European conditionality, ethnic control or electoral disarray? The 2011 controversial territorial reform attempt in Romania
Dragos DRAGOMAN Bogdan GHEORGHITA
Abstract. Though much criticized, especially for its inability of spending European subsidies, the current regional administration in Romania remained unchanged until the communist times. The sudden rush in totally reshaping the regional administration in 2011 triggered an intense debate on the matter. Though brief, it shed light on political constraints operating when it comes to reshape regional design. Whereas official arguments pointed at a severe European conditionality, electoral calculations seem to be at stake. Yet the decisive opposition to the project by the Hungarian party in government unravels a more profound conditionality, namely ethnic balance, related to the political geography of Transylvania.
Keywords: territorial reform, regionalism, ethnicity,post-communism, Romania..
The recent attempts to reshape the territorial regional design in Romania ended as sudden as it began. Though the main party in government, alongside its former chief, today the President of Romania, struggled to cut to the chase and reach the final decision in no more than two weeks, they faced a vivid opposition. There were not only regional authorities that opposed to such quick and little discussed regional redesign, but the partner coalition party strongly opposed to a non-negotiated solution. In fact, they party in government seems to have taken into account only contextual factors and surprisingly neglected more profound structural factors when deciding to cut the regional administration to the bone. By claiming two contextual factors, the European conditionality and the economic spending cuts when regarding the functioning of the administration regional layer, and having in mind narrow electoral interests for the regional elections in 2012, they underestimated the strength of a less visible, but essential regional factor, namely the
ethnic factor. Ethnic opposition of the Hungarian minority to this project, through the effective opposition of their ethnic party in government, thus sheds light on a surprising and under searched topic when dealing with territorial reform in Romania. The aim of this article is to review the arguments for this sudden attempt to redefine regional design in Romania and to focus on the real weight of this essential structural factor for the regional design that is ethnic conflict. This factor might prove to be the most valuable explanation for the slow progress in debating and modernizing regional administration in Romania. Before discussing about relevant factors regarding the reshaping of the regional design, we first briefly describe the current regional settings in place in Romania, to turn later on opportunities and constraints for reshaping regional design.
The current regional design and institutional functioning
According to the Constitution from 1991, Romania is a unitary state. The constitution acknowledges the existence of a series of administrative subunits, which are villages (communes) and towns, grouped together inside the boundaries of forty-one counties, alongside Bucharest, the capital-city. Since Romania counts 21.5 million inhabitants, each county thus hosts between 225,000 and
835,000 inhabitants, with Bucharest raising population up to 2.2 million. In fact, dividing Romania in counties was a political decision taken since the foundation of the modern Romanian state. Although modern Romania was born by binding together historical provincial entities largely inhabited by ethnic Romanians that were previously incorporated by extended multinational empires, provinces were too big and much too diverse for the political purpose of the time, i.e. homogenizing the political space and unifying the national culture. Binding together provinces that fought for their independence from the Austrian, Russian and Turkish empires was not an easy task for the Romanian elites. Because those provinces have not only brought together ethnic Romanians once separated by imperial borders, but also brought in large ethnic and religious minorities, with more educated, urbanised and active cultural elites1. That is why the county, and not the region or the province, was designed as the regional unit in Romania, with the short exception of the first decades of the communist rule. Having in mind the Soviet model, communists have replaced counties with districts and oblasts, only to put them back in place in 1968, with the same purpose to further homogenize the national territory2. The same communist regional design is still in place today.
As the only regional units acknowledged by the new democratic constitution, counties are run by local governments called County Councils. They are responsible for coordinating commune and town councils in the performance of those public services that are of countywide interest. They generally deal with economic development activities and establish the general orientation of spatial planning, environmental policies and county fees and taxes3. County councils embody the legislative power at county level. County councillors are elected in various numbers, depending on the population of the county. The county-council, as legislative body, rests on its own executive apparatus, the administration, run by the president of the county council. He is responsible for the functioning of the county administration and represents the county in its relations with various natural or legal persons. Whereas for almost two decades he was indirectly elected (by the county councillors), since 2008 he is directly elected by county citizens using a fully majoritarian (first-past-the-post) voting system.
