Authors: Alexandru Damian, Dragoș Ile
Only 13 county capitals have implemented participatory budgeting programmes in 2022. With rather modest financial allocations, the tool of participatory budgeting is not much used in Romania. This is a consequence of an administrative mindset that often ignores citizens’ involvement in local public decision-making and does not regard citizens, civic groups or NGOs as dialogue partners
The county capitals with participatory budgeting programmes have allocated a budget of RON 33.65 million towards this instrument. Although the budget may seem substantial, this is the maximum value (most likely it will not be used in full) and, in any case, it accounts for only 0.2% of the county capital’s revenues. It is still an increase compared to 2021 (with a budget of only RON 16.5 million), but the number of municipalities running participatory programmes has also doubled (13 in 2022 compared to only 7 in 2021).
In addition to modest financial allocations, participatory budgeting programmes exhibit a number of features (which paint a rather unimpressive picture) that impair civic involvement in local public decision-making:
- The administration’s limited ability to implement the projects voted for by citizens within a predictable timeframe and in a transparent manner
- Low involvement of the local community (civic groups, community foundations or NGOs) during all stages of the programme, but especially with respect to the validation of project proposals, implementation and monitoring.
- The administration’s lack of openness in the run-up to the launch of the programme
- Inconsistency in the running of the programme, with many projects poorly prepared and subsequently dropped.
How local governments are delaying participatory budgeting
25 county capitals have participatory budgeting programmes that have been approved by local council decisions, and some of them are simply neglecting to implement the programmes. Six of them have adopted a participatory budgeting programme for the first time in 2022. Many municipalities have initiated and subsequently abandoned participatory budgeting programmes. The grounds presented for doing so are often weak and relate to the local governments’ disinclination to run even programmes that are limited in terms of project number and size of financial allocations.
The impact of local politics on participatory budgeting
2 out of 4 USR administrations (Timișoara, Alba Iulia) have implemented participatory budgeting programmes in 2022, while in Brașov the new regulation is currently under public debate (the municipality had previously launched the programme in 2020 and 2021). 6 out of 15 (40%) administrations led by PNL mayors have implemented participatory budgeting in 2022 (Bistrița, Cluj-Napoca, Constanța, Oradea, Suceava, Tulcea). Only 2 out of 15 PSD administrations (Pitești, Baia Mare) have had a similar programme. 1 out of 3 UDMR administrations has implemented a participatory budgeting programme in 2022 (Miercurea-Ciuc). The Municipality of Târgu-Mureș, which is led by an independent mayor, has adopted participatory budgeting this year. Sibiu, with a mayor representing the German Democratic Forum, scrapped the process after 2019. The municipality of Râmnicu-Vâlcea (PER mayor) has also introduced participatory budgeting in 2022.
Popularity of the programmes. Participation and number of votes
Timișoara ranks first in terms of the number of projects submitted by citizens in 2022, with no less than 113 such projects. It is followed by Cluj, with 87, and Târgu Mureș with 74. The fewest projects were submitted in Pitești (6 projects) and Tulcea (16 projects). The administration that will fund the highest number of projects is Suceava (18 projects), followed by Oradea (17 projects) and Târgu Mureș and Baia Mare (10 projects). A high number of projects does not necessarily denote a high-quality programme, but it does suggest a certain excitement around the programme and an increased level of community engagement.
Timiṣoara also tops the rankings when it comes to the highest number of valid votes cast and the highest number of votes for a particular project. With 19,258 valid votes and 1,465 votes received by the project with the most votes, the programme is significantly more popular than in other cities. In Cluj-Napoca, the project with the most votes received 675 votes, in Oradea, 528 and in Târgu-Mureș, 526. In Tulcea, the project with the most votes got only 108 votes and in Suceava, 184.
Timișoara is probably the county capital with the best-organised participatory budgeting programme. With a transparent programme and an intuitive and user-friendly platform, Timiṣoara has brought members of civil society into all stages of the programme and has carried out education campaigns aimed at both citizens and members of the public administration. Under the “Timiṣoara Decides!” campaign the Municipality of Timiṣoara has put out for public consultation the first city regulation for participatory budgeting, with numerous proposals and adjustments suggested by citizens.
How to improve participatory budgeting in Romania
We have written extensively about what we can do to improve the participatory budgeting process in the report released by the CRPE in November 2022, Participatory Budgeting in Bucharest – between disinterest and distrust in local government. In that report, we outlined ten steps for participatory processes that truly respond to community needs, with a programme design that has been agreed on by community members. We reiterate just the first two ideas: (a) local elected officials should embrace participatory budgeting programmes as key tools for involving citizens in local decision-making processes, and (b) the participatory budgeting programme should be designed in collaboration with citizens, civic groups and NGOs in the community.
The full study, in English, is available here.
This material was produced with the financial support of Active Citizens Fund Romania, a programme funded by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway through EEA Grants 2014-2021. The content of this material does not necessarily represent the official position of the EEA and Norway Grants 2014-2021; for more information visit www.eeagrants.org.