Why Romania’s territorial reorganization is impossible: it leaves the big establishment parties…

Why Romania’s territorial reorganization is impossible: it leaves the big establishment parties without clients and would wipe out local barons

Why Romania’s territorial reorganization is impossible: it leaves the big establishment parties without clients and would wipe out local barons

Can you imagine a Romania with only half of the local bureaucracy, in which the ghost towns would stop wasting money on thousands of useless management positions? A country with 10-15 counties, with a digitalized bureaucracy, with spending cut in half? This is what a de facto territorial-administrative reorganization. Precisely because it would be so efficient, the reorganization is impossible.

Entrepreneurs, development experts, and a few far-sighted politicians have been calling for years for reorganization, an essential measure to unlock Romania’s development. It involves reducing the number of counties and merging towns that cannot sustain themselves. The reorganization would unlock billions of euros by reducing the number of deconcentrated departments and cutting red tape.

That’s the scale of the change. Instead of 41 county inspectorates for police, gendarmerie, education, culture, sport, etc. (the list goes on with dozens of areas), we would have only 10 to 15 such inspectorates.

Of the more than 2,800 communes – each with its own governing apparatus – most would disappear if a threshold of 5,000 inhabitants were imposed. The reality is already here, there are ghost villages and communes, completely depopulated, from which the inhabitants have left for nearby towns or directly abroad. They are usually isolated villages where job opportunities and social life are non-existent for young people.

Of the 320 towns, a few dozen – those with populations under 10 000 – would become communes. They are towns on the verge of demographic desertification, also without young people, roads or business infrastructure, without great prospects.

All these transformations would make life easier for taxpayers, lower local taxes in some cases, and relieve the state budget of a significant burden. In addition, it would free up thousands of potential employees for the private sector, and for those remaining, pay raises would be possible in line with the importance of the work they do.

Well, it is precisely the efficiency of such a move that makes it impossible. At least until the 2024 elections. Because the reorganization would have three devastating effects on the PSD, PNL and UDMR, the very parties that make up the governing coalition.

The first effect: the abolition of jobs in the state, most of which are senior positions. These posts usually employ the political clientele of the three parties of the system. G4Media and the independent press have written thousands of articles on the subject of purely political promotions in the administration. We are talking about tens of thousands of members who owe their careers, their money, and their peace of mind exclusively to the party that promoted them. Once a discussion about reorganization starts, all these party clients and their families will panic and, predictably, will do everything possible to stop such a process.

The second effect: the disappearance of some of the local barons, usually those who treat their county or town as their own fiefdom. The reorganization would reduce not only the number of county councils, but also the number of municipalities and towns, and you can imagine how many barons from the PSD, PNL and UDMR would lose their political power.

The third effect: the opposition of the UDMR to any project that would not make a county with an ethnic Hungarian majority (a merger of the current Covasna, Harghita and Târgu-Mureș counties). And in 2011, the UDMR opposed it when Traian Băsescu’s initial project aimed to introduce two more counties with a predominantly Romanian population, which would have massively diluted the share of ethnic Hungarians.

These are the reasons why the leaders of the three parties do not even raise the issue of territorial reorganization, especially in a pre-election year. It would cause so much internal tension that Ciolacu, Ciucă & Kelemen Hunor would find it impossible to manage before the elections.

Besides, Romania has a precedent in failing this reform in 2011. Traian Băsescu and Emil Boc wanted to make a similar reform but gave up after the categorical refusal of some powerful PDL barons, but also because of the opposition of the UDMR, which was the governing partner at the time.

In fact, Băsescu said in a cryptic statement at the time that it was his former party colleagues who put the brakes on the project. He was referring to „Gigi and Nelu” – Gheorghe Stefan and Ioan Oltean, two powerful local barons who feared their counties would disappear by merging with larger counties.

The situation today is similar to that in 2011. Now, as then, we are in a pre-election year and the central party leadership depends on mobilizing strong local leaders. That is why the PSD, PNL and UDMR leaders will not even risk opening this hot topic, even though they know that reorganization is the only solution that can relieve the state budget of its almost impossible burden at the moment.

And it’s not just the approaching elections that make the leaders of the three big parties reluctant. They have already shown little appetite for structural reform, content with the status quo that has propelled them into these positions. And they already have dozens of reforms on their agenda that they have taken on through the PNRR that are already giving them far too much trouble: reform of special pensions, ordinary pensions, civil service pay, etc.

So it is unrealistic to expect the political environment to give in to the demands of the business. However right entrepreneurs suffocated by red tape and inefficient administration may be, the political reality is decisive: any discussion of territorial reorganization will be postponed until after December 2024. Nor is the next four-year window without elections a guarantee of such radical change. After all, we are talking about the mother of reforms. That requires a president, a prime minister, and leaders of the future coalition government willing to risk their political careers on a single card.


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