The financing of the counties’ budgets is multifold. Whereas during the first post-communist decade the property taxes and massive state budget transfer payments represented the bulk of counties’ budgets, the financial autonomy is based today on a wide range of financial sources: taxes, duties, other fiscal revenues, non-fiscal revenues, capital revenues, special deviation revenues, grants from the state budget, shares of revenues to the state budget and special destination transfers. Since 1999, they even may use a share of the collected personal income tax from county residents. Very slowly, the central government accepted to transfer revenues to local governments in order to support them in their growing responsibilities, which now encompass schools, hospitals and roads. The transfers from the value added tax collected locally, in fact previously unshared revenues of the central government, now represent the bulk of the budget sources of revenues for local and county governments. Yet another essential source of revenues, i.e. the European development funds, is not as easy at the reach of county authorities. Though Romania is an EU member state since 2007, the share of the European disposable funds accessed by the Romanian authorities is ridiculously scant. This is exactly the argument used by the central government in 2011 when he rushed to transform the regional design in no more than two weeks, claiming to be under severe European pressure.
European conditionally and territorial change before the EU accession
When it comes to redesign territorial administration in Central and Eastern Europe, one can notice a great variety of forms, dimensions and relationships between the different administrative power layers4. In some of these countries, the fragmentation of local governments was more profound that in other, which have maintained territorially consolidated systems in the general logic of a trade-off between democracy and economic efficiency5. The same is true for the regional design, where some countries, including Romania, kept in place the former regional administration, while other countries as Poland or Slovenia transformed it6. The great variety of forms and dimensions of administrative units and the large range of relationships between central and local governments in former EU candidate countries is an argument against the claimed European constraint. In fact, there is not a single, unified and coherent European model of territorial design and important differences persist between European countries, even between those who recently transformed their regional governance7. If the European conditionality truly worked in a series of sensitive issues as minority rights and democracy standards, it was not put in place regarding the territorial reform8.
Moreover, post-accession conditio-nality in pre-accession negotiated areas is elusive. Not surprisingly, many of the former candidate states even witnessed serious setbacks, ignoring accession criteria that would previously disabled them to join the European Union9.
The only pre-accession EU conditionality in the area of territorial design is to be acknowledged in 1998, when Romania adopted, by statistical purposes only, the requirements of the European NUTS system. By doing so, Romania purely regrouped 41 counties (NUTS 3 units) into eight larger statistical regional units (NUTS 2). The criteria used for regrouping counties were founded upon the potential cooperation between counties and the variation of county development indices. Each new region was designed as having a centre and periphery sub-regions. Whereas centre sub-regions are characterized by higher levels of human capital, the peripheral sub-regions have negative values for the index of human development, that are levels below the national average10. Thus each peripheral sub-region might be considered as a practical issue of priority area and a target for development actions. Yet the new approach was more a development tool rather than a regionalisation in terms of restructuring the regional administration11. This is a clear governmental strategy of adaptation by creating functional regional structures for administrative and statistical purposes, without devolving real competences to newly created regional entities, as they are not territorial-administrative units settled as such by the Constitution12. Therefore, the development regions are not legal persons, but only formal associations between counties, ruled by regional development councils and agencies that project, implement and overview the development policies at regional level under the supervision of a specialized ministry for regional development settled in Bucharest, the capital-city.
Table 1. The county composition of development regions Counties
Region 1, North-East Region 2, South-East Region 3, South
Region 4, South-West Region 5, West Region 6, North-West
Region 7, Center Region 8, Bucharest
Bacău, Botoşani, Neamţ, Iaşi, Suceava, Vaslui Brăila, Buzău, Constanţa, Galaţi, Tulcea, Vrancea Argeş, Călăraşi, Dâmboviţa, Giurgiu, Ialomiţa, Prahova, Teleorman Dolj, Gorj, Mehedinţi, Olt, Vâlcea Arad, Caraş-Severin, Hunedoara, Timiş Bihor, Bistriţa-Năsăud, Cluj, Maramureş, Satu-Mare, Sălaj
Alba, Braşov, Covasna, Harghita, Mureş, Sibiu Bucharest
The public claim made by Romanian president and prime-minister (both from the Democrat-Liberal Party – PDL) regarding the alleged European narrow conditio-nality when it comes to motivate the rush in redesigning the territorial administration in Romania should therefore be taken as a metaphor. Though the European Regional Development Fund created in 1975 largely stimulated the involvement of public authorities at local and regional level in the administration of the funds, the „Europeanization” of sub-national governance is to be taken more as a voluntary process of transforming politics at the local level away from nationalised and hierarchical forms of politics towards more negotiated and interdependent practices involving tiers of government and a wide range of interest groups13, rather than a pure conditionality, as other East European governments have claimed14. From this perspective, Europeanization is to be seen as a response to the increasing European economic interdependence and a step forward towards pluralism in power strategies. Thus the willingness of Romanian central authorities to make sub-national institutions more alert by accessing lots of money, which can be seen as the main advantage of becoming EU member state, is not to be confused with a clear response to an alleged narrow European conditionality.
