135 years ago, on 20 February 1880, diplomatic relations at the level of legations led by Plenipotentiary Ministers were established between Romania and the United Kingdom. The same day British, French and German diplomatic representatives in Bucharest handed over to the Romanian minister for foreign affairs Notes of recognition of Romania as an independent state. In his speech on that occasion, King Carol I expressed his joy “to see the establishment of the best relations between Romania and Great Britain, hoping that the friendly connections existing between the two countries will be strongly consolidated in the future”.
However, 135 years is too short to understand the depth of the relationship between Romania and the UK. If we go right back into ancient history we find that our two peoples were part of the same single political entity in Europe, the Roman Empire, and there is evidence that when the Romans have built the Hadrian Wall, Dacian troops from modern-day Romania were among the constructors. Tombs of Dacian soldiers and written stones from the Hadrian Wall in Newcastle prove their presence in Britain for several generations. One of these inscriptions in stone, dated AD 219, says: “Under Modius Julius, legate of the emperor with pro-praetorian power, the First Aelian Cohort of Dacians built this, under the command of the tribune Marcus Claudius Menander.”
The British Library’s collections include books and maps confirming that cultural and economic links between our countries are much older than their diplomatic relations. For instance, commercial privileges were granted to the British merchants in the 16th century, in a document signed by the British ambassador in Constantinople and the ruler of the Principality of Moldova.
Since the time of Vlad the Impaler, the Romanian principalities formed the front line between the West and the East, between the Habsburg, Russian and Ottoman Empires, with Romanian Princes fiercely defending their lands against foreign invaders. As the Ottoman Empire crumbled, Romania acquired a vital strategic importance to British interests in the Bosphorus Straits and the Black Sea, so much so that London sent a vast army to Crimea to halt the Russians’ advance into the Danube basin, and in so doing created the conditions for the union of Wallachia and Moldova, two of the three Romanian principalities, and the birth of the modern Romanian State on the 24th January 1859 (Transylvania united with Romania on 1st December 1918).
The 19th Century represents an important moment in the evolution of our bilateral relations. In January 1803 the UK established in Bucharest its first official Diplomatic Mission, the British Consulate in Wallachia, and in March 1814 a second British Consulate was created in Moldova. Romania and the United Kingdom signed the first modern bilateral Treaty of Trade and Navigation in 1880 and at the beginning of their diplomatic relations the two countries were also closely linked through their Royal families, Queen Maria of Romania being British by birth and grand daughter of Queen Victoria. At the start of the First World War Queen Maria strongly advocated entering the war on the British camp and 800,000 Romanian soldiers fought on the Entente side, with more than 335,000 of them making the ultimate sacrifice – 6% of all military deaths in WW I.
Between the two World Wars, Romanian diplomat Nicolae Titulescu and one of the brightest European minds of his time, twice elected President of the League of Nations, was our ambassador to the Court of St. James’s. The bilateral relations were so close that Romania was offered the privilege to acquire one of the most beautiful and prestigious venues in London to serve as residence for its ambassadors, 1 Belgrave Square, where in 1939 Romanian Foreign Minister Grigore Gafencu met First Lord of Admiralty Winston Churchill. A picture of the meeting, which I found in a private collection 70 years later, is on my desk and in 2009 I had the privilege to welcome Lady Mary Soames, Sir Winston’s daughter, to the same room in 1 Belgrave Square.
During the Second World War our traditional alliance was challenged because on 22 June 1941 Romania entered the war against the Soviet Union in order to retake the Romanian provinces Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina, occupied by Stalin in 1940. Romania and Britain ended the WW II as allies once again, but for the next 42 years cooperation was shadowed by ideological differences. Still, even during the Cold War we pursued cultural exchanges, undercutting policy differences to reach our common heritage, traditions and the common humanity our people share.
Today we are part of a unified Europe once again, our alliance is fully restored and the Strategic Partnership established in 2003 is closer than ever. The UK has strongly supported Romania’s accession to NATO and to the EU and has been very much part of our success. The development of bilateral relations is mirrored by the quality of cooperation and diversity of common interests. If in ancient times Dacians built the Hadrian Wall, in 2012 their Romanian descendants were among the constructors of the Olympic Village in London. 7,000 Romanian students fill the classrooms of British universities, 4,000 Romanian doctors and nurses work in the NHS and thousands of Romanians are among those who make the City of London the centre of the international financial and commercial diplomacy. More than 3,000 Britons live in Romania and contribute to its vibrant economic and cultural life.
Last Christmas we marked another anniversary: 25 years since the end of Communism in Romania. This remarkable event transformed our relationship. After decades living under a repressive and destructive regime, Romanians asserted their true values of democracy and respect for human rights, and claimed back their place in Europe.
Romania is today an enormous asset to the EU and to NATO, and therefore to the UK. Now as in medieval times, Romania is a Western country with an Eastern aspect, a partner that offers the EU a gateway to the Black Sea and a security provider in the region. Romania is also the place of a priceless natural treasure and a paradise of ancient architecture, and I can only express gratitude and admiration to HRH The Prince of Wales for his passionate commitment in preserving, for the generations to come, of the nature, traditions and fabulous heritage of my country.
Romania and the UK sit at opposite ends of the continent but our perspectives are startlingly similar. We share a common vision of a more open Europe fit to compete in the global world of the future, and we work together to achieve security and countering terrorism. There is much we can do together to make our vision of Europe a reality and I believe this is the legacy of 135 years of bilateral diplomatic relations.