Politică și societate

Measuring Sustainable Development Effectiveness in
EU’s Policies Implementation in Romania

[CEU School of Public Policies]

With the 2004 and 2007 EU enlargement, the main incentive for 12 candidate countries - the actual membership - has been ruled out. EU cannot play the „sticks and carrots” game while the impact of the pre-accession policies and 2007-2013 funding infusion can now be fully measured. The literature covering the Europeanization of domestic policies and their results for the new Member States does not count too many successes but argues that it is the domestic policies that have the relevant impact. We analyze the case of sustainable development for Romania and argue that although it is a core horizontal principle of EU policies its impact is very limited and it is rather a subject of good wording due to several policy shortcomings.

Keywords: Europeanization; EU membership; funding effectiveness; sustainable development; conditionality

The word best describing the process that engaged Central and Eastern Eu­ro­pe in the ’90 would be Europea­nization. The process was a twofold: on one hand it translated into embracing the market economy concept and on the other it meant adopting the acquis com­mu­nautaire.

The 2004 and 2007 EU enlargements were the milestones in this respect. A growing literature on EU’s impact emerged covering either sectoral policy areas, comparisons between different new Member States or between pre-accession and post accession performances. Since 2013 is the last year to cover the present financial exercise,  we can only expect for the subject field to grow and analyze the further Europeanization based on other indicators: performance in using EU funding, the avoidance of slide backs in areas that were negotiated prior to EU joining, the Member States’ capacity of being veto players etc.

Most of the conclusions of this literature find a gap between the strong formal and the weak practical compliance record of the new CEE Member States.

Paper’s rationale

The present paper will focus on a sole country – Romania – in testing whether EU funding has an impact on a set of indicators of the World Bank in the domain of sustainable development.

Romania is considered a lager member of the EU accession process, confronting huge bottlenecks and absorption problems following 2007. The interest for this undertaking is represented by the fact that the projects financed within EU assistance in Romania contain sustainable development as selection criteria, thus funding is allocated based on this criteria too. The paper’s main inquiry is whether sustainable development is part of the EU’s „rhetorical entrapment” or correlations between the actual funding and actual positive evolutions can be found.

Structure of the paper

The paper is structured as follows: we will shortly present the Europeanization process, how EU policies have been put at work in the Member States, where sustainable development is positioned and particularize the case for Romania. The findings on sustainable development World Bank’s figures will make up the second part of the paper. The last section will deal with explaining the lack of impact of the EU funding, suggest and gather possible solutions, conclusions and a plea for introducing the critical thinking argument in the EU policy design in order to avoid the rhetorics it was accused of.

We will seek correlations between a selected set of indicators of the World Bank referring to sustainable development for the country under disscusion. We chose to use the World Bank’s data and not an EU source in order to observe how the subject is reflected in the measurements of an alternative source. This will also allow us to compare the figures for Romania with the available data in other countries that are not EU members.

Sustainable development is rarely tackled due to its complex character. The multi-facades of the subject needs a very wide analysis, an aspect that constitute shortcomings of the present paper as it resumes to being an introduction and proposes this theme for further reflection.

Europeanization: motor for domestic public policies?

The term „europeanization” – is usually understood as shorthand for „influence of the EU” or „domestic impact of the EU” 1. The Europeanization of candidate countries and new members is a rather recent and still comparatively small, but - particularly since 2003 – a fast-growing research area. Research in this field has developed primarily in the context of the EU’s eastern enlargement.

Europeanization is generally measured in the literature by what policy scientists call „input indicators” such as adaptation of various European laws, regulations and conventions2. EU monitored the alignment to the acquis communautaire as well as candidate countries’ performances’ on specific chapters and domains through the regular monitoring reports. Only in the context of the CEE enlargement did EU spell out, and regularly monitor, an explicit pre-accession conditionality3 .

A very prolific EU adaptation rhetoric was in place in the candidate countries prior to 2004 and 2007 joining. However, the literature following the development of public policies during the accession process and in the first accession years finds that better performance by some countries versus others is not due to EU assistance and domestic factors remain essential. Following the accession the main incentive – actual membership - drifted away and was not replaced by others to follow-up in the light of the accession. Scholars explain the lack of profound and sustainable positive developments through the fact that incentives were often wrong, confusing or absent and no indicators were put it to measure the process of change.

