5. The enabling environment for civil society organisations in Romania

The right to freedom of association for individuals and groups requires states to refrain from interfering with the rights and freedoms of civil society organisations (CSOs) and incorporates an obligation to create an enabling environment for such entities. This obligation includes guaranteeing the functioning of associations, according to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR, 2005[1]), and guidance from the OSCE/ODIHR-Venice Commission’s Joint Guidelines on Freedom of Association (Guiding Principle 2) (2015[2]).1 These guidelines reiterate that states should ensure legal provisions concerning associations are well crafted, clear and precise; are adopted through a broad, inclusive and participatory process; and are subject to regular review (OSCE/ODIHR-Venice Commission, 2015[2]). Moreover, legal provisions concerning associations need to be interpreted and applied in a consistent manner to allow the effective exercise of the right to freedom of association. Creating an enabling environment for civil society organisations (CSOs) may also include simplifying regulatory requirements, ensuring that those requirements are not unduly burdensome, facilitating access to resources and taking positive measures to overcome specific challenges confronting disadvantaged or vulnerable persons or groups (OSCE/ODIHR-Venice Commission, 2015[2]).

CSOs in Romania work in a variety of sectors and have played an important role in recent crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the refugee emergency resulting from Russia’s large-scale aggression against neighbouring Ukraine. Based on a World Bank study of 286 CSOs in Romania, their main areas of activity include sports and related activities, education, social assistance, financial activities, agriculture and animal care, consulting, health, culture and mass media, and trade and energy (World Bank, 2020[3]). Most CSOs are concentrated in cities, with fewer and smaller organisations active at local level. As in many OECD Members, local organisations appear more likely to encounter organisational and funding challenges, given that they have fewer resources, limited access to funds and less experience with bureaucratic procedures. In general, the civil society sector has remained relatively small compared to that of other European countries (Müller and Fernandes, 2021[4]).

The sector is primarily volunteer-driven, a trend that has grown in the past five years with recent reports and surveys – based on limited numbers of respondents – indicating that roughly half of CSOs in Romania have no full-time employees (CMON, 2020[5]; Elbers and Grigore, 2019[6]; World Bank, 2020[3]). An earlier 2017 report with a wider scope published by the Civil Society Development Foundation indicated that 68% of CSOs in Romania had no employees at all. Based on fiscal data found on the website of the Ministry of Finance from 2021, one CSO’s rough estimate surmised that this number may now surpass 70%. The above surveys from 2019 and 2020 indicate that among those that do employ staff, the vast majority of organisations are reported to have up to 10 employees on average, with very few (8-9%) employing more, and even fewer operating without engaging volunteers (CMON, 2020[5]; Elbers and Grigore, 2019[6]). At the same time, Figure ‎5.1 shows that employment figures in the CSO sector are relatively stable and have risen overall since 2014, compared with general employment figures, which have seen a downturn since 2019.

There has been a noticeable increase in activism over the last decade, with the creation of many new CSOs. The sector has seen a shift from civic engagement based on personal or common interests (e.g. trade unions, interest groups) to broader issue-driven activism and civil society work on subjects such as corruption and the environment. Based on various reports and studies, certain “trigger events” have galvanised large groups of people, leading to protests and to the creation of new CSOs focused on specific problems (World Bank, 2020[3]; Volintiru and Buzașu, 2020[8]).2 For example, in 2013, a draft law approving the Roșia Montană gold mining project led to pro-environment and anti-corruption protests; similarly, a deadly 2015 fire in the COLECTIV nightclub in Bucharest that revealed instances of local corruption led to the founding of several new civic technology organisations. In addition, the onset of COVID-19 resulted in the establishment in 2020 of new organisations working in the social, education and health sectors to combat the virus.

Overall, the sector has proven resilient and flexible when responding to societal challenges and recent health and humanitarian crises caused by the pandemic and war in Ukraine. During the pandemic, civil society, the private sector and other relevant stakeholders collaborated with the government to contain the virus’s negative effects, especially in service provision and emergency relief (Buzaşu and Marczewski, 2020[9]). CSOs also co-operated with the business sector and media outlets (USAID, 2021[10]). During this time, new ad hoc coalitions and informal groups of CSOs advocated for a variety of human rights issues, including freedom of peaceful assembly, access to public data and personal data protection, access to education, support for vulnerable groups, environmental matters, health, human trafficking, gender, sexual education and culture. More recently, CSOs from a range of sectors have mobilised and continue to provide assistance to refugees arriving in Romania as a result of the war in Ukraine. At the same time, challenges remain, both in relation to pandemic responses and in general (World Bank, 2020[3]), especially for CSOs that started as movements or informal groups, rather than registered organisations. Further professionalisation, capacity building and training are still required, with the majority of CSOs surveyed by the World Bank in 2020 noting that training is especially needed in the areas of fundraising (73%), developing partnerships (57%), managing organisational culture (45%) and improving CSOs’ public image (44%) (World Bank, 2020[3]).

According to the United States (US) Agency for International Development’s 2021 Sustainability Index, the sustainability of the sector is still evolving (USAID, 2021[10]).3 At the same time, this and previous indexes indicate that it has become more stable since 2019, before which it had experienced a decline for several years (USAID, 2021[10]). Perceptions of CSOs among citizens is relatively positive. A national survey conducted in 2021 by the Romanian Institute for Evaluation and Strategy (IRES) indicated that 25% of the Romanian population had high or very high trust in CSOs, a proportion that was higher than that of the presidential administration (22%), government (21%) or parliament (13%) (IRES, 2021[11]). Notably, the level of trust in CSOs was greater among the younger generation: 31% of respondents between the ages of 18 and 35 expressed high or very high trust in CSOs.

The National Register for Not-for-profit Legal Persons (hereafter “National Register”) operated by the Ministry of Justice (https://www.just.ro/registrul-national-ong/) indicates that more than 120 000 CSOs are registered in Romania today. As of the end of September 2022, the register contained entries from 102 989 associations, 19 282 foundations, 1 497 federations, 763 unions and 36 foreign legal entities. Based on these numbers, Figure ‎5.2 shows that the majority of registered CSOs are associations (83%), followed by foundations (15%). Informal associations also exist but are often temporary in nature and small in size.

