British Ambassador to Romania Paul Brummell says in an interview with AGERPRES that although his term in Bucharest is running to end, he is not leaving Romania “in many ways”.
In the interview the diplomat elaborates on the Brexit challenges to the UK but also to the Romanian community in Great Britain, talks of how he got to update a Transylvania travel guide and what his to-dos recommendations to officials who will come to Sibiu for the post-Brexit summit next year would be.
“I think that I’m not leaving Romania, in many ways, because I certainly intend to come back, as it is a beautiful country, I’ve made a lot of friends here, I will come back as a tourist, but not just as that, as I’ve got to know so many great organizations,” Brummell said.
Your Excellency, Great Britain is it about to make history next year, because it is leaving the European Union, but nowadays the news regarding the Brexit negotiations are focusing on a “no deal” solution. How is it seen, from the perspective of British diplomacy, this “no deal” solution, that is launched in the media, and how well Great Britain deals with the European countries, in these terms?
The British Government is actually working very hard to get a deal, we want a deal, negotiations are a complex, it is the first time a member state of the EU has left, or has expressed its intention to leave, so we are in uncharted territory, but negotiations have been proceeding in a very detailed way, in a very productive way, I would highlight, for example, the agreement reached with partners at the December European Council, where some big issues regarding our withdrawal arrangements were resolved, there was an agreement, for example, around big issues, such as budget and around a really important issue of citizens’ rights, providing for the rights of European Union citizens, living, working in the UK and British citizens living and working across the European Union. Another really big, positive step was the March European Council, where there was an agreement reached on implementation period, stretching from the 30th of March 2019 until the end of 2020, and that’s really important, in terms of giving security, going forward to businesses, it provides a longer time frame, so discussions now are discussing on really important issues, of what the future partnership between the United Kingdom and the European Union should look like. We want an ambitious and positive future partnership as regards our future, economic relations in our future, security relations. I certainly won’t hide the fact that negotiations are not easy, but they are going forward in a positive way, and it’s in everybody’s interest that they succeed. Of course it would be irresponsible not to make any planning for the eventuality that negotiations don’t succeed, so, of course, that will be done, but the British Government is absolutely firm that we’re focusing on a successful negotiation, we want to achieve a successful negotiation, we’re putting our efforts into that.
Britain is having discussions now with a fraction of the European Union, because there are cases like Poland and Hungary, that have a different voice from the EU, how is Britain treating the negotiations when it comes to that? Does Great Britain see the fact that the EU has a fractured discourse as a weakness, the EU as its negotiation partner?
We have always been clear that although we’re leaving the European Union, we want the European Union to be a success, and that’s heavily in our interest that it should be so, we want a neighbor that is strong, that is united, in the context of negotiations. It makes sense to have negotiations with one party, speaking with a single voice, that’s much the most straightforward thing to do, there’s all sorts of reasons why we want the European Union to prosper, in the powerful force, in security and prosperity. We’re very conscious that Brexit is just one of the items on the agenda of the EU, there are lots of complex issues, as we saw with the June European Council, with issues of migration being very much in people’s minds, there are big decisions coming up as regards areas as “future spending”, there will be a debate around the next multi-annual financial framework, for example, so the European Union has got itself some big tough issues ahead, which have nothing to do with Brexit, but we wish them success in those decisions.
When it comes to Brexit there are also the worries that Romanian community has, when it comes to reassuring their rights, I’m talking about Romanian citizens who are working and living in the United Kingdom, and there comes a difference between the Romanian citizens who are doing high-paid jobs, who are working in high-level standards and they don’t have a lot of reasons to worry, but what about the Romanian citizens who are doing blue-collar jobs?
That’s an important question, and the British Government very much put the addressing concerns about citizens’ rights right at the heart of our negotiation, we agreed with the European Commission and partners that we would address these issues right at the beginning, to give as much stability and security to EU citizens living in the UK, British citizens living in the EU right from the outset, and I think that the agreement that’s been reached, at the December European Council, is in an important one, it provides that Romanians, by the time we leave the EU, they’ve been living and working in the UK for 5 years or more, will be able to obtain settled status, and quite a straight-forward, low bureaucracy manner, and that will give them essentially the rights and benefits that they currently enjoy, and those Romanians who haven’t been in the UK by the time we leave they’ll be able to stay in the UK, if they wish to do so, and after 5 years we’ll then be able to apply for settled status, so I think it gives a good measure of assurance.
