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June 26, 2022

Fits of patriotism

The Schengen accession theme has occupied media space in overwhelming proportions. It is interesting to note that a majority of politicians look at the possibility of missing of the objective in May 2011 as a matter of life and death, although things are far from being that disastrous if assessed by a cool mind. Naturally, as the various commentators say, the sine die suspension of the country’s accession to the Schengen area is, indeed, the most resounding failure of Romanian foreign policy since the 1989 Revolution. True rankings could be put together when it comes to failures, though. Things are somewhat harder with successes, for those are so much fewer. The most important success is the EU membership. But, as the West suggests (and as we also knew…), that particular success was not necessarily Bucharest’s achievement, but rather Brussels’s wish not to leave two underperforming countries out, in the hope that the ‘students’ would come around.

But, in the context of the economic crisis affecting the European continent and not only, Romania and Bulgaria are seen with less indulgence. This is why the Schengen moment comes ‘to set things right’. France and Germany, as well as three other countries in the West of Europe, are no more willing to make concessions.

In this framework, Romanian officials’ small fits of patriotism are difficult to understand. On the one hand, annoyed by the situation, President Traian Basescu instructs the Government not to use the EUR 271 M allocated under the 2011 state budget on the EADS border security contract until we know for certain the date of our accession to Schengen. Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi, in turn, came out with rather uninspired statements, on the very first days of the new year, threatening Brussels to denounce the mechanism for co-operation and verification (MCV) in the area of justice and to block Croatia’s accession to the Union. The other day, on RFI radio station, Social-Democratic MEP Adrian Severin (ex-foreign minister) was actually lashing out at France, country that, according to him, should be removed from the Schengen area itself over corruption. Our strategic partnership with France is dead, Paris is in no moral position to lecture Romania on anti-graft efforts and an eventual termination of the MCV would bear no consequence, Adrian Severin was saying. Moreover, the Romanian MEP also claimed Romania should pull out of the International Organisation of La Francophonie.

“The concern of Western chancelleries is about the workers and not the technical equipment. And Romanian workers in such fields do not appear to have had a radical change of mindset.”

Such tit-for-tat outbursts have nothing to do, to the best of our knowledge, with positive diplomacy, as long as Romania is the one seeking accession to the Schengen exclusive club and not the other way around. On the other hand, as far as we are aware, commercial agreements may not be unilaterally rescinded. Of course, we don’t have all the details, but, if relations with EADS invoked by the president are already covered by legally bound agreements, his instructing the Government to re-direct the specific allocation is just propaganda for the ‘domestic market’ and nothing that could possibly be implemented. As a former ambassador to the Holy See and Paris with enviable diplomatic experience, FM Baconschi turned out to be excessively impulsive in managing a so-called crisis – the main victim of which he and his ministry could eventually become by missing the most important objective of the moment. Getting out of the MCV is a virtually impossible procedure, specialists say, and Croatia should not be punished for Bucharest’s poor capability of adjustment to European requirements. As for ex-FM Adrian Severin, while being quite well-known for his poignant statements over the years, his current capacity as a member of the European Parliament should, perhaps, call for a more reserved stance.

As we were saying on other occasions, the anticipated Schengen failure is one of both foreign and domestic policy. At a national level, the justice system is still short of fairness, efficiency and organisation. The European Commission seems to be unwilling to change its critical tone on Romanian judiciary. The Romanian administration is still perceived as corrupt and bureaucratic. The ministry of interior claims that, following massive investment in modernising customs, airports and border police, as well as in capabilities for issuing IDs and digital personal identification at Schengen standards, Romania is ready to join the free European area. However, the most widely given negative example concerns the customs, successfully penetrated by thousands of smuggled cigarettes. The concern of Western chancelleries is about the workers and not the technical equipment. And Romanian workers in such fields do not appear to have had a radical change of mindset.

Hence the reaction of the opposition, demanding the resignation of the ministers of interior, foreign affairs and justice. At the recent Supreme Magistracy Council (CSM) meeting, President Traian Basescu anyway said he was willing to take responsibility, as the head of the state, for a possible failure with the Schengen accession. Since then, everybody has been wondering about what he understands by taking responsibility. Resignation is obviously not among the president’s options.

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