Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 14
27 September 1999

Catherine Lovatt C E N T R A L   E U R O P E A N   N E W S:
Romanian News Round-up

Catherine and David Lovatt

Romanian News Review for the week beginning 19 September 1999

The Minister for European Integration, Alexandru Herlea warned that Romania is still far short of being accepted as a member of the European Union (EU). In a report, produced last week by the European Council, Romania was shown to have not met certain targets set by the EU to enable integration. The targets referred to are wide ranging and include border control, the position of gypsies in society, the care of orphans and the protection of the environment. There have also been criticisms of the economic state of the country. The EU considers that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank loans to Romania are only short term expedients. Herlea reported, "The European Commission also showed that Romania's actions on the short term with the IMF and the World Bank are not enough and demanded the adoption of a strategy regarding the national priorities on the medium term." On top of this Romania has yet set up the European Institute, an organisation whose function is to translate into Romanian all EU documentation.

There has been a more positive comment and support for membership from Poland. Marshall of the Polish Senate, Alicja Grzeskowiak, has said that she thinks Poland and Romania should co-operate in seeking integration into the EU. She gave assurances that Poland would help Romania on political and diplomatic levels to gain membership of both NATO and the EU. While speaking to the Romanian Senate Grzeskowiak referred to the help given by Romania to Polish refugees in 1939. She said, "This goodwill and the help granted by Romania to the Polish war refugees will remain in our memory together with our gratitude."

On Thursday the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, met with Romanian Prime Minister. Radu Vasile, in Bucharest. In supporting the Romanian plans to join the EU Schroeder said, "Germany will do its best (to support Romania) but I'm saying again that hard work must still be done." (Reuters - 23 September) Schroeder seemed more positive about Romania joining NATO when he offered Germany’s help.

On Friday Schroeder addressed a joint meeting of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. He said, "Your country is still in a difficult economic situation that places great social strain on your citizens. There is however no alternative to further courageous reforms." The German Chancellor went on to thank Romania for support in the Kosovo conflict and recognised the problems that the loss of trade routes along the Danube had caused the country. He went on to say, "We Germans will continue to do all we can to support you on this road. Romania is in spite of all difficulties part of a comprehensive accession process that includes all candidates. I will do all I can at the Helsinki European Council to ensure that this is stated clearly."(Reuters - Friday 24 September)

However, EvZ reported on Thursday that the Romanian ambassador to Holland, Mihnea Motoc, said that France, Holland, Italy, Greece and UK support Romania’s moves to join the EU but as yet Germany’s position was not clear. Motoc went on to say that the European Commission reports on Romania are likely to contain much constructive criticism and spoke of the country’s economic progress as a stumbling block towards integration. At the same conference in Maastrict, former Dutch Minister of Defence Wim van Eelken, said that Romania would develop greater stability as a member of EU, more so than being a member of NATO. He continued by saying that the expansion of NATO may be affected by the result of presidential elections in the US.

On Wednesday Simona Miculescu, spokesperson for the Romania Foreign Ministry, announced that the Annual National Programme for Admission to NATO will be presented next week in Brussels. The document will detail objectives, responsibilities and a timetable for meeting the admission criteria.

In contrast to the report of Alexandru Herlea, the Minister of the Interior, Constantin Ionescu claimed that Romania had met the EU criteria for improving border controls. Ionescu said, "The EU's key condition was to secure our borders. We fulfilled all our obligations in this respect." (Reuters - 23 September) The improved security has led to the seizure of drugs and explosives as well as the prevention of illegal immigrants from using Romania as a route to the West.

The EU announced on Thursday that Romania it will be funding a rural development initiative worth Euro 3 million. This will prepare the way for Romania’s participation in SAPARD (Special Accession Programme for Agriculture and Rural Development) which is to begin in the year 2000. SAPARD will last for seven years and will provide Romania with funding worth Euro 150 million each year which will be matched by a contribution of Euro 37.5 million from the Romanian government. The package will be available to individual farmers or groups working together as well as being accessible by regions and Non Governmental Organisations. Funding will be available for improving the farming infrastructure, diversification and the development of production and processing of farm products.

On Wednesday the Ministers of Transport in Bulgaria, Ukraine and Romania issued a joint statement about the measures which need to be taken to restore uninterrupted traffic movement on the Danube. The Ministers intend to insist that the Danube Commission act under article 6 of the Danube Convention. This article gives the Commission the right to allow states to clear the river in areas which are not in their sovereign territory. Bulgaria, Ukraine and Romania are prepared to provide the resources to clear the river in the Yugoslavian sector before winter sets it - but they still need authorisation from the Yugoslavian government. Romania was scathing in its criticism of the Danube Commission for taking no action to clear the river. It also believed that the Commission should have stepped in to prevent the Yugoslavian government from discriminating against Romanian vessels. 70 percent of the fleet is laid up with the result that 4500 employees are without work. Romanian Transport Minister Traian Basescu said, "Romanian unconditionally upholds Union's position toward Yugoslavia, as an EU candidate country. However, at the same time, we cannot fail to notice that the measures regarding Yugoslavia affects our interests directly. We have only one big problem that we want to work out, involving the Yugoslavian Ministry of Transportation, this is to solve Romanian ships' access on the Danube." (Mediafax - Wednesday 22 September)

