As Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, a leading Romanian political and economic analyst, wrote in 2006:
"What is exceptional and needs some explanation in Romania's case is not her difficult separation with its communist past, but the final positive outcome: the signing of the Accession Treaty with the European Union in April 2005." (Europeanisation without Decommunization: a case of elite conversion).
Romania had a difficult start. Building democratic institutions and implementing economic reforms was not high on the agenda of the regime that followed Ceausescu. Out of 15 years of political transition, Ion Iliescu and his parties have governed twice as long as their opponents. During their first six years of rule, they allowed several former communist organisations to maintain and consolidate their positions of power (see section Shadows of the past)
In 1999, two thirds of Romanians still believed that communism had been a good, but badly implemented, idea. "Support for post communist parties throughout the transition remained higher than support for challenger parties […]. Had the PCR (Communist Party) successor parties ran united in every election, the Romanian anti-communists would have never managed to win." (Alina Mungiu-Pippidi)
Today, Romanian society looks very different. As Lazar Comanescu points out, the EU accession process has played a crucial role.
"Perhaps the main effect of the prospect of EU membership has been its role as an anchor of the reform process. The drive to join the EU has been one of the most powerful incentives for undertaking major reforms in all candidate countries."
"Politics changed importantly after Romania applied for EU membership, and furthermore, after it was granted 'candidate' status in 1999. This meant that tutorship from Brussels had become acceptable even for the PDSR […]. The prospect of accession to the EU opened the door for a new type of political change, a change pushed form below but taking advantage of external conditionality, necessary in a society where powerful people remained above the law. From 1996 on, democratization progressed slowly but irreversibly in nearly every field."
Romania still faces a number of problems, particularly when it comes to the strength of its democratic institutions, including in particular an independent judiciary. However, Romania is one of the countries in Europe that has changed the most over the last decade. As Alina Mungiu-Pippidi puts it:
"The existence of a European option prevented Romania from staying as Albania or regressing to become a new Belarus […]. More than any constitutional or electoral law, European integration and the prospect of accession to the EU have shaped Romanian politics, and it is in this challenging environment that Europe achieved its largest success to-date. Romania's transition may have seemed long an strenuous for Romanians, but from Ceausescu's snipers and Iliescu's vigilante miners to the signing of the Accession Treaty with the EU [it] has taken only fifteen years."