By Eduard Hellvig, Romanian Intelligence Service Director
Ten years since its accession to the European Union, Romania is at an essential moment for its democratic consolidation and for the acceleration of its Euro-Atlantic integration. The international context has transformed profoundly in recent years. The global dynamic is becoming ever more difficult to predict. We are facing new threats of a complexity and graveness that are unprecedented in the post-communist period.
During this entire time, fundamental institutions have been facing grave crises of confidence that can affect the very substance of democracy. In recent years, we have noticed a trend that we are feeling with growing concern: the implosion of confidence, at global level. We are not talking solely about a collapse of the citizens’ confidence in public powers, but also in the mass-media, in non-governmental organisations and in the business environment. The leaders’ image has degraded to a historic low. The states’ institutions are especially affected by this crisis of confidence, which was triggered by the economic recession and is amplified by globalisation and by the technological revolution. The current global system tends to be perceived as a failed project, unjust and incapable of offering hope.
We know from history that populist movements which exploit this fracture are not in the least bit the solution, but risk being the detonator of the crisis. Unfortunately, especially in our part of the world, any failed experiment can cost the liberty of several generations. That is why I consider we need a joint effort to reinvigorate Romanian democracy, so that it could fulfil the side of the social contract allotted to it: ensuring the well-being and safety of the citizens.
In what concerns the Service I am leading, it has as fundamental mission “the protection of democratic values and the promotion of the national interests of Romania and of its allies in order to achieve national security, to ensure the observance of the citizens’ rights and liberties and to defend the rule of law.” It’s a mission that cannot be accomplished in isolation from other institutions or by ignoring the domestic and external context. On the contrary, I consider that this mission is being accomplished in collaboration with other institutions and must rely on a vision inspired from the foundations of democracy.
Liberty and checks and balances
I believe in moderation and balance, I believe in dialogue and cooperation, and in the necessity of mutual checks and balances between branches of government. I believe a functional and strong democracy can at the same time ensure the liberty and security of the citizen, the transparency and efficiency of the decisional act. Ten years ago, Romania officially became member of the European Union. Apart from the concrete benefits for Romanian citizens, which we all appreciate and from which economy and society stand to gain, the accession also offers the historical framework of building a strong democratic society. It’s an ideal that the generations before us could only hope for and that we have the chance to transform into the normality of daily life.
That is why this democratic ideal should not be just a list of principles or a sum of speeches given at festive moments. I believe that, in Romania of 2017, an honest and responsible discussion about inter-institutional rapports that leave a decisive mark on the specificity of the relation between liberty and power is required. The best solution, which we see working for hundreds of years in consolidated democracies, consists of checks and balances. This is the mechanism through which the branches of government mutually check and balance themselves.
State, law and participation
We know that democracy, in the classical sense of Tocqueville, stems from an ideal of equality before the law, in which all citizens take part in the public work, in which the privileges of the strong or the rich would be abolished and in which decisions are the prerogative of all citizens, not just of elites. That is why the strengthening of the state and of democracy can only be achieved through the active balance between State, Law and Participation.
In this equation, the State represents the ensemble of institutions that must be sufficiently powerful to be able to protect citizens, integrity and liberty. The rule of law is the mechanism that regulates the exercise of power through law, so that norms apply to everyone, without privileges, in order to ensure equal chances to well-being for all citizens. And, thirdly, Participation means a society’s capacity to impose the accountability of those elected – so that those who exercise power should not be held accountable solely before a small elite but before the whole society. Citizens’ involvement is the most efficient instrument to combat abuses and corruption.
So, when we talk about the consolidation of essential institutions, I believe we must take into account the consolidation of democracy through all of its components: State, Law and Civic Involvement. The state must be sufficiently strong to be able to enforce laws and norms protecting rights and liberties. Hence, I don’t believe we can talk about the strengthening of one institution in relation to the others or at their expense, but about the strengthening of all institutions that are essential for a democratic framework.
Balance between institutions
We want stronger and clearer oversight in what concerns our activity, but I would like us to no longer improvise, after a quarter of century in which we were able to see that this approach did not do us good. It would be useful, I believe, to take over the already functional models from the West, and the British model is an example validated in time.
We are facing new dangers that come from areas we were less aware of in the past – it’s the case of terrorism and cyber-crime. That is why we want the law to better protect the rights of citizens and the discussion about the protection of liberties, in parallel with efforts to counteract risks, must take place openly in society.
Dialogue and cooperation
I hope we would find more support for the proposals to update the legislation that would better protect the rights and liberties of citizens against the backdrop of the new threats. There is a national cyber security strategy that entails the existence of laws that would give executive institutions the possibility of carrying out concrete actions against the new type of threats. Instead of the current gridlock, I would like dialogue and cooperation for the creation of an efficient legal framework.
Let’s not forget that the absence of an efficient legislative framework favours the growth of the degree of atomisation, which generates new outlooks for cyber-attacks against the state and, implicitly, against the citizens. Ensuring rights and liberties for citizens (the free movement of capital, information, persons) can only be achieved in the context in which threats to these liberties are faced with efficient instruments.
I believe it’s time to move on toward concrete, joint and responsible action to jointly strengthen the institutions that need more credibility. The growth of citizens’ confidence in a democratic institution essentially contributes to its consolidation. And we don’t need the strengthening of an institution at the expense of another, on the contrary: we need good functioning, based on dialogue and cooperation between all state institutions. I believe that the next ten years as member of the European Union represent the chance to strengthen democratic institutions in Romania and to consolidate civic participation. In an extremely restless regional and European context, this is Romania’s chance to take part in the redefining of a project that needs reconstruction. And which concerns us directly and vitally – both the direction and the ampleness of the relaunch of the European project.