access to public meetings or who prevent the involvement of interested persons in the process of drafting normative acts of public interest can be subjected to disciplinary liability. At the same time, individuals who violate the applicable rules when participating in a public meeting may receive a warning by the chairperson of the session and may, if this is not heeded, ultimately be removed from the meeting (Article 16 of Law 52/2000).

← 19. The National Tripartite Council for Social Dialogue is an advisory body made up of representatives of employers’ and trade union confederations, government representatives (ministries and other state structures), as well as a representative of the National Bank of Romania, the President of the Economic and Social Council and other members as agreed (Article 76 of the law). The Tripartite Council is chaired by the Prime Minister, with the Minister of Labour and Social Protection as his/her deputy (Article 77). As set out in Article 78 of the law, the main responsibilities of the National Tripartite Council include debating and analysing draft government programmes and strategies, and developing and supporting the implementation of strategies, programmes, methodologies and standards in the field of social dialogue, among others.

← 20. OECD online public consultation with CSO stakeholders, November 2021-January 2022.

← 21. Interviews with government representatives, February-April 2022.

← 22. Interviews with government and civil society representatives, February-July 2022.

← 23. Interviews with civil society representatives, February-July 2022.

← 24. Online public consultations with CSO stakeholders, November 2021-January 2022.

← 25. The French Economic, Social and Environmental Council (CESE) is a constitutional consultative body mandated to advise the government and parliament on draft laws and other statutory instruments, elaborate reports about economic, social and environmental issues, and receive citizen petitions. It is composed of 175 members representing trade unions, companies, associations and environmental organisations. For more information, see https://www.lecese.fr/en.

← 26. The Moroccan Economic, Social and Environmental Council is an independent constitutional institution which provides advice to the government and the two Houses of Parliament. It is composed of 105 members, involving experts as well as representatives of trade unions, professional organisations and associations, civil society, and certain designated institutions and bodies (including those active in areas such a planning, banking, education and science, social security etc., and the Ombudsman Institution). For more information, see https://www.cese.ma/.

← 27. In mid-September 2022, the French president announced a citizens’ convention on the following question: “Is the framework for end-of-life support adapted to the different situations encountered or should possible changes be introduced?” The organisation of the convention was entrusted to the Economic and Social Council, which mandated HarrisInteractive, a research and polling institute, to draw lots from randomly generated telephone numbers (85% mobile phones and 15% landlines) and make phone calls to identify 150 volunteer citizens representative of the diversity of French society.

← 28. Interviews with government and civil society representatives, February-July 2022.

← 29. The Guide to an Innovative Approach to Citizen Involvement in Decision-making aimed at supporting central public authorities in managing the necessary innovative processes for interaction with civil society to streamline participatory processes. Based on questionnaires completed by 45 public institutions and 70 CSOs, the guide provides a summary and analysis of the existing domestic legislative framework on participation and involvement of citizens in public decision making and showcases international trends and relevant good practice from other countries. This publication additionally contains numerous proposals for enhancing citizen participation, notably involving stakeholders in consultations at an early stage, extending deadlines for feedback as needed and increasing new platforms for consultation, such as online or hybrid consultations. Other recommendations include the creation of a single national digital tool centralising the expertise of NGOs for use by public institutions and establishing an independent support structure with theoretical and practical skills, institutional memory, and the resources needed to perform certain tasks and solve problems as needed.

Another useful tool published in 2019 is the Good Practice Handbook on Promoting a Proactive Approach to the Principles of Transparent, Open and Participatory Governance (Government of Romania, 2019[75]). This handbook describes standards containing the relevant principles of participation, with reference to key documents adopted internationally by the OECD, as well as other organisations such as the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE/ODIHR), the OGP and the EU. It likewise provides examples of participation mechanisms and local models from different states.

← 30. Decidim was set up by Barcelona City Council to create a “technologically mediated citizen participation process around the Municipal Action Plan, with three major goals: making a process that is transparent and traceable, expanding participation through the digital platform and integrating face-to-face and digital participation”.

← 31. Annex 1 to the methodological norms outlines the contents of the announcement, which shall include a descriptive paragraph outlining the identified problem, the solution proposed by the act, the expected impact and other relevant information, as well as related documentation. This shall involve (as applicable): the draft act itself, the substantiation note or explanatory memorandum, a statement of reasons, the “approval report” outlining the necessity of adopting the proposed draft act, certain research studies (impact/feasibility study, etc.) and the raw data on which these were based, among others.

← 32. Interviews with government and civil society representatives, February-July 2022.

← 33. For further information, see information provided by the UK Government Digital Service on “Content design: planning, writing and managing content”, https://www.gov.uk/guidance/content-design/writing-for-gov-uk (published in 2016, updated in 2022).

← 34. In the case of debates, this includes the written recommendations collected.

← 35. Notably, the annual reports prepared by the Ministry of Development, Public Works and Administration (2021), the Ministry of the Environment, Water and Forests (2021), the Ministry of Justice (2021), and the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure (2020) included this information.

← 36. Interviews with government and civil society representatives, February-July 2022.

← 37. At a minimum, these reports are required to include the following:

  • the total number of recommendations received

  • the total number of recommendations included in the draft normative acts and in decisions taken

  • the number of participants in public meetings

  • the number of public debates organised on draft normative acts

  • the status of cases where the public authority was sued for not complying with provisions of Law 52/2003

  • public authorities’ assessment of the partnership with citizens and legally constituted associations

  • the number of meetings with non-governmental actors and the reasons for restricting access.

← 38. This was observed, e.g. in the case of the reports from the Ministry of Economy (2020), at http://www.economie.gov.ro/transparenta-decizionala/rapoarte-de-aplicare-a-legii-52-2003#; the Ministry of Education (2019), at https://www.edu.ro/legea-52; the Ministry of Health (2020), at https://www.ms.ro/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Raport-MS-2020.pdf; and the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure (2020), at http://www.mt.gov.ro/web14/despre-noi/interes-alte-informatii-rapoarte.

← 39. This information is at times published on the webpage of the respective consultation procedure.

← 40. Background information received from the General Secretariat for the Civic Space Review of Romania.

← 41. Interviews with government and civil society representatives, February-July 2022.

← 42. Interviews with civil society representatives, February-July 2022.

← 43. Interviews with government and civil society representatives, February-July 2022.

← 44. Interviews with civil society representatives, February-July 2022.

← 45. Interviews with government and civil society representatives, February-July 2022.

← 46. The 2020 OECD Survey on Open Government asked: “Does your central/federal government offer training for civil servants on any of the following?” Out of 32 OECD respondent countries, 19 selected “citizen and stakeholder participation (e.g. advisory mechanisms, consultation mechanism, co-creation mechanisms, etc.)”.

← 47. Interviews with government representatives, February-July 2022.

← 48. These include e-consultations (obtaining the opinion of specific stakeholders in a manner which is not legally binding), e-collaboration (stakeholders may submit proposals on a certain draft policy or law and can thus shape policies), e-referenda (a legally binding decision-making process whereby specific audiences or the general public may take decisions mandatory for implementation) and e-citizens’ initiatives (inviting the government or legislature to propose regulation on a particular matter).

← 49. CivicTech is any technology that enables communication, engagement and participation with citizens, or aims to improve the relationship between the government and citizens. In addition, many CivicTech tools may be used by citizens or stakeholders themselves, independently of government. GovTech refers to the use of technology to increase the efficiency of internal operations across public administration by, for example, introducing new tools or digitalising processes (Apolitical, 2019[76]).

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