The Constitutional debate continues
Early June brought about a proposal to amend the Constitution done hastily by a commission composed of MPs without any input from law professors or from the general public. The works of the commissions were closed to the public as the chairman feared too much transparency might spring public debate on the proposed changes. Some NGOs have sent comments on articles pertaining to citizens rights, while others decided to openly criticize the process for being too opaque and, therefore, illegitimate. The organizations that have sent proposals concentrated their focus on the compliance of the new constitution with the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.
Expert Forum – one of the most critical NGOs to the constitutional revision process – organized in partnership with the Group for Social Dialogue and Revista 22 an expertise-based debate on the new Constitution, The Revision of the Constitution, political interest or national interest?. EFOR has previously published a policy brief outlining the most controversial provisions planned to be included in the Constitution and actively campaigned through the media in order to raise awareness on the topic. The public debate organized had as a starting point EFOR’s findings to which all the participants were invited to respond. The event featured figures from the political, academic, nongovernmental and legal sectors. Representatives of the Parliamentary Commission, the parties in power as well as opposition, specialists in constitutional law debated over the advantages and the dangers of the constitutional revision. The main topics included in the debates related to the extensive powers of the Parliament, the type of political regime (parliamentary vs semi-presidential), the structure of the Parliament (unicameral vs bicameral), the institution of the referendum, the lack of precision and technical aspects in writing the constitutional proposal and the utility of the constitutional revision itself that has been seen mostly as a political tool that opens dangerous doors by annulling the checks and balances which exist in the present text. Also, the principles of freedom and right of expression and information and equality before law – present in the Charter – have been put into discussion.
In July, EFOR continued its efforts of raising awareness on the proposed changes of the Constitution by publishing a series of caricatures developed by Iepurele Mizantrop, a well known Romanian caricaturist. The drawings were disseminated to a significant number of users, as the purpose of the campaign was to translate into the easily accessible drawings the worrying proposed changes. EFOR has used its expertise and alerting functions in order to inform the general public about the dangers of the Constitution.
EFOR also continued its activity regarding the constitutional review process with a debate organized in partnership with the Rule of Law Program South East Europe of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung that took place on 16th of July. The key-note speech was held by Prof. Efisio Espa from the Scuola Superiore della Pubblica Amministrazione in Rome. During the conference “Regionalization and administrative reform of Romania – challenges and perspectives”. Thorsten Geissler, the Director of KAS stated that the civil society should play an important role in the regionalization process, while Prof. Espa covered a range of models and examples and also presented some technical details about the regionalization process. Laura Ștefan, anticorruption expert (EFOR) discussed the political and administrative challenges that may occur during the process.
Non-transparent practices in accessing European funds
If we talk about regions we also talk about European Funds, an issue that is permanently monitories by The Coalition for Structural Funds, an alliance formed of 27 NGOs that has the purpose of highlighting the importance of the beneficiaries in the absorption process and to monitor the transparency of the process in Romania. The Coalition consists mostly from beneficiaries of European funding, with solid expertise in this domain that permanently monitor and alert on critical issues related to the process. The NGOs have organized meetings, conferences, monitored the institutions and published reports.
On the 5th of July, the Coalition sent a letter to the Ministry of Labor and to the management Authority, the public entities that administer POSDRU (Human Resources Development Operational Program) in order to protest against the lack of transparency in the fund granting process. The authority has inexplicably prolonged the deadline for a call with just one hour before the expiration date.
The Coalition considered that the integrity of the decision can be contested and that the decision gives supplementary chances to the potential beneficiaries that had four more days for uploading the project. The NGOs asked the institutions to publicly explain the reasons for the decision and to the relevant stakeholders for a better monitoring of the granting process.
You can find more about the monitoring, advocacy and alerting activities of the Coalition, here.
