by Philippe Beke, Ambassador of Belgium
Every year on the 11th of November, the world wakes up recalling the end of the First World War in 1918. In 2014 we commemorate how 100 years ago the world got stunned with the ignition of the Great War leaving after four years massive destruction and numerous of deaths and injured behind. To remember the first months of this tragedy, on the 18th of October 8.400 torches were lit along the 84 km long track of the frontline from the seaside in Nieuwpoort to The Memorial of the Missing in the bordertown of Ploegsteert. In presence of King Philippe and Queen Mathilde, young Princess Elisabeth added her voice to the ceremony with a remarkable speech, written herself, in the three official Belgian languages.
Every year in recent history, King’s Day is celebrated on the 15th of November in Belgium, referring to the name day of the three Belgian Kings Leopold. King’s day 2014 picks up a common Belgian-Romanian memory, referring to the warning King Carol I of Romania sent to King Albert I of Belgium just a few days before hostilities started on Belgian soil beginning of August 1914. The bilateral relations from that moment onwards had a stronger political connotation, confirmed at several occasions with mutual bilateral high-level visits, from the visit 90 years ago of King Ferdinand the 1st and Queen Maria in 1924 to Brussels, to the visit in 2010 of King Albert II and Queen Paola to Bucharest.
The year 2014 marks 25 years of another common Belgian-Romanian memory. Belgian civil society followed by 250 Belgian municipalities supported the reaction in Romania against the urbanization program in 1989. To honour those that have taken part in this action, several events have been scheduled this year in Belgium and Romania. Looking back to 25 years of Romanian revolution obliges us to keep a moment of silence to remember all those that have left their lives for freedom and democracy. One of these victims was Belgian journalist Danny Huwe, who was in Bucharest in December 1989 to cover the events for the Belgian broadcaster VTM TV. On the 23rd of December he was shot dead in still unclear circumstances in sector 6. He left many friends behind, but above all became a symbol for free press in danger zones.
In the year after the first activities to recall 175 years of Belgian-Romanian official relations, we may look back to 1914 when Belgian economic presence successfully followed the course in Romania of its first initiatives in oil, sugar refinery, cement, tramways and metal works. The Belgian economic presence in the Interbellum even grew stronger with in particular further investments in oil, power plants and tramways, sugar refinery, cement, chemical industry and metal works. By 1938 Belgian companies had achieved high visibility providing a job to some 17.000 Romanians. In 2014, again Belgian economic presence has gained strength with a projected year on year third record in a row for bilateral trade, exceeding two billion Euro. Belgian companies are present in distribution, logistics, electronics, agriculture, special textiles, ICT, cardboard and plasterboard. Recalling that FDI is indeed a macro-economic indicator, it is nevertheless worthwhile to note that Belgium progressed from 2011 when it occupied the 21st FDI position, to the 12th FDI position in 2014. Following the increased economic activities, new jobs were created, doubling from 2011 to 2014 the number of staff from 11.000 to 22.000. Let me also indicate that no Belgian company has left Romania since 2011, on the contrary, most of the production sites and services providers expanded their activities.
Business attaches great importance to the rule of law, next to decent infrastructure and solid administrative capacities. After seven years of common history within the EU, it is fair to say that in particular in these three fields progress could be acknowledged. Private sector and public sector have both an important role to play in the economy. Although in the recent past engaging in Romanian public sector was not an easy task, it is believed that mutual cooperation can lead to stronger public service which should in the first place aim to improve the quality of life of the citizen. The Belgian-Romanian Business Association (BEROBA) supports therefore Coalitia, the major Romanian business platform in the country, which has proven that working together with the government can be beneficial for all parties concerned.
The year 2014 also woke us up on the Eastern borders of the EU. Nonetheless existing antagonisms, political engagement would gain confidence from an objective communication. The European Association Agreement is not a choice between a EU or a Russian model, but about coexistence within a wider European common destiny, seeking on the long run democracy, transparency in the political environment and quality of life. That is why Belgium strongly supports the appropriate implementation of the Association Agreement with the Republic of Moldova, which will be a cornerstone in its European integration.
After the elections on the 25th of May, 2014 a new government on national and regional level was constituted. The new Belgian government is expecting to boost entrepreneurship and seek for stronger Belgian economic activities. These expectations can only bear fruits in a global European environment which is equally seeking to improve the economic position of Europe in the world. Let us all work together with the new European Commission presided by Jean-Claude Juncker, in order to strive for the best possible leveling playing field which should enable 500 million Europeans to regain confidence in the future.