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Open Access 2022 | OriginalPaper | Chapter

3. Fragmentation: A Trait of the Romanian Political Elite

Author : Luana Martin-Russu

Published in: Deforming the Reform

Publisher: Springer International Publishing

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Abstract

With this chapter, Martin-Russu starts her empirical analysis by examining the structural factors that influence the composition and conduct of the Romanian political elite. The observed high level of fragmentation of this elite during the last decades results from a narrow and shallow pattern of elite renewal, from conflicting institutional or organizational interests and from a lack of value consensus among elite members. All these factors exacerbate a struggle for power, they work in favour of a pursuit of narrow particular interests at high levels of decision-making, leading to the failure of democracy even where democratic institutions are in place.
The chapter shows a political environment in which the major Romanian political parties experience numerous splits and mergers, several opportunistic coalitions are forged in the run-up to or midway between parliamentary elections, and numerous party members abruptly change their affiliation in order to obtain secure political positions. It provides a revealing example of over-fragmentation: a political climate of distrust, uncertainty and unpredictability that favours self-interested behaviour, and in which elected elites can be bound neither to take account of the preferences of their own party, nor to take into account the concerns of their electorate.
Notes
He who dreads hostility too much is unfit to rule. (Lucius Annaeus Seneca)
On 21 June 2017, a censure motion passed in the Romanian parliament called on the Prime Minister, Sorin Grindeanu, and his cabinet to resign.1 The motion was preceded by a highly critical evaluation of governmental performance and a report issued by the Social Democratic Party accusing all members of government of failure to uphold the duties linked to their positions as set forth by the party’s electoral programme.2 Consequently, after holding office for only 6 months, Sorin Grindeanu and his entire cabinet were forced to resign when the parliament withdrew its confidence from the government. This premature dismissal appeared to be less an expression of discontent with the existing governmental team and its achievements than a successful attempt to oust the Prime Minister; many of the members of the former government were reinstated under a new prime minister, despite their unfavourable evaluation. Votes of no confidence are frequently used in Romania. Since 2007, no less than 20 censure motions were presented in parliament, the large majority of which were defeated.3 It is a matter of everyday Romanian politics for the opposition parties to attempt to oust the government by means of censure motions. Such attempts have so far had little success, since the current government usually enjoys the support of the parliamentary majority. This removal from office of Sorin Grindeanu, however, is an exception. What enabled this censure motion to be successful was the unusual fact that this motion was not opposition-sponsored; in an unprecedented manner, this no-confidence motion was tabled by the Social Democratic Party (PSD), which called on its own government to resign. Instead of enjoying their legislative period, PSD allowed inner-party differences to erupt into a general political crisis. There had been two further prime ministers after Sorin Grindeanu, before a new successful censure motion was passed within the same legislative period against the PSD government. This new motion of no confidence, from 10 October 2019, was no longer tabled by the Social Democratic Party against its own government; it was introduced by the opposition, yet it couldn’t have succeeded without the support of PSD representatives who still had the parliamentary majority, but voted to dismiss Viorica Dăncilă, the prime minister they had appointed 20 months before. To complete the absurd picture, at the moment of writing one of the candidates proposed by PSD to be prime minister in the new Parliamentary cycle 2020–2024 is none other than Sorin Grindeanu, who appears to have regained the confidence of his party.
This snapshot of the Romanian national political landscape is illustrative of how competition, power relationships, elite behaviour and elite interaction may affect legislative stability. Political elites are in a unique position to influence the institutional settings in which they operate, to set the climate for policy debate, to shape the agenda and ultimately the legislative output. The advance of any reform hinges on the state of a country’s political elite. Therefore, the structure and dynamics of the ruling stratum, the patterns of interaction among its members and their capacity for cooperation and consensus must be taken into account in order to determine a state’s democratic performance and the strength of its reforms. The level of elite integration, or disintegration, is a crucial factor that adversely affects the behaviour of the political elite and thereby the stability of reforms.
As already stressed in Sect. 2.​2, this study assumes a pluralist perspective, according to which political differences are inevitable. The interactions between the members of the political elite are essentially competitive in character: different constellations of actors represent different and conflicting interests and, accordingly, adopt distinct positions that affect legislative output in various ways and to various degrees. A certain level of fragmentation, a plurality in terms of views, approaches and pursued preferences is desirable for a healthy democratic debate. A moderately, pluralistically fragmented elite is uniquely able to support democratic decision-making; it shows mutual recognition of differences in ideas and political programs. Tipping the balance in one direction or the other has however dire consequences for a state’s democratic order: the complete absence of fragmentation amounts to a slide towards coherent but authoritarian decision-making in which the strongly united political elite is likely to turn hostile towards opposing viewpoints and interests; poles apart, an over-fragmentation of the elite is grounded on internal conflicts, inconsistencies, tensions and an unwillingness to cooperate.4 Hence, what is here believed to stimulate a pursuit of personal rather than societal or group interests, and thus destabilize reforms, is an excessively high level of fragmentation. Over-fragmentation is reflected in the absence of value consensus and interaction ties among different political factions,5 and reaches deeper than ideological differences do. It occurs within particular ideologically homogeneous groups as much as it occurs between them. It points to a “serious split between different political elite groups, characterized by mistrust and non-cooperation or worse, a ‘trench-mentality’.”6
Central and Eastern European states in particular have been found to have a tendency toward intense fragmentation;7 the relations between elite members in the region having long been dominated by confrontation and individualism.
Political concessions in [CEE] are severely contested, and better made only if the victory of one’s own party is secured and the political adversary defeated; otherwise the compromise-inclined may be compromised by his own (party) allies. Elites that are ready to compromise and cooperate discredit themselves because they are regarded as weak and incompetent in enforcing their own stances.8
However, recent developments in Central Eastern and South-Eastern Europe point towards diverging trends in what regards the level of elite fragmentation: while states like Hungary and Poland experienced a slide towards an increasingly stable partisan landscape with a high degree of party-level consensus, in Romania the lack of consensus among the elites increased gradually, both between and within political parties. At one extreme, since 2010 Hungary saw a continuous enforcement of intra-party ideological unity coupled with a domination of group over societal preferences; this led to institutional changes that favoured the preferences of the incumbents alone and were therefore prejudicial to the functioning of democracy. This transformation was essentially a reorientation of the elites towards an illiberal democracy and later towards an electoral authoritarianism.9 At the other extreme, Romania’s political elite grew increasingly fragmented. The apparent consensus among the elites before January 2007 disguised a lack of mutual confidence and consensus on all but the general statements supporting the state’s membership in the EU. After accession, there has been a growing sense of distrust and a continuous battle over spheres of influence among the members of the Romanian political elite. They grew increasingly isolated from societal values and ideological preferences, engaging in self-serving political competition within a democratic framework that is preserved, but used for the pursuit of individual goals.10 As the following pages will show, the current appropriation of democracy for personal ends, even when they diverge from the interests of the constituency or the party, is interlinked with the intense elite fragmentation in Romania.
The present chapter expands on this argument that only a moderate level of fragmentation can foster reform stability, while over-fragmentation in turn harms the functioning of democracy, impedes legislative action and allows the pursuit of personal gain to steer the course of reform. The difference between a pluralistically fragmented political elite and an excessively-fragmented one lies in the manner in which the members of the elite remain bound by their electoral promises, respectful towards due process and the democratic rules of the political game, and true to the values and principles that have guided them in the past.
In order to provide a comprehensive overview of its tendencies towards over-fragmentation, we will focus on three structural dimensions affecting the behaviour of the political elite in Romania: (1) its composition, (2) the institutional context in which the elite operates and (3) the existing value-based ties among its members. Firstly, the following section will elaborate on the renewal patterns of the elite, its permeability and continuity. It will reveal how a narrow and shallow circulation of the elite has as a consequence a continuous rotation of key elite members from one leadership position to another. At the same time, the coexistence of elite members with long political careers alongside political newcomers intensifies the struggle over positions of power and fuels a sentiment of mutual mistrust. Secondly, the insights into the composition and recruitment patterns of Romania’s political elite are complemented by an analysis of the elite’s institutional status and roles. A long and still open debate over Romania’s political regime (whether the country has a parliamentary or a presidential system of government) and the constant frictions between the legislative and executive branch are here regarded as another source of fragmentation, stemming this time from Romania’s institutional architecture. The third line of argument discusses the relationship between political elites and political parties, i.e., the expressed level of solidarity and value consensus among party members. Romania’s maintenance of fragile coalitions and ideologically fluid political parties leads to the same conclusion: the country has an excessively divided political elite. This detailed study of the composition and dynamics of the elite, drawing on a body of literature on elite structures, allows for a more nuanced understanding of fragmentation and invites reflection on the intuitive assumption that corrupt elites are united. The uniform behaviour of elites in their abusive practices is in itself a sign of fragmentation, cooperation in this regard being driven by short-term volatile interests.
The last part of this chapter discusses the level of fragmentation within the Romanian political elite in relation to the state’s accession to the EU; it describes the years preceding the accession, which were marked by a period of calm and apparent consensus, and which contrast sharply with the domestic political landscape after January 2007. This analysis draws attention to the fact that the level of elite fragmentation varies widely from legislative term to legislative term, and that an inclination of the balance towards either extreme (under-fragmentation or over-fragmentation) fits accurately to the deterioration of the democratic order. Observing the patterns of elite interaction in the post-accession period gives a better image of the environment in which Europeanizing reforms are adopted and amended. The increasing level of elite fragmentation in Romania did not cause, but conditioned de-Europeanization, just as the decreasing level of elite fragmentation in Hungary did not cause, but conditioned the state’s slide towards electoral authoritarianism. Romania’s example provides valuable insights into how changes in the level of elite fragmentation may upset the development of reforms and the democratic order in other CEE states as well.