Bad governance vs good practices in urban development
If bad governance practices can practically be found everywhere, we might as well see where good practice applies. Due to the fact urban planning in Romania is not one of the sectors where transparency and access to information are blooming, Active Watch – Media Monitoring Agency, the Association for Urban Transition and the Group for Local Development organized the international conference Exchanges of good practice regarding the public participation in urban development. The event took place in Bucharest, on 19th of July and had the purpose of consolidating the dialogue between the non-governmental sector and the institutional actors within the involvement of citizens in the urban development process.
The conference boasted two foreign guests, Daisy Froud, UK (AOC) and Paul Cromwell, Germany (ECON), experts in public participation within the urban planning projects. The event aimed at comparing good practice in Romania, Germany and Great Britain, analyzing the monitoring of information and consultation procedures for citizens in the elaboration of urbanism documentation and identifying collaboration opportunities between the civil society and the public sector.
The organizers used their long experience in monitoring public institutions and publicly reporting transparency related issue. Through this two day conference, they reinforced article 11 of the European Charter, the right to information and expression.
On the other side, Romania faces major issues regarding the transparency and integrity in the decision-making process regarding the urban development. One proof is the passage that is planned to be constructed under one of the most important areas in Bucharest, Casa Presei Libere. According to the authorities, the passage is necessary as the circulation is too heavy in the area and the construction will also be a starting point for further developments in the area.
On the other side, the civil society organizations have been active, even if with no clear results. Even if some of the environmental and good governance NGOs have put their expertise to work and intervened in the process with suggestions and recommendations for the public institutions, but also alerted the public, their activity was not visible enough. The CSOs that requested for a public debate – even if the planning process is already on the way – stated that the construction will only increase traffic towards the center of Bucharest and will block the area due to the construction site the construction as there will be not enough funds for finishing the project. Also, the NGOs stated in the public meeting that the investment of 18 million Euros is useless as long as the traffic is not that heavy in the area. Moreover, the pollution will increase at a high rate and the green spaces will be destroyed.
Even if the civil society criticizes the Municipality – as it has frequently done in the past, especially related to transparency and approval of illegal construction plans or demolitions – the construction seems to be under way, as the first approvals have been given and a public procurement process has been organized.
Under these conditions the consultation process proves to be just a simulated one, so that the formal transparency requirements could be accomplished. The right to information and expression can be repressed, as the access to the public decision is limited and futile. The municipality has shown, as in many other cases, lack of transparency and common sense in spending public money. More about the issue can be read here.
Roma policies need to get better
The quality of living can be defined from the point of view of the urban development. But must also be seen from the perspective of access to resources, especially for the vulnerable categories. The situation of the Roma communities in Romania can be catalogued as difficult as in a significant number of cases the right to education or health cannot be properly exerted, as minority population is segregated. Moreover, the non-discrimination principle, but also the cultural, religious and linguistic diversity rights are subject to debate, both in Romania as in Europe.
The recent local elections have shown that discrimination, xenophobia and violation of human rights can be an excellent topic to become the leader of a community, as Cătălin Cherecheș, current mayor of Baia Mare did – he has elected with 86% of the votes. His campaign was directed against the Roma population and got even worse, as a group of citizens belonging to the minority were moved with their homes to a toxic location. Similar violations took place in other Romanian cities, as Cluj Napoca.
Polls show that this minority is one of the top discriminated groups in Romania, but also in Europe, where violent acts against the Roma citizens are more and more frequent. On the other hand, Roma do not trust that the justice works for them and citizens consider that the activity of the Government is not at all constructive and efficient. If the Charter states the every citizen has the right to life, dignity, education or health, but also the right to its personal integrity, freedom of though and expression, but still, in practice these rights are not protected by the Government or local authorities, what should be done and how a strategy of solving these issues should look like?
The Soros Foundation together with other three NGOs (Centrul de Resurse pentru Comunitățile de Romi, Fundația pentru Dezvoltarea Societăţii Civile and Centrul Romilor pentru Politici de Sănătate – SASTIPEN), have released the Civil Society’s Monitoring Report of the first year of implementation of the Governmental Inclusion Strategy for Romanian Citizens of Roma Minority, 2012-2020. The research has been coordinated and financed by the Decade of Roma Inclusion, Making the Most of EU Funds for Roma Program and Roma Initiatives Office, both initiatives of Open Society Foundations.