The sole adaptation pressure for the Central and Eastern European Member States was high due to the legacy of post-communism that created high adjustment costs. Again, the main rationale for adopting the acquis was the benefits of full EU membership rather than the intrinsic benefits of EU models in the various policy areas. The raise of euro-skepticism following the accession (Czech Republic) and use of vetoes (the case of Poland on EU climate change plan) stand as proof.

Transposing EU’s policies

EU policies can be divided into four group categories:
1. Regional and Cohesion Policy;
2. Thematic Policies: Research and Development, Industrial and SMEs, Transport, Energy, Informational Society, Education, Lifelong Learning, Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, Consumers’ protection, Culture, Audiovisual and media, Public Health;
3. Agricultural policy, rural development, fishing and environment;
4. External cooperation policy (EU enlargement and external policy).

A distinction between EU’s direct and indirect support is important to be made. The direct support is coordinated in a centralized manner from Bruxelles through a Directorate generale4. Decentralized coordination (indirect support) is applied to the Structural Instruments (Structural Funds and Cohesion Fund - SI), the European Agricultural Guarantee Fund (EAGF), European Fishing Fund and instruments for external assistance (IPA – Instrument for Pre-adherence, ENPI, and DCI). The responsibility of implementing the SI and other financial instruments subject to the decentralized coordination (indirect support) falls in the competence of the Member States5. SI are to be accessed only by certain states and regions while following certain criteria application. On the other hand, for the direct support, beneficiaries from all countries are welcome to apply and access funding. The proportion is of 76% of the EU budget to indirect assistance to 22% to direct assistance. 2% is allocated to tertiary states and international organizations such as UN and Red Cross6.

Most of the direct financial instruments or communitaire programmes are financed by the budgetary sub-chapter „Competitiveness for growth and employment”. The implementation of the Regional and Cohesion Policy (through the SI - indirect) is financed by the „Cohesion for growth and employment”. The name of each budgetary sub-chapter is relevant for making the distinction between the two types of assistance. Competitiveness has to do with building up the single market on grounds of economic performance and competitive advantage (in other words for pioneer projects). Cohesion, on the other hand, translates in reducing the disparities between the Member States, regions, organizations and individuals of the EU (addresses to weak points, poorer regions facing shortcomings). Different outcomes and approaches are expected from the projects financed through the latter, namely horizontal effects. These European funds (SI) are invested in certain undertakings that will encourage other organizations to multiply in different contexts and regions the respective investment; thus, the good practice concept. In a nutshell, the SI should act as leverage for the communitaire programs.

Within the indirect assistance system, the Member States do not bear the sole implementation of programs; the European Commission (EC) has some responsibilities as the financial allocation is subject to a shared management between the member states and the EC. EC is in this respect in charge with inspecting the functionality of each state’s internal management system. The Member State has the liberty to define their own model of implementation of the SI according to their characteristics, social capital, field data, territorial organization etc. Adding to the examination responsibility, EC establishes the fact that the beneficiary states have to elaborate programmatic documents (the National Strategic Reference Framework -NSRF and Operational Programs), sets up the documents formats and the institutional architecture to be created for the funds absorption.

As a consequence, in all beneficiary states we will find programmatic documents having similar formats, as well as similar names, roles and attributions of the institutions in charge of the SI. Beneficiary states design policies and programs for SI absorption and need CE approval on their content and priority objectives of the NSRF.

EU assistance – the case for Romania

The National Development Plan 2007-2013 (NDP) approved in 2005 aims at reducing the disparities between Romania and EU, attaining 41% of the average EU’s GDP/ capita7. Figures for 2005 showed barely over 30%. Three specific objectives were set within NDP: (1) increasing long term competitiveness of the economy, (2) development of the baseline infrastructure and (3) improving the capacity and effectiveness of the human resources. Specific objectives derive from the three were transposed in the NSFR. The latter document deals strictly with implementing SI, while the NDP covers the implementation of both SI and national investments. Deriving from the three specific objectives, seven operational programs have been designed: six of thematic content and one covering technical assistance. The seven are developed under the „Convergence” Objective, totalizing 19,21 billion euro. Adding up to the seven, several other operational programs run in parallel under Objective 3 „European Territorial Cooperation” amounting 0,46 billion euro. The direct support through the agriculture and fishing policies to Romanian farmers and the national co-finance to all programs raise the total allocation to around 30 billion for the 2007-2013 timeframe.

Equal opportunities, sustainable development and environmental protection are considered horizontal principles that must be ensured in different phases of the funds’ implementation. As funds are allocated through call for project proposals, invariably all project applications have to demonstrate that they embed these principles that represent selection criteria. The difference between being financed and not getting the grant can be resumed to the points allocated to one of the two principles. The conclusion is that sustainable development weights in each project proposal while no aggregate indicator measuring it is monitored at national level.

