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Openness and transparency in Romania: Free access to public information

Final Activity Report Summary - PUBLIC INFORMATION (Openness and transparency in Romania: Free access to public information)

The project addressed the issue of free access to information as part of the openness and transparency principle, in the context of reforming Romania's public administration.

There were many aspects that should be discussed in the framework of 'transparency and openness' issue, such as managerial, financial and legislative body aspects. This project discussed mainly legislative body aspects, and secondarily financial and managerial ones. The key concepts of the project were administrative reform, openness, transparency and free access to public information.

Professional literature discusses administrative reform as being directly connected to the democratic development of the society. Openness and transparency allow anyone affected by an administrative action to know its basis. Moreover, they render easy to outside scrutiny of administrative action of supervisory institutions and they are an important instrument for the rule of law and accountability. As a general rule, the conduct of public administration should be transparent and open. Only exceptionally should matters be kept secret or confidential, such as those truly affecting the national security or similar issues. Likewise, personal data should not be disclosed to third parties.

The project focussed on studying the provisions of United States of America legislation concerning free access to public information, drawing a comparison with equivalent European Union legislation, thus developing a framework to assess the qualitative aspect of the Romanian legislation. United States track record on the issue and the subsequent comparison to extensive European experience rendered the study highly relevant for a Candidate Country which worked until 2006 to fulfil the 'acquis communautaire' conditions.

Analysis on laws, court decisions and best practice reports was conducted in a comparative manner using the data already collected, the doctrine and the legislation from United States, European Union and Central and Eastern Europe countries, as well as writing scholarly papers in order to draw some conclusions on Romanian legislation.

The author also conducted research in the Transylvanian region, including eight counties and over 300 municipalities, in order to assess the level of implementation of the Romanian Freedom of information act (FOIA) at the local level. This range of the research scope was chosen because the rural communities were not at all covered by the studies published in Romania, which traditionally focussed only on big cities and ministerial services in the territory.

Thus, the book that came out of the project in 2007 analysed United States of America legislation and court decisions referring to freedom of information, compared to the similar European Union legislation, legislation from member states with relevant experiences in this matter from the Romanian perspective, namely the United Kingdom, Sweden, France, Hungary, Poland and Czech Republic, and subsequently compared to existing Romanian legislation in order to define common points and differences, which were used to evaluate the qualitative aspect of Romanian legislation. The book was published by the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research, a research unit of the Michigan State University.

Some of the conclusions of the comparative research were disseminated in the country, to the Ministry of Public Administration and Internal Affairs where functioned the central unit for reform in public administration, to the Romanian Association of Schools and Institutes of Public Administration, at the international conference 'Ten years of public administration education at Cluj Napoca' etc. The conclusions were also disseminated at three major international conferences, namely to the International Association of Schools and Institutes of Administration (IASIA) conference in Warsaw, to the Academy of Business and Administrative Sciences (ABAS) conference in Montreux and to the European Group for Public Administration (EGPA) conference in Milan.

Another major outcome of the project was a set of amendments to the existing legislation regarding freedom of information regime in Romania, which would be incorporated into the new administrative code or administrative procedure code. The codes were in the drafting process by the time of the project completion and the coordinator of the process appointed by the Romanian Government was the researcher in the project (Dr Dacian Dragos). He was firstly appointed as a member of the drafting commission, because of the expertise he acquired during the Marie Curie fellowship on issues related to transparency and free access to public information.