Interview with Teodor Baconschi, Minister for Foreign Affairs.
On Friday, you inaugurate Romania’s consulates in Cahul and Balti in the Republic of Moldova – a major step towards normalization of bilateral relations. What are your expectations about relations with Chisinau?
The upward trend of the relations between Romania and the R. of Moldova is a natural one, as we share the same language, culture and history. The political dialogue between Bucharest and Chi?in?u is enhanced by unprecedented political evolutions, and the opening of the two consular missions is only one of the results of our cooperation over the past few months.
Romania’s new General Consulates in Cahul and Balti will play an essential role in the successful implementation of the Agreement on the Border Small Traffic, a European facility which Romania offers to the R. of Moldova to the citizens’ benefit. The Agreement also represents an important step in the process of Chisinau’s European integration. On the other hand, the two consulates will facilitate the work of the Romanian Embassy in Chisinau by processing requests submitted by citizens residing in the two consular constituencies.
From official information, I gathered that 90 per cent of the money spent on furnishing buildings in Balti and Cahul come from European funding. Does political openness offset spending of circa 2 M euros?
Yes, in order to set up the two consulates to Schengen standards, 90% of the investment was covered by non-reimbursable external funding from the so-called “Schengen facility”, since Romania is expected to become part of the Schengen area next year.
The inauguration of these two consulates had become imperative in order to enable quality services for citizens from both sides of the river Prut.
Romanian citizenship being granted to Moldovans from across the Prut has stirred critical reactions in several EU countries when such intention was announced. ‘The example’ is now followed, by and large, by Hungary. In this context, do you believe certain reactions could emerge over the opening of the two consulates?
The two new offices will offer a wide range of consular services, such as the issuance of visas and small border traffic permits and ensuring consular protection and assistance to our own citizens.
Receiving applications for regaining Romanian citizenship is just another consular service offered, the MFA’s role in this case being limited to receiving the individual requests and additional paperwork, checking their authenticity and validity, collecting the consular taxes and sending the application files to the Ministry of Justice and the National Citizenship Authority for verification and resolution. Filing an application for re-acquiring the Romanian citizenship represents a consular service provided by these two offices. I believe one cannot estimate the number of future applications, as such prediction was not possible in the past, either.
The Romanian legislation on citizenship is fully in line with the existing international norms and standards in this field.
I want to underline that the Romanian law does not apply specifically to citizens of the Republic of Moldova – or, for that matter, of any specific country. It does not provide for a different, more favorable, regime based on ethnic criteria; nor does it contain any special regime designed for a community per se.
Some facilitation, of procedural nature, applies to former Romanian citizens (and to their descendents up to third-level kinship) who lost their citizenship due to historical circumstances independent of their own will.
This particular procedure (recovery of Romanian citizenship) takes into account a historical relationship that existed between these potential solicitants and Romania.
The Romanian legislation is not singular – many national legislations in Europe have similar provisions, establishing more relaxed conditions in certain cases well justified by the links that existed at some moment in time between the applicant and the State.
Consequently, we see no reason for any concern in respect of the bestowal of the Romanian citizenship.
Until the next elections in t Moldova, the situation in Romania’s neighbour country remains uncertain, and the relations of the ruling power in Chisinau with Moscow are more rigid, mainly after the interim president of the Republic of Moldova, Mihai Ghimpu, declared June 28 as Soviet Occupation Day. Could a potential change in political ruling over the Prut change relations with Romania yet again? Could we witness a return to the ‘cold war’ between Chisinau and Bucharest, similar to that during the presidential term of Vladimir Voronin?
Times when bilateral relations were judged according to a „zero sum game” philosophy are left in the past. I do not think that good relations with a state means „cooling” the relations with another one or viceversa. The democratic government in Chisinau demonstrated its balanced approach in managing the foreign relations of the Republic of Moldova. We are now witnessing an unprecedently open attitude of the important capitals towards the R. of Moldova. Nevertheless, the rather complicated history still influences the evolutions in the society of the Republic of Moldova, so I think that these issues should be kept within the domestic debate framework and not be left to become sources of unnecessary foreign reactions. I am confident that the actual government of the R. of Moldova will manage all the sensitivities in a manner that will generate a level of debate which will allow the society to become further consolidated.
