Romania is a high-income country exhibiting mid-range performance on most of the key metrics of democratic performance, and high performance in Representative Government. Over the last five years, the GSoDI data indicate a marked improvement in Absence of Corruption, as well as in Clean Elections, Predictable Enforcement, Judicial Independence, and Media Integrity. However, Romania struggles with poor and worsening Electoral Participation. Within the Civil Liberties subattribute, there has been a strong increase in Freedom of Expression but a decrease in Freedom of Movement; the latter of these can be expected to rebound as pandemic restrictions ease. Economically, the country has maintained some of the strongest growth rates in Europe. While it historically relied heavily on agriculture, industry, and natural resource extraction, the modern Romanian economy has diversified to include vibrant IT and tourism sectors.
After a violent revolution deposed the Communist regime in 1989, the country underwent a difficult transition to democracy, and for years continued to be governed by former Communist officials. Romania has nevertheless gradually acceded to most of the norms that govern Western democracies, and it joined NATO in 2004 and the European Union in 2007. Since the fall of Communism, the defining political issue in Romania has been corruption, but Romanian prosecutors have in recent years made some progress in this arena.
Romania is an ethnically, linguistically, and religiously diverse nation. Non-Romanians comprise just over eleven percent of the population, including large Hungarian and Roma minorities. Hungarians form an absolute majority in two counties and are numerous enough to give the RMDSZ party, which represents Hungarian interests, considerable influence in government. The Roma people face institutional and societal discrimination and hate speech, including at the political level. Over the years, various nationalist political figures have promoted an exclusionary understanding of Romanian identity that heavily emphasizes Romanians’ predominantly Orthodox religious beliefs. Given the country’s large rural population, one of the central cleavages in modern politics concerns the chasm between the lives and desires of city-dwellers and their counterparts in the countryside. Rural Romanians’ struggle with poverty and their social and moral conservatism drive them to support the Social Democratic Party, a party often identified as nationalistic and traditionalist; it is also the party that Romanians most associate with corruption. Urbanites, on the other hand, tend to be upwardly mobile and European in their outlooks. Also shaping politics in Romania are high emigration and low birth rates that fuel the ongoing brain drain and aging of the population. Of particular note, the out-migration of medical professionals has left the country with serious healthcare challenges.
Due to a renewed commitment to anti-corruption, the improvement in Absence of Corruption can be expected to continue over the coming decade. Given the similarly positive trajectory in many of the other key GSoDI indicators, it is likely that Romania will continue to solidify democratic norms apace with its rapidly rising standard of living, although it is likely that this progress will remain uneven for minority groups. One major area of potential concern is the country’s declining Electoral Participation score, already the only democratic indicator on which Romania receives a low score. In particular, apathy among young voters could present a challenge to the health of Romania’s democratic culture in the next ten years.