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Adrian VEȘTEA, Minister of Development, Public Works, and Administration: “The regionalization of Romania is a comprehensive and long-term process that involves meeting certain prerequisites”

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Adrian VEȘTEA, Minister of Development, Public Works, and Administration: “The regionalization of Romania is a comprehensive and long-term process that involves meeting certain prerequisites”

Forumul Economic Regional Moldova 2024 – Vatra Dornei, 4–6 iulie

With a wealth of experience in the administrative field and a strong commitment to sustainable development, Adrian Vestea has held the leadership position at the Ministry of Development, Public Works, and Administration since June 15, 2023, marking a significant step in his career and in the ongoing evolution of Romania’s development policy

Choosing the path of change and innovation in administration, he has a progressive perspective and declares an unwavering commitment to creating an efficient system with a positive impact on the country, particularly in the Northeast region of Romania.

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In terms of reducing disparities between the poorer and more developed localities, Minister Veștea highlighted the unequal nature of territorial development and emphasized that efforts are being made to implement policies and measures aimed at improving the situation in rural areas and reducing discrepancies.

He emphasized the need to stimulate balanced development and discussed regional development policy and other strategies to increase access to services and opportunities for less developed areas.

Regarding regionalization, Adrian Veștea emphasized that this is a government concern to improve the socio-economic situation of the country. He also mentioned that the regionalization process is complex and requires legislative and institutional changes, including a constitutional revision.

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What were the major projects underway at the Ministry of Development, Public Works, and Administration (MDLPA) at the beginning of your mandate?

First and foremost, I want to emphasize that through all the programs funded by the Ministry of Development, Public Works, and Administration, the objective is unequivocal: no locality in the country should be left behind!

All citizens are equal, and just as they have the same obligations, they also have the same rights! They have the right to a decent standard of living, with access to medical services and safe educational institutions located as close to home as possible (daycares, kindergartens, schools, universities, and university campuses). They have the right to energy-efficient and seismically safe housing, as well as safe building consolidation in seismic risk areas. They have the right to a dignified social life, with access to sports facilities, cultural institutions, green areas (parks), and the right to live in communities where basic services are provided (access to water, sewage, modernized road networks)! These projects are about all of these, because none of these are whims or luxuries, but necessities!

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“At the beginning of my mandate, I chose to personally meet with local authorities to see on-site both the progress of the projects we finance and to understand the needs, as well as the funding opportunities”

The “Anghel Saligny” National Investment Program represents substantial support for municipalities and counties in Romania. What is the current status of its implementation, and which projects can be funded? How many contracts do you plan to sign by the end of this year, and how much funding will be allocated?

The “Anghel Saligny” National Investment Program is the local infrastructure program with the largest allocation from the state budget. In total, we have over 66 billion lei, of which over 53 billion lei is allocated for water supply, sewerage, roads, and bridges, and 12.5 billion lei for natural gas distribution. For water supply, sewerage, roads, and bridges, after analyzing the funding requests submitted, we have approved the financing of 4,683 investment objectives, with a total value of 51.7 billion lei.

As for the implementation status, at this time, most of the objectives are in the contracting or documentation preparation phase. By August 24, 2023, complete documentation has been submitted for 3,118 out of the approved 4,683 objectives (approximately 2/3 of the total objectives), and out of these, contracts have been signed for 1,984 objectives, representing 42% of the total objectives. The total value of these contracts is 22.1 billion lei (over 40% of the total allocation from the state budget). For another 96 objectives, with a total value of 930 million lei, the analysis has been completed, and the contract signing process has been initiated.

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There are also investment objectives that are in the execution phase, and in some cases, even close to completion. Through the Program, works totaling 1.2 billion lei have already been reimbursed. At the same time, we know from previous program experiences that the first two years of the programming period are dedicated to preparing the works, but afterwards, a considerable increase in the pace of the works is observed. For example, in the case of PNDL 2, which started in 2017, the peak was reached in the period 2019-2021, that is, in years 3-5 of implementation.

Considering the current pace of contracting and documentation submission, we estimate that by the end of the year, we will have between 2,800 – 3,200 contracts concluded with beneficiaries, and the contracted value will range between 30 and 35 billion lei.

We must not forget the investments in the natural gas distribution sector, for which, currently, 235 objectives from 16 counties have been approved, with a total value of 2.85 billion lei. In addition, there are 104 investment objectives worth approximately 5.25 billion lei, which were transferred from the Large Infrastructure Operational Program (they were declared eligible but could not be funded due to the limited available budget) and are fully financed.

