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September 26, 2021

A show hard to get on the road

Regionalisation has bogged down again. It was not really a surprise, given the predicable Hungarian resistance. The president took out of the hat an alternative version: regionalization of decentralized institutions. Meaning a compression of their territorial representations from the level of county to the level of the region.

That is an idea actually meeting half-way various UDMR initiatives, testing the reform in areas where it holds ministries: environment, culture or healthcare. But the Ministry of Regional Development is not foreign to such measures either, probably in order to send out a signal of solidarity with the presidential initiative. The argument brought is the reform of the state apparatus that would benefit the country in an austerity context. In order not to offend sensitivities and generate premature polemics, the formula adopted was the one of the existing regions of development.

At the end of the day, the number one and also long-standing endorser of the idea of regionalisation is UDMR, who is interested to strengthen its political authority in the regions with a significant Hungarian ethnic representation. And not just its own authority, but, in a longer run, the authority of any Hungarian political force, which equals an enhanced weight of political influence of Hungarians in general.

In order not to melt down into the mass of Romanian majority, Hungarians prefer a regional map working to their advantage, reducing the proportion of representation. Even with a different administrative decoupage than the one they would prefer, Hungarians will find more favourable democratic means in the smallest perimeter of Transylvanian regions. The most interested in the re-organisation, after UDMR, is PDL. The reason for that is simple, setting aside the official rhetoric of responsible action: the regionalisation is of a nature to break up a few counties currently controlled by the opposition, especially the Social-Democrats.

The ‘local barons’ are still very present in the Romanian political system not as simple excrescences, but more as pillars of party structures. The emergence of regional leaders with big influence, enjoying enhanced economic resources (via the EU) may redraw the map of influence areas in the country. The main ‘local barons’ are county council presidents. If the counties disappear, such people will eventually lose the power they now have. And a county council president has a much localised influence, not big enough to secure the leadership of a regional council (whatever it may be called in the future). The ‘fame’ such a president may have in his county could become a handicap in an election involving neighbouring counties as well. In a dramatic free fall, PDL could hinder the political opposition by this particular move. The only problem is UDMR, who does not seem thrilled about the disappearance of county councils without receiving in return a few regional councils to dominate politically. No administrative reform can be carried out exclusively by scrapping things without replacing them with something else.

The first step would be the regionalisation of central institutions that are now represented at a county level. A consensus on the thorny subject of regionalisation can only be reached in time. If they were given satisfaction by seeing UDMR’s version accepted, the Szekely would consider all their efforts to defy the Romanian opinion opposing the plans of autonomy as a success, and the curve of autonomy could be climbed relatively fast afterwards. Actually, before adopting a map of regions, a few convincing criteria will first need to be accepted. One or another version should not be imposed randomly or by pressures of circumstance. Even if local ego motivations should not be totally discarded, what should supersede is a balanced and stimulating synthesis of the various aspects of the process of regionalisation.

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