3.1 Recruitment Practices Maintaining an Impermeable and Disunited Elite

The Romanian revolution of 1989 was a sudden and violent elite change which created a power vacuum that both sympathisers of the former communist system as well as oppositional forces intended to fill. Whether the one or the other managed to form a new government, whether the revolution enabled the imposition of a completely new set of elites, or whether it only allowed the second communist echelon to maintain a near-exclusive hold on positions of power, is a question that falls beyond the scope of this research.11 The present analysis will confine itself to exploring the regenerative pattern followed by the Romanian political elite after the violent revolution of 1989: decades during which elite circulation continued to be gradual and peaceful in manner, but—as the following pages will show—narrow and shallow in scope.
Romania’s democratic transformation began with the establishment of the Council of the National Salvation Front (FSN), a new structure of power which took over government responsibility immediately after the regime change until the first democratic elections were held in May 1990. This organization emerged on an ad hoc basis and its 145 members included opportunistic communists as well as dissident activists, critics of the regime, well-educated technocrats and liberal intellectuals, engineers, workers, students and professors.12 It was a broad alliance, with a wide ideological spectrum, yet with a narrow and centralized leadership. While the Council exercised important legislative functions, the actual power was vested in the smaller Executive Bureau13 at the top of the structure (see Fig. 3.114). The Executive Bureau was responsible for determining the composition of the Council, it was authorized to act on behalf of the latter between full sessions, and more importantly, it retained control over policy-making, since nine of its eleven members headed the most important FSN Commissions.15
This highly hierarchical structure of the National Salvation Front was to be replicated in almost all the major political parties in post-communist Romania, whose leaders continued to exercise significant influence over every aspect of party and parliamentary decision-making. In fact, as will be detailed further below, more than three decades after the democratic turn, Romanian political parties continue to lack reforms with respect to their decision-making processes; they are still characterized by remarkably centralized leadership selection and removal mechanisms and reduced members’ involvement in party affairs. Arguably, the first years after the revolution were decisive in establishing this trend: the absence of deep social cleavages resulted in the emergence of political parties with no social roots but with strong institutional anchors, likely to follow a top-down approach to party-revitalization.16 As a matter of course, Romania’s major political parties still display an “uninterrupted oligarchic inertia”17 which sustains a wide power disparity between the various party strata, thereby weakening intra-party cohesion and organizational loyalty.
In its early days, the Council of the National Salvation Front took the idea of consensus as its logical basis: it defined itself as an umbrella organization playing a permanent role in Romanian politics as a representative for a wide range of interests and a large section of society. It was not intended to be or to become a political party, but to participate in the upcoming elections as an all-encompassing political organization that included various different political movements or factions. Its expressed aim was to allow dissenting voices to exist, “but these were clearly expected to subscribe to the basic tenets of the Front’s program and to operate within a restricted limit.”18
No later than January 1990, however, this political project of consensus was abandoned. The Council became a mere temporary body, soon to be replaced by a parliament legitimized through popular elections.19 Accordingly, it voted on its dissolution and announced that the National Salvation Front was coming forward as a fully fledged political party. As a competitor during the elections in May 1990, the FSN was challenged by various opposition groups and newly formed political parties, most of which proved still too weak, without a significant membership base and resources, to stand a chance. The National Salvation Front won easily. It obtained an overwhelming majority in parliament—245 seats—while the National Liberal Party (PNL) and the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR) came in second and third, both winning 29 seats respectively.20 These elections were one of the first steps towards democracy, and played a major role in the state’s return to political pluralism and the emergence of a competitive political environment in Romania. A retrospective analysis shows that these elections went much beyond political pluralism in that they marked a complete departure from consensus; they plotted the course for the democratic years to come, defined by conflict and power struggle.
After its victory in the 1990 parliamentary elections, the FSN split into two groups in 1992: the FDSN, which won the subsequent national elections and grew to become Romania’s largest and most influential left-wing political party;21 and the FSN, which emerged as the more liberal faction after the split.22 The FDSN changed its name to PDSR and subsequently to PSD and reasserted its social-democratic credentials; the FSN merged with another political group and renamed itself the Democratic Party (PD), continuing to campaign on a centre-left platform despite its centre-right bent.23 In 1995, the PD formed an alliance with the small social-democratic party PSDR, though this was only a temporary alliance; 4 years later, the PSDR withdrew from it in order to merge with the PDSR24 and secure its political future as Romania’s Social Democratic Party (PSD), on the left side of the political spectrum. Splinter groups from PSD broke away in 2010 (in order to form the National Union for the Progress of Romania (UNPR) together with a break-away group of the National Liberal Party), and again in 2017 (joining former members of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE) to establish PRO Romania).
On the centre-right stage, the PD fused in 2007 with a splinter group from the National Liberal Party (PNL) to form the centre-right Democratic Liberal Party (PDL). A splinter group from the PDL formed its own centre-right party, the People’s Movement Party (PMP), in 2013, while the remaining members were absorbed by the PNL in 2014. The above-mentioned National Union for the Progress of Romania (UNPR) was itself absorbed into PMP in 2016.
The National Liberal Party (PNL) was itself torn by factionalism, witnessing numerous splits and mergers throughout the post-communist period.25 During the early 1990s, two groups seceded from the party to form the young wing of the party (PNL-AT) in 1990 and the Democratic Convention of the National Liberal Party (PNL-CD) in 1992; the two factions merged later on and were subsequently reabsorbed into the National Liberal Party. Later, in 2013, a splinter group from the National Liberal Party founded the Liberal Reformist Party, which in 2015 merged with the Conservative Party, the PC (formerly the Romanian Humanist Party, PUR) to become the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE). In 2020 ALDE merged into PRO Romania, a political party that joined together members from ALDE and PSD.
Such name changes, splits and fusions of major political parties (as displayed in Fig. 3.226) were certainly not rare occurrences; in fact, they were—and surprisingly still are after decades of democratic development—a rather common phenomenon in Romania, and reflect frequent intra-party tensions and contradictions and a general lack of ideological and organizational identity.
Irrespective of this chronic fighting between factions inside political parties, the Romanian political system was often rightfully associated in the literature with a cartel-party system.27 Indeed, it proves to be exceptionally stable, with largely the same political parties represented in parliament in nearly all legislatures. Political competition broadly resembles a closed game of incumbents, as very few of the parties that were formed after 1990 were genuinely new.28 In their overwhelming majority, they are only formally speaking new parties: splinters emerged as successors of established organizations, with important political figures among their most prominent members,29 and often, they re-affiliate with established political groups on the eve of elections. What may seem to be an increasingly diversified political landscape, with a higher number of newly formed political parties is, in fact, a mere change of denominations, while the basic structures, leadership styles and often the leaders themselves remain unchanged. As a matter of fact, since 1996, the elections brought almost no new parties into Romanian parliament (with the exception of the PP-DD, which entered parliament in 2008 and was absorbed into UNPR in 2015; and the USR, which won seats in 2016). At the same time, almost all established political parties have succeeded in preserving their parliamentary positions (with the exception of the PRM in 2008 and ALDE and PMP in 2020). Even when genuinely new political movements have enjoyed a significant degree of popular support, they rarely gained representation, and this was not least due to the strict requirements guiding the establishment of a new political party.30 The high legal thresholds imposed until recently31 played a crucial role in maintaining the status quo, enabling incumbents to preserve their positions of power and preventing any non-parliamentary parties from challenging them. The absence of consistent bottom-up pressures from new political parties undeniably contributed to the cartelization of the party system. This cartel party system distorts electoral competition and narrows significantly the voters’ choice, increasing even further the gap between representatives and represented. However, it does not in itself create stability and coherence among representatives. Instead, it creates a political environment in which short-term strategizing is intended only to outwit political opponents and retain power at all costs. In the absence of deep institutional or ideological ties, the cartelization of the party system in Romania did not reduce fragmentation, quite on the contrary, it allowed intra-party dissent to surface and settle as a norm of the political game.
