Romania has one of the highest value of subsidies in the EU, reaching 52 million euros in 2023. These subsidies can help political parties become more independent of private and commercial donors and improve political competition, but it could also create an uneven playing field in elections by benefiting already well-resourced parties.
Septimius Parvu is the electoral program coordinator of Expert Forum, an IFES anti-corruption partner that fights for government transparency and accountability. He answers questions about rising concerns around the abuse of these funds in Romania.
What is happening in Romania that raises concerns about the abuse of state funding (or ‘public subsidies’) for political parties?
There are three trends which raise concerns. One is related to the overall value of subsidies, which is one of the highest in the EU calculated per capita. The value has increased significantly because of a legal amendment in 2018 - from 6 million EUR in 2017 to 36 million EUR in 2018, while in 2023, the value reached almost 52 million EUR. This value is divided between six political parties, while the major ones are favored by the eligibility rules.
A high percentage of these funds are spent on media contracts and political consultancy, in a non-transparent manner. The political advertising materials are not marked outside the electoral period, which affects the public understanding regarding political materials. The two main political parties refuse to publish the list of contracts. This behavior affects the independence of the media and creates an uneven playing field for next year when four rounds of elections will take place.
Thirdly, the Permanent Electoral Authority—the oversight body—has extended powers to propose an annual budget or to request for budgetary rectifications, without proper motivation, which led in the past to behaviors which can be categorized as political bias, affecting its independence.
How do political parties in Romania use subsidies?
Most of the funds are allocated to media and consultancy contracts. In 2022, political parties spent 20 out of 36 million EUR on contracts for propaganda and the trends show that the value increases in 2023 as parties prepare for the 2024 electoral year. Parties also spend funds on staff and procurement of buildings. A newer trend shows that the Alliance for the Union of Romanians, a populist right-wing political party, purchased buses to organize a medical caravan or to donate them to schools, which Expert Forum considered to be populistic instruments to spend the funds.
What is the Expert Forum doing to help Romania meet the challenges?
Expert Forum has monitored the situation of these funds in the past four years and has proposed remedies for some of these issues, to the Permanent Electoral Authority and to Parliament. Two of the most important objectives are to reduce the overall value of subsidies and to increase the transparency of the contracts paid with public funds. The second component is subject to a draft proposal currently in the parliamentary debate, which defines political advertising outside the elections, imposes marking requirements and regular reporting rules. However, the political support for such endeavors is reduced.
In 2024, a few political parties will benefit from high allocations of funds and from savings from previous years, which will affect the level playing field. In these circumstances, EFOR aims to increase transparency and draw public attention through the www.banipartide.ro portal, which illustrates how much funds parties received and spent, by category. EFOR has also published frequent reactions and initiated an annual series of events to discuss political finance and identify solutions to improve its transparency and integrity. During the 2024 election campaigns, EFOR will observe political finance, work with journalists and civic activists to increase their monitoring capacity and advocate in the parliament for a better legislative framework, which should harmonize with the EU initiatives to regulate political advertising and targeting.
Read more about Expert Forum’s work and their impact in tracking local development funds to advance transparency and accountability.