Summary [Full Document PDF 766K]
The right of information has been enshrined in the Romanian constitution since 1991, but legislation giving it full effect came into force 10 years later. After a short period of debate in the media and among the political class, Law 544 on Access to Public Information, also referred to as the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), was adopted and became effective in Romania in 2001. Pressures for EU accession played a significant role in the adoption of access to information legislation in Romania. A soft acquis emerged dealing with rule of law, anti-corruption frameworks, civil service reforms, and access to information, putting pressure on accession governments to take actions that would improve transparency and integrity. The Social Democratic Party (SDP) in Romania also faced substantial internal pressure from citizens to implement required reforms as soon as possible in order to join the EU.
In Romania, the interpretation of the scope of the law relies heavily on the courts. The media and civil society embraced the law and have used its provisions to create positive legal precedents, good practices, and monitoring tools. They used the law to obtain needed but sensitive information, quantified government compliance by recording and publishing results of standardized mock requests; and undertook strategic litigation under the FOIA to test the limits of the law’s applicability and creating valuable and visible legal precedents. The fact that the both central and local public institutions have responded favorably to 95–98 percent of requests received is encouraging, and is evidence of strong deterrence effect created by the flagship court cases initiated and popularized by the media and civic activists.