Usually, we like to claim that nothing works well in Romania. But Dante Stein, Private Advisor to the Prime Minister, proved that this concept is wrong and with a lot of effort, planning and openness would work and that constructive things can be done in our country for the benefit of all citizens, starting from the Government and business sector to the regular guy. He came up with an idea which proved to be very effective. It is named Coalitia pentru Dezvoltarea Romaniei (CDR), and it is a private, non-political initiative, officially founded in April 2014, consisting of the most important organizations of the Romanian business environment. Its main purpose is to provide a cohesive basis for consultation with the Government and other public institutions on topics that impact the business and economic climate in Romania.
* CDR consists of 20 business associations, 17 organizations as associated members, aimed to be a common voice of the business community, to offer the private sector’s expertise within the consultation process regarding public policies and to promote a transparent consultative process.
* To achieve its objectives, CDR has set up ten working groups that are linked to the economic agenda and a wider, cross-Ministries agenda. These task forces are coordinated by leading experts in their field of activity, and task force members are delegated by participating organizations from the top management level.
* CDR task forces are: Agriculture, Capital Markets, Competitiveness & Investment Climate, Education & Entrepreneurship, Energy, EU Funds & Public Procurement, Finance & Taxation, Infrastructure & Transport, IT&C, SMEs.
– Why was CDR created?
– I noticed that there was a lack of dialogue between the Government and the business sector. Because the Government was used to issue laws that affected businesses and the businesses never had a real chance to communicate with the Government, the law maker, letting them know the problems that would appear if the law came out. In a modern society, there is interaction between main groups, the law maker, the private sector, the civil society. It should be a normal interaction. In Romania, we don’t have this habit in my opinion. So, I didn’t see any structure like this and so, I was in a meeting one day with the Prime Minister, in March 2013 – it was a meeting with the AmCham – the American Chamber of Commerce –a business representation, the companies that joined to gain a strong voice. During the meeting, the AmCham members addressed many, many questions to the Prime Minister and he gave all the answers he could and then proposed to organise a meeting of AmCham with the rest of ministers because he did not have all the technical details. The ministers should be met one after the other, for an hour. Somehow, it was his idea to form CDR; he gave us the original spark. Then, I imagined how the ministers and the Prime Minister would meet on that day with the AmCham but other businesses would also demand to meet AmCham, so we would have to meet again on Thursday with another representation, and on Friday again… So, this would be a big waste of time. Plus, it confuses the ministers because they would forward to one another different opinions and different ways. So, I proposed to the Prime Minister: “Would you allow me to ask these four main business representation to coagulate into one ‘Coalitia’?”.
– It was a simple idea. Was it effective?
– A simple idea, but very, very effective. Maybe this is the project I’m most proud of. Because it changed the way this society works.
– So, CDR was your idea…
– I’m a team player. I was the one who put all the ingredients together. I took the initial idea of the Prime Minister, which was a good idea but not super effective and I made it more effective. Six months earlier, the AmCham and the big heads also had intended to join forces, in order to gain more power in front of the Government but that idea never materialised. So, basically, after the Prime Minister approved the project, I went to each of these representations and convinced them that they are stronger if they are together. Some of them said “That’s a good idea!” some of them said “No, we don’t like it”, and some of them said “We’re not sure, let’s give it a chance”. Yet, I managed to convince everybody to give it a chance. I told them “What do you have to lose? You have no dialogue anyway”.
’CDR has to sustain the test of time by being very vocal, independent and strong’
– How long did it take to found CDR?
– It took several months because there is a certain amount of mistrust. Simultaneously, I met all ministers and I explained them the concept and that if they agreed to attend meetings with CDR, that would help them reach better, more solid decisions because it would be a dialogue, a partnership. Because it would take into account the issues of the business sector as well. All ministers agreed, the Prime Minister also issued a letter to them to make sure it was a strong amount of dialogue with the private sector because Prime Minister is a social democrat, like I am, but also a very pragmatic person. He knows that, in order to fund schools and hospitals, we need money. Money comes from businesses because they pay taxes. So I went to all ministers and explained the concept to each one of them and they agreed to participate. Now I had to define certain ground rules between the two forces, so that they could work together and one of the rules was that CDR should have what we call “task forces” on the specific issues pointed out by ministers. The other big issue was that there should be monthly meetings because, if there is no structure, no party will fulfil whatever was agreed. But in 30 days, we would sit again at a table, face to face, and the next month again and so on. This regular interval is good for any society, for any organisation. I want to mention that there was a gentleman, David Costello, the commercial attaché of the Irish Embassy who, while I was working for the side of the Government, helped me with the business sector side because there was an amount of mistrust. David Costello, who is now commercial attaché in Mexico, was instrumental in conveying the message to them that Dante Stein was not manipulating anybody and that he was trying to create something for the greater good. Then I insisted on having a memorandum between the Government and the business sector. CDR is composed of those task forces I mentioned earlier but also of the steering committee. While the task forces meeting ministers monthly, the steering committee meets the Prime Minister every month. I don’t know of any regular form of dialogue between the private sector and the Government in the history of modern Romania.
