Lundi 22 Avril 2019  
 

N°124 - Quatrième trimestre 2018

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     Roumanie
 
  S.E.M. / H.E. Sabin Pop

At the EU’s Doorstep
 
Almost a quarter century after the 1989 revolution, Romania is garçon up to join the European Union. H.E. Sabin Pop, Ambassador to France describes the deep-reaching reforms carried out by Romanian society to reach its European goal, and the new order that will take shape when Europe expands into eastern markets.
 
 

The Diplomatic Letter: After fifteen years of deep political and economic shifts, Romania signed an Accession Treaty to the European Union on 25 April 2005, opening a brand-new chapter in your country’s history. What do the Romanian people hope to gain from joining the European construction project?

 

His Excellency Sabin Pop: The 1989 revolution not only did mark the end of Communism, it also propelled Romania into a period of deep-reaching and sometimes painful changes. It has gone through highs and lows, as the old regime’s political and economic structures were virtually shaken up. During those fifteen years of political and economic shifts which you mentioned, Romanian society completely and irreversibly opened up to Western civilization and values. Romanian citizens reclaimed their basic democratic rights and freedoms, in direct testimony to these changes. Romania went from a centralized, planned economic system to an economy subject to the laws of free market competition.

In that light, launching the European integration process means far more to Romanian citizens than simply rediscovering our European geography. It means reclaiming our history and reintegrating a political, economic and cultural space to which Romania has always belonged, and, most importantly, whose values it has always shared.

And since you mentioned the date 25 April 2005, let me point out that after Romania signed the EU Accession Treaty, giving it acceding state status, it also became an observer in the EU Council and in all of the European Commission’s committees and working groups. Thanks to this status, we have taken part in the work of EU institutions, in an advisory capacity.

With regard to the ratification of the Accession Treaty by EU member states, the process is well advanced. Twenty-one countries have already ratified the treaty, and the remaining four are getting ready to do so shortly. The French National Assembly voted by unanimity to approve the treaty this past June 27th.

 

T.D.L.: What can Romania do to help push forward the European construction process, most notably in the political arena?

 

H.E.S.P.: Let me emphasize that as a future member of the EU, by the year 2007, Romania intends to make a significant contribution to strengthening and widening the European project. Romania is in favor of a “strong Europe” that is much more than a mere free trade zone. It firmly supports the idea of a “European defense” to complement the transatlantic dimension of European security.

In the future 27-member Union, Romania will be the 7th country in terms of population, and the 8th in terms of area. It will also have sizable economic growth potential.

What’s more, my country can be a key stabilizing factor in Central and Southeast Europe. It can serve as a “bridge” between Western and Eastern Europe, having a natural propensity for advancing European interests in the Black Sea region, the Caucasus, and the Middle East. As the future eastern border of the EU, we are well aware of our responsibilities in controlling illegal immigration flows in these regions. Consequently, the Romanian government has made controlling Romania’s eastern borders effectively and systemically one of its top priorities, knowing they will become the EU’s new external borders in the year 2007. This is why Romania has laid great focus on investing in infrastructures for border regions and on training all border personnel.

As a future EU member, Romania will bring the Union the unique expertise of a country that has long-standing friendly ties with the Arab states. This is a considerable plus for the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy, as the primary nonconventional threats to international peace, security and stability – including on the European continent – are the result of insufficient dialogue between the West and Arab-Muslim civilization.

 

T.D.L.: How would you describe Romania’s newfound European identity, given its rich Latin culture and the great weight minorities carry in your country?

 

H.E.S.P. : It is quite right to say that Romania has a newfound European identity, and that our Latinity as well as the French language carry a great deal of weight and significance in this identity. As for the issue of minorities, modern-day Romania is a good model for the rest of the region and for Europe as a whole, since the highest international standards for minority rights are respected and guaranteed in our country.

And as long as we are talking about my country’s new European identity, let’s not forget to underscore the fact that Romania’s goal of joining the EU has won virtually unanimous support from the Romanian people. In fact, all of Romania’s political parties – whether they are represented in the Parliament or not – have made this strategic objective a top priority on their foreign policy agendas.