Furthermore, 18 of the objectives transferred from POIM, which are more mature in terms of documentation preparation, have already been contracted, with a total value of over 680 million lei.

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“The regionalization of Romania is a comprehensive and long-term process that involves meeting certain prerequisites”

The position of the MDLPA regarding regionalization and how do you approach this issue?

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The process of regionalization, or the process of administrative-territorial reorganization, is a concern of the current government arising from the desire to improve the socio-economic situation of Romania. The main objective of the administrative-territorial reorganization process is to reduce development disparities between administrative-territorial units, so that the citizens of Romania can benefit from equal opportunities.

In this context, the regionalization of Romania is a comprehensive and long-term process that involves meeting certain prerequisites. One of the most important prerequisites is the revision of the legal and institutional framework, which includes the introduction of a new administrative level, namely the region. This step requires a political agreement/decision and the revision of the Romanian Constitution.

The amendment of the Constitution, in turn, is a complex process that involves several stages and culminates in a national referendum, which must be held within a maximum of 30 days from the date of adoption of the revision project or proposal. At the same time, it should be noted that for us, 2024 will be an especially busy electoral year, as four rounds of elections are scheduled.

Given that a majority in Parliament is needed for the constitutional revision, a suitable time to resume this extensive process would be after the finalization of the new composition of Parliament, starting in 2025. However, I would like to emphasize that over time, discussions have been held, studies and research have been conducted, and various solutions have been proposed to improve the current system of administrative-territorial organization. Several legislative solutions have also been considered, with the aim of addressing identified dysfunctions through a combined effort of the technical apparatus of the MDLPA, as well as experts with extensive expertise in the field, who have been involved in this endeavor.

Specifically, in 2013, the MDLPA took the initiative to develop the legal framework for establishing administrative-territorial regions. However, this project could not be realized precisely because a revision of the Romanian Constitution was required, and political consensus could not be reached for this endeavor.

Nevertheless, in recent years, the current development regions have acquired new competencies, precisely to stimulate economic and social development and reduce disparities between regions. Starting from the premise that the most efficient decision-making process is one that brings authorities closer to the needs of beneficiaries, the functioning of regional-level management authorities has been approved to manage regional operational programs that will be operational in Romania’s development regions from the 2021-2027 programming period, while respecting EU regulations and decisions.

On this issue, a more efficient and expedited approach to implementation involves encouraging voluntary cooperation among administrative-territorial units. In this context, various activities have been conceived and implemented to develop the strategic, regulatory, and funding framework to encourage and facilitate collaboration between localities. The first mode of cooperation and collaboration between local public administration authorities focused on cooperating to jointly manage activities (mainly in the area of community public utility services) through intercommunity development associations. Currently, there are 453 such associations in Romania, with 124 of them being formed exclusively by communes.

Another initiative to encourage voluntary cooperation among administrative-territorial units aimed at introducing into legislation the concept of a metropolitan area, which represents an intercommunity development association established through partnership between the capital of Romania or county seat municipalities or municipalities other than the county seats, on one hand, and administrative-territorial units located within the metropolitan area, on the other hand. This provides both common mechanisms with those generally applicable to intercommunity development associations, as well as specific mechanisms to, on one hand, encourage administrative-territorial units to associate in metropolitan areas and, on the other hand, ensure the efficiency of activities at the metropolitan area level.

The latest and most recent legislative intervention of a similar nature aimed to regulate the possibility for administrative-territorial units to cooperate through the establishment of administrative consortia. Thus, two or more neighboring administrative-territorial units have the right, within the limits of the competencies of their deliberative and executive authorities, to cooperate and associate for the purpose of streamlining public services, increasing the efficiency of investment implementation, or optimizing the use of specialized human resources, in order to serve the interests of local communities.

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What strategies and measures do you consider necessary to implement in order to reduce (and eventually eliminate) the disparities between the localities in the poorer areas of the country and the more developed ones?

Territorial disparities are a natural phenomenon caused by uneven development potential of physical and human factors in different geographical spaces. Just as there are disparities between Bucharest and other regions in terms of labor productivity, investments, and employment, there are also disparities between what we relatively define as urban and rural areas.

These urban-rural disparities exist because cities have always been both centers of prosperity and progress, as well as gateways between markets and cultures, making them more exposed to new products, technologies, and ideas, as well as the economic benefits of international trade, compared to the surrounding rural population, especially those in isolated areas of the country.

Cities create optimal conditions for individual specialization, and job specialization leads to diversification of services and increased productivity, ultimately improving the standard of living. Small localities, especially rural ones, do not have the same critical mass of human and physical capital, which means they are more vulnerable to unforeseen external factors and adapt more slowly to major structural changes.