You were emphasizing many times the fact that despite Brexit, Romania and the UK will have a strong military cooperation. Could you give some more details about this? Are you talking about a cooperation within NATO, or are you also talking about bilateral military cooperation, after Brexit?
I’m talking about both. We are strong partners within NATO, we work together very well, within NATO, but we also recognize the concerns felt by Romania and other countries, on NATO’s Eastern flank, regarding regional security situation, and we have increased our bilateral military cooperation to respond to those concerns, so for example, 2017 was the most intensive year in our recent history of our bilateral defence engagement, we had something like 1,000 British troops in 2017, training together with Romanian colleagues. In Romania we had 4 Royal Airforce Typhoons, based at Mihail Kogalniceanu airbase, providing air policing for 4 months. Over the summer we had repeated visits of Royal Navy Type 45 Destroyers, and that pattern has continued this year, the Royal Airforce Typhoons are back at Mihail Kogalniceanu, and again, we maintained strong frequency of naval visits.
And because we are talking about the cooperation between Romania and the United Kingdom, we have to talk about the legal cooperation between Romania and Great Britain, which is put into danger, that’s the declaration of many European states, by the modifications to the Criminal Codes. How does Britain address this problem?
We have a very strong law enforcement collaboration with Romania, if that’s important, not least as the Romanian community in the United Kingdom continues to grow at a fast rate, and inevitably in a large community, a small number of people within the large community are not doing all they should, and that’s why bilateral law enforcement collaboration is so important. We have some excellent collaboration between police forces, justice level, countering forms of criminality, including human trafficking and modern slavery. Unfortunately there are many Romanian victims of modern slavery in the United Kingdom, they’ve been trafficked by international gangs and our collaboration with Romania is really important, in terms of making sure that the criminals responsible are caught. We’ve looked carefully at the amendments which are going through Parliament, as regards to the Criminal Procedure Code, and some of those I think potentially do raise concern, but we are speaking with the Romanian authorities about these, we flagged our concerns, our authorities’ concerns and they assured us that they will look at these issues.
You dedicated a lot of yours posts on your Instagram account, and on your Twitter account, to Romania and especially remote places in Romania, that many Romanians actually don’t know, but when it comes to going to those remote places, there comes the question of Romanian infrastructure, that is kind of lacking, and is addressed by a lot of diplomats in Romania. How does Great Britain see this and how does Great Britain plan to maybe help Romania to improve its infrastructure, and what’s your experience with Romanian infrastructure?
I’ve had some extremely pleasurable trips right across Romania, but I would certainly flag up that then I’ve visited many Romanian regions, spoken to local authorities, I think the question of connectivity and infrastructure is almost invariably uppermost in their minds, it’s important for economic developments and it’s important for the attraction of investments and one of the key regions for the further development of infrastructure, and there is a lot happening, one of the things that I did recently was to update a travel guide to the Transylvania region of Romania, and when I was doing the updating, I was looking at the previous edition of the guide, which had been researched about 5 years earlier, and a lot of the descriptions of the roads that were in the previous edition were of these terrible roads, full of potholes, and the roads that I’ve been driving on, 5 years later, were actually quite modern roads and very good to drive on, so I think that although everyone complains, there are some positive developments. Of course, there are some really key projects, difficult projects, like the motorway projects, which are behind schedule, completing them would be very good for Romanian economic development, and I think the Government is well aware of this and I certainly hope that it’s good progress in all of that.
You are deeply involved into the NGO sector and also Prince Charles is very involved in the NGO sector, and he showed us, during his official visit in Romania, but how do you see your involvement in the NGO sector in terms of “You are compensating something that the Romanian state is not doing, the Romanian Government is not doing” or how is it?
I always think that the NGO sector can be complementary to Governments. In the UK, for example, we have a huge charitable sector, and the best example is that the charitable sector works very well together with Government, each focusing on its own particular areas of talent and expertise, so certainly I don’t see a kind of competition between the two, and one of the things that struck me when I arrived in Romania was just how strong is the sector of the British or Anglo-Romanian NGOs here. Many of them arrived just after the Revolution, in 1989, often fueled by the sights of appalling conditions in Romanian orphanages at that time, which was transmitted into British television screens and unleashed a huge wave of charitable giving, but I think that what really struck me is the way these charities have developed as Romania has developed, so they’re not stuck in the problems of 1989, so in the early days, what they were doing was very moving, but often quite basic, they gathered together lorry loads of toys and bringing them across Europe, to Romania, whereas now they’ve really specialized in areas where they can bring particular specialisms to bear, just a couple of examples: One is an organization here in Bucharest, Good light to Europe, which is focused on guide dogs for the blind, where there’s a great tradition in Britain, it’s something relatively new in Romania, and in Europe has helped to promote awareness for this. Another is hospices “Hope”, which develops hospices in Brasov and Bucharest, real state of the art institutions, and it’s not just putting up physical hospices, but actually developing a tradition of palliative care, which again, is something that Romania has not had a very strong tradition, so I think that bringing in this kind of expertise and best practice, mixed with a lot of compassion.