When referring to the Republic of Moldova, Transnistria is an important element to be taken into consideration, as we are interested to a high degree in the stability and security in our close neighbourhood.
Following a period with lack of progress on the subject, Chancellor Merkel and President Medvedev have agreed on a Memorandum that includes references to the settlement of the Transnistrian issue. Regarding the Russian-German initiative on the subject we are ready to start a common assessment of this proposal and we hope that this will give a fresh new impulse to the process. “Pressing the reset button” in the US-Russia relations could be an advantage as well, so I think this is a dynamic overall context, a momentum that should be taken advantage of.
The “5+2” format is the only accepted framework for reaching a fair and long-lasting political agreement respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the R. of Moldova. It is necessary that 5+2 should become formal again.
How is the crisis affecting the bilateral economic relations between Romania and the Republic of Moldova? Or, in a wider framework, how is the crisis affecting the relations with Ukraine and Russia? Are we heading towards a South Stream at the expense of Nabucco?
The economic and financial crisis induced a 25% reduction in the bilateral trade between Romania and the Republic of Moldova in 2009, in comparison with 2008. While at the end of 2008 the bilateral trade flows registered an historical peak of 1.18 billion USD (with 830 millions USD exports and 350 millions USD imports) at the end of 2008 the total bilateral trade accounted for only 700 millions USD.
This trend was maintained in the first quarter of 2010, with a decrease of 20% of the bilateral trade compared with the first quarter of 2009, generated by a deep decrease in Romania’s imports.
The levels of the bilateral investment flows are also under the potential of the two economies. A number of 3,426 companies from the Republic of Moldova, with a total subscribed capital of 36.5 millions USD, are incorporated in Romania, representing the 38th place on the list of foreign investors in Romania, while a number of 650 Romanian companies, with a total capital of 68 million USD, are registered in the Republic of Moldova, placing Romania as the 9th foreign investor in the country, with a share of 4% of the whole foreign capital.
In conclusion, we are witnessing a difficult economic environment due to the economic crises. Therefore, we should use the current positive political relations to give the right signals and incentive to the business community in the two counties.
In this context, I would like to mention two events which have been organized during the second half of June. On June 16, a full day business meeting was organized by the American Chamber of Commerce in Romania and was attended by important US companies, established in Romania and the Republic of Moldova, together with their local counterparts. On June 24 / 25, as part of the “Moldova Business Week” event, a delegation of Romanian private business representatives, headed by the state secretary for foreign trade in Ministry of Economy, met their trade and economic cooperation partners in the Republic of Moldova, in order to discuss new common projects.
The bilateral economic relations with the Russian Federation and Ukraine were also negatively affected by the crisis in 2009. The bilateral trade with the Russian Federation reduced with 56,3% as a result of the reduction in imports and the bilateral trade with Ukraine reduced even dramatically, with 59,2% in 2009, in comparison to 2008.
These two markets have a great potential for the trade development and, therefore, I consider it is time to pass from the “row materials” stage in the bilateral trade, to a new stage, the one of the high value – added goods. Against this background, we will continue to work to improve the existing dialogue formats in the economic fields and to boost bilateral trade with both partners including by better valorizing the potential of interregional and cross-border cooperation.
During this year the project has continued to report important progress. A key phase of the project development is represented by the completion, in all partner states, of the ratification procedures of the Intergovernmental Nabucco Agreement that would allow its coming into force on 1st August 2010. This agreement represents the unitary legal framework needed as platform for the next project phases.
We are confident that, through a plus of coordination between all partner states and with the support of the European Commission, the positive trend of Nabucco will continue and the final investment decision will be taken by the end of this year.
Furthermore, once it will be operational, Nabucco project could represent an important source for the gas supply of the Republic of Moldova in the light of the future interconnection of our national gas transportation systems.
In what regards the South Stream project, it is in Romania’s interest to monitor the evolutions of all energy projects that could contribute, in perspective, to the European energy security. There are preliminary discussions about a possible transit through Romania of the pipeline, but any decision will be taken after a technical and economic opportunity study will be finalised.