Strategic planning or strategic voting?
The sudden governmental intention in June 2011 to redraw Romania’s administrative map by dissolving counties with no prior serious public debate stirred a huge controversy. Why would the government promote and implement radical changes in a period of severe economic crisis? Dissolving counties and regrouping them in larger territorial units aims only at drastically cut spending or it may regard PDL’s strategy for the 2012 elections?
The governmental rush to dissolve counties was immediately taken by the opposition parties as another attempt to alter the rules of the political game, namely an attempt to avoid running in 41 traditional separate county elections and to replace them by eight uncustomary elections. In fact, those elections would be rather curious while regrouping highly dissimilar county electorates and addressing them unspecific electoral campaign issues. The suspicion was founded on previous governmental acts, since the governing populist party had previously changed the electoral system for the election of mayors. Whereas mayors have been elected in Romania since 1992 using a majoritarian two-round (run-off) system, the parliamentary majority supporting the government replaced it in May 2011 with a pure majoritarian (first-past-the-post) electoral system. Though this decision will increase the chances of the PDL candidates, it will undermine the legitimacy of the mayors, who were previously elected by a majority and not by a plurality (which can be a minority) of voters. The suspicion run even higher when PDL stated that the new territorial units will to be called counties as well and not regions or provinces. This labelling strategy was acknowledged by the opposition as an attempt to avoid a constitutional revision process that would require a qualified (two-thirds) favourable vote in parliament and the citizens’ majority support in a constitutional referendum. The suspicion was to be strengthened by the government’s decision in December 2011 to merge local and parliamentary elections by expanding local elected councillors’ and mayors’ mandates until November 2012. Otherwise, it would have been required to shorten the mandates of senators and deputies, impossible without a constitutional revision process. Moreover, the government intends to lower the required threshold for parties’ admission in parliament from 5 to 3 % only.
Why would the governing party intend to alter the rules of the game one year before the elections? In fact, local elections are critical for parties in Romania. On the one hand, as they have place six months before the parliamentary elections, their results act as benchmarks for the performance of political parties.
In a Romanian context marked by a deep distrust regarding pre-electoral surveys, local elections’ results clearly indicate the strength of the parties and almost accurately anticipate the parliamentary elections’ results. And this is especially the case of the elections for the county councillors and for the presidents of the county councils, which are the most „political” elections. Unlike county elections, the local elections for commune and town councils and especially those for the mayors are to be considered as the most „utilitarian”, in Downsian terms, since voters’ actions are rational in pursuing utility, i.e. that each citizen casts his vote for the mayoral candidate he believes will provide him with more benefits than any other15. Comparing county and parliamentary elections would give the opposition a clue about the ruling party’s strength and help her in running the general campaign. In the same time, separating the two kinds of elections and relying on a benchmark would avoid serious electoral fraud suspicions that have tarnished the 2008 parliamentary elections won by PDL and especially the 2009 presidential elections that reconfirmed the incumbent president Basescu for his second term. The share of votes between the two candidates running in the second round was so narrow and the suspicion of fraud so important that the Constitutional Court was forced, for the first time, to state the recounting of some casted ballots.