However, given the lack of consistent and uniform data gathering on the sector, it is unclear how many CSOs listed in the above registry remain active.4 The most recent comprehensive conclusions as to the number of active CSOs in Romania date from a 2017 report issued by the Civil Society Development Foundation, which based its findings on numbers from 2015 (FDSC, 2017[13]). The report found that of 88 650 CSOs registered in the National Register in 2015, less than half (only 42 707) were active.

The Ministry of Justice publishes lists of all registered CSOs on a regular basis in the National Register. However, it does not provide an analysis of the data or other information relating to the sector that could indicate the number of active CSOs. There are several government sources of data relevant to the CSO sector5 – some of which are publicly accessible while others provide limited access. However, according to CSOs, their usefulness is limited, due to the difficulty of using raw data and the fact that relevant databases are not interoperable.6 Moreover, while raw data are available in the National Register, it does not always reflect the data found in courts where CSOs register (see the section on streamlining the registration process for CSOs). Some relevant data breakdowns and analyses on the sector may be obtained – for a fee – from the Romanian National Institute of Statistics but CSOs expressed doubts about their accuracy.7

While partnerships between CSOs and the state exist, they are largely ad hoc and often tied to certain sectors or ongoing events and challenges, such as the pandemic or the war in Ukraine (Box ‎5.1). A 2021 government analysis evaluating central and local public administration practices in decision-making processes noted that, while Article 51 of Government Ordinance 26/2000 requires structures be put in place to manage the relationship with associations, foundations and other similar entities listed in the ordinance, only 46.7% of responding institutions had implemented this provision (General Secretariat of the Government, 2021[14]). At the same time, during the OECD fact-finding mission, civil society representatives involved in partnerships with central and local government authorities reported that they were generally successful.8

One way in which the government has sought to support the civil society sector is through the CONECT platform, on which CSOs can register to enhance co-operation and communication between them and public authorities (Box ‎5.2).

The enabling environment for CSOs is regulated by several key pieces of legislation governing operations, funding and fiscal matters, as well as various forms of stakeholder participation (for more information, see the section on citizen and stakeholder participation in Chapter 6). As already outlined in Chapter 3, freedom of association is guaranteed by Article 40 of the constitution, with Government Ordinance 26/2000 on Associations and Foundations providing further details on the founding, registration, funding and dissolution of CSOs and other matters pertaining to such organisations (Ministry of Justice, 2000[23]).9 Associations which work on social inclusion and/or provide services or related work are considered to be social enterprises and are recognised as such10 in line with the provisions of Law 219/2015 on the Social Economy (Ministry of Justice, 2015[24]). A law on volunteering, Law 78/2014, generally regulates the participation of individuals in voluntary non-profit activities and state support at both central and local levels (Ministry of Justice, 2014[25]). While the above legislation is largely in line with international standards, some laws and regulations in the field are insufficiently detailed or outdated. For example, Government Ordinance 26/2000 dates back more than 20 years and needs reform (see sections on streamlining the registration process for CSOs and reviewing public utility status for CSOs below).

Empirical evidence confirms that the legal right to freedom of association as set out in the above legislation is broadly respected in Romania. However, the enabling environment is affected by the broader political situation. The V-Dem Institute Index on CSO Repression shows that, between 2011 and 2015, CSOs were almost always free to organise, associate, strike, express themselves and criticise the government without fear of government sanctions or harassment. However, cases remained where the government attempted to repress civil society via sanctions imposed on oppositional CSOs or burdensome registration procedures (V-Dem Institute, 2021[26]). In 2018, this culminated in a ranking that ranged slightly below three points. Rankings between two and three points are given where, in addition to the material sanctions outlined above, governments engage in “minor legal harassment”, defined as detentions or short-term incarceration, and other measures which restrict the activity of CSOs. Since 2018, the situation has gradually improved and is now almost at the same level as in 2015. In 2021, Romania outperformed EU and OECD Members in this regard with a score of 3.83 out of 4, compared to 3.58 in OECD Members and 3.65 in EU member states (Figure ‎5.3).

Romania is among the 61% of European countries (both OECD and non-OECD) where associations can operate without being required to register, which allows informal entities to engage in activities and consequently strengthens civic space (OECD, 2022[27]). However, the majority of organisations do register so they can obtain the status necessary to enter into legal agreements, apply for grants and conduct other activities which are necessary to function.

An association wishing to acquire legal status is required to register in the Associations and Foundations Register located at the court registry in the district where it is headquartered, in line with Articles 5, 7 and 8 of Government Ordinance 26/2000.11 In order to register, associations are required to submit relevant documents to the competent court, which then decides to accept or reject the application (Articles 9 and 10). This decision may be appealed (Article 11). The competent court is tasked with communicating copies of final court decisions on the establishment, modification, and termination of associations and their supporting documents to the National Register operated by the Ministry of Justice (see the section on streamlining the registration process for CSOs). No data are made available on the number of registration requests or denials and civil society representatives noted that data sent by courts to the ministry are not always accurate.12

In a positive step, reforms undertaken in 2020 simplified registration by substantially reducing the administrative steps and documents required to lower barriers for new CSOs (OECD, 2022[27]). CSOs no longer need to have their constituent documents notarised, for example, and initial funding required to establish a CSO was reduced for foundations and eliminated for associations.13 Discussions on reforming the process have been ongoing since 2018, as outlined in more detail in Box ‎5.3.

In the meantime, for entities which choose to register, challenges remain. While the process is free, many CSOs find it long and laborious and there is a consensus among both government and civil society representatives that it could be further simplified and enhanced using digital tools.14 Furthermore, even though registration itself is not associated with direct costs, running costs related to fiscal obligations and the need to have certain documents checked by certified accountants pose financial burdens, particularly for smaller organisations. As far as the length of registration procedures is concerned, Romania features among 7% of European countries (both within the OECD and beyond) where such proceedings habitually take between 1 and 3 months to complete, illustrating that the process is comparatively slow. Government representatives noted that judges must verify that registering entities do not have a similar or the same name as an existing registered organisation, which often delays the process.15 In comparison, 47% of European countries and 42% of OECD Members surveyed by take 15 days or less to complete CSO registration, while 27% of European countries and 25% of OECD Members take between 16 days and 1 month (OECD, 2022[27]) (Figure ‎5.4).