During the last decades, the continual presence of the same political parties that dominate Romanian politics was matched by an equally strong continuity at the level of leadership coupled with a high level of dissent among these leaders. As stated above, most of the newly emerging parties in Romania originated from long-established and already influential political circles. Largely, they were splinter groups formed by a number of high-profile political figures or party leaders who remained at the helm of these new organizations for several years. More often than not, these parties did not survive long, and were eventually re-absorbed into one of the major political parties. This reveals the tactical nature of political factionalism in Romania; the realignments, mergers or breakups of political parties by prominent politicians have been strategic rather than substantial in intent.
The recurrent fusing and splitting of Romania’s major political parties since 1990 was fuelled by personal power ambitions and dissentions at the highest levels of these organizations, which did not result in an accelerated change of elite due to bottom-up pressures, but rather helped consolidate power positions for those that were already key political actors. For instance, in 1992, when the FSN broke up into two competing factions, it was presided by Petre Roman, who remained the head of the party long after the split and after the organization’s name changed to the Democratic Party (PD). Petre Roman was re-elected three times as president of the PD and was followed by Traian Băsescu (a prominent FSN member and minister in Petre Roman’s cabinet), who took over the presidency in 2001. Traian Băsescu remained influential in the Democratic Party (which was renamed the Democratic Liberal Party, PDL, in 2007), despite the fact that his membership was suspended during his terms as president of Romania. During this time, the PDL was headed by one of Băsescu’s protégés, Emil Boc. Only later, in 2015, did Traian Băsescu grow dissatisfied with the leadership of the PDL and distance himself from the party, forming a new organization, the PMP, which he led until June 2018. In a similar vein, the splinter group which broke away from the FSN in 1992 (the FDSN)—and which became the largest social-democratic party in Romania (the PSD) after subsequent name changes and mergers—over decades remained faithful to its initial president, Ion Iliescu. Iliescu himself had to resign as leader of the party during his terms as president of Romania, and placed his protégé Adrian Năstase, a former Minister of Foreign Affairs, in the position of executive president and then president of the party. After his second term as president of Romania, Ion Iliescu did not return to the leadership of the party, but he has been the honorary president of the PSD since 2006 retaining an influence over intra-party decision-making. Călin Popescu-Tăriceanu provides an equally good example. He was one of the important figures in the youth faction which separated from the PNL in 1990. Later, in 2004, after the splinter group merged again with the Liberal Party, Călin Popescu-Tăriceanu became the president of the PNL, maintaining this position until 2009. Subsequently, in 2014, he left the PNL in order to launch the Liberal Reformist Party, in which he was elected president. He remained at the head of the organization even after it merged with the Conservative Party in 2015 to form the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Romania (ALDE). The most recent example is PRO Romania, a party founded and led by Victor Ponta, a former member of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) and its president from 2010 to 2015.
The examples could be multiplied; but these should suffice to indicate the persistence of leadership in a context of intense regrouping of parties and party members. The remarkable continuity at the level of party leadership is not intuitively obvious, yet it could be justified by the fact that due to their popularity, electoral capital and status, these political figures are very likely to be re-elected, irrespective of the party for which they compete. It is, then, less surprising that they preserve their leading role when switching to or founding new parties.32
Sometimes voters might not even be clearly aware that they are supporting a different entity to the one they supported in the previous election given the relatively candidate-centred nature of electoral politics in Eastern Europe33
Romania falls exactly into this category. The political landscape is highly personalized: the parties function mostly as vehicles for leaders with personal ambitions, while member and voter involvement in decision-making remains marginal at best.34 Power is most often concentrated at the very top of the organizations. Almost all political parties share a leader-driven approach to politics in which a few prominent politicians make most of the inner-party and national decisions.
To prove this point, it is sufficient to look into the requirements guiding leadership selection and the rules governing how and on what basis decisions are made in this regard within political parties. An analysis of the official statutes and regulations, as published by the major parties, indicates an institutionalized centralization and a low level of competitiveness when it comes to party leadership selection (only the newest parties, such as USR or Demos, provide in their statutes and practices for more inclusive and deliberative leadership selection processes35). New leaders are usually chosen at party conventions, and the formal selectorate (i.e. the party members who select candidates for leadership positions) is composed of top members of central organization plus territorial delegates, whose representation quotas are decided on by the central leadership.36 While the participation of territorial delegates in elections would give party supporters from across the country a chance to consider their leadership choice together, the vague character of party regulations and the loose criteria used to establish the algorithms of representation allow the central leadership to influence the course of developments during party conventions by manipulating the number of territorial delegates.37 The resulting leadership selection process is then far from inclusive.
The Conservative Party (PC) is a notable example in this regard: it held no elections for the party leader, the founding president Dan Voiculescu, continuing to be the president during the party’s first decade of existence. In the year 2000 a first change of the statute allowed for the president to be elected by the Party Council, while in 2003 a second change of the statute brought the party in line with the dominant model in which the president is elected by the party congress.38 However, the founding president Dan Voiculescu remained honorific president of the party and an influential decision-maker concerning party leadership selection. He sponsored the election of his follower, Daniel Constantin, as leader of the party, the latter remaining unchallenged in this position until the party’s absorption into ALDE, when he became co-president together with Călin Popescu-Tăriceanu.
Party organizations not only lack commitment towards decentralized and inclusive selection methods and a systematic participation of party members, but they also fail to create a competitive environment for the selection of their leaders. Having drafted or changed their statute in order to allow for a more inclusive leadership selection, in practice parties still deny their members the possibility of electing their president by not offering any real choice.39 This has been the norm rather than an exception throughout the last decades, with most Romanian political parties refraining most of the time from organizing real leadership contests. The evidence from the last decades is highly illustrative of the way in which party leaders are selected in Romania. For more than 30 years after the state’s democratic turn, intra-party elections remained moderately competitive at best (Fig. 3.340).
Party leadership contests often had only one candidate, who was in many instances also an incumbent. Adrian Năstase was unanimously reconfirmed as president of the PSD in 2001 while being the single candidate for the post; in the PDL, Petre Roman ran alone and was re-elected three times, in 1994, 1997 and in 2000; whereas in the PRM the leadership of Corneliu Vadim Tudor was uncontested for a long time, which allowed him to run as the single candidate and win the presidency in 1993, 1997, 2001, 2005 and 2010.41 More recently, in 2015, Liviu Dragnea replaced Victor Ponta after his resignation; he was elected president of the PSD without a competing candidate for the position.
Even elections with more than one candidate can largely be regarded as non-competitive if measured on the basis of the net difference in percentage of votes received by the first two candidates (according to Chiru and Gherghina,42 any difference higher than 30% indicates low competitiveness in leadership selection). It seems as though the races for party leadership posts were decided well ahead of the elections themselves. Most of them had only one contender, or—often enough—the incumbent presidents hand-picked their successors, thus maintaining the status quo. Indeed, “in Romanian parties it is more common for a president who steps down to ensure the election of a favourite (two cases in PSD and PNL, and one each in PC, PDL, UDMR, and PRM) than for leaders to resign because they know that they will be defeated in the next elections.”43 Among the established parties in the current Romanian political landscape, a different pattern of leadership selection is found in USR. The party’s current president was elected in 2019 after a 5 days internal scrutiny in which 9314 members voted: 6097 for the incumbent (65.75%), and 2907 (31.35%) for his main competitor, Cosette Chichirău. This result, even though right at the limit of the competitive threshold, was subsequently validated in a party convention itself marked by adversarial attitudes.44 It is, however, too early to know whether the practices of leadership selection are indeed more decentralized, inclusive and open in USR than in their older counterparts.
This analysis at the level of political parties is highly relevant here, due to the important role that parties play in the recruitment of new elite members. Leadership selection in particular is an important and consequential function of Romanian political parties. Leaders not only oversee a party’s recruitment of new candidates to occupy positions at the helm of the party, but also influence their nomination for positions in the legislature and ultimately control the party’s parliamentary agendas; also, cabinets are largely formed of members of the coalition parties. For as long as parties function as central vehicles of recruitment and representation, and for as long as party leaders maintain a strong hold on their organizations and the choices they present to voters, it is the party leadership, and not the electorate, who chooses representatives.