On the other hand, local elected officials in Romania often can work as electoral agents for their parties. Controlling local resources, especially in poorer rural areas, they usually discriminatorily provide citizens with various resources and facilities, from crop aids and timber supply to aids in cash, forcing them to electoral behave appropriately. Since half of the Romanian peasants are engaged in subsistence farming, they have been almost entirely ‘captured’ by local predatory elites who control resources and therefore local politics16. This kind of „patronage” or new „latifundism” are also to be found in other rural and less developed countries, in Southern Italy or in Eastern Europe17. Yet this dependency mechanism is strengthened in Romania by the governmental redistribution mechanisms. Designed to help local authorities to overcome unexpected difficulties and, more generally, to bridge development disparities18, central government disposable funds and fiscal equalization funds were never free of political purposes. Whereas the central government may transfer equalization funds to counties, by taking for example into account their fiscal capacity to collect personal income tax or their stringent development needs, county councils may in turn distribute equalization funds to local communities inside counties. In the case of the central government collected road taxes through the Special Fund for Roads, an independent report indicates that almost one third of the proceeds were distributed to county councils and, exceptionally, directly to local communities, though the central government is involved in large national scale infrastructure invest-ments19. The distribution of funds did not correlate either to the size of the population and the level of economic development of the county, or to the length of the road network, its technical status and the level of car traffic. Controlling the central government and controlling as many county councils thus may provide you with the tool of controlling the very local politics and influencing voting, especially in backward rural communities and during harsh economic crises. Mixing local and parliamentary elections would make impossible a rebellion of local elected officials who might find an incentive to migrate towards the ranks of the most probable winner party in the parliamentary elections. By doing so, PDL expects to more tightly control its own local elected officials and to more effectively spend local resources for electoral purposes.
By attempting to dissolve counties, and by avoiding public debate and the need for political support from citizens and the opposition, PDL also stirred up the protest of many county councils, generally those run by presidents members of the opposition parties. Yet the sudden rush to deeply transform regional administration helped, for a brief period of time, to put the serious issue of spatial planning and local democracy on the public agenda. Moreover, populists’ attempt to alter the rules of the political game has unravelled the paramount importance of a generally neglected issue for the regional design, namely ethnic conflict and cooperation.
The inner border: how to draw regional units in Transylvania?
The slow progress regarding regional administration reform in Romania during the last two decades and the lack of serious public debate on this issue can now be more accurately explained by the ethnic symbolic conflict ongoing in Transylvania20. The status-quo between ethnic groups can prove more difficult to change that previously thought. Before shedding light on the accommodation processes between ethnic groups through public local administration, let us take a brief historical journey in the tumultuous past of the region.
Though it is a Romanian province today, Transylvania broke up from Austria-Hungary (and the Habsburg Empire) in 1918. Even back in the 18th and 19th centuries, when it was a peripheral Habsburg province, Transylvania was numerically dominated by ethnic Romanians, their ethnic group representing more than half of the province’s population. Before that, during the 17th and 16th centuries, Transylvania was the shelter of the Hungarian nation in a period when the Western parts of the former medieval Hungary were occupied by the Ottoman Turks21. Before the historical defeat of the Hungarian King at Mohâcs in 1526 and the subsequent dismantlement of the kingdom, Hungary was a wealthy and important medieval regional power that encompassed the whole Carpathian Basin, including the principality of Transylvania22. Though ethnic Romanians inhabited the province in large shares during Middle Ages, they were never included amongst the privileged groups that ruled the province exclusively, namely Hungarians, Szeklers and Saxons. Those groups formed the bulk of the upper classes (medieval états), as they were nobles, catholic and protestant priests (Hungarians) and inhabitants of autonomous lands and cities (Szeklers and Saxons), whereas orthodox and Greek-catholic Romanians formed the bulk of the dominated and exploited peasantry. Yet at the age of the European nationalism, Romanian elites formed a strong political movement claiming for cultural and political rights for the Romanian community23. The Romanian nationalist long-lasting struggle ended in 1918 with Transylvania’s secession from Hungary and its subsequent union with the recently independent Romanian national state24.