Government Ordinance 26/2000 (Article 38) states that associations, foundations and federations may be granted “public utility” status (similar to charitable or public benefit status) by the government if they meet certain criteria. These concern their areas of focus and activities (which need to meet a general or group interest), the time the entity has been operating, and matters pertaining to patrimony, membership and employees, among others. Associations or foundations with public utility status have certain rights and obligations, as set out in Article 41 of the ordinance: they may obtain free use of public property goods and may mention their public utility status on documents while at the same time being obliged to maintain the level of activity and performance that supported their status. In addition, relevant changes to their statutes need to be communicated to the competent authority, and annual reports and financial statements must be published in Romania’s Official Gazette. Public utility CSOs must also communicate copies of their activity reports and annual financial statements to the Ministry of Justice.

Applications for public utility status are submitted to the General Secretariat, which forwards them to the competent specialised body of the central public administration. This body may then propose recognition of public utility status to the government, which decides whether to accept or reject the application. Draft decisions are published online and feedback is sought from citizens and CSOs. Public utility status is granted indefinitely but the government may withdraw it in cases where an association or foundation no longer fulfils the requirements set out in law, in accordance with Article 42 of the ordinance. In cases where recognition is denied or withdrawn, CSOs may initiate administrative litigation proceedings.

While countries are not obliged to provide CSOs with the opportunity to acquire public utility status, with related advantages such as tax exemptions or preferential access to funding of facilities, the possibility of obtaining such status and the benefits of assisting CSOs in this manner are recognised internationally (CoE Committee of Ministers, 2007[34]; OSCE/ODIHR-Venice Commission, 2015[2]). Moreover, these types of system pose mutual benefits for governments and CSOs – while they help governments achieve results in priority areas, they likewise support civil society in certain sectors and enhance the sustainability and recognition of the work of different organisations.

In Romania, the practice of applying for public utility status is underused, with numbers from 2021 showing only a very small fraction of the sector (155 organisations or approximately 0.13% of the total number of registered CSOs) making use of the system (Government of Romania, 2022[35]). The application process as outlined in Article 39 of the Ordinance is burdensome, requiring the respective CSO to submit extensive documentation to the competent ministry or specialised body of the central public administration. Such documentation includes copies of the organisation’s statute, proof of legal personality and the creditworthiness of the respective entity, and information on the natural and legal persons that the organisations frequently co-operate with to achieve their objectives. The latter information includes names, personal identification numbers, and numbers of the identity documents of natural persons and the tax identification code of legal entities. Applicants also need to provide lists of their employees and copies of employment contracts, and “copies of collaboration conventions, qualifications, letters of recommendation and the like” (Ministry of Justice, 2000[23]).

Several interviewed civil society representatives questioned the usefulness of the existing system16 given the obligations imposed on CSOs. Compared to this, benefits outlined in Article 41 of the ordinance, namely the right to be awarded the free use of public property goods and the right to mention an organisation’s public utility status in all its documents, are not extensive. Thus, the overall burden of applying for and maintaining public utility status is widely viewed as outweighing its advantages.17

CSO interviewees noted that criteria for granting the status are not always clear and the process lacks a uniform approach. As a result, many interlocutors fear that the process may be overly subjective, with little information or oversight to evaluate whether organisations receiving this status fulfil the necessary requirements. Government representatives likewise acknowledged that abuses of the current system are possible.18 The most recent OGP Action Plan, adopted by the government in July 2022 for 2022-24 (OGP, 2022[36]), includes a commitment to standardising administrative procedures related to recognition of public utility status for CSOs, as well as the creation of a digital tool to support decision making with regard to this status. The aim of this commitment is to develop a co-ordination mechanism within the General Secretariat to help public authorities manage the process of granting the status and optimise the interaction with CSO representatives in this respect.

Romania provides public funding to the CSO sector in line with specialised laws regulating conditions and procedures for public funding of activities of general interest, social assistance and cultural activities, respectively.19 This follows a trend observed in many EU and OECD Members; all 23 European countries and 84% of 32 OECD Members that responded to the 2020 Survey on Open Government provide at least some public funding to CSOs (OECD, 2022[27]).

According to Article 46 of Government Ordinance 26/2000, associations may also receive funding from a variety of other sources, including membership fees, income from direct economic activities and other legal sources, donations, sponsorships, and resources from state and local budgets. Funds received by non-profit organisations, including associations, are considered non-taxable income, according to Article 15, para. 1d of the Tax Code (Ministry of Justice, 2015[37]). From a legislative point of view, there are few if any restrictions on the type of funding that CSOs may seek, which is in line with guidance from international human rights bodies (UN, 2013[38]; 2012[39]; CoE, 2007[40]).

As in many OECD Members, Romania does not have a centralised authority in charge of distributing government funding for CSOs and there is no comprehensive overview of available funds (OECD, 2022[27]). Thus, eligible costs, selection criteria and procedures are specific to each public entity or ministry offering funding but, at the same time, the project proposal submitted by the respective body needs to comply with centralised requirements set out in Article 22 of Law 350/2005 on the Regime of Non-reimbursable Financing from Public Funds Allocated for Non-profit Activities of General Interest (Ministry of Justice, 2005[41]). Additionally, the law obliges authorities to develop an annual programme for the granting of non-reimbursable financing, including procedures and criteria for awarding contracts and transparency requirements for such contracts (Chapter II).

Whether originating from the state budget, EU funds allocated by the national administration or other international sources such as the European Economic Area (EEA) Financial Mechanism, funding is provided by the respective ministries’ budgets and is usually attached to a specific project or grant. Ministries known for offering such grants include the Ministry of Education,20 the Ministry of Culture,21 the Ministry of Youth, and the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection.22 The government Department for Interethnic Relations likewise offered grants amounting to RON 2.1 million (EUR 427 389)23 in 2021 and the Ministry of Culture administered a cultural fund amounting to RON 3 million (EUR 610 470).24 Between 2014 and 2021, the Ministry of Culture provided RON 32 million (EUR 6 512 329) in funding for cultural activities. To the extent possible, the General Secretariat monitors the type and amount of government funding granted to CSOs. The information gathered in this manner, however, is not always up to date or received consistently from all public institutions, and a comprehensive overview does not exist.