Until 2008, members of parliament were elected in Romania through a closed list proportional representation (PR) system. This provided party leaders with a great amount of control, and made legislators’ political careers and re-election dependent on their ties with the political party. Taking into account only the formal regulations as published in their statutes, all parties except the UDMR exhibited moderately to highly centralized recruitment of candidates for the legislative seats.45 However, no matter how decentralized decision-making appeared in the statutes, the parties’ formal rules for the selection of candidates played only a marginal role in the de facto nomination. Regardless of the formal provisions, informal practices often allowed central leaderships to dominate the candidate selection process by placing non-resident politicians with national careers on the parties’ district lists, leaving no room for genuine representatives of the respective constituencies.46 In 1992, 13.2% of parliamentarians had no local background and thus little knowledge about local realities; between 1996 and 2004, the rate remained high, at about 20%, followed by a sharp decrease to 13.1% in 2008.47
The closed list PR system was replaced briefly, in the 2008 and 2012 elections, by a candidate-centred system that combined elections in single-member districts with a proportional redistribution of seats (a direct allocation of seats for those gaining an absolute majority of votes, combined with a proportional redistribution of seats at the county and national levels for the rest of the candidates).48 However, this change of the electoral system failed to regenerate politics, trigger a major renewal of Romania’s political elite or narrow the gap between representatives and the represented. In fact, no major transformation took place. There was hardly any change in the parties’ statutes regarding the selection of candidates for parliament,49 which underlined once more the widespread use of informal practices to select candidates for parliamentary elections. The reform of the electoral system in 2008 was not complemented by any significant improvement with regard to the parties’ selection of candidates; as a consequence, these reforms have enhanced clientelistic and populist practices rather than set a new basis for the relationship between elected legislatures and the electorate.50 In any case, the electoral law was modified again before the 2016 elections. Law 208/2015 was adopted in parliament by a broad majority and marked the return to the previous PR system with closed party lists and a 5% threshold for parties to obtain representation, and accordingly, the return of the preeminent role played by parties and party leadership in forming the lists for the legislature.
Looking broadly at the entire period after the democratic turn, it could be argued that the promotion of party members in the parliamentary game primarily depends on the member’s rank within the organization, with intra-party selection of candidates relying mainly on clientelism and personal loyalties.51 This deprives the electorate of its choice, and heightens the disconnection between voters and elected officials. It also generates a fracture between those continuing in positions of power and those newly accepted into the political game. Such fractures within political parties and between parties and their constituencies create a legitimacy gap that increases the level of mistrust both among political representatives and also between representatives and represented.
Surprisingly enough, the long-term trends of parliamentary recruitment in Romania display a consistently high turnover rate, with the percentage of first-mandate elected representatives remaining high throughout the years: 75.58% in 1996, 33.88% in 2000, 49.63% in 2004, and 54.12% in 2008.52 As Fig. 3.453 shows, the last two elections reflect the same tendency, with newcomers securing over 50% in both the 2012 and the 2016 legislatures.
Consequently, as these data show, the limited democratization of parliamentary and party recruitment—with selection processes that continue to be centralized rather than inclusive—is in Romania complemented by a limited professionalization of the legislature. Since 1990, only 135 members of the Romanian Parliament have built an extensive parliamentary career (being re-elected at least four times and remaining in office for more than 15 years). Almost all of these career parliamentarians held important leadership roles (either at the central or the regional level) within their political parties, an aspect which indicates their political seniority and their ability to hold on to power. Most of them also occupied—prior to or after their time in parliament—positions either as members of the central government, as representatives at the local or regional levels, as higher civil servants, or as top leaders in state agencies or other public institutions. This observation is entirely consistent with Ștefan and Grecu’s claim that Romanian representatives are motivated by an interest in a political career, yet not necessarily in a legislative one:
For a critical mass of MPs, running for parliament is nothing more than a tactical candidacy. Local or national politicians decide to enter the competition for parliament, not because they genuinely want to assume legislative roles, but because they want to remain in the pool of eligible candidates for other public offices.54
More than one-quarter of Romania’s career parliamentarians occupied positions in the central government, often serving as ministers in more than one cabinet.
As Fig. 3.555 shows, the eight legislative terms saw no less than 22 governments come and go. The relatively high number of governments formed in each legislative term provided a broad basis for the renewal of ministerial personnel. Oddly though, this cabinet instability, however, did little to limit the time spent in office by numerous members of government.56 Over 40% of all ministers survived the frequent cabinet reshuffles, being appointed in more than one cabinet. While it is not at all surprising for politicians to have long parliamentary careers, it is much rarer for members of cabinets to be career ministers, “to be called to serve again in a new political configuration, under the auspices of another governing coalition.57” Fig. 3.658 provides an overview of ministerial appointments and re-appointments since 1990.
Often, such reappointments are accompanied by a change in portfolio: from minister of justice to minister of the interior and subsequently to minister of defence; from minister of culture to minister of foreign affairs; or from a portfolio in environmental protection to one in tourism and subsequently in defence.59 Like career parliamentarians, career ministers largely held key positions in the party hierarchy, being members of top executive bodies within the political parties, or being appointed after having served in the government.60
Before concluding this section, it is worth citing an example—certainly not an isolated case—which captures all that has been said above. This case illustrates all the essential points relating to the dynamics and circulation of Romania’s political elite:
Sorin Frunzaverde had a very rich political career. He started as a county councillor (1992–1996) and continued as president of the county council (1996–1997) before being called for the first time to serve in cabinet: as a minister of environment (1997–1998), of tourism (1998) and of defense (2000). He ran for parliament in 2000 and worked for almost 4 years as a deputy. His legislative mandate was however interrupted by the local elections of 2004, when he was elected president of the county council. In 2006, he was called again in the government as minister of defense and he served until the April 2007 reshuffle. In November 2007 he was the first on the PD list for the European Parliament, but his MEP term ended when he was again elected president of the county council in June 2008. Frunzaverde is for many years vice president of his party, and most importantly the initiator of the drive towards a new ideological identity of the PD that led the party in 2005 to adopt the ‘popular’ ideology [and be accepted in the European People’s Party].61
The dynamics and circulation of the Romanian political elite reveal a narrow and shallow renewal of its political personnel, with a nucleus of irremovable leaders, who retain full control over the way in which power is distributed among the other members of the ruling stratum. This core is formed by elite members who serve in important positions of power over long periods of time. It is no coincidence that these members of the nucleus are at the same time career parliamentarians, members of cabinet and leaders in their political parties. In their highly centralized way, Romanian political parties are often controlled by such leaders seeking to remain at the helm of the organization and primarily interested in maintaining their positions. This model of elite change is what Higley and Lengyel62 would describe as a musical chairs game, in which elite members exchange positions in order to survive.
These patterns of political recruitment produce a deeply fragmented ruling stratum whose members are motivated only by the desire to seize and hold on to power, ignoring their representative role. As shown above, since 1990 Romania has gone through a process of recirculating only parts of its elite. It allowed its topmost leaders to occupy legislative and governmental positions for decades (shifting from the legislative to the executive branch and back, and switching between the local and the national levels) and to control the selection of new elite members (using candidate selection processes as both a disciplinary and a screening device63). Parties and their strong leaders dominate the political arena, claiming to be the guardians of democracy while in fact, they are wardens of the status quo who, detached from the lower echelons of their organizations, disregard the needs and interests of their party and even more of their electorate. As competition among these leaders remains high and unstable, political formulas remain fluid, and since electoral surprises and protest voters cannot be eliminated, the general political climate continues to be marked by mistrust, internal conflicts and inconsistencies. The fragmentation of the ruling stratum, resulting from the narrow and shallow circulation of the elite, is exacerbated in Romania by the institutional context (the unbalanced relationship between the executive and the legislative branch) and the lack of ideological ties among elite members. This over-fragmented legislative environment sets Romania apart from other states like Poland or Hungary, a relevant detail that calls for caution when analysing reform reversal in Central Eastern and South-Eastern Europe.