Under severe „Magyarisation” before 1918, Romanian national elites fought back with an equally powerful „Romanianisation” following the defeat of the dual monarchy in the First World War. Following the 1920 Peace Treaties in Paris, they engaged in an effort aimed to consolidate the new national state and unify the national culture25, putting in place a centralized administration that run 71 counties that lasted until 1948. Between the two successive peace treaties from Paris (1920 and 1945) that marked the end of the two World Wars, a pivotal event occurred that shaped the way ethnic Romanians and ethnic Hungarians in Transylvania conceive state unity, autonomy and secession. Though both Romania and Hungary were Nazi Germany’s allies26, Romania was forced against his will, by a treaty signed in August 1940 in Vienna, to let half of Transylvania to return to the Hungarian state, only to recover it at the Peace Treaty in Paris. This traumatic event profoundly marked Romanian-Hungarian ethnic relations for decades.
By adopting a Soviet-style administration, and by emphasizing the unity of the workers and peasants regardless of their native language and ethnicity, after 1948 the communist party offered the Hungarian minority an administrative autonomy in Transylvania inside the framework of a special Hungarian Autonomous Region (encompassing almost entirely the departments of Mures., Harghita and Covasna) at the heart of Transylvania. This autonomy lasted until 1968, when the territory was once again homogenized according to nationalistic purposes27. Although the first decade of communist rule proclaimed itself as internationalist, the last two decades of Romanian communism turned into a fierce nationalist regime, which resembled more to inter-war public discourse and political activity (including the alteration of ethnic balance by forced mobility) that to internationalist communism28.
As Bollens emphasizes29, cities are suppliers of important religious and cultural symbols, zones of intergroup proximity and intimacy, and arenas where the size and concentration of a subordinate population can present the most direct threat to the state. This is also visible in Transylvanian cities, especially in ethnic mixed ones, as Targu-Mures, the capital-city of Mures-county. It was there that the claimed threat to Romanian state unity and sovereignty triggered in March 1990 the most severe ethnic clashes between ethnic Romanians and ethnic Hungarians that could eventually bring Transylvania on the brink of an ethnic disaster, more or less similar to those that have ravaged the former Yugoslavia. Since those events, ethnic politics strongly marked the political dynamics of post-communist Romania30. Although Romania followed a different path of exit from communism that former Yugoslavia, post-communist transition did not exclude the use of ethnic tensions and of subsequent mechanisms of accommodation of ethnic segments in most of its heterogeneous local contexts31.
Noticing the very complicated ethnic geography in Transylvania, it is not surprising why post-communist governments in Romania avoided clear-cut measures of territorial design, but choosing instead to take small steps forward by adopting the European statistical requirements regarding regional units (NUTS 2). With no real administrative competences, those development regions managed somehow to postpone critical decisions regarding territorial design and regional autonomy. The sudden rush in redefining regions in no more than two weeks, as president Băsescu claimed, finally opened the debate regarding political geography in Transylvania. Back in 1997, the Green Paper for Regional Policy in Romania, published by the Romanian government with the support of the European Commission and that set the foundation for the Law 151/1998 on Regional Development, proposed regrouping counties largely inhabited by ethnic Hungarians (Harghita 84.61 %, Covasna 73.79 % and Mureş 39.30 %) with other neighbouring counties largely inhabited by ethnic Romanians, where ethnic Hungarians count much less (Braşov 8.65 %, Alba 6.60 % and Sibiu 3.36 %) in the boundaries of the Development Region 7 (Centre). Yet proposing in June 2011 to transform development regions into counties, and by that dissolving the current 41 counties, PDL triggered the nervous response of the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (DAHR), its governing partner. On the one hand, the Hungarian minority, though a majority in the area, would find itself in a minority position inside the new administrative unit, as it lives today as a diaspora in number of Transylvanian counties (Satu-Mare 35.19 %, Bihor 25.96 %, Sălaj 23.04 %, Cluj 17.40 %, Arad 10.67 %, Maramureş 9.07 %, Bistriţa-Năsăud 5.88 %). On the other hand, DAHR would lose its political status, as it will be forced to electoral compete in a totally different environment, with fewer chances to win mayoral, local and county councillor seats. As long as the current administrative system is in place, DAHR largely benefits of the support of ethnic Hungarians in Transylvania by almost automatically turning ethnic shares in ethnic votes32.