In the absence of restrictions on foreign sources of funding for CSOs, international bodies are a common source of funding, including funds sourced from the EU budget (as opposed to EU funds administered nationally by the government).25 The European Commission (EC) Financial Transparency System (EC, n.d.[42]) provides an overview of funding channelled to Romanian not-for-profit organisations in recent years.26 The data shows that, from 2014 to 2021, the EC awarded EUR 812.85 million to organisations in Romania, with EUR 632.26 million of this amount being consumed (Figure ‎5.5. ).

The EEA likewise provides funding to Romanian CSOs via special programmes, both on its own and together with Norway, notably in the Active Citizens Fund administered by a consortium of six CSOs.27 Similarly, other international foundations and organisations have programmes supporting CSOs, such as the Civitates network of foundations, the German Marshall Fund (via the Black Sea Trust), the Romanian-American Foundation, the Romanian United Fund and the Sigrid Rausing Trust.

Private donations from both businesses and individuals likewise play a considerable role in supporting the sector. Thus, a 2019 survey conducted by the University of Bucharest indicates that among 101 national and international CSOs operating in Romania, the main sources of income were individual donations (72%), membership contributions (38%), EU funding (38%), international donors (28%) and government funding (18%) (Elbers and Grigore, 2019[6]). Research conducted in 2019 by an Austrian foundation also confirmed that donations from individuals, funds from foreign foundations and funds from the private sector were the most frequent sources of funding (More-Hollerweger et al., 2019[43]). A 2020 World Bank report came to similar conclusions, noting that individual donations and corporate funding were the main sources for the CSOs surveyed, constituting 62.56% of the income of 286 organisations taking part in the study (World Bank, 2020[3]).

Notably, many international businesses have also initiated CSO support projects in Romania, such as the #ÎnStareDeBine programme supported by the international retail company Kaufland Romania and implemented by the Civil Society Development Foundation, which provides non-reimbursable grants on an annual basis.28 Private individual donations to the sector are also common, utilising the multiple online options for individuals wishing to support the sector. For example, the www.donatie.ro platform supported by, among others, the Association for Community Relations (ARC) and different telephony companies, facilitates short message service (SMS) campaigns and direct debits from individuals to different organisations, with RON 1 294 767 (EUR 26 338) donated by direct debit and RON 1 116 230 (EUR 227 239) donated by SMS in May 2022 alone. In addition, the peer-to-peer fundraising platform Galantom (https://raport.galantom.ro/) brings together volunteer fundraisers, donors and non-profit organisations, reporting a total of RON 16 512 935 (EUR 3 361 360) fundraised in 2020. Furthermore, smaller, non-commissioned donations to CSOs can be made via the Bursa Bine website (https://www.bursabinelui.ro), created by the Banca Comercială Română (BCR) in partnership with EuPlătesc (https://www.euplatesc.ro/platform). Similarly, the cost-free donation platform Pago (https://doneaza.pago.ro/) established the Civil Society Development Foundation and the Bucharest Community Foundation administer support for selected CSOs. Other general crowdfunding sites include www.consolid8.ro/. RoHelp (https://rohelp.ro/ro/) is one digital platform which allows individuals to support organisations involved in limiting the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sponsorships by individuals or legal entities concerning activities29 conducted by non-profit legal persons, public institutions and authorities, television and broadcast companies (for broadcasts and programmes, books or publications) and natural persons are also possible by providing funds or material goods, according to Articles 1 and 4 of Law 32/1994 on Sponsorship (Ministry of Justice, 1994[44]). The Ministry of Finance oversees whether funds and material goods received in this way are used for their intended purpose. In accordance with the Tax Code, taxpayers may dedicate up to 3.5% of their income tax to support registered non-profit entities, an option often used to support CSOs working in the social sector. However, CSO interviewees noted that receiving such funds involves significant administrative work and is not always feasible for small organisations with limited capacity.

As regards income from economic activities, the provisions of Government Ordinance 26/2000 on economic activities of non-profits are somewhat unclear. Notably, Article 48 of the Government Ordinance only allows direct economic activities “if they are ancillary in nature and are closely related to the main purpose of the legal person” but does not specify when economic activities are considered ancillary and when not.

Government support for the CSO sector also extends to tax exemptions for economic activities which benefit organisations, although the process to benefit from such tax regimes is also considered burdensome.30 Romania thus follows a majority trend, as it is among the 90% of 49 countries (100% of OECD Members) which responded to the 2020 Survey on Open Government and have tax regimes in place to support CSOs (Figure ‎5.6). However, as noted above in relation to public utility status, some CSOs raised concerns regarding a lack of transparency in the system, as it is not always apparent whether beneficiaries truly engage in public utility activities. CSOs are also exempt from income tax up to a certain amount or percentage31 of earned income per fiscal year (Elsuwege and Chamon, 2019[45]) but interviewees indicated that only certain organisations benefit from these exemptions.

Generally, all categories of CSO, regardless of their activities, are affected by the difficulty of access to funding (Lambru and Dobre, 2020[46]). While Government Ordinance 26/2000 requires CSOs to have a stated mission and goals, few CSOs, aside from those which are well established, can organise their work based on well-outlined strategies, due to a lack of stable funding, which also impacts their ability to attract and retain staff.32 Moreover, some government-managed funds such as the Romanian Social Development Fund, focusing on development programmes addressed to disadvantaged groups and isolated and poor communities, require previous experience with similar types of funding, which makes it difficult for newer or less experienced CSOs to access the funds.33 Additionally, Article 4 of Law 350/2005 states that public non-reimbursable funding contracts will only be granted if beneficiary organisations contribute at least 10% of the total amount of funding from their own funds. This is difficult to achieve for smaller CSOs and may further exclude them from public funding.