3.2 Institutional Predispositions Towards Dissent

The Romanian Constitution, inspired by the French model, establishes a softer, parliamentarized, semi-presidential regime.64 It sets the parliament at the centre of the democratic state, with a head of government chosen by and accountable to the parliament, and confirmed by the president. It also provides for the president to be elected through popular vote, and act as “the representative of the state, the guardian of its independence and integrity, watching over the observance of the Constitution and the proper functioning of public authorities, and ensuring the balance between legislative, executive and judicial powers, as well as between state and society” (Article 80 of the Romanian Constitution). With such a bicephalous executive branch, Romania stands midway between a parliamentary and a presidential system, closer to the one or the other depending on the relationship between the president and the Prime Minister: when the two heads of the executive come from the same political camp, the republic is more likely to resemble a presidential system, while conversely, when the two come from opposing camps, the system resembles a parliamentary one.65 The division of power between the elected president and the parliament-selected Prime Minister carries a high potential for intra-executive tensions, particularly in situations of cohabitation or in those areas in which their competencies are not well-defined.66 In 2012, for instance, the rather ambiguous wording of article 80 of the Romanian Constitution led to a conflict between the two heads of the executive over their right to represent Romania in the European Council. This conflict culminated in the suspension from office of the President, the holding of a referendum which eventually invalidated his suspension and a judgement of the Constitutional Court which, almost unanimously, embraced the semi-presidential nature of the regime and acknowledged (with a tight majority of votes) the president’s authority to represent Romania in the European Council.
Such instances are not really an exception. Conflicts frequently emerged between the two heads of the executive, even at times when both belonged to the same party. There were tensions between Ion Iliescu and Petre Roman (1989–1991), Emil Constantinescu and Victor Ciorbea (1996–1998), Emil Constantinescu and Radu Vasile (1998–1999), Ion Iliescu and Adrian Năstase (2000–2004), Traian Băsescu and Călin Popescu Tăriceanu (2005–2008), as well as the abovementioned conflict between Traian Băsescu and Victor Ponta (2012–2014).67 The rivalry between the president and the head of government often resulted in political paralysis (when presidents refused to appoint prime ministers or their candidates for certain positions); in legislative delays (when presidents withheld promulgation of certain laws proposed by the government and adopted by Parliament); in an overload of the Constitutional Court (when both sides used constitutional judges as arbitrators of personal disputes); or in lengthy and costly political crises68 (during the impeachment of the president or when the prime minister was unilaterally dismissed69 by the president). Such tensions between the two heads of the executive in Romania still continue today, leading to political instability and greater levels of fragmentation,70 reducing significantly the state’s effectiveness in undertaking reforms and weakening its democratic performance.
More common than this kind of explicit rivalry, however, are more subtle conflicts of duty that arise between the government and Parliament. Although according to Article 61 of the Constitution, the Parliament is the “sole legislative authority of the state”, the government regularly takes the lead in law production. Its systematic institutional advantage in law-making stems primarily from its right to launch legislative initiatives. The government shares its constitutional right of legislative initiative with the Parliament and the public, and yet an overwhelming majority of legislative proposals are drafted in governmental offices. No less than 87.95% of all legislation passed between 1989 and 2011 came from the executive;71 between 2007 and 2019,72 during Romania’s post-accession period, the figure slightly decreased to 73.2%, but this is still exceptionally high. The major role played by the government in shaping the legislative agenda is not necessarily a result of parliamentary idleness. Members of Parliament themselves initiated numerous legislative proposals, most of which, however, either pend indefinitely or are rejected (97% of the rejected proposals were drafted by Members of Parliament).73
The high number of proposals rejected by the Assembly is dependent on the way in which the MP’s activity is defined in the Standing orders of the two Chambers. The lack of a well-trained parliamentary administration and the civil servants’ direct subordination to the Committee’s presidents and vice-presidents or to the party group leaders deprive the MPs of the well needed political and legal expertise required when drafting new legislation.74
The government thus enjoys an advantage in promoting legislative change, even though it has little control over the final outcome. This forces the Parliament into assuming a veto player role, in charge of refining, adjusting and correcting off the rails governmental proposals.75
The prospect and then the actual integration into the European Union had a profound impact on the relationship between Parliament and the government in office. It further magnified the institutional divergence between the two, contributing to the fragility of the former, coupled with a gain in policy-making responsibility of the latter. The transfer of decision-making powers from the national to the supranational level shifted the locus of policy-making to the executive branch, yet in an odd manner. Members of government did not use supranational decision-making to pursue preferences different from those of their legislature, but rather used EU-driven reforms in order to establish themselves domestically as de facto legislators. The adoption of the acquis communautaire was by and large claimed to be a matter of immediate urgency, while the fulfilment of the pre- and post-accession requirements was a necessary proof of governmental efficiency. This provided enough grounds for the government to repeatedly legislate by decree.
Under Article 115 (4) of the Romanian Constitution, the government is accorded the power to adopt emergency ordinances and thus to promote legislative change with immediate (though temporary) effect. In this manner, the government’s will can be directly enforced, in exceptional cases and under the condition that the respective provisions are subsequently submitted for debate in Parliament. Romanian governments were not shy in making use of this right to autonomous law-making, passing legislation by emergency ordinance (OUG) even when there was no emergency that justified such a measure. The adoption of emergency ordinances was an exceptional measure only until 1996 (16 emergency ordinances were issued between 1992 and 1996). Ever since, their number increased, reaching approximately 296 per year in 1999.76 The average remained high in the run-up to and the aftermath of EU accession, with the various cabinets formulating approximately 185 ordinances annually between 2005 and 2008, and approximately 100 per year between 2009 and 2020, with two notable exceptions in 2015 when only 66 emergency ordinances were issued and 2020 when due to the COVID-19 pandemic the number increased to 211.77
This trend is confirmed also by the examination of the legislative background for reform in the two cases under inquiry below, which reveals a constant abuse of emergency procedures. Compliance with EU requirements often serves as a basis for justifying the urgency with which measures are adopted without the necessary debate in Parliament:
Following the commitments made by Romania in the areas of judicial reform and the fight against corruption as part of the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) […], taking into account the second benchmark referring to the establishment of an Integrity Agency […], given the delays which prevented the Agency from being fully operational […], taking note of the necessity to implement in due term the measures provided for in the Action Plan for meeting the CVM objectives […], the Romanian Government adopts the present emergency ordinance. (Emergency Ordinance OUG 138/200778)
The following chapters will elaborate on this point by providing further insights into how law-making by decree and other emergency procedures were misused and prevented Parliament from holding informed and vigorous debates on the respective matters. It is enough here to highlight the essential issue: through the institutional arrangement that emerged after 1989, the Romanian government is given considerable room to legislate under a plea of necessity, which places the Parliament ex ante in a position of inferiority79 that is countered by a tendency of the latter to strengthen its oversight role. The incidence of no-confidence motions reflects this tendency. During the 2016–2020 legislature, nine motions have been introduced, of which one initiated by the Social Democratic Party (PSD) against its own government and two supported by PSD led to a cabinet overthrow. In 2012–2016, only four motions were tabled, yet in the previous term, there were eleven; six proposals for no-confidence voting were presented in front of the parliamentary plenum in the period 2004–2008, two during the 2000–2004 legislature, four between 1996 and 2000, and five in the 1992–1996 term.80 The use of this procedure illustrates quite clearly the readiness of the Parliament to exercise “its veto power against the executive by expressing its lack of confidence in the governmental team”.81 There is an even more relevant measure at the Parliament’s disposition to control the government through strong formulas of oversight: the incidence of parliamentary questions and interpellations. There were no less than 11,597 questions and 6331 interpellations formulated during the 2008–2012 parliamentary term (approximately three times more than during the 2000–2004 mandate) and 16,657 formulated during the 2016–2020 parliamentary term.82
All things considered, the Constitution and the rules and procedures governing the political process provide for a tension-laden institutional context: an overlap and competition between the two heads of the executive branch, and an uneven balance of power between legislative and executive bodies. The lack of cooperation within and among the three branches of government, their competitive tactics and the misuse of procedures reveal an institutional environment characterized by the failure to engage in complementary action. This significantly increases the overall level of elite fragmentation in Romania.