The Romanian government was faced with an embarrassing situation with the announcement last weekend, that the Romanian arms company Romtehnica had been advertising landmines at an international arms fair in England. The Romanian Defence Ministry said, "The (Romtehnica) catalogue was accompanied by some outdated lists of products which had not been revised." (Reuters - Sunday19 September) "This error could not cast any doubt on the firm commitment of the Romanian government to faithfully fulfil its obligations under the provisions of the Ottawa convention signed by Romania in 1997," said a statement from the Romanian embassy in London. On Tuesday the General Manager of Romtehnica, Florian Ionica, announced that two of his marketing team had been dismissed from their posts as it had been their responsibility to update sales materials. Ionica said, "The list, which is not a commercial offer, contained two types of anti-personnel mines produced in the past, but not in current production for either internal use or export. The inclusion of these two models of mines is a regrettable error for which Romtehnica assumes full responsibility." (Reuters -Tuesday 21 September) The Minister of Defence, Victor Babiuc, has set up an enquiry to investigate Romtehnica. He said, "such mistakes should not occur anymore." (EvZ - Tuesday 21 September)

Further embarrassment has been caused by the mayor of Cluj, Gheorghe Funar. He arranged that a banner should be draped near the Hungarian consulate which said, "Headquarters of Hungarian espionage." This followed the appointment of Laszlo Alfoldi as Hungarian consul. Alfoldi previously held this post in 1988 but was expelled by Nicolae Ceausescu following allegations of spying, at a time of tension between Romania and Hungary. Funar a member of the Greater Romania Party (PRM) said, "If by Monday the consul is still in Romania, we will organise a big protest rally in the city centre." (Reuters - 17 September) Cluj Prefect, Alexandru Farca, sent an order to Funar stating that any activity that stopped the effective operation of the Hungarian consulate was banned between 17 September and 21 September. The order demanded that the Mayor should, "ban any public manifestation that contravenes the rule of law and may disturb the public order." (Mediafax) The police were instructed to enforce the order. Subsequently the Mayor called for a protest rally to take place in the city centre on Tuesday afternoon.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported on Wednesday that Romania’s economic programme was on the right track but still had a long way to go. At the same time Ministers approved the agreed revisions to the budget. However, Finance Minister Traian Remes said, "None of the ministers was content with the funds received."

At the end of his visit to Bucharest the IMF negotiator for Romania, Emmanuel Zervoudakis announced that the IMF had agreed a deficit budget of 4.1 percent, instead of the previously agreed 3.9 percent. Zervoudakis agreed that Romania had kept to the agreed economic programme. He highlighted the reduction of the current account deficit as being a very positive move but criticised the greater than expected rise in inflation - now expected to be about 42-43 percent. He explained that the greater deficit budget had been allowed to enable Romania to allocate more funding to provide for children in orphanages. Areas of particular concern to the IMF are public sector wages and the banking industry. Prime Minister Vasile has said that he is prepared to take the risk to see through the reforms agreed with the IMF even though they may be electorally unpopular. He emphasised, however, that the criteria for further phases of the IMF loan included finding private loans offered with reasonable repayment terms. Finance Ministry sources were confident, however that the second phase of the IMF stand by loan would be confirmed shortly.

The World Bank’s annual report has some worrying statistics for Romania. 70 percent of the population have a daily income of only USD 2 per day while 17 percent of the population have to live on less than USD 1 per day. In contrast the average gross income of a person living in Switzerland is USD 40,000 per year. The statistics also reveal that 6 percent of Romanian children suffer from malnutrition but there is no illiteracy in the country.

In a speech at the Forum for Liberal Youth, Minister of Justice Valeriu Stoica described the phenomenal rate of growth of the underground economy. Quoting from an American Treasury Department report he spoke of a 400 percent growth in the black economy over the period 1993 to 1998 while the official economy showed a consistent decline.

On Wednesday President Constantinescu announced a success in the fight against crime. The National council set up to co-ordinate efforts to combat corruption and deal with organised crime has successfully completed its mission. This body was set up to counteracting the criminal threats to Romania’s security.

The week has also seen a Collaboration Agreement signed between Romania and Jordan. The two countries will take joint action in the prevention of drug smuggling and terrorism, reported Interior Minister Constantin Ionescu.

In a poll of voting intentions carried out by Centre for Public Opinion and Market Research (CSOP)at the beginning of September the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) and its leader were well ahead. Voting intentions for the general election give PDSR 40 percent of the poll. The nearest challenger, the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR), has only 21 percent. The Greater Romania Party has 9 percent of the poll while the Hungarian Ethnic Alliance (UDMR) have 8 percent. A massive 48 percent of those canvassed said they were undecided or would not be going to vote.

This level of apathy was reflected in the poll of voting intentions for the presidential election where 47 percent said they did not know or would not vote. Former President Ion Iliescu (PDSR) was supported by 40 percent of those who took part on the poll while President Emil Constantinescu had only 17 percent support.

Once again the spectre of former dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu raises his head in Romania. Once again there is to be an auction of his possessions. There will be 850 lots which will include cars, furniture, artwork and carpets. The auction will take place over five days in early October.

And finally, a banner carried by final year high school pupils proclaimed, "We want justice, not maths exams." The students were protesting against the workload they are required to face as a result of having to study mathematics as well as their specialist science subjects. A pupil said, "We don't like mathematics and we don't need it to develop our skills." (Reuters - Tuesday 22 September)

Catherine Lovatt and David Lovatt, 27 August 1999


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