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October 5, 2022

A doubtful regionalization

UDMR opposes the administrative regionalization. The main reason is its incapacity to redraw the map of the regions so that at least the Szekely areas would once more become an administrative region. USL has a parliamentary majority sufficient enough to disregard the Hungarians’ unpopular pretentions. And the Hungarians take refuge in such a handy antagonist argumentation. Because the administrative regionalization has sufficient weak points.

The Hungarians did not need special prescience to foresee the bureaucratic effort of setting up yet another administrative tier. But they pretend to forget an old argument that was dear to them for so many years: the autonomy of local decision-making. Because the future regional leaders will be stronger than the current “local barons.” Who officially have power solely over the extent of a county.

They are usually presidents of county councils, which naturally confers them a significant political weight in their parties, but they are regional leaders only indirectly (and imperfectly). The administrative regions will inevitably change the force ratio. A minister will remain a minister but a regional governor or the president of a regional council will be able to relate to the central power differently (especially to the extent to which he will have his own electoral base). Especially if he is in the opposition or has the possibility of negotiating from certain positions (even relative) of strength.

The presidents of Covasna and Harghita county councils have already exploited in full the decisional opportunities offered by the gradual decentralization of the administrative system. But UDMR’s fear is that the regions, in a disliked option, will compromise part of the efforts in favor of local autonomy. Because a single Szekely county attached to a region dominated by Romanians will change Hungarian priorities with priorities that are differently conceived. So that the ethnic criterion will once again, implicitly lose its value. But UDMR’s refusal is a legitimate warning signal. Will there be a perverse strengthening of the barons’ power, namely of the principle of political cronyism and implicitly of the non-transparent financing of parties? Parties have not managed, not even one in so many years, to generate their own regionalist reform so that local interests would end up being assumed programmatically. The risk of extra red tape is real. Especially since the artisan of today’s regionalization is PSD, a party for which the relation between the centre and the provinces is not an enviable model of political democracy. The “local barons” are strong, but their local strength, often excessive, is paid for with a remarkable conformism in relation to the centre’s policy. In other words, this kind of local leaders will not assume the fight against centralist arrogance. In fact, even UDMR recently protested against a government measure that brings back public procurements for local hospitals among the prerogatives of central authorities. Hungarians also propose resorting to the test of a referendum that would validate or reject the proposed regions. It’s inevitable that any project will create dissatisfactions, so that certain unfavorable campaigns can enlarge the camp of opponents. And thus compromise or only threaten its success. After all, who should decide the future map of regions? Liviu Dragnea? Or the Premier? Or the “local barons” after a stormy meeting on redrawing the spheres of influence? Popular consultations on whose basis politicians would then decide could take place. But for the time being the democratic principle does not seem to be on the agenda of the regionalist reform’s “strategists,” forgetting that a more efficient political representation is among its goals too. In other words, between local and central levels the road is sometimes so long that voters too often feel betrayed. The uninominal system has not improved the situation of real and efficient representativeness and regionalization dictated from top to bottom tends to have effects that are just as doubtful. Unfortunately, no party (with UDMR’s understandable exception), has a regionalist mentality.

The regionalization was done under EU pressure, its political philosophy having no veritable adepts in Romania. When a regionalist political current took some amplitude at the end of the 1990s (a current with which even PSD tangentially tried to resonate), fears and adversities were such that the result was discouragement. Nothing that started back then bore fruit, not going beyond the level of a temporary fad. Apart from a doubtful “local patriotism,” what else can animate the interest for regionalization? The local economic boom? But that is too dependent on the whims of relocations decided by great investors. Here is a minor but eloquent example. “Nasal” cheese is a specialty from the Cluj area, negotiated right from our country’s European accession as a typical regional product. The plant is shutting down, the product being at risk of becoming good solely for the gastronomy historians of the future.

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