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Success in slow motion: The Europeanization of Romanian child protection policy


This paper analyzes the influence of the European Union (EU) through a qualitative case study of child protection policy in Romania. This is a particularly tough case for the growing “Europeanization” literature. Prior research has called attention to several factors that promote Europeanization, including the presence of a pro-reform domestic coalition, the clarity and consistency of the EU’s own legislative targets, a state’s own prior involvement in the setting of European standards, a strong consensus among EU member states backing the European position, and strong non-European support for EU initiatives. According to these propositions, Romanian child protection seemed to provide a worst case scenario for Europeanization, as initially none of these conditions held. And yet the paper shows that substantial Europeanization occurred anyway. We argue that the EU experienced a very slow start with Romania but that it cultivated an opposition that responded to EU initiatives when that opposition took power. Moreover, the EU found three “workarounds” to the obstacles just noted: it asserted legislative targets it did not possess itself, invented new policy tools, and drew protection for its most controversial policy from another international organization, the ECHR. Our central theoretical claim is that external pressure requires internal accommodation in order to have lasting effects. The claim has important implications for the diffusion and conditionality debates.

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  1. For recent, theoretically-oriented summaries, see Orenstein and Schmitz 2005 (comparative theories) and Mayer and Mourmouras 2008 (IR theories).

  2. Recent books that treat external influences on postcommunism without focusing on the EU include Epstein 2008; Deacon 2007; Goldsmith 2005; Gheciu 2005; Ekiert and Hanson 2003; Henderson 2003; Stone 2002; Zielonka and Pravda 2001; Jacoby 2000.

  3. Recent books that focus on EU influences in CEE include Grabbe 2006; Schimmelfennig and Sedelmeier 2005; Pridham 2005; Vachudova 2005; Jacoby 2004; Hughes, et al. 2004; Kelley 2003; Linden 2002.

  4. The acquis communautaire contains some 80,000 pages of treaties, legislation, principles, policies, practices, and obligations of EU member states.

  5. Essentially, the EU only had the Copenhagen Criteria, technically not part of the acquis but routinely used as such by the EU (see Grabbe 2006) with which to challenge child protection policies on human rights grounds.

  6. “Borrowed acquis” may strike some as an oxymoron given that acquis usually refers to certain official EU policies. By “borrowed,” we mean simply that the EU communicated to Romanian officials their expectation that Romania would adhere to the terms of the UN CRC. The EU, in effect, outsourced the substance of conditions to another IO, using standards the UN had articulated many years previously.

  7. For a case in which the US enticed Romania to undercut EU-sanctioned policies, see Kelley 2007.

  8. The party was subsequently renamed twice, to Party of Social Democracy of Romania (PDSR) in 1993 and then to Party of Social Democracy (PSD) in 2001.

  9. In recent years its reforms have gathered momentum and some were sustained or even accelerated during Iliescu’s return to power from 2000–2004.


  11. In fact, few policy sector failures generate—as Romania’s orphanages did—separate feature films from Hollywood and the United Kingdom.

  12. Romanian maternal mortality was 3.5 to 4 times higher than the European average rate in the period between 1970 to 1990 (Gheţau 1997).

  13. Statistics in this paragraph are from Greenwell (2003: 75–6). All told, about 30,000 Romanian children have been adopted abroad since communism’s end.

  14. Subsequent Laws 84/1994 and 65/1995 implemented the provisions contained in The Hague Convention on Child Protection intended to prevent inter-country adoption from becoming child trafficking.

  15. In 2000, the national DCP was changed to the National Agency for Child Protection (NACP) and then, in 2001, to the National Authority for Child Protection and Adoption (NACPA), its current name. Somewhat confusingly, the county organs continued to go by the name DCP.

  16. At the initiative of Emma Nicholson, the European Parliament Rapporteur for Romania's accession, the EU Delegation in Romania also helped constitute a High Level Donor Group for stop-gap support for the Romanian child care system.

  17. One local DCP increased salaries for many staff to more than $1000 per month, ten times the average salary for state employees (Iordache 1999: 9).

  18. European Commission (1999b): 16. The report also criticized the lack of properly trained staff and the dependence on international assistance.

  19. Hafner-Burton (2005) shows trade regimes often spur human rights progress.

  20. For accounts of the DC’s demise, see Gallagher (2005); Vachudova (2005).

  21. Quoted from RFE/RL NEWSLINE 5(103), Part II, May 31, 2001.

  22. Yet one government minister estimated the “market” at about $200 million during the TV program, “Calea de mijloc,” TVR1 Channel, November 11, 2002.

  23. In 1990’s the vast majority of children in the Romanian system were abandoned by their parents because of poverty combined with factors like alcoholism, drug-addiction, teenage motherhood, or alienation due to rapid social change. In 1997, only 1.8% of institutionalized Romanian children had no living parents and just 13.9% had only one living parent (Lataianu 2003: 109).

  24. Foreign parents also had access to younger children. In 2000, the average age of an adopted child placed in a foreign family was 10 months versus three years in a Romanian family (USAID 2001: 7).

  25. There were also steps towards improving the care of children with special needs and handicaps. As noted elsewhere, these steps remain very incomplete.

  26. The 2006 MDRI Report, while focused on children with mental disabilities, indicates there remain horrifying conditions in some small government-run institutions.

  27. Facing demographic pressures, all three states have intervened against the ban on international adoptions (and, by extension, against EU policy).

  28. Since 2001, all top Romanian-US bilateral meetings have discussed the ban on international adoptions, which the U.S. opposes. One former prime minister noted that “Romania stopped the export of children. Americans should understand that we have a law in conformity with EU laws” and that Romania is bound by the UN CRC and Hague Convention. Cotidianul, December 1, 2005.

  29. Data in this paragraph are from Jerre (2005: 16–18).

  30. See the works in footnote three.

  31. See Jacoby (2004: chapter 2) for the case of consumer protection measures in CEE.

  32. The EU’s development of so-called “road maps” and “safeguard clauses” were also evidence of new instruments (Phinnemore 2007).

  33. It is an open question whether Romania might soon move, as other countries with weak judicial systems have done, toward a tightly regulated system of legal international adoption. We thank an anonymous reviewer for stimulating thoughts on this point.


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The authors thank Cornel Ban, Gerald Hansen, III and Larry Nelson for comments on earlier drafts.

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Correspondence to Wade Jacoby.

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Jacoby, W., Lataianu, G. & Lataianu, C.M. Success in slow motion: The Europeanization of Romanian child protection policy. Rev Int Organ 4, 111–133 (2009).

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  • European Union
  • Conditionality
  • Child protection
  • Romania
  • Enlargement
  • International organizations
  • Social policy

JEL Classification

  • F53
  • J12
  • J13