For institutions which do provide public funding (such as the Ministry of Youth, Ministry of Labour and Ministry of Culture), the absence of criteria or strategic goals for the disbursal of funds is considered a challenge by government officials and CSOs alike.34 Law 350/2005 sets out principles based on which non-reimbursable funding contracts may be awarded, including free competition, the effectiveness of use of public funds, transparency and equal treatment. However, although the law mentions that project evaluations should be based on criteria provided in law and specific criteria developed by the financing authority, interlocutors noted an absence of further clear practical guidance on the criteria on which awards should be granted.35 Moreover, there is no evaluation after the completion of programmes to assess whether their objectives and purpose were met by individual civil society activities or projects. This absence of a clear strategy and ex post evaluation derives from a lack of capacity in many ministries and government agencies, as staff mostly do not have the skillset or time to implement projects and evaluate them, according to government interviewees.36

In order to assist organisations to obtain funding to develop their operational capacity, the General Secretariat created and updated a series of supporting materials.37 These are published on its official website (https://sgg.gov.ro/1/), the OGP website and the CONECT platform (Box ‎5.2). They are also sent by email newsletter to interested organisations.

Noting a large dependency on EU and other international funding, both government and civil society representatives observed that procedures for participating in grant projects have become extremely complicated.38 Competition for different programmes is high, with considerable resources needed to deal with bureaucratic procedures for registering CSOs and obtaining funds. Moreover, some EU programmes, such as the Citizens, Equality, Rights and Values (CERV) programme, which aims to protect and promote civic freedoms by supporting CSOs active in EU member states, require beneficiary CSOs to co-finance projects, which means not all CSOs can participate.

On the other hand, there have been cases of good co-operation among CSOs to allow smaller organisations to apply for national grants. For example, in recent years the Civil Society Development Foundation has administered numerous funding programmes in co-operation with other stakeholders, most recently the Conectare.Dezvoltare Acces call for projects initiated with the Enel energy company and the #ÎnStareDeBine programme funded by Kaufland Romania. The Association for Community Relations works to establish contacts between donors and CSOs within local communities, including via annual fundraising workshops, while also launching and administering grant projects itself.

To have a greater impact overall in spite of potentially limited financial resources, watchdog groups or platforms have been created to pool resources and help activists speak with one voice, such as the group NGOs for Citizens and a platform called Contract Romania (https://www.facebook.com/contractromania/). In Bucharest, the Bucharest Civic Network unites many informal civic groups in the city, supported by the Resource Centre for Public Participation (CeRe). However, the support which members of these coalitions provide to each other, along with some of the projects administered by larger organisations mentioned above, cannot replace the need for wider, more strategic and accessible government funding opportunities for the sector.

The autonomy of CSOs is a further area of concern, particularly for those engaging in oversight activities such as think tanks or watchdogs. These are particularly important in democratic societies because they provide independent data and analysis on issues of public interest, in addition to helping make the public sector more transparent and accountable by shining an independent light on spending and decision making. The autonomy of such groups is of particular concern in Romania, given perceptions of corruption (see Chapter 1).

According to CSO representatives, organisations seeking public funding tend to focus on topics that they know will garner support, shying away from programmes that might appear to criticise potential donors.39 During the OECD fact-finding mission, several organisations expressed concerns regarding the criteria used and the transparency of the process of awarding public funds; a perception persists that awards are made to CSOs which are “closer” to the government, in terms of both activity and messaging.

Moving forward it is crucial to introduce reforms to funding mechanisms which ensure greater independence, transparency, accountability and fairness while supporting the sector and reinforcing its autonomy. Such reforms will contribute to a strong, vibrant and diverse civil society landscape that can critically assess the actions of the government and hold public officials to account with the ultimate objective of more effective policy making, service design and delivery.

Considering the aforementioned challenges to the enabling environment for CSOs, introducing a component on engaging civil society into the Open Government Strategy has the potential to result in shared wins for both government and civil society actors, as seen in other country contexts. Such strategies allow public officials to publicly recognise and appreciate the role in society played by different types of CSO and the value that their expertise can bring to policy making, service design and delivery. The OECD report, The Protection and Promotion of Civic Space: Strengthening Alignment with International Standards and Guidance (2022[27]), finds that 52% of all respondents to the 2020 Survey on Open Government (68% of respondent OECD Members) have civil society strategies in place to improve or promote the enabling environment for CSOs (2022[27]). Many of these strategies share several common characteristics (Box ‎5.4).

Romania’s Open Government Strategy and its integrated component on engaging civil society will undoubtedly assist the government to adopt a less legalistic, more holistic approach to stakeholder participation, in addition to providing an overarching framework to address many of the challenges identified in this Civic Space Scan. The OECD fact-finding mission uncovered several barriers currently hindering the full potential of civil society in Romania, which were the topics of discussion at joint government-civil society workshops in September 2022 (see Chapter 2 on methodology) (OECD, 2022[55]). The ensuing process of designing, developing, implementing and monitoring the strategy – with an understanding that the collaborative process is as important as the strategy itself – will provide a crucial opportunity for close and meaningful co-operation between the government and civil society, and has the potential to lay the foundations of a partnership based on trust, a sense of inclusion and mutual ownership. Key areas for the strategy to tackle include overcoming mutual distrust, ensuring equal treatment of all citizens, strengthening the enabling environment for CSOs, introducing more transparent and responsive approaches to law and policy making, and fully leveraging the opportunities which citizen and stakeholder participation offer Romanian society (OECD, 2022[55]).


[9] Buzaşu, C. and P. Marczewski (2020), “Confrontation versus cooperation in Polish and Romanian civil society”, in Global Civil Society in the Shadow of Coronavirus, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, https://carnegieeurope.eu/2020/12/07/confrontation-versus-cooperation-in-polish-and-romanian-civil-society-pub-83146.

[5] CMON (2020), What are the Learning Needs of Romanian NGOs?, Center for the Management of Non-Profit Organizations, https://www.management-ong.ro/nevoi-invatare-ong/.

[21] Code for Romania (n.d.), Code for Romania War Task Force, https://code4.ro/ro/code-for-romania-war-task-force (accessed on 15 June 2022).

[18] Code for Romania (n.d.), VotONG, https://votong.ro/ro/.

[40] CoE (2007), Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)14 of the Committee of Ministers to Member States on the Legal Status of Non-Governmental Organisations in Europe, Council of Europe, https://www.coe.int/en/web/ingo/legal-standards-for-ngos.

[34] CoE Committee of Ministers (2007), Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)14 on the Legal Status of Non-governmental Organisations in Europe, Council of Europe, Strasbourg, https://search.coe.int/cm/Pages/result_details.aspx?ObjectID=09000016805d534d.

