Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 2, No 6
14 February 2000

Catherine Lovatt M I O R I Ţ A:
Constantinescu and Blair Advance Anglo-Romanian Relations

Catherine Lovatt

In 1978, the Romanian Communist leader, Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena were invited to Britain to meet the Queen. The groundbreaking move marked Romanian attempts to break away from Soviet dominance. Twenty-two years later the Romanian President, Emil Constantinescu, has been invited to meet the Queen, this time to advance Romanian-British relations in the push for European Union enlargement.

The official Ceausescu visit saw numerous photographs covering the front pages of the British newspapers, revelling in the novelty of a Communist Eastern Bloc leader meeting the Queen. During the Cold War Britain regarded Romania with sympathy for its policy of ‘independence’ from Moscow. The visit was aimed to encourage other Communist states to promote their own independent policy from the Soviet Union. However, the Soviets regarded the Romanian policy with little concern recognising that the hard-line nature of Romanian politics would not offer a threat to Communism and Soviet dominance. The Soviet attitude towards Romania differed greatly from their attitude towards other satellite nations, such as Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, where open opposition had been suppressed.

The official Constantinescu visit has had little front page media attention in Britain, although there has been some commentary in the Times and Daily Telegraph. The novelty has worn dry. However, its importance cannot be denied. The first official visit by a Romanian President for twenty-two years was hoped to promote Romanian accession to the European Union and their integration into the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Talks with British Prime Minister, Tony Blair and members of the British cabinet focussed on such central issues whilst also developing Romanian-British relations.

Since 1978 there has been a slow, gradual development in political relations between Britain and Romania, despite its ups and downs. Ceausescu’s state visit was a spectacular event, fully publicised and dramatically enacted. Ceausescu was met by salute discharges, a drive in the royal carriages and accommodation at the Queen’s residence. In 1994 President Iliescu unofficially visited the country. Any political achievements that could have been established were overshadowed by the Mooney case. The Mooney couple were imprisoned in Romania after illegally taking a child over the border in order to adopt him. Iliescu promised to release the couple. In the year 2000 events have progressed from the spectacular and emotional to the political.

Promises of support from the West for assistance during the Kosovan conflict have been slow in forthcoming. The Balkan countries, including Romania are becoming concerned that Serbian and Kosovan reconstruction contracts will favour existing members of the European Union, despite assurances underlined in the Stability Pact. Britain has made attempts to reassure Romania, enhancing bilateral relations. In May 1999 Tony Blair made the first visit to Romania by a British Prime Minister for twenty-five years and there has been an exchange of visits by Ministers and parliamentarians of the two countries. Economic co-operation has developed and Britain has offered Romania support for internal reforms that will further Romanian integration into the European Union. Advancing Romanian-British relations could benefit stability in the region and encourage investment in Romania whilst opening new markets for both countries.

Britain is placed fifth of the top foreign investors in Romania. Tony Blair has commented that this is not acceptable for the British authorities in light of EU enlargement. Consequently, he pledged that the British government would promote Romania’s cause in business circles. Indeed, Constantinescu’s visit contributed to this cause with meetings at the Confederation of British Industry and with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. During the discussions with Tony Blair Constantinescu was asked "What can we do for you? We want to help you, how can we help you?" The meeting also concluded that Britain would support Romania in becoming the most important stock exchange centre in the Balkans.

The Constantinescu visit can be regarded as a success for Romanian-British relations. Progress has been made and support has been pledged. In 1978 Ceausescu implemented a policy of independence moving away from a union of countries, in the year 2000 Constantinescu is pushing for Romanian integration into an alternative union of countries. Britain is playing a key role in advancing Romanian efforts to join the European Union. Despite founded concerns, the promises proffered by the West during the Kosovan conflict are beginning to take shape.

Catherine Lovatt, 11 February 2000

Archive of Catherine Lovatt's articles on Romania and Moldova


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