 

T.D.L.: Your country is in its 6th straight year of economic growth, after GDP rose 5% in 2005. With inflationary pressures remaining relatively high and the balance of payments deficit widening, is the Romanian government trying to speed up the restructuring process by targeting priority areas? What is it doing to cut back the informal economy?

 

H.E.S.P. : The latest Commission report, which came out on 16 May 2006, gives a fair and balanced assessment of Romania’s state of preparedness for eventually joining the EU. It is a realistic “snapshot” of the political and economic reforms enacted by Romania in order to meet the requirements of the Community acquis, which every member state must fulfill. According to the report, Romania meets the political criteria for accession, has a viable market economy, and has aligned itself to a large extent with the Community acquis.

In the economic arena, it should be noted that the European Commission has acknowledged since 2004 that Romania fulfills the criterion of maintaining a functional and viable free market economy. My country has maintained macroeconomic stability and has continued to push forward with its program of structural reforms. The business climate is improving at both the judicial and administrative levels, most notably as concerns the adjudication of bankruptcies.

Romania has posted strong macroeconomic figures. GDP grew 8.3% in 2004, then only 4.7% in 2005, due in part to repeated waves of flooding. According to estimates made so far this year, GDP should grow 6% in 2006. And while our national per capita GDP was only 31.3% of the EU-25 average in 2004, and 33% in 2005, it has taken a clear upward turn.

It must be said, nonetheless, that Romania’s underground economy amounts to an estimated 50% of official GDP, and that internal demand is being boosted by capital sent home by the many Romanians working in Spain, Italy and Israel (according to the latest estimates, more than 4 billion euros in remittances were sent through the banking system in 2005). It should also be noted that 97% of Romanians own their homes. In this context, the introduction of a unique tax of 16% on personal income, at the beginning of 2005, led to a 20% rise in state budget revenues and also increased the average per capita income. This measure has also had a positive impact on shrinking the informal economy, though this trend is hard to quantify.

Romania has shown better financial discipline, with a 17% rise in the recovery rate for back taxes. In 2005, the consolidated budget deficit rose to 0.8% of GNP. Major privatization projects were successfully completed over the course of 2005, including the privatization of the Romanian Commercial Bank. Our inflation rate has continued to drop, falling to 8.5% at the end of 2005, after climbing above 40% up until 2000. The official unemployment rate fell to 5.6% in 2005, down from 7.1% in 2004.

In December 2005, the credit evaluation company Coface France increased Romania’s rating to A4, moving it up from its previous B+ rating. This new rating will help give Romanian products better access to international markets, and will put national companies in a stronger position with their foreign partners.

 

T.D.L.: In order for Romania to join the European Union in January 2007, it must first fulfill its EU commitments, which include meeting judicial and competition standards. Could you describe the headway your country has made in these arenas for our readers?

 

H.E.S.P.: As I stressed earlier, according to the European Commission’s reports, Romania already meets the political criteria for accession. This includes judicial system reforms and the battle against corruption.

In that light, I would like to underscore that the Strategy and Action Plan on Justice Reform adopted at the start of 2006, in accordance with the commitments made by Romania as part of the EU accession process, is already being implemented and is producing clear and concrete results.

The latest European Commission report, issued on 16 May 2006, no longer regards our justice system as cause for concern, stating that the justice system now guarantees the independence of judges at both the personal and institutional levels. The Superior Council of the Magistracy (CSM) is meeting its responsibility to oversee the work of magistrates, which includes allocating cases to judges, removing judges from cases, and promoting judges. The CSM will present an annual activity report to Parliament, along with a report on the state of the justice system. This presentation will spark public debate, which will help to make the justice system more transparent and more accountable. To lessen the risk of corruption, cases are being assigned to judges randomly. In addition, the court system and court proceedings are now computerized.

The latest Commission reports, issued in October 2005 and May 2006, along with the December 2005 preliminary report by the peer review mission, state that the reform of the Romanian justice system is moving forward successfully, and that magistrates have clearly grasped the principles behind this reform.

