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Public administration – the principal promoter of equal opportunities and sustainable development

Public administration – the principal promoter of equal opportunities and sustainable development

Equal opportunities and sustainable development are fundamental themes of Europe 2020 strategy, structural funds allocation in 2014-2020 period being conditioned on those. Even the standard format of operational programs (OPs) imposed by the European Commission to all Member States requires as a rule a minimum percentage allocations to initiatives that address sustainable development and social inclusion. The two principles represent, along with smart Europe, the three pillars of growth for the current financial programming period.

In this context, it is important to note the necessity for the real implementation methods from European and national strategies on equal opportunities to be reconsidered in relation with socio-economic activities – be it gender equality, inclusion of persons with disabilities (National Strategy for people with handicap) or social integration of disadvantaged groups (ex. Roma people) and those about sustainable development regardless of what field is approached, since, at least in theory, the principle of sustainable development has become an integral part of any sectorial or national development strategy.

It should be recalled that since 2008 Romania has adopted a National Strategy for Sustainable Development which was to be reviewed in 2013, something that did not happen even if it would have been an useful tool for the government to know the progress that has been achieved on the way to a sustainable growth of our country during this period despite the economic and social fluctuations in the last 7 years. At the same time, the revision of strategy would have allowed the setting of realistic targets for sustainable growth, suitable to the real potential of the country. However, National Institute of Statistics adopted a comprehensive set of indicators based on the mentioned strategy and in accordance with the requirements of EC, primarily designed to measure quantitative developments in the field of sustainable development and inclusion. The highlighted trends invite to reflect as well as to set realistic value targets which, through periodic evaluations, to lead to formulation of action plans on medium and long term in order to ensure the convergence with European average.

Such examples are many, from the increasing wage differences between men and women during recent years, to the raising rate of unemployment among young people under 25 years despite national and European programs designed to promote the employment of this age. Internet is crowded with examples of theories, strategies, programs, experts, and other such measures, but examples of success stories may hardly be found, even if they exist mainly as a result of policies implementation that promote the positive discrimination of the concerned targeted groups.

Thus, some countries have set minimum percentages for political parties regarding proposals of members for national parliaments – women or achievement of a minimum percentage of women on boards of publicly traded companies. A recent example is the appointment of Commissioners of the European Commission. The target was to have a minimum of 30% of EC members – women even if there was no specific legislation in this regard. Furthermore, within European Commission there is a constant concern to ensure a gender balance, of course while observing the principle of meritocracy.

Important to note that, the foundation of national legislation on inclusion and sustainable development, is based on the constitutional provisions adopted 25 years ago, from which we quote the relevant ones for equality and sustainable development:

ART. 16

Equality of rights

(1) All citizens are equal before the law and public authorities, without privileges and discrimination.

(2) No one is above the law.

(3) Public, civil or military positions or dignities, may be occupied, under the law, by persons who have Romanian citizenship and residence in the country. The Romanian State shall guarantee equal opportunities for men and women to occupy such positions and dignities.

(4) Given the Romania’s accession to the European Union, EU citizens who meet the requirements of the organic law have the right to vote and to be elected within local public authorities.

ART. 20

International Human Rights Treaties

(1) Constitutional rights and liberties of citizens shall be interpreted and enforced in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, with the covenants and other treaties to which Romania is a party.

(2) If there is a conflict between the covenants and treaties on fundamental human rights to which Romania is a party and the internal laws, the international regulations shall prevail, unless the Constitution or national laws comprise more favorable provisions.

ART. 41

Labor and social protection of labor

(4) On equal work, women get equal wages with men.

ART. 50

Protection of disabled persons

Disabled persons shall benefit of special protection. The State shall ensure the achievement of a national policy for equal opportunities, prevention and treatment of disability, for an effective participation of people with disabilities in community life while respecting the rights and duties of parents or legal guardians.

ART. 35

The right to a healthy environment

(1) The State recognizes the right of every person to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment.

(2) The state provides the legal framework for exercising that right.

(3) Individuals and legal entities have the duty to protect and improve the environment.

These constitutional provisions have found their practical expression in social and economic life through a complex legislation designed to implement them and also to meet the related imperative European directives and regulations. However, the positive results are slow to appear on some levels or there is a lack of efficiency in the sense that the authorities’ efforts are rewarded with no effect, even though at a declarative level, there is a suitable context for inclusion and sustainable development. At the same time, there are fields in which significant results are recorded, but not necessarily as a result of law enforcement or particular strategies’ implementation but as one of the few positive effects of the prolonged transition from Romania. The improvement of air quality and carbon emissions reduction may be considered as an example in this regard, situation recorded mainly due to reorganization of industrial activities by major closures and restructuring of production facilities and not necessarily due to measures implemented to this purpose.

Both European strategies and legislation as well as national documents requires for public policy making process that the principles of equal opportunities and sustainable development to be an integral part of the strategy or the aimed action plan. Partnership Agreement (PA) 2014-2020 is a good example in this regard, especially taking into account that it constitutes the envelope of all OPs.