The research that is not meant to replace the public evaluation has evaluated and identified some problems related to the Roma strategies, such as the poor use of European funds and low levels of budgets for social programs, as well as the lack of personalized employment programs. The report identifies segregation in multiple sectors, with the most visible presence in health and education. The political factor is also present, as the report shows the existence of a political fight for Roma representation in the central administration as well as cheap vote buying.
Similar reports have been produced in Albania, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Macedonia, Slovakia, Spain and Hungary. The key topics of the documents have also been supported by European officials, such as Viviane Reding, Vice-president of the European Commission or László Andor, Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion. Ms. Reding stated that if the member states treat with gravity their national strategies, then they should speed up the integration of Roma.
The NGOs have a long experience in working with Roma communities and used their expertise not only to draw attention on the issues, but aimed at creating changes in the system, by promoting the right to life, to dignity, to education, employment and equal chances.
In line with this initiative, Soros also supports the local authorities in order to develop better policies for the Roma by launching a network – Active mayors for Roma Integration in Romania (MERI Romania) – that will offer the possibility for local elected officials to exchange information about funding, policies and good practice. The network was launched on the 16th and 17th July and gathered guests from the Ministry of European Funds, National Roma Agency, as well as local elected officials from 29 localities.
Advocacy and watchdog, for civil society
By combining both financing and networking opportunities, the managing partners of the NGO Fund for Romania have organized two sessions for potential beneficiaries in July, one regarding advocacy in durable development and the other on hate speech.
On 15th July, the Foundation for Civil Society Development organized the thematic session Approaches related to the fight against hate speech that brought together 15 representatives of relevant civil society organizations. The purpose of the meeting was to permit the organizers to explore together with specialized and relevant civil society organizations the topic of hate speech, from the Romanian and European points of view and also to give space to networking and good practice exchange related to the topic that could help setting up partnerships for the incoming call. The discussions were based on principles such as non-discrimination, right to life, right to the integrity of the person or freedom of thought and consciousness, comprised in the Charter.
The debate gave the opportunity to the organizers to explore together with the participants different angles of hate speech, at the national and European level. Presentations included national good practice, together with websites that promote the hate speech or antidiscrimination campaigns (such as NO H8)
The thematic session Advocacy and watchdog for the durable development was organized by Environmental Partnership Foundation and took place on 9th of June in Bucharest. The event included 50 participants and aimed at identifying the current environmental problems that need intervention through advocacy and watchdog activities from the NGOs, but also solutions, strategies and potential partnerships.
Three important Romanian NGOs working in the field have presented their monitoring and advocacy campaigns. The first one (Asociația Salvați Dunărea și Delta) was a campaign against building micro-hydro plants on the courses of three rivers in Făgăraș Mountains, followed by a campaign to save virgin forest (WWF) and priorities on the climate changes (Terra Mileniul III).
The second part of the thematic session included a presentation of the eligible advocacy and watchdog activities and the financing opportunities within the Durable Development component of the NGO Fund.
Some of the most important rights in the European Charter are the right to life or the right to liberty and security. This is what a recently founded NGO, eLiberare promotes through a set of materials against persons trafficking. The organization publicly disseminated flyers, DVDs and Facebook covers that contain relevant information regarding the topic.
The campaign reinforces the right to life, dignity and liberty, comprised in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, by raising awareness on a sensitive topic and empowering citizens to produce change by teaching the public how to identify potential traffickers and ways to avoid the danger of trafficking. The materials can be downloaded from the official website or the Facebook page. The users are encouraged to share and promote the materials in order to increase the awareness level.
This text is a result of a research prepared within the project “Powerful Watchdogs” supported by a grant from Switzerland through the Swiss Contribution to the enlarged European Union. The report aims to show the up-to-date information regarding activity of watchdog organizations in a given country. The author refers to the classification on watchdog functions, to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the international concepts of the transparent governance.