3.3 The Lack of Solidarity and Value Consensus

Perhaps the most important factor leading towards elite disintegration—probably more important than the circulation patterns or the institutional context—is the lack of mutual trust among elite members. Mutual trust derives from a sense of community that is cultivated among elite members working together to promote policies and legislation that benefits the Romanian and the European society, strengthens democracy and ensures respect for the rule of law. No democratic institution or political party can effectively pursue its goals without a set of fundamental normative commitments, ends, values and principles shared by all members. Common expectations about appropriate political behaviour are crucial for institutions and organizations to acquire stability, for their members to acquire confidence in each other, and eventually to win the trust of the electorate. Value consensus translates here into a willingness of elite members to challenge one another on policies, views and priorities, but at the same time be reluctant to resort to action that would threaten the stability of their parties, institutions or the stability of the democratic system.
A helpful starting point for assessing the degree of value consensus and solidarity among elite members is the observation of their ideological orientations and partisan identifications. In a party system such as the one in Romania, with only a few political competitors (largely the same ones in every electoral cycle), parties would be expected to have clear programmatic preferences and to exploit ideological cleavages in order to maximize their votes.83 Romanian political parties have largely disappointed this expectation during the last few decades. Their political identities and ideologies were renegotiated and remoulded with each change of government or legislature.
Probably the most radical change of direction was adopted in 2005 by the Democratic Party (PD), which after more than a decade of affiliation with the Socialist International shifted from social democracy to liberal-conservatism.84 With this shift, the Democratic Party (later renamed the Democratic Liberal Party, PDL) emerged as the main conservative group, taking over government in 2008 while forming a coalition with the PSD-PC alliance. In this manner, the PDL established itself as an important force in Romanian politics, but only until 2014, when it ceased to exist and merged with the National Liberal Party. Before the PDL’s ideological shift in 2005, conservatism was weakly represented: one conservative party, the PNTCD, was dissolved in 2000, while the other, the PC, was able to gain seats only as part of an alliance with the Social Democratic Party (PSD).85 While it is true that parties such as PSD prove conservative in their action, in their statute they claim to be modern and progressive,86 which adds to the ideological confusion characterizing the Romanian political landscape. The Conservative Party (PC) itself had an ambiguous ideological agenda, reflected not only in its long-standing alliance with the PSD, but also in its international affiliation; after unsuccessfully trying to become a member of the European People’s Party, the PC reoriented itself towards the European liberal democrats.87
The evolution of the social democratic parties was in this respect very similar. Prior to 2005, social democracy was largely represented by the PDSR (later renamed the PSD) and the PD, both of which formed after the split of the National Salvation Front (FSN) in 1991. The two constantly disputed their supremacy over the social democratic left, a competition which was resolved when the PD shifted from social democracy to liberal-conservatism, leaving the PSD as the only representative of social-democratic constituencies.88 As a party concerned (de jure but not always de facto) with general principles of progressive social democracy, PSD was surprisingly open towards governing in coalition with liberal conservatives.
Similarly, the party most closely aligned with liberal values, the PNL, itself went through numerous splits and fusions, often forming alliances with parties that were hardly its close ideological neighbours. It is true that ideological cleavages are not always very pronounced. The three ideological families in Romania (social democracy, liberalism and conservatism) form a triangle in which each family has a particular feature in common with the other two: social democrats and liberals share an enthusiasm for social freedom; liberals and conservatives have a common position with regard to the necessity of limiting state intervention in economic affairs; while conservatives and social democrats consider the community, and not the individual, to be the primordial structure of society.89 However, more often than not the legislative measures adopted by such cross-ideological coalitions are in sharp contradiction to the fundamental principles and values of the respective parties, principles and values on the basis of which they were in fact elected. As a result, electoral support remains fairly fluid for all parties, making it “impossible to claim that the ideological families have strong roots in the society”, or that they are ideologically institutionalized.90 Romanian political parties largely lack a programmatic character and fail to create strong links with their voters, substituting ideology for clientelism, political patronage or personal charisma.91 Nearly all political parties have the same or similar policy objectives, disputing each other’s ability to reach those aims.
Throughout the entire period of 1990–2020, the major political parties in Romania behaved in an ideologically incoherent way. They formed unusual political alliances (or alliances within alliances) not only on the eve of elections, but also during parliamentary terms, which caused ideological borders to be crossed and policy making to become unpredictable (Fig. 3.792).
Romania entered the European Union in January 2007, with the centre-right Truth and Justice Alliance formed by the National Liberal Party (PNL) and the Democratic Party (PD) in government, and with the left-wing Social Democratic Party (PSD) in opposition. Soon after the accession, in April 2007, the PNL—PD coalition collapsed, and the latter joined the opposition. The government was subsequently formed by the remaining National Liberal Party (PNL) together with a smaller ally, the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR)—an ethnic party uniting different ideological streams. A group that had splintered from the National Liberal Party (PNL), which was in power at that time, merged with the Democratic Party and joined the opposition, forming the Democratic Liberal Party (PDL). The parliamentary elections in December 2008 were to offer a novel solution: a coalition government formed by the former opposing social democratic party (the PSD), its smaller conservative ally (the PC), and the newly formed conservative PDL. However, this coalition was to last only until 2009, when the Social Democratic Party (PSD) and the Conservative Party (PC) joined the opposition once again. Later, in February 2011, the social democratic PSD, along with the other opposition parties, forged an alliance with the National Liberal Party (PNL) and the Conservative Party (PC) called the Social-Liberal Union, which defeated the government on a censure motion and came to power in May 2012. At this stage, the Conservative Party (PC), a former ally of the Social Democratic Party (PSD), had in turn already joined the Centre-Right Alliance with the National Liberal Party. This Centre-Right Alliance was part of the Social-Liberal Union, which, among others, comprised the Social Democratic Party (PSD), and from September 2012 onwards, the National Union for the Progress of Romania (UNPR93). These latter two themselves formed the Centre-Left Alliance. In December 2012, the parliamentary elections brought the Social-Liberal Union (including both the Centre-Left and the Centre-Right Alliance) to power. The Centre-Right Alliance broke apart in 2013. The National Liberal Party (PNL) joined the opposition soon after, in March 2014, and formed a new alliance, the Christian-Liberal Alliance, this time together with the Democratic Liberal Party (PDL). This alliance was dissolved in November 2014 when the two parties merged, with the PDL being absorbed by the PNL. The parties that remained in power in March 2014 (the PSD, the UNPR and the PC) themselves then formed an alliance, which lasted until June 2015, when the Conservative Party (PC) merged with a splinter group from the National Liberal Party, the Liberal Reformist Party, to form the current Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE).
Most recently, the government formed following the 2016 elections (a coalition government formed by the PSD and the ALDE) was dismissed after a motion of no confidence that was tabled by the PSD itself. The new cabinet of the same PSD-ALDE coalition assumed office in June 2017 and was dismissed by the PSD parliamentary majority 6 months later on the grounds of inefficiency. The third PSD-ALDE cabinet lasted about 21 months in office, until November 2019 when it was dissolved through a no-confidence vote tabled by the opposition but sponsored by members of the PSD. The newly formed government brought the PNL to power, sending the PSD and ALDE in opposition. But only 3 months later, the PSD initiated yet another no-confidence vote in Parliament which led to the dismissal of the newly installed PNL cabinet. The last act in this absurd political theatre was the reappointment, in March 2020, of the very same PNL cabinet by the very same PSD parliamentary majority. This detailed and rather confusing account of how coalitions and cabinets have been formed in Romania since 2004 shows the ease with which Romanian political parties change their ideological preferences over fairly short periods of time. This continuous oscillation of parties or splinter groups between power and opposition is in fact a subtle indicator of the non-ideological character of Romania’s political leadership. Such partisan realignments and sudden reshuffling of party positioning is clearly tactical and not substantive in nature.
Furthermore, the manner in which political parties abandon a coalition by forming an alliance with another political group mirrors the behaviour of individual party members relative to the party to which they belong: numerous members of Romanian Parliament repeatedly changed their partisan affiliation, either becoming independent representatives or joining a different political party. This proves once again the lack of cooperation and solidarity among party members, who are driven by self-serving strategic calculations.
In general, the members of the Romanian political elite, although highly interested in accessing power and pursuing a political career, are far from excessively competitive. Instead of preserving their party positions and competing with each other for electoral gains, many Romanian representatives prefer to migrate from one political party to another right before the elections, joining the political party most likely to win the majority of seats in Parliament. The great number of elite members who have migrated from one political party to another while holding office is remarkable.94 In total, more than 35% of the representatives in the former legislature (2012–2016) have shifted political parties or have become independent during their term in Romanian Parliament: of the 263 deputies 154 (37%) shifted their party affiliation at least once during their mandate, while in the Senate, 69 out of 110 senators (39%) migrated at least once from one party to another between 2012 and 2016.95 The record in this regard was held by three members of Parliament who changed their affiliation no less than three times during the previous legislative term. An illustrative example is that of Ion Șcheau, who entered the Chamber of Deputies in 2012 as a member of the PP-DD; in May 2013, he left the party and became an independent Member of Parliament; in October that year, he joined the PSD, and then the PDL in November 2014, only to become a member of the PNL in February 2015. A similar path was chosen by Diana Tușa, a member of the PNL who was elected in 2012 as a representative in the Chamber of Deputies: she became independent in June 2013, and joined the PDL one year later, subsequently returned to the PNL in February 2015, but resigned and became independent once more in September 2016. Senator Ciprian Rogojan entered Romanian Parliament on the PDL’s lists, became independent in February 2014, but joined the UNPR in November that same year; however, he left the group and became independent again in May 2016.96 Party-switching was frequent in previous legislatures as well: 20% of all Members of Parliament changed their affiliation during the 2008–2012 legislature, 10% in 2000–2004 and 17% in 1996–2000.97 It remained a common practice also during the current legislature, with more than 40% of the representatives migrating to other parties or becoming independent between 2016 and 2020.98
Such practices suggest an absence of strong organizational ties that could bind party members together and create a political elite that is divided along ideological lines. The rather abrupt manner of building and breaking coalitions and the irregular fluctuation of the major political parties between power and opposition illustrate well enough the nature and degree of elite fragmentation in Romania. In addition, political representatives’ migration from one party to another in the hope of winning office does not only serve as another argument supporting the claim that the Romanian political elite is highly fragmented, but more significantly, it highlights a particular self-interest on the part of the members of the Romanian ruling stratum.

