Territorial development in Romania: Regional disparities


Regional development over the last 20 years has been focusing the interest of scientific research, becoming a major topic of discussion for the central and local authorities, for entrepreneurs and public opinion alike (Iano§, 2007). The reason for assessing the economic and social disparities of regional development is twofold. First, the official documents elaborated in Romania after 1990 show that inter- and intra-regional gaps have widened because apart of all the policies trying to equalise development opportunities, regional polarisation is still powerful. Second, traditional regional disparities across the Romanian territory continued to exist in the second half of the twentieth century despite the declared efforts to attenuate them.

The steep economic decline of the 1990s was also reflected in the political-administrative decisions, which shifted from the ideological perspective to a dominantly economic one. If, from geopolitical and geostrategic point of view, Romania’s advantages in the process of integration into the European Union and NATO were indisputable, the lack of substantial economic performance associated with the high level of poverty was and still is the main obstacle to this process. These discrepancies, expressed by the economic and social indicators, contribute to Romania’s specialisation as a macroregion within the continent. Therefore, the main objective of the regional development policies is to alleviate the inner imbalances that place Romania under the European Union average. However, the implementation of the regional development policies is difficult due to the high degree of administrative fragmentation that causes a division of resources and funds allocated to development, a situation which is associated with the lack of well-developed local economies, creating conditions for the inefficient use of resources.

Within the current territorial pattern, counties (NUTS 3) are not large enough to allow small, local projects to become part of comprehensive regional strategic projects. Besides, a more efficient absorption of European funds devoted to local development projects requires the substantive reduction of costs and of public administrative bureaucracy, a better correlation between

Territorial development in Romania 207 public decision-making, the specific needs and problems of local communities and their particular development opportunities, distinctively different for each of them. Attaining these goals implies forming regional territorial structures (NUTS 2) by amassing the existing counties or new ones, the viability of which depends on creating administrative regions matching territorial functional relations and fluxes among the regional settlement system. Thus, the idea of integrating former administrative structures gained ground against proposals of fragmentation based on the former county pattern. As a result, the eight development regions emerged in 1996 constituted the territorial framework for the implementation of development policies. They were mentioned in the Qreen Paper, Regional Development Policy in Romania (1997) and sanctioned by laws 151/1998 and 315/2004 on Regional Development in Romania.

These regions rely on the functional complementarity of counties (association of four-seven counties) with the exception of the Bucharest-Ilfov region (Bucharest and Ilfov County), which despite its small area, has a demographic size comparable to the other regions. The relative uniformity in terms of size and demographic potential gives them a viability for good statistical reporting, a prerequisite for local resource allocation. To this is added the fact that in each region there are urban areas with destructured industry and underdeveloped rural areas, both generating unemployment and poverty.

The different potential of each region, associated with the degree of infrastructure development and the predominant type of economy, leads to highlighting the particularities of each region and identifying some subregional structures of two-three counties with similar economic and social profiles. Another category of subregions is those with specific development problems (e.g. areas of high poverty, mining areas, areas with declining industries, heavily polluted or degraded areas). These were grouped by the experts of the National Agency for Regional Development into three categories (Romanian Government, European Commission, 1997): traditional underdeveloped areas, characterised by high unemployment rates associated with large occupation in agriculture; areas under industrial decline, a consequence of the policy of oversized industrialisation by the Communist authorities, which was not based on adequate local resources; and fragile structural areas, where the existing social problems tend to worsen as the industrial restructuring process is accelerated and government subsidies are withdrawn.

The regional development policy is defined as:

the set of policies developed by the Government, through central public administration bodies, local public administration authorities and specialized regional bodies, in consultation with the socio-economic partners involved, in order to ensure balanced economic growth and sustainable development of the geographical areas established as developmentregions, improving Romania’s international competitiveness and reducing the existing economic and social disparities between Romania and the Member States to the European Union.

(Romanian Parliament, 2004)

The implementation of regional development policies is carried out in accordance with the general objectives and priorities of Romania’s development, as well as with the European Union’s objectives in the field of economic and social cohesion, and is based on three principles: subsidiarity, decentralisation and partnership (Law 315/2004, Art. 2).

Concurrently, the harmonisation of the Romanian legislation with the European one has also resulted in the adoption of the Law on Territorial Planning and Urbanism (Law 350/2001) referring to the:

complex activities of general interest contributing to the balanced spatial development, to the protection of the natural and built heritage, to improving living conditions in urban and rural areas and to ensuring territorial cohesion at regional, national and European level.

(Law on Territorial Planning and Urbanism, Law 350/2001, Article 2)

All of the above must be carried out:

respecting the local autonomy, based on the principle of partnership, transparency, decentralization of public services and on the participation of population to the decision-making process and sustainable development, according to which the decisions of the present generation must ensure development without compromising the right of future generations to their own existence and development.

(Law on Territorial Planning and Urbanism, Law 350/2001, Article 5)

The regional development policy in Romania has been closely correlated with the use of pre-accession instruments offered by the European Union to restart the national economy after the severe deindustrialisation and excessive fragmentation of agriculture, processes with strong social impetus that marked the 1990s.

The Romanian regional system has the following statistical-territorial levels: NUTS 2 (eight development regions without administrative and juristic person status, average population number/region 2.8 million inhabitants); NUTS 3 (41 counties and Bucharest, represents Romania’s administrative-territorial structure) and NUTS 5 (320 towns, among which 103 have municipia status and 2,861 are communes).

The current chapter is seeking to identify the territorial disparities in the development of Romania by computing, mapping and analysing two secondary indexes (territorial competitiveness and cohesion) and a final index of territorial development. The analysis is carried out at the level of the eight

Development Regions (corresponding to the NUTS 2). The issues the current chapter is dealing with (e.g. the historical and recent dilemmas of territorial development in Romania and the Romanian contemporary spatial structures) leads to the delineation of three main research questions shaped in relation to the special historic and socio-economic context of the year ‘1918’ - the most important moment for the establishment of the modern and contemporary Romania: (1) are the regional picture of Romania and the current interregional disparities still maintaining the influences and effects of the historical regional (un)balances?; (2) how and where do historical and contemporary factors influence the current regional disparities?; and (3) is the territorial level study adequate and sufficient for the territorial disparities analysis?

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