As for combatting corruption, it should be underscored that the measures taken in 2005 have proved very effective. The latest reports from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the World Bank show that public perception of corruption in Romania dropped sharply in 2005 (down from 2.6% to 0.7%, compared to the European average of 0.5%). Our country continues to follow a coherent strategy for fighting corruption, focusing on key areas: public administration, the business environment, the justice system, internal cooperation, and international coordination.

The National Anti-corruption Directorate (DNA), a division of the Public Prosecutor’s Office working under the High Court of Appeal, is leading the fight against high-level corruption. It has exclusive jurisdiction over corruption cases, and has the power to bring charges against parliament members. Specific anti-corruption strategies and action plans have been adopted for sectors especially vulnerable to corruption, such as the customs service, law enforcement, the financial investigation department, etc. We have put monitoring plans into action, in order to curb corruption and to strengthen the legal provisions enacted to fight it. Specific preventative measures have also been taken: greater transparency in granting nonrefundable loans from public funds; greater transparency in the use of public funds for state advertising; stricter forms for filing wealth and interest income statements; doing away with the restructuring of debts to the state as well as payment exemptions; stiffer legal penalties for tax evasion. Finally, a bill was recently drawn up with the aim of strengthening the legislative framework governing political party financing.

With regard to meeting “competition” standards, Romania has made clear and firm strides in this area, which is no longer cause for serious concern in the Commission’s monitoring report. Along with the Commission’s encouraging assessment, the OECD has also acknowledged the sustained efforts of the National Competition Council (NCC) in recent years. In fact, the NCC was just made an observer on the OECD Competition Committee.

Finally, I would like to stress that the National Competition Council is an institution that enables us to monitor how Romanian legislation is being put into practice. It rejects measures in violation of the law and supports the ministries working in these arenas, helping draw up sectorial policy for State aid. It also sits in on all government meetings in order to ensure that the Community acquis is being implemented as regards competition.

 

T.D.L.: With the completion of the Nabucco Gas Pipeline, linking the Caspian Sea to Austria, your country has become a key force in crafting European energy policy. Does the 2005 Russia-Ukraine gas crisis have lessons to teach us? Where do you see relations between Russia and Central and Eastern Europe headed in the future?

 

H.E.S.P.: When Romania joins the European Union, Europe will directly border the Black Sea. This region deserves our undivided attention, as it contains more than 50% of EU member countries’ energy resources (oil and gas). All the more so, given that some experts believe that figure could climb as high as 70% over the next ten years. Only a few months ago, the European Union experienced an energy shortage caused by the Russia-Ukraine gas dispute, proving just how important this region truly is. This crisis showed that the European Union needs to pay closer attention to ensuring the stability and security of this region. It must come up with a real European energy policy that is guided by a coherent external strategy.

Romania welcomed the decisions taken by the European Council last March, when it laid out priority measures for the energy sector, including: diversifying EU energy resources; laying down clear rules with all its business partners, including Russia (especially in the energy agreement that will replace the partnership and cooperation agreement); and using EU trade policy and the European Neighborhood Policy as tools for implementing Europe’s energy policy.

The construction of the Nabucco Gas Pipeline, which links the Caspian Sea to Austria crossing through Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary, is a priority project for the EU. It is part of the European Commission’s program for establishing trans-European energy networks. We should also mention another major project underway in this region: the construction of a gas pipeline linking Constanta and Omisalj (Trieste), in which Romania, Hungary, Croatia and Italy are all directly involved.

In this perspective, I would like to stress that Romania, as a key regional player and future member of the EU, is also working hard to diversify and heighten its own energy independence. Romania believes that new technologies are of utmost importance, especially technologies tied to nuclear energy. And given its remarkable scientific potential, Romania wants to be directly involved in scientific research programs at both the European and the international levels, including the ITER controlled nuclear fusion project that is being carried out in Cadarache, France.