3.4 Elite Fragmentation and Romania’s EU Accession

Observing closely the last three decades to note the variations in the level of integration or disintegration of the political elite in Romania, it becomes evident that the frictions between the members of the ruling stratum were not constant throughout the entire period. For some years, between 2000 and 2007, there was a brief moment of calm and consensus, which in retrospect strikingly contrasts with the intense fragmentation that has characterized the Romanian political elite ever since.
This inconsistency in the level of elite fragmentation can be explained with reference to Romania’s progress towards integration into the EU, its position as outlier in the 2004 enlargement and its delayed accession in 2007. As mentioned in Chap. 2,99 the European Union had a flexible approach as regards its Eastern enlargement: it balanced the requirements of a single policy framework open to all candidate states, with a differentiated allocation of rewards (contractual or financial), delivered pursuant to an assessment of the reform progress in each individual state.100 This flexible differentiated approach allowed the EU to evaluate constantly Romania’s merits and performance and act in accordance.
As a consequence, Romania signed its Europe Agreement in 1993 together with Bulgaria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, 2 years later than Hungary and Poland, but a couple of years before the Baltic states and Slovenia. All Europe Agreements signed in 1993 or later (Romania’s included) provided for a unilateral suspension clause allowing either party to suspend cooperation if the obligation prescribed in the agreement were not fulfilled.101 This clause was never activated for Romania however, the state advancing slowly on its path towards accession. Though, in another important integration step, pursuant to the Luxembourg European Council of December 1997, the opening of accession negotiations was delayed for Romania, just as it was for Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia. Negotiations were first launched for all these states in the year 2000, following the European Council in Helsinki in December 1999, when the prospect of accession became real due to EU’s commitment to an all-inclusive integration of the states in Central and Eastern Europe.102
This integration dynamic, characterized by a two steps forward one step back advance alongside other CEE accession states, kept Romania cautiously optimistic about its chances of acquiring EU membership together with the other eight candidates from Central and Eastern Europe. It strived to make progress and bring its legislation into compliance with the democratic and accession acquis. Yet, in 2004, not only was Romania’s and Bulgaria’s accession delayed, but their accession treaties included a safeguard clause allowing for the accession to be further postponed if the states proved unprepared to meet the membership requirements.103 Even more, Romania was the only candidate for which the postponement clause could be activated by a qualified majority voting in the Council.104
Arguably, these accession conditions (tighter than the ones applicable to the other states in the region) coupled with its delayed accession date and an intense monitoring of its progress placed Romania under an unprecedented pressure. This raised the stakes of integration to an even higher level. The members of the Romanian political elite consequently bound themselves even more to direct all their efforts to acquiring EU membership in 2007 without any further postponement. Indeed, in this period political decision-makers got along surprisingly well, despite the heavy legislative burden.105 As the analysis above shows (see also Figs. 3.2, 3.5 and 3.7), throughout these years the major political parties experienced less splits and mergers, fewer coalitions were forged and re-forged midway between parliamentary elections, and fewer government changes and executive adjustments were made.
At the level of political parties, as the accession to the European Union drew nearer, they adopted an EU-compatible agenda, a shift visible even in the rhetoric of the Great Romanian Party (PRM), known for its traditional, authoritarian and nationalist outlook.106 The integration into the EU triggered a programmatic shift of Romanian major political parties, which turned in the eve of accession to be either neutral (PRM), in favour (PSD and PUR) or strongly in favour (PD, PNL, and UDMR) of EU membership,107 and which channelled all their political ambitions into meeting the requirements and joining the Union. Political leaders legitimized their policy choices with a discourse referring to Romania’s commitment and belonging to Europe, a point of view largely mirrored by public opinion.108
In 2000 PDSR won the elections on a pro-European campaign promising political stability, which it delivered by governing in a fairly stable minority coalition until the next regularly scheduled parliamentary elections. A new coalition cabinet was formed in 2004 by the Justice and Truth Alliance of PNL and PD together with UDMR and PC, which governed until 2007 under a pro-European anti-corruption program.109 This drive to curb corruption was very much aligned with the requirements and expectations of the EU, while the consistent manner in which political elites seemed to pursue a pro-European and anti-corruption agenda raised hopes for a successful continuation of reforms after Romania’s accession.
However, the post-accession period not only saw a reversal of the anti-corruption reforms, but also a return of the political elite to its old fragmented pattern of interaction, dominated by party leaders and their personal ambitions. After having gained full membership in the EU Romania entered a period of consolidated political instability, with sudden changes of governments and policy, and a low degree of predictability and consistency in decision-making. As the analysis above shows, after 2008 several measures have been adopted that hindered political competition. The repeated changes to the electoral law have generated lasting negative effects on the permeability of the ruling stratum, leading to a post-accession disintegration of the political elite and its detachment from the needs and interests of the public. The political parties with shallow societal roots and a vague ideological orientation have failed, and are still failing, to adequately channel social interests and to provide a strong linkage between representatives and the represented. Moreover, the highly centralized control of party leaders over the limits of political power has inhibited, and continues to inhibit, any bottom-up participation; it excludes from decision-making both the electorate and the lower political echelons. In this respect, the democratic game after the accession to the EU turned out to be no more than a game of musical chairs110 played by the topmost political leaders who appear to be interested only in retaining their seats in office.
Also the pre-accession programmatic promise to curb high-level corruption was rendered void by the unreliable and inconsistent manner in which political parties and party members behaved after January 2007. As shown above, closer scrutiny of inter- and intra-party dynamics lends considerable weight to the argument that the Romanian party system lacks ideological coherence. The numerous party splits and fusions and the forming and breaking of grand coalitions have rendered it almost impossible to distinguish the two sides: who are the high-level corrupt officials, and who are those that fight them on a justice-reform platform. In truth, a close observation at the level of individual party members shows almost no difference between the two sides. An overwhelmingly great number of party members have abruptly changed their affiliation on the eve of elections in order to obtain secure political positions, regardless of the inevitable shift from an anti-corruption to a non-anti-corruption agenda. This unreliable behaviour proves once more that elected elites in Romania are neither bound to rely on the substance of their party program nor to take into account the preferences and concerns of their electorate. They “understand political representation as a form of personal strategic action (hence their political defections).”111
The institutional arrangements exacerbate these struggles for power. Members of the Romanian elite continue to dispute their institutional roles, contesting how decisional power is shared between the two heads of government, and how law-making power is divided between the legislative and the executive. The blurred constitutional division of authority among the three branches of government (legislative, executive and judiciary) leads to imbalances which adversely affect exchange, dialogue and consensus building among political leaders; they provide a wider scope for the abuse and manipulation of democratic procedures, while at the same time they narrow down the scope for parliamentary debate and political representation.
The image that emerges after Romania’s accession to the EU in 2007 is one of increased elite fragmentation, affecting the extent to which elite members are able to act on the basis of their personal preferences, as opposed to pursuing party or societal interests. This disintegration of the Romanian political elite could itself be regarded as a post-accession reversal, or on the contrary it could be seen as the end of a simulated democratic consensus. Whether the period of calm that preceded Romania’s accession to the EU was a mere pretence is, however, less relevant here; more important are the effects the elite integration produced before January 2007, and the effects its disintegration has produced ever since.
As the above analysis demonstrated, the composition, the institutional embodiment, and the lack of value consensus among the members of the ruling stratum, allowed for a post-accession return to an over-fragmentation of the elite, which itself conditioned the elite members’ pursuit of individual over group or societal interests. Once Romania joined the EU, the struggle became less about establishing solid institutions and the rule of law, less about achieving consensus and societal well-being, and became more an individualistic competition for office, influence and, as the following pages will show, for personal gains that went much beyond electoral returns.
However, in this same context of intense fragmentation certain Europeanizing reforms advanced smoothly, while others went through an abrupt reversal. An in-depth analysis of the adopted legislation that led to this differential result of Europeanization across policy fields will reveal the degree and triggers of de-Europeanization. The following chapters will engage therefore in an extensive discussion of the manner in which self-interested political elites abuse their law-making function and frustrate genuine Europeanizing reform in some domains, while being perfectly capable of acting in the public interest and in compliance with EU requirements in others. The two following case studies trace the legislative path of two reforms, both of which are relevant in the context of Romania’s Europeanization: the anti-corruption reform and the laws establishing the National Integrity Agency; and the nature-conservation reform and the laws regulating the protection of environmentally significant habitats and species. The two cases show a high variation in the explanatory variable: the personal interests of the political elite, which accounts for divergent results of Europeanization in the two policy areas and renders proof of the fact that the success of Europeanizing reforms does not depend primarily on the adaptational pressure emanating from the EU, but rather on the interests pursued at the domestic level by the political elite.
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Footnotes
1
Parliament of Romania (2017a).
 
2
Partidul Social Democrat (2017).
 
3
Only the censure motions initiated on 6 October 2009, 18 April 2012 and 21 June 2017 were adopted, leading to a cabinet overthrow (Source: http://​www.​cdep.​ro/​pls/​parlam/​motiuni.​home).
 
4
Best and Higley (2010).
 
5
Higley and Moore (1981: 582).
 
6
Gallina (2008: 9).
 
7
Seleny (2007), Gallina (2008: 47–55), Ladrech (2009: 11), Ganev (2013: 34–6), Ionașcu (2013: 251), and Enyedi (2016: 211–2).
 
8
Gallina (2008: 53).
 
9
Ilonszki and Lengyel (2019: 190–1).
 
10
Soare (2014: 174).
 
11
For a comprehensive discussion on elite continuity in Central and Eastern Europe after the fall of communist regimes see Kitschelt (1992), Gallina (2008), Pop-Eleches (1999, 2008) and Anghel (2012). Without dismissing this claim, the present study consciously leaves unexplored—and thus refrains from giving any opinion on—whether the Romanian revolution marked a substantial elite change and a complete break from the authoritarian past.
 
12
Siani-Davies (2007: 192–3).
 
13
DECRET-LEGE nr. 2 din 27 decembrie 1989 (Decree No. 2 of December 27th 1989) [1989].
 
14
Source: Siani-Davies (2007: 192).
 
15
Siani-Davies (2007: 193–4).
 
16
Chiru and Gherghina (2012: 514).
 
17
Chiru and Gherghina (2012: 511).
 
18
Siani-Davies (2007: 210).
 
19
Siani-Davies (2007: 250).
 
20
Source: Parliament of Romania, URL: http://​www.​cdep.​ro/​pls/​parlam/​structura2015.​gp?​leg=​1990 (accessed 25 Jul 2017).
 