Within PA 2014-2020 the importance of promoting such cross-cutting themes that will contribute to fulfilling the Europe 2020 Strategy is emphasized. According to PA, the current European programming period will give priority to developing and implementing targeted actions specifically designed to promote equal opportunities between women and men, to prevent discrimination on grounds of race, ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation, paying particular attention to groups that face multiple discrimination. The integrative approach involves the implementation and the systematic integration of horizontal principles in every phase of the OPs lifecycle, at all government levels and among all actors involved, as well as their assimilation for all programs and objectives at all levels, down to individual projects.

Understanding and recognizing the need to promote equality between men and women, non-discrimination, accessibility and sustainable development is a prerequisite in this regard. The training of authorities’ personnel involved within FESI management and control represent an ex ante conditionality. In this manner, those who manage financial resources of the current European programming period will be able to allocate the available resources to areas characterized by inequality and exclusion. They may also identify their weaknesses in terms of this cut-crossing themes, through a critical self-assessment, in order to deal with them through targeted actions, thus become role models for European funds applicants. The examples of best practices and the experience sharing are actions that may be permanently promoted in order to create a synergy within the program and disseminate the positive results to the other OPs.

Even though the actual effects of integration of the equal opportunities principle within projects implemented at local and central government level within Romania appear difficult to be measured as quantitative and/or qualitative aspects, however, monitoring indicators may be formulated in this regard. Accessibility represents a requisite for equal opportunities and may benefit for output indicators, for example – how easy is for a disabled or an elderly person to access a public institution’s counters? How simple (what knowledge is required, how much time is a taxpayer spending etc.) is to find out what fees he/she has to pay to local City Hall? Which is the ratio between men and women regarding the leadership positions within public institution and how it may be balanced?

Europe 2020, as a strategy for smart, inclusive and sustainable growth, focuses on results. Eight key indicators were established by which to monitor the results of the largest budget allocation in EU history. The intention is to pass from words – smart strategies nicely drawn on paper, to systematically implemented action plans with results measured and evaluated so that corrections may be performed in real time. On 31 December 2018 the first comprehensive overview of the results versus estimates is scheduled (based on the Annual Implementation Reports) following that programs which are not accomplishing their designed indicators to lose a part of money in favor of performers.

Europe 2020 places a particular emphasis on sustainable development – no more than 3 out of 8 key indicators monitor the progress in this area. PA 2014-2020 underlines the need to widening Romania’s commitment to preserve and protect the environment from potentially harmful effects and to provide results through net social, environmental and climate benefits. Through the application of minimum requirements, project proposals will have to approach a more efficient use of energy and other raw materials, to implement the recommendations on reducing costs by minimizing waste and management of critical resources (i.e. Drinking water), to increase use of green purchases etc.

The compliance of equal treatment, non-discrimination and equal opportunities principles with the applicable regulations within the projects’ selection process was generically established through the OPs already approved by the EC for Romania. At the same time, the OPs include a separate section (the format required for all OPs by the EC’s standard) which refers to equality and non-discrimination through which the pro-active orientation of the program towards these cut-crossing themes is established.

Thus, the OPs requires that during the programs implementation: i) to provide access to information to all potential beneficiaries of the program – opportunities, funds, launching schedule; ii) to introduce eligibility and evaluation criteria for projects which take into account supporting and promoting initiatives with a positive impact in terms of ensuring equal opportunities, gender equality and discrimination; iii) to monitor and report the specific actions performed in order to promote the principles of equal opportunities, gender equality and non-discrimination.

At the same time, the OPs also stipulate that the Management Authorities (MAs) shall provide guidance for potential beneficiaries on how the equality principles shall be considered within their project design, as well as how targets on gender equality, equal opportunities and non-discrimination shall be set and measured within their projects.

In this regard, MA of each program will provide an information document to the potential beneficiaries regarding the principles of equal opportunities, sustainable development and public procurement as a tool to support the identification of sustainable development, equal opportunities issues, imposed by national and Community legislation, since the writing stage of projects,.

During 2014-2020 programming period it is necessary to move from declaratively measures, to practical actions that reflects to a greater extent the horizontal themes in implementation process of FESI. England may constitute a very good example as an active actor in terms of respecting gender equality, equal opportunities and non-discrimination, by the fact that the Monitoring Committee for OPs includes a specific subcommittee on gender equality, equal opportunities and non-discrimination. The purpose of this subcommittee is to provide active support and advice to MAs for a better implementation of national strategies and plans within financing projects regarding the respect of cut-crossing themes. Also, the initiation of a prizes competition for those projects that have largely respected the principles of gender equality, equal opportunities and non-discrimination is another good practical measure implemented in England.

The change of behaviour at the local and central government level as well as among public services providers is an ex ante conditionality for Romania in order to practically reach the level of developed countries regarding the principle of equal opportunities and to become a state which effectively guarantees inclusion and sustainable development. Reconfiguring infrastructures in order to facilitate equal access for all citizens to public services may represent a first opportunity in this respect. Furthermore, practical measures are required through which the identified actions to be implemented. Each of us could think about what we would need if we would ever find ourselves in a situation that temporarily affect our mobility and sensorial abilities. And act accordingly in order to improve the existing environment and ensure equal opportunities for all!

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