Extreme poverty, for example, is primarily a rural phenomenon worldwide; the same goes for population aging. In Romania, the risk of poverty rate in rural areas is nearly five times higher than in cities, while the proportion of elderly individuals is one-third higher in rural areas compared to urban areas.

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Among the policies and actions aimed at improving the quality of life in rural areas compared to urban areas, some may directly address rural areas, such as physical infrastructure, which aims to capitalize on local economic potential. Others may address urban areas (or, by extension, metropolitan areas), whose indirect influence can bring benefits to neighboring rural areas by increasing access to services and opportunities offered by the city.

Reducing disparities between urban and rural areas is an objective found in various forms and territorial scales in domestic legislation. For example, one of the fundamental objectives of Romania’s regional development policy, according to Law 315/2004 on regional development in Romania, is to reduce existing regional imbalances by stimulating balanced development, accelerating the catch-up of less developed areas in economic and social terms, due to historical, geographical, economic, social, and political conditions, as well as preventing the occurrence of new imbalances.

In the current government program, in the areas under the competence of the Ministry of Development, Public Works, and Administration, priorities related to reducing urban-rural disparities and development differences between regions and within regions are targeted, among others. These include: modernization and expansion of water and sewage networks; modernization of county and local roads and construction of new roads where necessary; modernization and construction of educational institutions; expansion and modernization of natural gas networks; development and modernization of health and social protection infrastructure; construction of sports infrastructure; construction of housing for young people, healthcare specialists, education professionals, and other socio-professional categories, through the National Housing Agency (ANL), as well as for individuals belonging to vulnerable groups; development of the legislative package on decentralization, simplification of administrative procedures in collaboration with local authorities.

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“Through all the programs funded by the Ministry of Development, Public Works, and Administration, the objective is unequivocal: no locality in the country should be left behind!”

Have you had discussions regarding joint projects with your counterpart in Chișinău?

The bilateral relations between Romania and the Republic of Moldova have reached an unprecedented scale, openness, and depth in recent years. Currently, there is an active interinstitutional dialogue, materialized through fruitful collaborations at the sectoral level.

MDLPA also has a solid tradition of cooperation with counterparts from the Republic of Moldova. On the occasion of the joint intergovernmental meeting between Romania and the Republic of Moldova, which took place in Chișinău on February 11, 2022, the two prime ministers signed the new “Agreement between the Government of Romania and the Government of the Republic of Moldova on the implementation of a technical and financial assistance program based on a non-reimbursable financial aid of 100 million euros granted by Romania to the Republic of Moldova”. This agreement represents an important instrument through which Romania will provide support to the Republic of Moldova over the next seven years in its efforts towards sustainable development and progress in the path of reforms and integration into the European Union. Under this new Agreement, MDLPA, as the Program Operator, will provide support for projects benefiting the citizens of the Republic of Moldova, focusing on public works and infrastructure (rehabilitation, expansion, modernization, and/or renovation of public buildings in the Republic of Moldova, including those in the field of education or health, as well as their equipment according to needs.

During the Government meeting on June 30, 2023, as a result of high-level agreements, two Government Resolutions were adopted regarding the allocation of a total funding of 10 million euros for projects in two major areas of interest: local development (implementation of the European Village project, including water supply, sewerage, aqueduct systems, etc.) and education (acquisition of minibuses for school transportation).

At the level of bilateral technical assistance, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs manages and funds a program for expertise transfer in European affairs (preparation of accession negotiations to the European Union), with the participation of specialists from ministries and other governmental institutions from Bucharest. In this regard, we will send experts from the Ministry of Development to Chișinău for several days in the autumn.

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Furthermore, Romania carries out joint projects with the Republic of Moldova, financed either through European funding or from the state budget. MDLPA has been the managing authority for cooperation programs with the Republic of Moldova since 2007, when we accessed European funding through the Romania-Ukraine-Moldova trilateral program and through the Black Sea Basin Program, which includes all Black Sea coastal states.

Currently, we are finalizing cooperation programs for the period 2014-2020, where we had 81 projects, with a total value of 93.89 million euros (of which 68.6 million euros were non-reimbursable funds), financed through the Romania-Republic of Moldova Program, and 57 projects, with a total value of 44.9 million euros, financed through the Black Sea Basin Program.

