Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 2, No 12
27 March 2000

Catherine Lovatt C E N T R A L   E U R O P E A N   N E W S:
News Review for Romania
News from Romania since 20 March 2000

Catherine and David Lovatt

In Brussels on Monday, Prime Minister Mugur Isărescu presented the Romanian medium-term economic strategy to the European Union. This is the draft of the document, which should be finalised by 15 May when talks are due to start. Isărescu spoke of accession as a target that was realistically attainable for Romania and said that the government would press on with their economic reforms. He said, "We must prove we can also apply it with perseverance." (RFE - 21 March 2000)

At the same time he gave Romano Prodi, President of the European Commission, a declaration of political support signed by the leaders of all the political parties represented in Romania's Parliament. This declaration commits the parties to maintain the strategy whoever may be in power. This is particularly important in this the election year. Isărescu said. "We must offer a unique serious guarantee that is the formulation of a package of coherent, persevering, consistent policies, even stubborn in their enforcement." (Nine o'clock - 21 March 2000)

Gunter Verheugen, European Commissioner with responsibility for enlargement, said that the strategy seemed satisfactory but would need to be analysed in greater detail. The strategy sets out plans for sustainable growth in an economy of reducing inflation. Verheugen told a press conference that the consensus of all parties was very important as it committed Romania to a common course of economic action linked to European Union accession irrespective of the party in power. Romania is the only candidate member of the EU which presented this level of political support. Romanian Foreign Minister Petre Roman said, "I think this strategy, the manner it was elaborated and adopted, displays a certain quality of stability." (Reuters - 21 March 2000)

Following Isărescu's meetings with EU representatives it was revealed that the EU were concerned about the growing movement of Romanian workers who were seeking employment in other members states. The EU have called on Romania to increase the average monthly wage for its citizens over the next few years, moving towards a suggested USD 300.

On Thursday Isărescu announced that the government had approved plans that will move Romania towards common standards with the EU. The plans concern the five initial areas of negotiation in the accession talks and cover security, small- and medium-size business development, foreign policy, research and development and education.

Roman took the opportunity to raise the issue of the environmentally dangerous mine workings following the recent spills, which have severely damaged the Danube river system. He called for EU funding to help a long-term project to close down the most dangerous mines and provide ecological protection. An EU task force is investigating the pollution of the River Tisza by spillage from mine workings.

European Commissioner Verheugen has insisted that Romania takes a much harder line on dealing with environmental problems. However, he announced that the EU would provide funding and technological support to help with the closure of mines which are potential pollution hazards. He emphasised that the EU would not take financial responsibility for environmental damage that had already been caused. Verheugen said, "The polluter pays principle must be respected. The Commission is certainly not prepared to substitute itself for a polluter who would not be prepared to pay for the damage it has done." (Reuters - 21 March 2000)

The cyanide spill at the Aurul SA gold smelting works at Baia Mare also happens to be on the agenda of World Bank representative to Romania Andrew Vorkink during his visit to the country this week. In addition to discussions with the government about the PSAL loan and an examination of current loan agreements, Vorkink will visit the site of the pollution incident.

The Aurul smelting site was also visited by 25 Greenpeace protesters on Wednesday. They chained themselves to the gates of the smelting works displaying banners demanding that Esmeralda Exploration Limited, the Australian Company with a major stake in the works, "clean up and pay." Greenpeace will continue to protest until Esmeralda company officials agree to meet them and until they admit that the cyanide spill was a serious environmental disaster. Protester Herwig Schuster said, "We want the cyanide-leaking plant to be shut down because cyanide technology cannot be controlled. Our second demand is that Esmeralda pays immediately compensation to the people living near the dam." (Reuters - 22 March 2000)

Prime Minister Isărescu met privately with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán at the weekend. The scene was set for a heated meeting with the publication in the Budapest Sun of an interview with the Hungarian Foreign Minister who said, "I would be astonished if Romania were accepted at the EU negotiations on environment matters." (Monitorul - 20 March 2000) The Prime Ministers discussed the pollution incidents in detail and afterwards Orbán confirmed that there were no misunderstandings between Romania and Hungary. It was also announced that Orbán was to visit Bucharest later in the year to sign a bilateral agreement designed to prevent further ecological disasters and to enable both countries to move towards EU standards for environmental control.

Isărescu was in Budapest for a meeting of the premiers of countries neighbouring Yugoslavia. The topics under discussion included the Balkan Stability Pact, democracy in Yugoslavia, Danube navigation and the prevention of further inter-ethnic conflict in the region.

The Budget and Finance Committee of the Chamber of Deputies discussed the 2000 budget during the week. Finance Minister Decebal Traian Remeş reported to the Committee that the budget had been accepted by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Deputies representing the Social Democracy Party of Romanian (PDSR) criticised the budget but Remeş was sure that it would be passed by Parliament without amendment. Main opposition party PDSR have said that they will not support the budget bill unless the government take account of their 62 proposed amendments.

Although the question of the Office of Defence Minister has been solved it has not gone away. On Wednesday the Defence and Public Order Committee of the Chamber of Deputies took evidence from the protagonists Foreign Minister Roman and former Defence Minister Victor Babiuc. The Committee was investigating the alleged cancellation of a visit to Romania by the Dutch Defence Minister. Roman denied that his Ministry had any part in the action although reports in Nine o'clock suggest that Roman's evidence was not entirely accepted. Babiuc insisted, "Petre Roman was eager to take revenge on me. The Foreign Affairs Ministry is not subordinated to the national interest but to the party and personal interests of the portfolio holder." We have not heard the last of the conflict between these two politicians.

Throughout the week the media has been filled with allegations and counter allegations concerning the so-called "Red Line" between the Presidents of Romania and Russia. The Defence Committee of the Chamber of Deputies decided at their meeting on Tuesday that a Parliamentary Commission should be set up to investigate the whole issue. The investigations are to focus on the details of any negotiations which may have taken place to re-establish a communications hot line between Moscow and Bucharest between 1994 and 1996 during the Presidency of Ion Iliescu when Teodor Melescanu was Foreign Minister. Memories of the events of the time are selective and frequently change as evidence is gradually revealed following media initiatives.

The Moscow link has been seen by some as yet another way in which the credibility of presidential candidates and their parties are being undermined prior to the general and presidential elections. One of the proponents of this view is Adrian Nastase, the vice-president of PDSR, who said, "The press campaign on the alleged Bucharest-Moscow hot line was devised in Romania." (EvZ - 22 March 2000)

Police raids have taken place throughout Bucharest in the early part of this week as part of operation "Luna". They follow on from action against organised crime that began last Wednesday. Roadblocks were set up at key points to prevent criminals from seeking refuge away from the city while police raids took place in known criminal areas. Police were searching for over 2000 people who have arrest warrants against them for crimes ranging from drug dealing to car theft. The operations are to continue in cities across Romania as well as within the capital.

Rabies is proving to be a drain on the finances of Bucharest health service. Mediafax reported that treatment costs amount to USD 140,000 per year with over 20,000 cases of dog bites being reported in 1999. During the last five years approximately 100,000 people have been vaccinated against rabies. Local Authorities are being urged to consider and implement programmes to deal with the many wild running dogs that live within the capital city.

And finally - there is to be yet another sale of the belongings of Nicolae Ceauşescu and his wife. The auction will take place in Bucharest between 31 March and 2 April and is expected to make around USD 250,000 for the state. Cars, carpets, furniture, hunting equipment and pictures are catalogued among the 240 lots.

Catherine Lovatt and David Lovatt, 25 March 2000

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