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[54] Government of Estonia (2021), Civil Society Programme 2021-2024, https://www.google.com/search?q=Estonia%E2%80%99s+Civil+Society+Programme+2021-2024&rlz=1C1GCEB_enFR980FR980&oq=Estonia%E2%80%99s+Civil+Society+Programme+2021-2024&aqs=chrome..69i57.851j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8 (accessed on 22 July 2022).

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[50] Government of the Czech Republic (2022), Methodology of the Participation of Non-governmental Non-profit Organizations in Consultations and in the Creation of State Administration Documents, https://www.vlada.cz/assets/ppov/rnno/dokumenty/Metodika-participace-NNO_verze-po-verejnych-konzultacich_23_5_2022_final.pdf (accessed on 26 October 2022).

[47] Government of the Czech Republic (2021), Client-Oriented Public Administration 2030 Concept, https://www.mvcr.cz/clanek/koncepce-klientsky-orientovana-verejna-sprava-2030.aspx (accessed on 26 October 2022).

[48] Government of the Czech Republic (2021), Strategy for Cooperation between the Public Administration and CSOs 2021-2030, https://www.vlada.cz/assets/ppov/rnno/dokumenty/BROZURA-FINAL-S-PRILOHAMI.pdf (accessed on 26 October 2022).

[53] Government of the Czech Republic (n.d.), “State Policy with Respect to Non-Governmental Organisations 2015-2020”, https://www.vlada.cz/assets/ppov/rnno/dokumenty/statni_politika_EN.pdf (accessed on 22 July 2022).

[19] Hot News Romania (2020), “The scandal in the Social Economic Council”, https://www.hotnews.ro/stiri-esential-24495716-scandalul-din-consiliul-economic-social-dupa-presedinta-asociatiei-sexul-barza-fost-inlocuita-peste-noapte-guvern-persoana-care-nici-nu-candidase-reactia-adrianei-radu.htm (accessed on 29 July 2022).

[7] INS (n.d.), Homepage, National Institute of Statistics, https://insse.ro/cms/ro (accessed on 26 October 2022).

[11] IRES (2021), How the Romanians See 2021 - Hopes-and Predictions, Part I - Politics and Government, Romanian Institute for Evaluation and Strategy, https://ires.ro/uploads/articole/ires_cum-vad-romanii-2021_sperante-si-predictii_politica_guvernare.pdf.

[46] Lambru, M. and A. Dobre (2020), “Romania: Re-shaping the CSO sector”, Problemy Polityki Społecznej, Vol. 50/3, pp. 61-75, http://www.problemypolitykispolecznej.pl/Romania-re-shaping-the-CSO-sector-in-difficult-conditions,131585,0,1.html.

[30] Ministry of Justice (2021), “Simplification of associative life – analyzed by Secretary of State Mihai Pasca and 52 NGOs”, https://www.just.ro/simplificarea-vietii-asociative-analizata-de-secretarul-de-stat-mihai-pasca-si-52-de-ong-uri/.

[24] Ministry of Justice (2015), Law No. 219/2015 on Social Economy, Ministry of Justice Legislative Portal, https://legislatie.just.ro/Public/DetaliiDocument/170086.

[37] Ministry of Justice (2015), Law No. 227/2015 on the Tax Code, Ministry of Justice Legislative Portal, https://legislatie.just.ro/Public/DetaliiDocument/171282.

[25] Ministry of Justice (2014), Law No. 78/2014 on the Regulation of Voluntary Activity in Romania, Ministry of Justice Legislative Portal, https://legislatie.just.ro/Public/DetaliiDocument/159292.

[41] Ministry of Justice (2005), Law 350/2005 on the Regime of Non-reimbursable Financing from Public Funds Allocated for Non-profit Activities of General Interest, Ministry of Justice Legislative Portal, https://legislatie.just.ro/Public/DetaliiDocument/66812.

[23] Ministry of Justice (2000), Government Ordinance No. 26/2000 on Associations and Foundations, Ministry of Justice Legislative Portal, https://legislatie.just.ro/Public/DetaliiDocument/20740.

[44] Ministry of Justice (1994), Law No. 32/1994 on Sponsorship, Ministry of Justice Legislative Portal, https://legislatie.just.ro/Public/DetaliiDocument/4058.

[12] Ministry of Justice (n.d.), National Register for Not-for-profit Legal Persons, https://www.just.ro/registrul-national-ong/ (accessed on 22 July 2022).

[43] More-Hollerweger, E. et al. (2019), Civil Society in Central and Eastern Europe: Monitoring 2019, ERSTE Stiftung, Vienna, https://www.erstestiftung.org/de/publications/civil-society-in-central-and-eastern-europe-monitoring-2019/.

[4] Müller, K. and M. Fernandes (2021), A Statute for European Cross-border Associations and Non-profit Organisations: European Added Value Assessment, European Parliament, https://www.europarl.europa.eu/meetdocs/2014_2019/plmrep/COMMITTEES/JURI/DV/2021/05-11/Study_StatuteforEuropeancross-borderassociationsandnon-profitorganisations_EN.pdf.

[51] Network of Estonian Nonprofit Organisations (n.d.), Estonian Civil Society Development Concept, https://heakodanik.ee/en/estonian-civil-society-development-concept-2/ (accessed on 26 October 2022).

[27] OECD (2022), The Protection and Promotion of Civic Space: The Global Context and the Way Forward, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/d234e975-en.

[55] OECD (2022), “Workshops on preparing a strategy and implementation roadmap for civil society involvement in decision-making in Romania: draft outcome document”, Unpublished, OECD, Paris.

[20] Official Gazette of Romania (2022), Emergency Ordinance No. 100/2022 Approving and Implementing the National Plan of Measures on the Protection and Inclusion of Displaced Persons from Ukraine, Beneficiaries of Temporary Protection in Romania (Among Others), https://legislatie.just.ro/Public/DetaliiDocument/256915.

[36] OGP (2022), Romania Action Plan 2022-2024, Open Government Partnership, https://www.opengovpartnership.org/documents/romania-action-plan-2022-2024/ (accessed on 21 September 2022).

[49] OGP (n.d.), Czech Republic, Open Government Partnership, https://www.opengovpartnership.org/members/czech-republic/ (accessed on 26 October 2022).