You were a strong supporter of Casa Ioana, and you actually slept on the street, to support this organization. What did you learn from sleeping on the street in Bucharest?
I don’t know if I can be too profound, I’m very conscious that that kind of activity is artificial in all too many ways. It was an attempt to sleep out on World Homeless Day for the last two years, to draw attention to the situation of homeless people, but I’m very clear that I and those colleagues of mine who participated were sleeping out for one night, and then going back to a nice warm bed immediately thereafter. Unfortunately, homeless people do not have that opportunity, so I don’t think we were learning anything about the life of homeless people, other than just to give us a sense of a huge respect to what they have to undergo night in and night out. It’s a very difficult situation. We also support another initiative with Casa Ioana, which is a soup kitchen, in December, every year, at Gara de Nord, and it’s striking to me to see how many people turn up to that soup kitchen, we had queues of people, all waiting very patiently, they come absolutely delighted and say a sort of cheery “Thank you!” to me as they get their soup, bread and tea, but I think that just illustrates that the problem is a big one here in Bucharest, but not just only in Bucharest, we have exactly the same in London and many cities around the world, so it’s a big challenge for all of us.
Next year there will be a high level summit in Sibiu, which will be a post-Brexit summit, because you were here in Romania, you visited Sibiu, what would you recommend the high officials to see in their spare time?
Having some experience of high level summits, I think that the challenge for them to get any spare time, but I’m a huge fan of Sibiu, I was there most recently, for the 25th edition of the Sibiu International Theater Festival, which had the co-patronage this year of His Royal Highness Prince Charles, together with His Excellency, President Iohannis. They were speaking to the director of the Theater Festival, who was hoping that he’d be doing something for the leaders of the Sibiu summit, so I hope that it will be a little bit of the flavor of Sibiu’s great cultural life at the summit itself. There are some great restaurants in Sibiu, one that I always like is the “Hermania”, which is the kind of restaurant with many dishes, based on the traditional food of the Saxon community of Sibiu and Southern Transylvania, and it’s based in a beautiful building, which was the old building of the Philarmonia. So if they have any chance to get out for a meal, that would be one choice, but there is a great range in Sibiu, so they won’t go hungry.
After the leave vote, the British officials have, let’s call it a “mantra”, saying we are leaving the EU, but we are not leaving Europe. If you were to apply this quote to yourself, personally, now leaving Romania, “I’m leaving Romania, but I’m not leaving what?”
I think that I’m not leaving Romania, in many ways, I think, because I certainly intend to come back, as it is a beautiful country, I’ve made a lot of friends here, I will come back as a tourist, but not just as that, as I’ve got to know so many great organizations, including some of the charities that we’ve talked about, I’m the patron of one, a very nice organization, called the “Libra Foundation”, which brings young children, young people, late school and university age, students from the UK and young people from Romania to put together some accounts and other forms of activity to support disabled and disadvantaged children in Romania, and that is a great role, I will be moving into a job in the United Kingdom, I will be working in the Foreign Ministry in London, as head of the department, looking at soft power and strategic engagement. What that is actually about, it’s about the sense that there is a huge number of organizations outside Government, which do great things in terms of building international links, and that includes universities, museums, sporting associations, charities, so you can see the strength of British soft power in action in Romania, so I very much hope that my new role will allow me to continue our focus on some of those kinds of links that have been so important to our relations here.
Could you define into one word the relationship that Great Britain has with Russia at this point?
And the last question, because Romania is celebrating 100 years of unity, of United Romania, could you define European Union, at this point in time, especially in the context of Brexit?
As I said, we are leaving the European Union, as an organization, but we wish the European Union, as an organization, every bit of success. Europe is a wonderful continent, we are a member of this glorious continent that is Europe, and it’s great to see Romania celebrating the important anniversary this year, 100 years of the declaration of Alba Iulia, and post World War I settlement, it’s important for Romania. One of the things I have been highlighting is the contribution of the United Kingdom, particularly of the British born Queen Marie of Romania in the events which led to the celebrations that are taking place across Romania this year.