21
Pop-Eleches (2008: 468).
 
22
Pop-Eleches (1999: 118).
 
23
In fact the PD remained for more than a decade affiliated with the Socialist International, just until 2005 when it shifted its ideological orientation becoming a member of the European People’s Party (Chiru & Gherghina, 2012: 516).
 
24
Despite the fact that the PDSR (the Romanian Party for Social Democracy) and the PSDR (the Romanian Social Democratic Party) share the same designation and the same ideology, they were registered as two separate political parties until they merged to form the Social Democratic Party (PSD).
 
25
Chiru and Gherghina (2012: 521).
 
26
Figure 3.2 was developed by the author using the official websites of the respective political parties and Muller et al. (2012).
 
27
Katz and Mair (1995) and Sikk (2005: 397–8).
 
28
Sikk (2005).
 
29
Sikk (2005: 399).
 
30
Chiru and Gherghina (2012: 529).
 
31
Law 114/2015 on Political Parties, which came into force in May 2015 and which amended the more exigent Law 14/2003, substantially relaxed the requirements for registering new political parties, reducing the minimum number of founding members from 25,000 to 3. Nevertheless, other legal, institutional and administrative constraints limit the access of new parties to the party system: the lengthy registration procedures, the high number of signatures required in order to participate in election, or the long reimbursement periods for campaign investments (Dumitru & Voicu, 2016).
 
32
Gherghina (2014: 492).
 
33
Sikk (2005: 393).
 
34
Chiru and Gherghina (2012).
 
35
A very pertinent analysis of an extensive use of deliberation within Demos, one of Romania’s newest political parties, is provided by Gherghina and Stoiciu (2020).
 
36
Chiru and Gherghina (2012: 516).
 
37
Chiru and Gherghina (2012: 516–9).
 
38
Chiru and Gherghina (2015: 145).
 
39
Chiru and Gherghina (2015: 145).
 
40
Figure 3.3 is inspired by Chiru and Gherghina (2012: 525), but adapted to include most recent data.
 
41
Chiru and Gherghina (2012: 522–4).
 
42
Chiru and Gherghina (2012: 526).
 
43
Chiru and Gherghina (2012: 525).
 
44
Data retrieved from the official website of the party <https://​www.​usr.​ro/​2019/​09/​06/​dan-barna-fost-ales-presedintele-usr-pentru-un-nou-mandat/​>, accessed 15 Dec 2020.
 
45
Ciobanu (2007) and Chiru and Ciobanu (2009: 197–203).
 
46
Chiru and Ciobanu (2009: 203).
 
47
Ștefan and Grecu (2014: 206).
 
48
Chiru and Ciobanu (2009).
 
49
Chiru and Ciobanu (2009: 203).
 
50
Ciobanu (2007: 70).
 
51
Ionașcu (2013: 240), Bertelsmann Stiftung (2014), Bertelsmann Stiftung (2016).
 
52
Chiru and Ciobanu (2009: 222).
 
53
Figure 3.4 was developed by the author using data from the official websites of the Romanian Parliament (www.​cdep.​ro and www.​senat.​ro respectively).
 
54
Ștefan and Grecu (2014: 210).
 
55
Figure 15 is inspired by Ștefan (2009: 9), whose analysis was updated with the most recent data. The overview does not include the period between December 1989 and June 1990, when Romania had no elected Parliament; it does not include state secretaries when measuring the size of the cabinets; and extends over the entire period from 1990 until 2020.
 
56
Ștefan (2009: 13).
 
57
Ștefan (2009: 13).
 
58
Figure 3.6 is inspired by the analysis and argument in Ștefan (2009), the data being updated to reference 1990–2020 figures.
 
59
Ștefan (2009: 15).
 
60
Ștefan (2009: 32–4).
 
61
Ștefan (2009: 33). In 2011 Sorin Frunzaverde was elected first vice-president of the National Permanent Bureau of the Democratic Liberal Party (PDL), a position he held until March 2012 when he left the party joining the National Liberal Party (PNL). No later than April 2012 he was elected vice-president of PNL, position reconfirmed in 2014.
 
62
Higley and Lengyel (2000b: 6).
 
63
Kam (2014: 408).
 
64
Carp (2013: 424).
 
65
Naumescu (2014: 51).
 
66
Perju (2015).
 
67
Naumescu (2014: 59).
 
68
Naumescu (2014: 59–60).
 
69
It is important to note here that currently the president no longer holds the power to revoke the Prime Minister.
 
70
Fragmentation in this context reveals a high degree of conflict and friction between institutions. The institutional environment favors conflict over collaboration, it encourages functional specialization, it allows for a lack of congruence in role perceptions, and motivates organizational dissent, thereby forcing leaders to pursue different goals, adopt different perspectives on issues or take divergent actions.
 
71
Ionașcu (2013: 246).
 
72
The year 2020 was intentionally excluded from the analysis here, as the COVID-19 pandemic created an exceptional situation for both the legislative and the executive.
 
73
Ionașcu (2013: 247).
 
74
Ionașcu (2013: 247).
 
75
Ionașcu (2013: 248).
 
76
Ionașcu (2013: 249).
 
77
According to the data published by the Legislative Council at http://​www.​clr.​ro, accessed 7 Nov 2017.
 
78
Government of Romania (2007).
 
79
Ionașcu (2013: 249).
 
80
According to the data published on the official website of the Romanian Parliament (http://​www.​cdep.​ro/​pls/​parlam/​motiuni2015.​lista), accessed 16 Dec 2020.
 
81
Ionașcu (2013: 252).
 
82
The data were retrieved from the Institutul pentru Politici Publice București (2012: 24–8) and the official website of the Romanian Parliament <http://​www.​cdep.​ro/​pls/​parlam/​interpelari.​home>, accessed 16 Dec 2020.
 
83
Gherghina and Jiglău (2011: 72).
 
84
Gherghina and Jiglău (2011: 72) and Chiru and Gherghina (2012: 516).
 
85
Gherghina and Jiglău (2011: 84).
 
86
Article 8(1) in the Statute of the Social Democratic Party, <https://​www.​psd.​ro/​structura-si-organizatii/​statut/​>, accessed 16 Dec 2020.
 
87
Gherghina and Jiglău (2011: 78).
 
88
Gherghina and Jiglău (2011: 85).
 
89
For a very pertinent discussion of the ideological landscape in Romania see Gherghina and Jiglău (2011: 77).
 
90
Gherghina and Jiglău (2011: 87).
 
91
Chiru (2016).
 
92
Figure 3.7 was developed by the author based on data available at https://​parlament.​openpolitics.​ro/​partide/​ accessed 16 Dec 2020.
 
93
UNPR is a party formed by members who formerly belonged to the Social Democratic Party (PSD) and to the National Liberal Party (PNL); it is therefore ideologically heterogeneous (Gherghina & Chiru, 2016).
 
94
It is important here to note that the incidence of party-switching is in general not related to the experienced splits or mergers of political parties. The number of party-switchers adds to the number of elite-members who changed their affiliation as a result of the emergence of a new political organization or the disappearance of an old one.
 
95
Institutul pentru Politici Publice București (2016: 18–20).
 
96
Institutul pentru Politici Publice București (2016: 20).
 
97
Ionașcu (2013: 241).
 
98
The data supporting this claim were retrieved from <https://​parlament.​openpolitics.​ro/​export/​>, accessed 16 Dec 2020.
 
99
Chapter 2, Sect. 2.​1.​2, Europeanization East: The conditionality-driven reform.
 
100
Papadimitriou and Gateva (2009: 155–6).
 
101
Papadimitriou and Gateva (2009: 155–8).
 
102
Papadimitriou and Gateva (2009: 156–7).
 
103
Steunenberg and Dimitrova (2007: 9).
 
104
Papadimitriou and Gateva (2009: 159).
 
105
In the pre-accession period, between 2001 and 2006, the Romanian Parliament adopted yearly a number of laws two or sometimes three times higher than in the post-accession period.
 
106
Vachudova (2008: 874).
 
107
Vachudova (2008: 873).
 
108
According to the Eurobarometer 64.2 of autumn 2005 for Romania, the country’s citizens displayed the highest level of trust in EU institutions among all members and accession states. The trust level remained equally high in the years just prior to Romania’s EU accession (see also the Eurobarometer 66 of 2007b, page 108). The level of trust in EU institutions among Romanians decreased slightly in the post-accession period, but remained at all times above the EU average, with more than 45% (Chiciudean & Corbu, 2016).
 
109
Anghel (2017: 21–2).
 
110
Higley and Lengyel (2000b: 6).
 
111
Ionașcu (2013: 245).
 
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Metadata
Title
Fragmentation: A Trait of the Romanian Political Elite
Author
Luana Martin-Russu
Copyright Year
2022
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-11081-8_3