[2] OSCE/ODIHR-Venice Commission (2015), Joint Guidelines on Freedom of Association, https://www.osce.org/odihr/132371.

[31] Senate of Romania (2022), Legislative Proposal for Amending and Supplementing Government Ordinance 26/2000 on Associations and Foundations, https://www.senat.ro/legis/lista.aspx?nr_cls=b758&an_cls=2022.

[33] Senate of Romania (2022), Legislative proposal for the amendment and completion of Government Ordinance no. 26/2000 regarding associations and foundations, https://senat.ro/legis/lista.aspx?nr_cls=L857&an_cls=2022 (accessed on 14 March 2023).

[38] UN (2013), Report Presented to the UN General Assembly, A/HRC/23/39, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, https://undocs.org/A/HRC/23/39.

[39] UN (2012), Report to the UN General Assembly, A/HRC/20/27, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of assembly and of association, https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G12/135/86/PDF/G1213586.pdf?OpenElement.

[10] USAID (2021), Civil Society Organization Sustainability Index - Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia, https://www.fhi360.org/projects/civil-society-organization-sustainability-index-csosi.

[26] V-Dem Institute (2021), Variable Graph, https://www.v-dem.net/data_analysis/VariableGraph/ (accessed on 14 June 2022).

[8] Volintiru, C. and C. Buzașu (2020), “Shaping civic attitudes: Protests and politics in Romania”, Romanian Journal, pp. pp. 118-146, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/341902430_Shaping_Civic_Attitudes_Protests_and_Politics_in_Romania.

[3] World Bank (2020), Rapid Assessment of Romanian CSO in the Context of COVID-19, World Bank, Washington, DC, https://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/374111602685815317/pdf/Rapid-Assessment-of-Romanian-CSO-in-the-Context-of-COVID-19.pdf.


← 1. The OSCE/ODIHR-Venice Commission Guidelines on Freedom of Association provide assistance and guidance on implementing the right to freedom of association by showcasing international human rights standards and examples of states’ good practice.

← 2. In its 2020 Rapid Assessment of CSOs in the context of COVID-19, the World Bank differentiated between three categories of CSOs, namely established CSOs (trade unions, professional associations, social dialogue groups, so engaged in representing the interests of certain groups), emerging CSOs (operating on topics such as the environment, health, social services, civic and good governance, so mostly providing services) and new wave CSOs (working in areas such as civic tech, emergency services, urban development and as social innovators, and largely issue-driven) (World Bank, 2020[3]). The above assessment detected noticeable differences between the CSOs in the different categories, notably in areas of collaborative potential and funding: e.g. while the collaborative potential was high among established CSOs and new wave CSOs, it was seen as weak and often fragmented among emerging CSOs. Funding sources were also different, with established CSOs relying mostly on public funding and membership fees, emerging CSOs relying on public funding but also on European funds, and private and business donations, and new wave CSOs relying mainly on the private sector and international foundations.

← 3. These findings were based on criteria, such as the legal environment for CSOs, their organisational capacity and financial viability, advocacy, service provision, sectoral infrastructure and public image, and the civil society sector.

← 4. Interviews with the General Secretariat of the Government, September 2022.

← 5. These include: the National Register at the Ministry of Justice (https://www.just.ro/registrul-national-ong/); the Ministry of Finance/National Agency for Fiscal Administration (ANAF) (Comunicate de presa https://www.anaf.ro, 52 774 entries for 2021), which does not fully correspond to the entities in the National Register; and the National Institute of Statistics (NIS) (https://insse.ro/cms/en) which follows its own classification and makes data available in its Statistical Register of Enterprises (REGIS) for larger categories of “private administration organisations”, some of which are part of neither the National Register nor the ANAF data. Many ministries have also their own CSO databases, notably for social enterprises, social service providers, organisations offering educational or vocational training, and religious, cultural and sporting organisations, among others. These registries use different criteria and categories and are not updated regularly. Feedback from CSOs, January-October 2022.

← 6. Interviews with CSOs, February-July 2022. Many CSOs view processes to collect relevant data as burdensome due to excessive bureaucratic requirements caused by a lack of communication among public entities which manage different databases. They pointed out that there is no common baseline for collecting and analysing relevant information, and no public body is mandated to conduct and publish data analyses on the sector.

← 7. The source of this data is the Ministry of Justice register, coupled with fiscal information available from the Ministry of Finance. Interviews with CSOs, February-September 2022.

← 8. Interviews with CSOs, February-July 2022.

← 9. The government ordinance does not cover trade unions or religious denominations (Article 1, para. 3). While trade unions are regulated in the Labour Code and in Law 62/2011 on Social Dialogue, the rights and status of religious denominations or “recognised cults” are outlined in Law 489/2006 on Freedom of Religion and the General Regime of Religious Denominations.

← 10. Following recent amendments in 2022, the social economy is defined as the set of private activities of an economic and social character which serve the general interest, the interests of a community and/or non-patrimonial personal interests, by increasing social inclusion and/or the provision of services and/or the execution of works (Article 2 of Law 219/2015). The sector consists of co-operatives, credit co-operatives, mutual associations, associations and foundations, mutual aid funds of employees and pensioners, agricultural co-operatives and societies, and any other entities which abide by the social economy principles set by this law (Article 3). Social enterprises are required to operate in the general interest, which is defined in Article 6, para. 1a, as “any activity in the economic, cultural-artistic, social, educational, scientific, health, sports, housing, environmental protection, maintenance of traditions, the ultimate purpose of which is to achieve the objectives set out in Article 5, para. 2”. Article 5, para. 2, specifies that social economy has the following objectives: strengthening economic and social cohesion, employment and the development of social services.

← 11. Other associative forms are regulated by special laws. Notably, Associations of owners (Law 230 of 6 July 2007) (associative structures set up for the administration and management of common property, which are overwhelmingly present in buildings made up of several individual properties); Associations in agriculture (Law 36 of 30 April 1991); and Associations of employees established on the basis of the Employees Shareholders’ Program (Law 77 of 1 August 1994).

← 12. Interviews with CSOs, February-July 2022.

← 13. For associations, registration previously cost around EUR 40.

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

← 15. Interviews with government representatives, February-April 2022.

← 16. Interviews with CSOs, February-July 2022.

