Central Europe Review: politics, society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 15
4 October 1999

Catherine Lovatt M I O R I T A:
Fishing for a Marshall Plan

Catherine Lovatt

The Romanian Government recently endorsed a document issued by the Foreign Ministry, the Action Plan for Romania's Participation in the Economic Reconstruction and Development of South-Eastern Europe. In line with international recommendations, Romania has developed a programme which they hope will help bring stability and security to the Balkans.

The Kosovo conflict highlighted tensions in the Balkans and provided a new urgency in efforts to eliminate political, economic and social problems. Stability and security became a priority. Britain and America pledged assistance in developing an action plan to rebuild Southeast Europe which would aid their efforts to join the European Union and NATO. The aftermath of the conflict saw the G8 countries agree upon a new "Marshall Plan" for Southeast Europe, a stability pact aimed at bringing prosperity and democracy to the Balkans.

The programme focuses on restructuring and advancing Yugoslavia whilst encompassing development in surrounding countries affected by the fighting - Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Albania and Slovenia. In return, each country would design their own action plan to further their progression, determine their role in the reconstruction of Yugoslavia and determine their role in creating stability and security for the region.

The Romanian Government regards economic strength as a crucial factor in securing regional stability. The Kosovo conflict increased pressures on an already ailing Romanian economy, which subsequently had a detrimental affect on government popularity. The Romanian plan centres on creating economic strength in order to alleviate political instability and promote Romania for EU and NATO membership, a move which is in itself considered essential for security and stability in Southeast Europe.

The action plan for Romania establishes certain goals which aim to improve the Romanian economic, political and social situation, in accordance with conditions for EU and NATO membership. Participation in the implementation of the stability pact not only benefits Yugoslavia but provides an opportunity for Romanian institutions, organisations and private companies to grow and develop. Involving these sectors of society in the application of the stability pact will encourage the expansion of trade internally and externally. It will help to promote co-operation between states on regional issues, including the allocation of funds and the use of labour. This will help ensure that those countries implementing the stability pact receive greater economic benefits and improve diplomatic relations.

The Romanian plan also aims to achieve greater external assistance to improve the economy and to sustain the development process. The main area of priority is funding. The government will encourage loans from international institutions and donor states, indirect compensation for losses arising from the Kosovo conflict, investment and a new approach to imports and exports.

The proposals outlined in the Romanian action plan coincide with conditions laid down by the EU and NATO. Factors such as tighter border controls and Danube conservation are major concerns to the Romanian Government if they wish to gain membership to the Euro-Atlantic institutions.

Those who have visited Romania will have experienced problems with transportation, pollution, long waits at border controls, inefficient services, bureaucratic administration, and the list goes on. The plan repeatedly stresses the need for building a strong economic infrastructure through the advancement of efficient communication and service systems. To this end the use of valuable natural resources is essential. The Romanians have already set up plans to generate an expansive gas, oil and electricity network not only within Romania but also linking with neighbouring countries. An effective transportation network is vital for communications. Some areas of the Romanian transportation system are relatively strong, like for example the railway network. However, Danube shipping is facing heavy costs and delays after the Danube became blocked in the Kosovo conflict, the road system is atrocious with only one motorway near Bucharest, and regional airports could be modernised. The Romanian action plan addresses all these issues, laying down plans to upgrade the road networks, to modernise the airports and railways and advance Danube clearance.

It is imperative for Romania to establish her own national stability before she can become a bastion of stability for the Southeast European region as a whole. The action plan recognises this, but whilst looking at her own development Romania is also looking for ways to co-operate with her neighbours to achieve stability and security for the Balkans. In order to enhance regional co-operation and to strengthen stability and confidence in Southeast Europe, the Romanian Government are establishing a regional centre for trans-border delinquency, a regional information system for crisis management and a regional centre for NGOs. Although sounding impressively altruistic, this could be considered a method of gaining supremacy in the region.

Alongside problems of infrastructure and co-operation, the Kosovo conflict also inflicted cultural disasters upon societies. The Romanian project aims to establish a regional cultural centre for the development of common projects between the countries involved in the stability pact. It also sets out to help restore historic and symbolic monuments damaged by conflicts in Yugoslavia and the former Yugoslavia.

For actual reconstruction in Yugoslavia, Romania offers the practical services of its economic operators. For example, electricity, locomotives, a qualified labour supply, gas, oil, steel, housing construction, ecological restoration and river transport. Despite these promises of assistance, the Yugoslav authorities have made it increasingly difficult for Romania to re-establish her Danube trade links. This is having a serious and detrimental effect on the Romanian economy and highlights the need for co-operation. Of great concern to both countries is the oil embargo. The Romanian Government is attempting to lift this to alleviate some pressures on her export business.

The offers of assistance to Yugoslavia may appear minimal. However, Romania is offering valuable equipment and services that are vital for rebuilding Yugoslavia. Romania's own economic position restricts the level of assistance she can provide. Despite this, the Romanian action plan states that the offer will be updated according to demands in the region.

Romanian stability has to be the primary concern, but this is constantly threatened if regional instability prevails. Working with other countries implementing the stability pact for the common goal of economic prosperity, security and stability can only help unite the diverse regions of Southeast Europe. With this in mind, the Romanian Foreign Ministry have included operational elements in the action plan. These are intended to create strong communication between countries and government departments. For example, hosting meetings of the stability pact in the Southeast European Round Table and its offshoot, the Working Group for Reconstruction and Economic Reform. (Romania and the Stability Pact, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Romania).

The Romanian action plan provides a small part of a wider picture, and Romanian aims to show a positivity which is influential on the whole region. Through the development of the domestic infrastructure and the enhancement of relations with stability pact members Romania appears to be playing a pivotal role in the future of the Balkans. It could be said that Romanian aims are too far-reaching, but the Romanian government have taken into account their own economic and political position, and have advanced a practical and necessary programme of development. Romanian aims are basic ones. They focus on domestic problems which are restricting their own economic progression, and on regional problems which are affecting all levels of prosperity in the Balkans. This method of approach should help bring stability and security to both Romania and the Balkans whilst enhancing Romanian chances for membership of the EU and NATO. However, for the stability pact to succeed, the countries of Southeast Europe must co-operate.

Catherine Lovatt, 4 October 1999




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