As a counter-proposal, DAHR issued its own regional design. Emphasizing the inefficiency of eight large development regions, the Hungarian party proposed to divide these regions by two and to regroup the 16 new regions into four macro-regions by sharing their administrative capacities between these layers. The bold proposal is, however, difficult to accept not only
by their partners in government, but by ethnic Romanians living in Transylvania. On the one hand, the micro-region set up by dividing the current Development Region 7 (Centre) and separating Alba, Braşov and Sibiu counties on one side and Covasna, Harghita and Mureş counties on the other, would obviously match too close the former autonomous Hungarian region from the early communist times. On the other hand, the macro-region engulfing Covasna, Harghita, Mureş, Cluj, Sălaj, Bistriţa-Năsăud,
Maramureş, Bihor and Satu-Mare would resemble too much to the half of Transylvania that was brutally annexed by fascist Hungary in 1940. The two geographies would simply be unacceptable for Romanian parties and ethnic Romanians. By refusing president Băsescu’s final offer, namely a special status for Harghita and Covasna counties alongside eight other macro-counties (in fact the current development regions), DAHR put a brutal hold to the political negotiations regarding territorial design33.
Ethnic stalemate: impossible centralization, improbable autonomy
Even though political negotiations regarding regional administration were to be stopped as sudden as the debate begun, they raised important issues at stake. The stalemate that replaced the brief negotiations is revelatory for de facto status-quo. Facing the Romanian government proposal with defensive attitude and fearing ethnic control, DAHR emphasizes even more the autonomy claim that it expresses for two decades, namely, a regional autonomy for the Hungarian community in Covasna, Harghita and Mureş counties34. Generally labelled „Szeklerland” by ethnic Hungarians, this denomination is to symbolically relate to a period during Middle Ages when Szeklers, a Hungarian population, benefited of full autonomy from Hungary’s king and later on from the ruling Hapsburg monarchy and that they fiercely defended for centuries35.
Covasna county-council, dominated by ethnic Hungarian elected officials, decided in March 2007 to set up eight road touristic inscriptions at the county borders, marking the entry into what they called Szeklerland. The first one was set up on 16 August 2007 at the border between Covasna and Braşov counties. Later on, county authorities from Harghita neighbouring county expressed their willingness to set up such touristic panels at their county borders as well36. The decision of the county-councils was criticized by local ethnic Romanian elites and the advertising panels were quickly removed by the Romanian State Road Company. Subsequently, the road company refused to deliver the compulsory technical documentation for the advertising panels demanded by Covasna county-council. The official motivation of the state road company was that the advertising panel was set against the principles of the Romanian unitary state37. Covasna county council decided to make an appeal in court against the state road company, got all technical documentation and finally set up two touristic panels at county borders. Moreover, in 2011 the Association of the Hungarian Regions, a lobby representative institution in Brussels designed to keep the Hungarian Regional Development Agencies in touch with the European institutions, decided to host Szeklerland office amongst the other regions it represents38. The official inauguration of this representation in Brussels stirred a huge controversy and shed light once again on the ongoing tensions between divergent political and administrative projects.
Ethnic stalemate could only be surpassed by voluntary ethnic cooperation, and such a cooperation has been proposed back in 2000 by few Transylvanian intellectuals, ethnic Romanians and ethnic Hungarians as well, under the general label of „Transylvanian regionalism”. Conceiving Transylvania as a culturally homogeneous area that symbolically opposes to the rest of Romania, they triggered a debate by publishing their views in a specially designed journal called „Provincia” (the Province). A content analysis of the journal in 2000, 2001 and 2002 unravels the dominant themes, arguments and proposals39. One of the favourite themes is creating a
Transylvanian trans-ethnic political party, a regionalist party motivated by a kind of „civic regionalism” that stands as a plausible alternative to the current political representation of Transylvanian citizens40. The motivation for establishing a trans-ethnic party is twofold. On the one hand, the emergence of a political party to represent Transylvania seems to be linked to the existence of „Transylvanism”, a cultural peculiarity related to the multiethnic history of Transylvania and closeness to Western Europe. By its different traditions, history, and especially by its multiethnic composition, Transylvania is different from the rest of Romania. In the words of the editors, Transylvania is the space of „Reformation”, a space where „Western Christianity coexist with the oriental Christianity”, a place of „the great styles of the European culture: romantic, gothic, Renaissance, baroque and classic”41. Culturally defined, the political options of Transylvanian (Romanian, Hungarian, German and other ethnic minorities) would be clearly different from those of other historical provinces. Moreover, in the broad sense of multiculturalism, Transylvania has proved to be an „extremely responsive space to religious renewals”42. In this vein, The Romanian United Church with Rome (Greek Catholic), a broad part of the Orthodox Church who symbolically recognized the Pope as the head of the Church back in 1699 and who played an essential role in the history of Transylvanian Romanians, is considered to be a factor of progress in the history of Transylvania and a factor that culturally distinguishes Transylvania form the rest of Romania. Religious tolerance is a value considered as belonging to Transylvanians even if the conflict with the Orthodox Church is remembered.