← 17. Interviews with CSOs, February-July 2022.

← 18. Interviews with government representatives, February-April 2022.

← 19. Related laws on public funding of CSOs include:

  • Law 34/1998 on the Granting of Subsidies to Romanian Associations and Foundations with Legal Personality, which Establish and Manage Social Assistance Units, foresees special funding by local and central public authorities for CSOs providing social assistance services to individuals in need.

  • Government Ordinance No. 51/1998 on Improving the System of Financing Cultural Programmes, Projects and Actions, involves funding from public authorities from their own budgets, also for emergency cultural needs via special funds, and outlines the administration and funding of the state-funded National Cultural Fund.

  • Law 350/2005 on the Regime of Non-reimbursable Financing from Public Funds Allocated for Non-profit Activities of General Interest, outlines the procedure that CSOs should follow when applying for state grants for their projects.

← 20.  The Ministry of Education provides funding for project work related to educational development. See https://www.edu.ro/educa%C8%9Bie-pentru-dezvoltare-durabil%C4%83 for more information.

← 21. The Ministry of Culture has a special project management unit with its own website on types of grants and upcoming and pending projects; see https://www.umpcultura.ro/ctg_24_despre-noi_pg_0.htm.

← 22. Further details on the Ministry of Labour’s funding can be found on the ministry website at https://mmuncii.ro/j33/index.php/ro/proiecte-programe.

← 23. The exchange rates listed in this section were calculated using the exchange rate from September 2022.

← 24. Interviews with government representatives, February-April 2022.

← 25. The EU assists entities in Romania in various ways, by supporting Romanian operational programmes co-ordinated by the Ministry of Investment and European Projects and funded by the European Structural and Investment Funds in selected areas. Support is provided at both the central and local levels, including in fields such as digitalisation, health, education, employment and social inclusion. For an overview of the different operational programmes, in addition to funding opportunities, see https://oportunitati-ue.gov.ro/cum-obtin-finantare/. Next to longstanding programmes, such as the Administrative Capacity Operational Programme (with a total eligible amount of EUR 850.43 million for Romania as of 12 July 2022; see www.poca.ro/) or the pending Recovery and Resilience Fund (see Chapter 4 for more details), 2021 and 2022 have seen numerous new projects in areas such as gender equality, citizen participation and youth empowerment. For further information on recent calls, see https://oportunitati-ue.gov.ro/category/stiri/.

← 26. On the website, the EC specifies that, in the absence of a universally applied definition of NGO, it considers as NGO any non-profit, non-public law body (not-for-profit organisation or NFPO) independent of public authorities, political parties and commercial organisations. The NGO information that the EC has available is based on self-declarations by entities receiving EU funding through grant agreements or contracts directly managed by the EC. These self-declarations are mainly requested for statistical purposes and are not subject to a general validation by EC services.

← 27. Following a recent additional allocation to support CSOs assisting Ukrainian refugees, the Active Citizens Fund (ACF) Romania has a total allocation of EUR 48 million, with an implementation period running from 2019 to 2024. The programme is part of the EEA and Norway Grants 2014-2021 and aims to strengthen civil society and active citizenship and empower vulnerable groups. In particular, the fund seeks to develop the long-term sustainability and capacity of the civil society sector. The consortium administering the fund is made up of: the Civil Society Development Foundation, the Romanian Environmental Partnership Foundation, the Resource Center for Roma Communities, the PACT Foundation and the Frivillighet Norge (association of NGOs in Norway). For more information, see https://activecitizensfund.ro.

← 28. The #ÎnStareDeBine programme provides non-reimbursable grants totalling EUR 1 million to CSOs in Romania. Its aims are to support vulnerable groups and communities with initiatives in the fields of culture, sports or healthy living. For more information, see http://instaredebine.ro.

← 29. According to Article 4 of Law 32/1994 on Sponsorship, non-profit legal persons may be beneficiaries of sponsorships if they carry out or plan to carry out any of the following activities in Romania: activity in the fields of cultural, artistic, educational, educational, scientific – fundamental and applied research, humanitarian, religious, philanthropic, sports, human rights protection, medical and sanitary, social assistance and services, environmental, social and community protection, representation of professional associations, as well as maintenance, restoration, preservation and enhancement of historic monuments.

← 30. Interviews with CSOs, February-July 2022.

← 31. CSOs, trade unions and business associations remain exempt from income tax up to EUR 15 000 on earned income per fiscal year, or up to 10% of total tax-exempt income (whichever is lower).

← 32. Interviews with CSOs, February-July 2022; OECD Public Consultation, https://engagement.oecd-opsi.org/engagement/processes/5/debate.

← 33. Interviews with CSO, July 2022.

← 34. Interviews with CSOs and government representatives, February-July 2022.

← 35. Interviews with CSOs and government representatives, February-July 2022.

← 36. Interviews with government representatives, February-April 2022.

← 37. This includes reports on mechanisms for financing CSOs from public or private sources that are updated as needed (see reports from 2016 and 2020 respectively, at https://bit.ly/3raNNv9 and https://bit.ly/3ngofM0), as well as information on internal and external funding calls (see information on internal funding calls at http://conect.gov.ro/1/apeluri-interne/ and information on external funding calls at http://conect.gov.ro/1/apeluri-externe/). A guide to the transparency of non-reimbursable financing has also been developed (see http://ogp.gov.ro/nou/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/Ghid-privind-transparentizarea-finantarilor-23dec.pdf) (General Secretariat of the Government, 2021[56]). In addition, the General Secretariat of the Government held a series of workshops to improve the funding framework, in addition to analysing the administration’s practices in the field, and has conducted awareness-raising on existing tools and guidance concerning funding options and the process of granting public funds. Certain central funding authorities have developed electronic tools for funding procedures to assist the application and reporting process, e.g. the administration of the National Cultural Fund at www.afcn.ro. At the local level, Bacău County Council operates a specialised online portal for the submission and evaluation of projects (https://portallegea350.ro), Harghita County Council runs an online platform for submission of grant proposals (https://programeproiecte.judetulharghita.ro/) and Cluj-Napoca City Hall allows the submission of proposals both in physical format and online.

← 38. Interviews with government representatives and CSOs, February-July 2022.

← 39. Interviews with CSOs, February-July 2022.

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