We have already launched the first lines of funding with non-reimbursable European funds for the period 2021-2027. Through the Interreg NEXT Romania-Republic of Moldova program, which has a budget of 77 million euros (non-reimbursable European funds), we will make investments in the modernization of schools and hospitals in the border area with the Republic of Moldova (Iași, Vaslui, Botoșani, Galați counties and the entire territory of the Republic of Moldova), finance projects in the field of tourism, projects aimed at combating climate change and disaster prevention, as well as projects focused on administrative capacity development and border management.

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Through the Interreg NEXT Black Sea Basin cooperation program, we will be able to access 85 million euros in Interreg funds to finance projects in the field of research and innovation, combating climate change, disaster prevention, nature protection, and administrative capacity development.

Does Romania need a major administrative reform in the next 5 years? If yes, what would be the main 3 directions this process should focus on?

There are numerous reasons supporting the acute need to continue the process of structural and functional modernization of public administration in Romania. The most important reasons are of economic nature (the need for economic growth and the reduction of budgetary resources allocated to public administration, and the need of the private sector for a modern, flexible, and open administration to public-private partnership), technological (the necessity of introducing/utilizing information and communication technology to the highest extent in public administration), sociological (citizens, as beneficiaries of public services, are increasingly demanding and no longer accept that their needs be determined exclusively by what administrations offer them), and last but not least, institutional (Romania’s integration into the structures of the European Union implies a different way of managing services, and the strongly hierarchical structure gives way to new organizational types based on decentralized structures).

I believe that the main way to realize the efforts of public administration reform lies in the simplification and coherence of legislation in the field of public administration, with an emphasis on codification. Currently, the legislation in the field of public administration in Romania is characterized by excessive norming, with a focus on detailed regulation of the functioning of institutions and authorities of public administration, public services, as well as the issuance of administrative acts by authorities of public administration.

At the same time, the practice of regulating all stages related to issuing an administrative act or providing a public service in particular has led to over-regulation, the emergence of contradictory regulations, or, on the contrary, legislative gaps. The successive amendments and modifications of legislation have led to the current normative reality, characterized by excessive bureaucracy, normative fragmentation, a very diverse range of administrative procedures, which are difficult to manage both by the administration and by citizens or companies.

Therefore, codification is of paramount importance, as administrative reform presupposes, above all, an administration genuinely at the service of individuals or legal entities, accessible to them, to which they can confidently appeal, and which brings them the necessary satisfaction of their legitimate expectations.

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In this context, the approach to the Administrative Code, as well as the other codes in the field of public administration currently being developed at the level of the Ministry of Development, Public Works, and Administration (Code of Administrative Procedure, Code of Local Public Finances, Code of Certain Community Services of Public Utilities, and Urban Planning Code) aims at concentrating pre-existing legislation, subordinating it to common principles, based on a unified structure, and also bringing a series of new legislative solutions, imposed by the evolution of the public administration system and of society, as well as by the trends at the European level. However, we must take into account that public administration reform is a dynamic process and, like any other process of structural reform, it can never be concluded.

The second direction of action in the administrative reform process aims to establish the strategic framework for improving the performance of public administration, with an emphasis on continuing the process of administrative and financial decentralization. The report “Reforms of Regionalization and Decentralization in Romania”, prepared by the Council of Europe, has a clear conclusion: an efficient allocation of responsibilities between the central and local levels is absolutely fundamental, and this breakdown implies that the responsibilities and competencies for implementing national policies, strategies, and regulations should be exercised by local authorities, and the compet

encies and responsibilities regarding the development of national strategies/policies, regulation, inspection, and state control on compliance with legal provisions should be exercised by central public administration authorities.

In this context, resuming and strengthening the process of decentralizing competencies to local public administration represents a significant endeavor in administrative reform, ensuring the transfer of responsibilities between central and local public administration authorities, in order to provide citizens with higher quality public services and, at the same time, contributing to the modernization of the structures responsible for ensuring/providing these services.

I emphasize that the decentralization process is a complex one, which requires a very solid foundation. This situation can lead to a greater effort, both in terms of personnel and time, to validate the opportunity and ensure its sustainability over time, with positive effects on the quality and efficiency of public services provided to citizens, as well as, at a macro level, on local development in Romania.

A new competency framework for public servants at the entire public administration level is currently being operationalized, with the target date for implementing the set of knowledge, skills, and abilities required for occupying public positions being June 30, 2024. Additionally, within the national competition and position-based competition, which will become mandatory for all positions at both central and territorial levels starting from January 2024, knowledge, skills, and abilities that public servants must possess for the proper conduct of their activities will be assessed.

I have confidence that all ongoing reform efforts will be successfully implemented and will contribute to the modernization and efficiency of the state that we desire, both for us and for future generations!

OM... Cu aripi fragile de fluture

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