Findings on sustainable development for Romania

The most compact definition of sustainable development is to be found in EU’s Sustainable Development Strategy (SDS): „Sustainable Development stands for meeting the needs of present generations without jeopardizing the ability of futures generations to meet their own needs – in other words, a better quality of life for everyone, now and for generations to come”. Indicators of the SDS are theme enframed: socio-economic development, sustainable consumption and production patterns, social inclusion, demographic changes, public health, climate change and energy, sustainable transport, natural resources, global partnership and good governance. 

We have defined in the over 1000 indicators of the World Bank 85 to associate with sustainable development indicators. In order to assess impact, for each of the 85 we allocated a „true” or „false” value. „True” was equivalent with a constant decrease or increase of the indicator’s value over 2004-2011 period. „False” was assimilated with a fluctuation of the indicator’s value over the same timeframe.

For Romania, out of the 85 indicators, 42 were in the impact defined area (“true” values). The rest were either „false” or no data was available. The 42 values indicating impact were divided between „positive” and „negative” impact. The ration between the positive/negative categories was 29/13.

A more thorough analysis was carried out for the values of the 2004-2007 period, comparing 2004 values with the correspondent 2007. 40 indicators showed „positive” evolutions over the mentioned period.

Positive constant evolution

Negative constant evolution

– Agriculture value added per worker
– Water pollution, clay and glass industry
– Water pollution, metal industry
– Organic water pollutant (BOD) emissions
– Water pollution, wood industry
– Alternative and nuclear energy (% of total energy use)
– Combustible renewable and waste (metric tons of oil equivalent)
– Combustible renewable and waste (% of total energy)
– CO2 emissions from electricity and heat production, total
– Water productivity
– Annual freshwater withdrawals, domestic
– Annual freshwater withdrawals, total
– Renewable internal freshwater resources per capita
– Terrestrial protected areas
– Marine protected areas
– Fixed broadband Internet subscribers
– Fixed broadband Internet subscribers (per 100 people)
– General government final consumption expenditure
– Manufacturing, value added
– Industry, value added
– Services, etc., value added
– GDP per capita
– Expenditure per student, primary
– Public spending on education, total (% of GDP)
– Improved water source
– Poverty headcount ratio at $2 a day (PPP) (% of population)
– Poverty headcount ratio at $1.25 a day
– Labor force with tertiary education (% of total)
– Life expectancy at birth, total (years). 

– Water pollution, paper and pulp industry
– Organic water pollutant (BOD) emissions
– Fossil fuel energy consumption (% of total)
– Energy related methane emissions (% of total)
– CO2 emissions from transport
– Railways, goods transported
– Railways, passengers carried
– Motor vehicles
– Primary completion rate, total
– Children out of school, primary
– Hospital beds
– Ratio of female to male labor participation rate (%)
– Researchers in R&D (per million people)

Indicators associated with sustainable development revealing positive or negative constant evolutions in Romania over 2004-2011 timeframe


As concerns Romania, we found limited impact when measuring the 85 indicators correlated to what EU measures as sustainable development. Only 34% of the defined indicators were positively and constantly influenced over a period of 8 years (2004-2011). Over 15% of them were following a constant negative path for the same timeframe. Positive impact had been more frequently met during the years closer to the accession; slight decreases tend to follow 2007 that can be coupled up with the economic and financial crises.

On a three level scale containing the cathegories: „non-candidate state”, „candidate state” and „membership attained”, our findings suggest that it is within the „candidate state” status that most improvements were accomplished while the „non-candidate state” status is the least accountable for changes.

Explaining the lack of impact of the EU

While the impact produced on sustainable development in Romania is arguable, the high expectations that came along with the 2007 EU joining cannot be contested. Several explanations can be found in the literature.  On one hand are those that suggest that the better performance by some countries versus others is not due to EU assistance but domestic factors remain essential. Better results obtained prior to the actual accession stand as proof in the case of Romania. However, for our case, a deepen analysis over the internal measured undertook in the domains measured by the defined indicators is needed in order to advocate such an opinion.

Another explanation of the lack of impact that is valid especially for non-member countries says that no specific impact is envisaged but a mere external reference point countries can choose to utilize when it fits their agenda (both pro-EU or anti-EU) as well as a loose framework for socialization8.

