Romanian lawmakers seek to increase bureaucratic burden on NGOs

Association

Though the Romanian constitution provides for freedom of association, a number of Romanian politicians are failing to respect such provisions and have, for example, reacted negatively to a robust civil society mobilisation last winter. In fact, Romania's ruling parties seem to have started a smear campaign against NGOs, insinuating that such organisations may have some hidden interests in "destabilising the country". 

In early June 2017, an alarming legislative initiative appeared: a draft bill proposing the closure of any NGO that does not publish reports of their revenues and expenses twice annually. Other private entities in the country have to publish such reports only once a year. The arbitrarily imposition of this bureaucratic burden suggests an intent to increase political control over the non-governmental sector. In addition, the draft bill requires the publication of the name of every donor supporting an organisation. Several of Romania's most prominent civil society organisations published a letter of protest against the draft bill. Due to the public pressure, the law was put on hold for the summer. However, on 20th November 2017 the bill was tacitly adopted by the Senate. Romania`s lower house, the Chamber of Deputies will discuss the bill next before its possible adoption into law. Observers note that this draft bill aims at stifling NGOs and is similar to a law in Hungary which forces any NGO receiving over 24,000 EUR from abroad to register itself as a "foreign agent".

Peaceful Assembly

Romania’s constitution guarantees the freedom of peaceful assembly. However, the law puts a number of limitations on where and when  public assemblies can be held. Organisers must request permits in writing from the local authorities three days before the gathering. NGOs have reported difficulties in obtaining permits. While the government does not interfere with mass demonstrations, they have tried to prevent them from initially happening through legislative means. Recently, a controversial proposal was put forward by the Interior Ministry according to which protesters who boo could be punished with a prison sentence from three months to one year. This proposal is clearly open to significant abuse and arbitrary application.

Despite large-scale demonstrations across the country in January and February 2017, and the subsequent withdrawal of a decree which would have decriminalised authorities' corrupt conduct, the government’s leniency towards corruption and efforts to discredit NGOs have not ceased. The public has responded with mass demonstrations. On 5th November, for example, more than 20,000 Romanians protested against a proposed legal change that would give the justice minister the power to appoint the chief anti-corruption prosecutor, thus taking that authority away from the president. In Romania, the president is independent of the government, while the justice minister is not, causing concern that this power could be abused.