– There was none.
– There was none. There were several attempts but they never worked because those were intiatives of the Prime Minister, of Boc, of Ungureanu, of Tariceanu or whoever. They all tried to do something but the ideas died because the Prime Minister went out.
– This is a challenge right now, too. What happens with CDR if Victor Ponta ceases being Prime Minister?
– I keep saying at the steering committee meetings that CDR must survive this and any future Prime Minister. It will come because it is natural. And the only way to survive is to understand, first of all, that this is a Government initiative. CDR was created. In this vacuum something sparked and light was created. And it exists now. CDR has to sustain the test of time by being very vocal – in a constructive way -, independent and strong. Because the next Prime Minister is already among us, he is already hearing about CDR. He has the option to say “I don’t care about this”, but if CDR is very vocal the next person will have to reckon with it. Because this is the representative of businesses. It is also very important to say that is not a lobby entity and any member that would be found to do lobby will be fired because this is really only about creating a better framework for Romania. It should not work for a certain company or a business sector.
’ No country can survive without a vibrant and competitive economy’
– Can you give me an example of how CDR works in order to understand its activity? Does the Government come with an idea and ask for the opinion of the members of CDR or the other way round?
– It’s a two way street. Sometimes, in a meeting, the minister says “Look, I have this in mind, I have a problem, this costs us too much money and we cannot afford it” and says to CDR: “Have a look at this and give me an advice on how to manage it in the best possible way”. And they come back a month later and they can present the solution. Of course, afterwards is up to the minister to decide. Or CDR comes to the meeting and says “Listen, we do not agree or we do not like this idea, we think it is not good for Romania”. The insolvency law, for example, was conceived in a way that, after CDR saw the first draft, they said: “No, it cannot be done like this”.
– CDR seems to be something new for us, a missing link in Romania.
– It is something that I am most proud of. When I will leave Romania one day, I will say “It is ok, I did one good thing” because it changed the way the society is worked. Of course, it also works because the Prime Minister is a young person, very pragmatic and extremely open. For example, yesterday, in a meeting, CDR said “This does not work because it takes forty five days and the European average is twelve days. Why forty-five days in Romania?” He went to the minister and said “Why forty five days?” and the minister said “I don’t know”. “I want you to check it out, and if it makes sense in twelve days, I want it next week on my desk”. This is a great feeling for me because this “vehicle” changed the daily lives of millions.
– What are the big plans of CDR this year?
– CDR does not have a big plan. It has a number of issues, such as stability for example, tax stability.The plan of CDR is to make sure that the system called Romania works, following Europe’s best practices. To make sure that all the future Governments do the right thing, which is good for the country and therefore for the people. We can talk, but if we don’t have companies that generate profits, taxes, that hire people, no country can survive without a vibrant and competitive economy. Then we can be generous with social cases, the health department and all the things we want.
“There are about a hundred persons in CDR working actually for Romania, free of charge”
– You had almost twenty meeting so far with the Prime Minister. Were they successful?
– We had seventeen or eighteen meeting with the Prime Minister and so far we managed to fix many things. Many things that, maybe, without CDR, could not have been fixed. The segments of the economy have many issues that need to be solved and, one by one, they are solved by these meetings with the Prime Minister.
– So you proved that something can be done in Romania.
– Yes. With no money. And you cannot measure the profit. There are about a hundred persons in CDR working actually for Romania, free of charge. All of these consultations are free of charge, yet this amount of work is worth many, many millions. Normally, you would have to pay money to counselling companies. So we save a lot of money. Is a win-win thing and there is no downside.
– Do you have a collaboration with similar coalitions from other countries?
– No, not with other countries, but in CDR now we have the four big organisations, we have twenty business associations, eighteen observers and task forces and one meta task force. The steering committee has a rotating chairmanship, so, for six months it is led by AmCham, for other six months by AOAR(Romanian Businessmen Assocition – n.r.), for six months by RBL (Romanian Business Leaders – n.r.) and for the next six months by FIC (Foreign Investors Council – n.r.).