The lack of impact of the EU fits well with the expectations of rationalist institutionalism. The distinguish between the rational institutionalism and sociological (or constructivist) approach is to be made. Rationalist institutionalism focuses on the use of conditionality by the EU to influence candidate countries. By contrast, sociological institutionalism emphasizes that EU’s domestic impact results from a process of socialization in which domestic actors internalize EU norms that they regard as legitimate. Domestic norm entrepreneurs, as well as domestic cultural understandings and informal institutions are key mediating factors for whether domestic actors engage in a social learning process through which EU rules redefine their interests and identities.

More precisely, this literature explains pre-accession compliance by a rationalist bargaining model, which assumes actors to be rational utility-maximizers calculating the material as well as political costs and benefits of adopting and implementing new rules. Weak post accession compliance only follows from the external incentives model if we assume that accession conditionality only had an extremely shallow impact on the candidate countries.

Possible solutions

EU packages development ideas and funding all together into its assistance policies that are often seen as politically neutral. This approach is called „a technocrat consensus”: „politics is treated as a negative input into policy decision-making9 as the politics of self-interest and rent-seeking negatively distort policy choice. This approach echoes the consensus on rational choice theory according to which policy is created in a fairly orderly sequence of stages. However, this model fails to capture the essence of policy making in political communities: „the struggle over ideas and the process framing public policy-making10”. It circumvents politics by negating it when politics are the depositories of ideas and undermine countries’ ownership of the reforms. One possible solution to the lack of impact problem can be more empowerment (including through politics) to the countries implementing EU derived policies. Clear-cut objectives and indicators can be set on a cost-efficient ground, while the specific country can be fully in charge of its implementation. Discharging the obligation of respecting certain formats can preclude using language as power play that correlates to none of the monitored indicators as it is the case for sustainable development.

Impact indicators measuring the degree of implementation of certain programs must be put into place and monitored. The degree of absorption of EU funding is not sufficient as it cannot say anything on the effectiveness of the policy implementation. A case of a high absorption rate and ineffective results is even worse than a combining low absorption rate and ineffectiveness only generating the illusion of good performance on public money account.

Policy analysis post modernized

Rhetorical or procedural entrapments are risks EU is facing in its assisting policies. The distinction between procedures and outcomes can lose its salience because the language of policy analysis can manipulate, distort and exclude, as each of the basic steps of the policy analysis involves ideological, political and rhetorical choices11. Applying critical theory to public policies in its early stages can make a difference in overcoming the two risks. If only one asks how compromises are made along the way so that the original ends are displaced or how and whether each end has been reached12, one can never find out how policy making and policy implementation reshape the lively worlds of actors. Here critical theory can help us in many ways.  How? Through analyzing the socially mediating structures, the mid-level range of institutions that link the alive world of actors to the broader structures of society.


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1 U. Sedelmeier, U., Europeanisation in new member and candidate states. Living Rev.Euro. Gov. Vol 1, No. 3. 2006.
2 Pippidi, A (2008). The EU as a Transformation Agent. Lessons learned from governance reforms in East and Central Europe. Hertie School of Governance Working papers, No. 33.
3 Sedelmeier, Europeanisation in new member…
4 The subsequent thematic programs are: FP7, CIP (EIP, ICT, PSP, IEE), Lifelong Learning Program, Marco Polo, TEN, Life +, PROGRESS, Culture 2007-2013, Media 2007, Youth in Action, Health Framework Program, Citizens for Europe, Daphne II.
5 The term to be used when referring to the states implementing SI will be from this point forward “beneficiary state” as not all member states implement such SI.
6 New Funds, Better Rules. Overview of the New Financial Rules and Funding Opportunities 2007-2013, European Communities, 2007.
7 Romania National Development Plan 2007-2013.
8 Kleenman, K. The European Neighbourhood Policy – A Reality Check.Romanian Academic Society. Civil Society Against Corruption Working Papers
9 C. Santiso. Good Governance and aid Effectiveness, The World Bank and Conditionality. The Georgetown Public Policy Review, Vol. 7, No, 1, 2001.
10 Santiso, Good Governance….
11 Stone, D. (1989). Causal Stories and the Formation of Policy Agendas. Political Science Quarterly, Vol, 104, No. 2
12 Forester, J. (1993). Critical Theory, Public Policy and Planning Practice. Toward a critical pragmatism. State University of New York Press


ROXANA DAMIAN - Project Management Consultant,  MPA student at  CEU School of Public Policies.




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