In that light, let me underscore the timeliness of the idea put forward by Romanian President Traian Basescu to create an “enlarged Black Sea region.” This idea grew out of an undeniable truth: the Black Sea region carries great geostrategic weight in the security and stability of Europe and the area that will directly surround it when Romania and Bulgaria join the EU. In addition to addressing the energy issue – which is of utmost importance – the EU should use the European Neighborhood Policy to develop an effective strategy for resolving frozen conflicts in this region that could jeopardize the stability and security of the entire continent, including EU member states. I am thinking of the frozen conflict in Transnistria, as well as the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the South Ossetia conflict.

To answer the last part of your question, it is clear that this strategy would require direct dialogue and close cooperation with Moscow, given its role and influence in this region.

 
T.D.L.: During President Traian Basescu’s visits to Paris in November 2005 and May 2006, President Chirac reiterated France’s support for Romania’s bid to join the EU, testifying to the strong and close ties between our two countries. In what areas would you like to see French-Romanian cooperation expanded even further?

 

H.E.S.P.: France and Romania have maintained exceptionally close political ties for many centuries. France has stood firmly at Romania’s side during the most important moments in its history. Let me start by mentioning the 1859 Union of Romanian Principalities, back in the days of Alexandru Ioan Cuza. Then there was the Constitution of Greater Romania, after World War One came to a close. I don’t want to go into too much historical detail, so I’ll end with the era that started after the collapse of the Communist regime, in December 1989. France has strongly supported all the actions taken by Romania with the aim of reintegrating the Western community and joining NATO and the EU.

Romania has become an important ally for France in the military and security arenas, thanks to its status as a NATO member and its efforts to help ensure the stability and security of the Euro-Atlantic zone. It has also become a key economic partner that represents an attractive market for French investments and will be an influential future member of the EU-27.

What’s more, France is one of Romania’s closest political partners in all the various international bodies. This partnership has been bolstered by our steadfast and deep bilateral contacts. The large number of high-level state visits between our countries offers further proof of our strong bilateral dialogue, as witnessed by the numerous visits by government officials in recent years and by the many bilateral treaties signed by our countries.

Two particularly important events stand out in the high-level political dialogue between Romania and France in recent months. I am thinking of the visits to Paris by Romanian President Traian Basescu, first in November 2005, and just recently in May 2006. President Basescu met with French President Jacques Chirac on both occasions. These visits were of utmost importance in view of expanding and deepening bilateral ties. There was a very friendly atmosphere during the two presidents’ talks, which showed that Romania and France have identical or converging views on the direction the European construction project is headed and on several matters included on the EU agenda, such as the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), rural development, the European security and defensive dimension, and the European social model.

Romania is a rich pole of Latinity for France, as well as a particularly close partner in the movement to unite the French-speaking world. In fact, Romania has the largest French-speaking community in Central and Eastern Europe. This Fall, Bucharest will serve as the world capital of the Francophonie for an entire week. The Bucharest Summit will be a first for the International Organization of the Francophonie. It will be the first time an event of this scale, bringing together 63 heads of state and government, is held in Central or Eastern Europe.

France has ranked among Romania’s top trading partners for several years now, and is one of its leading foreign investors. Official Romanian statistics show that at the end of the first quarter of 2006, more than 4,200 companies were partially or fully owned by French investors. They had a combined value of nearly 1.4 billion euros, or roughly 9.85% of total foreign investment in Romania. If we include authorized capital and holdings in privatization projects, France is the fourth foreign investor in our country.
  Bilateral economic ties are the strongest in the following areas: telecommunications (Alcatel, Orange); machine building (Astra Vagoane-De Dietriech, Faur-Gec Alstom, General Turbo GEC Alstom); the chemical industry (Rompetrol-Gaz de France) ; building materials (Romchim-Lafarge); automobile manufacturers (Automobile Dacia-Groupe Renault, with the Logan model, launched in September 2004, becoming a big success on Western markets); the aerospace industry (Eurocopter); water distribution (Veolia Environement); supermarkets (Carrefour, Gema-Bricostore, Cora, with the Carrefour Group’s investments in Romania figuring among the world’s most profitable investments); the timber industry (furniture – Groupe Parisot); the building industry (Bouygues, Vinci); tires (Michelin); the food-processing industry (Danone, Serve); and the banking industry (Société Générale).
 
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