On the other hand, the urgent need for a trans-ethnic regional party is associated with a better distribution of resources from the centre. Whereas Transylvania significantly contributes to the national budget, the resources that are redistributed back by the central political power (we would say regardless of party) are very low, which arouses the discontent of the authors43. The increased centralization seems to be the most profound cause of this iniquity. The distance from the political centre, its inability to understand the real problems of the province, make resources not to be equitably distributed. That is why people in Transylvania really need a regional party that fights for urgent decentralization and state reform44.
Transylvanian regionalists drafted in December 2001 a „Memorandum to the Parliament Regarding the Regional Structuring of Romania”45, proposing the harmonious development of Romania considering the historical, economical and social-cultural identity of its regions. The „Memorandum” has been submitted to the Permanent Bureau of the Romanian Parliament, to the leadership of the political parties in Parliament, as well as to the European Parliament and to the Committee of Regions. The answer they got was merely emotional. The Prime Minister in charge at that time and the leader of the Social-Democrat Party, Adrian Nastase, dismissed the „Memorandum”. For him, this regionalization project was no less than „an idea launched by minds gone off the rails, whose initiators want to take us back in time, by re-establishing the principalities that existed in the thirteen century, making Romanians lock themselves up in their own provinces (…) The Memorandum initiators want us to deny the Great
Union (1918)”46. Therefore, this represented in his opinion „an act of defiance addressed to the Romanian people’s collective memory, a people that has shed blood to fulfil the ideal of national unity”47. By completely rejecting those proposals, central government politicians not only postponed effective decisions, but they largely neglected an attempt of trans-ethnic cooperation. After the 2004 elections, there was no public debate over the issue of regionalization. With DAHR back in government in 2009, regiona-lization regained its usual ethnic stalemate.
The sudden outburst and the quick death of the Romanian project of reshaping regional design in 2011 is much telling about the profound political tensions and constraints that rule the public administration reform. Though presented by the initiators as a pure compliance to harsh European conditionality after Romania’s accession to the European Union, one cannot fully elude the political outcomes that were initially expected by president Basescu and the populist Democrat Liberal party in government in terms of electoral advantages. Quickly dissolving the current regional settings by regrouping current counties in larger units that would continue to be labelled „counties”, unifying local and parliamentary elections and changing the electoral rules six months before local elections have been seen by the opposition as less than credible European conditio-nality and more as electoral mischief. Yet the brutal end put to the political debate and negotiations by PDL’s coalition partner, the Hungarian party, unravelled the paramount importance of a generally neglected issue, namely ethnic conflict. Despite the common interest in profitably changing the electoral settings, the two coalition partners PDL and DAHR tumbled into substantial divergence regarding Transylvania’s political geography. Whereas PDL seems to have neglected the ethnic issue and to focus merely on individual profitable electoral outcomes, DAHR reacted promptly to what he conceived as both electoral unfairness and serious threat of ethnic control. Although DAHR was tempted with a last political offer, in fact a special status for the counties largely inhabited by ethnic Hungarians in the heart of Transylvania, he preferred to suspend political negotiation and to keep the post-communist long lasting statu-quo regarding regional administration. Despite the fact it was sudden and curiously brief, the public debate concerning the reform of the regional administration reminds us not about European conditionality, but about peculiar ethnic condi-tionality. The regional design cannot ignore local specificities, ethnic fears of control or separatism and the long lasting political and geographical symbolism in Transylvania.
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