Open letter

Wednesday - 27 March 2013
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To:

Mr. Crin Antonescu, Chairman of the Joint Committee of the Senate and Chamber of Deputies for the Review of the Romanian Constitution

Members of the Joint Committee of the Senate and Chamber of Deputies for the Review of the Romanian Constitution

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee,

We are writing to you in order to reiterate our readiness to co-operate for the improvement of the Romanian Constitution and, at the same time, to express our concern with the flaws of the public consultation process regarding a piece of legislation that is of vital importance for the future of the country.

The signatory organizations represent a wide spectrum of activities of the civil society, able to provide expertise in various domains and acting on behalf of the public interest.

We consider that the fundamental law needs to be understood, accepted and assumed by citizens and therefore that it is essential to involve them in all the stages of the review. We are ready to take part in the review process in three different ways. Throughout the process, we shall send the Committee our concrete amendment proposals, with explanations, for each of our domains of expertise. We shall be active participants in the public debates organized on this topic. Last but not least, we shall be among those who inform and educate citizens about the main themes on debate, pleading for their active involvement and encouraging people to get informed and take decisions according to the values that should define a state of law.

We are disappointed of the way the Committee has chosen to coordinate the debate of the constitutional review. In that respect, we must point out the following problems:

1. The sessions of the Committee are not public. By enforcing the draft regulation (not yet approved by the Parliament in full session) of the Joint Committee, you have restricted the access of the media and civil society to committee meetings. For this process, the debate itself is almost as important as the final result. The public, citizens, should have direct access to the arguments brought by their representatives when they discuss the various revision proposals, so they may have an informed vote at the referendum. Moreover, the Constitution now in effect (article 68) explicitly stipulates that Parliament sessions are public and may be secret only in exceptional cases. The debate over the Constitution, the fundamental document of our state, cannot possibly be a secret.

2. The documents of the Committee are not public. The Committee receives proposals from the political parties and MPs, but these have not been published in their entirety. The only document made public so far is a centralized table including the proposals of principle made by the parties, under the title “The theses on which the amendments will be based”. These principles are very general; for instance, they suggest changing some articles without specifying in what sense and they do not include the grounds for the proposed changes.

3. The calendar of the Committee has not been published. To this date, the Committee had failed to publish any calendar of the reviewing process. There are no clear deadlines, including for consultations and debates that would allow all those interested to be part of the process. The only available information about a potential timeline comes from press statements made by various Committee members and is quite imprecise.

4. Faulty organization of the dialogue with the civil society. The Committee delegated the task of organizing public debates to the Constitutional Forum. Yet, the draft regulations of the Committee do not provide any mechanism to allow the Forum to receive proposals from organizations other than political parties. The Constitutional Forum becomes the only communication channel between the Committee and the society, yet there is no guarantee whatsoever that the proposals discussed by the Forum will be even heard by the Committee. We consider that the Parliament cannot avoid its responsibility of consulting citizens by passing it on to another entity, be it public or private.

The problems mentioned here indicate that the premises of genuine public consultation have not yet been created. The review of the Constitution requires an authentic debate that involves political parties, organizations and citizens alike.

To that end, we are asking you to remediate these problems with celerity and to open the sessions of the Committee to the public , by taking the following steps:

• Sessions should be entirely public: permanent access for the media; live online transmissions (the technology is already available at the Parliament); access of interested citizens to the meeting room;

• Transcripts of the Committee meeting should be posted online;

• All the proposals received by the Committee should be posted online;

• A mechanism should be introduced allowing the Committee to receive proposals for a wider range of groups and organizations, not just from parliamentary parties;

• An adequate timeline for the whole process should be prepared and published.

We hereby express our full readiness to take active part in a substantial public debate on the Constitution review and we trust that you will show the openness expected from those who coordinate such a key debate.

Signed by :

Active Watch – The Press Monitoring Agency

ANBCC – The National Association of Citizen Counseling Offices

APADOR-CH – The Association for the Defense of Human Rights in Romania – the Helsinki Committee

Accept Association

EPAS Association

FRONT Association

Mother for Mothers Association

The Romanian Anti-AIDS Association

ASUR ­– The Secular Humanist Society of Romania

Solidarity for Freedom of Consciousness Association

CENTRAS – The Assistance Center for Non-governmental Organizations

The Center for Studies in Political Ideas

The Center for Education 2000+

FILIA Center

Partnership for Equality Center

The Center for Independent Journalism

CeRe – The Resource Center for Public Participation

ECPI – The Euro-Regional Center for Public Initiative

Partners for Local Development Foundation

The Soros Foundation

Youth for Youth Foundation

GRADO – The Romanian Group for the Protection of Human Rights

The Rațiu Center for Democracy

Roma Education Fund Romania

The Academic Society of Romania

The Society for Contraceptive and Sexual Education

SoLib – The Society for Individual Freedom

The signatory organizations share values such as the respect for fundamental human rights, non-discrimination, freedom, equality and they support democracy and the state of law in Romania. We have decided to work together in order to provide well-grounded points of view for the Constitution review process.

The group of organizations is open to anyone sharing the same values and principles. If you wish to join us, please contact:

Ovidiu Voicu , Fundația Soros, ovoicu@soros.ro