20 February 2015 marks the 135th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United Kingdom and Romania. There have been numerous friendships forged during this period. Britons closely involved in the politics of the emerging independent state of Romania in the nineteenth century included the remarkable Maria Rosetti, born Marie Grant, the wife of C.A. Rosetti, who has a claim to the title of Romania’s first female journalist. And the adventurer Stephen Bartlett, better known as Mazar Pasha.
During the traumas of the First World War a century ago, Queen Marie, the wife of King Ferdinand I, who had been born in Kent in 1875, earned the nickname “Mama Răniților” for her efforts in support of injured Romanian troops. Other Britons to be found on the Romanian front included Dr Elsie Inglis and her nurses of the Scottish Womens’ Hospitals, the so-called “grey partridges”, who set up field hospitals across Dobrogea and Moldova, taking in Romanian, Serbian and Russian troops.
The British community in Bucharest in the late 1930s, as the storm clouds of the Second World War gathered, has been immortalised in The Balkan Trilogy novels of Olivia Manning. The British Council office in Bucharest, established in 1938, was one of the first in the world. And the British Council was closely involved in cultural exchanges during the years of communist dictatorship in Romania. Contacts which led, for example, to the establishment by the Poetry Society in London of the Corneliu M Popescu Prize, honouring the Romanian teenager who translated the poetry of Mihai Eminescu into English, but perished in the 1977 Bucharest earthquake.
Following the Romanian Revolution in 1989, British non-governmental organisations began crucial work in Romania, moved by the many areas of need which British fundraising and British expertise could address across the education and health sectors. Many Great Britons are still involved in the voluntary sector in Romania, doing great work across a range of causes. Just to give three examples: Stan Platt, of the Light Into Europe organisation, providing guide dogs for the visually impaired; Graham Perolls, of Hospices of Hope, which provide palliative care in Brasov and Bucharest; and John McKellar, whose Bridging the Gap organisation provides practical support to Romanian NGOs, for example on fundraising.
The bilateral relationship between Britain and Romania is guided by a strategic partnership which focuses on two broad areas: security and prosperity. Our security agenda is marked by excellent cooperation between British and Romanian law-enforcement agencies, whether tackling the threats of VAT fraud, organised crime, or working together to ensure that NATO remains equipped to respond to the threats of an unstable wider region.
As regards our prosperity agenda, British investment in Romania amounts to some 6.5 billion euro, with British companies such as Vodafone and Endava major employers of highly skilled Romanian workers. Bilateral trade reached 3 billion euro in 2014, and we’re working to develop this further. This includes through helping to improve the awareness of business opportunities in Romania among UK companies, for example through the High Growth Europe Showcase in November last year, organised by UK Trade and Investment and the Confederation of British Industry. Next month, we’re looking forward to welcoming more than 50 British companies to Bucharest, covering sectors ranging from energy to transport to waste management. This work also includes supporting the efforts that the Romanian government needs to take to improve the business climate, for example through a more stable and predictable legislative environment and continued work in tackling corruption, where the efforts of organisations such as the DNA were rightly praised in the latest report of the EU’s Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM).
Britain and Romania are fellow members of the European Union. More Romanians than ever before are working, studying and visiting the UK. Some have achieved great success in the UK, such as ballerina Alina Cojocaru, BAFTA-winning actress Anamaria Marinca, and violinist Remus Azoitei. Those who come to study and work are most welcome; the strong cooperation between Romanian and British police forces is helping to tackle the small minority of Romanian citizens who come to the UK to commit crime. As the visit in January of British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond demonstrated, we have much to discuss about working together to reform the European Union, including to support European competiveness, for example by building a true European single market in services, the digital agenda and energy.
Our partnership of 135 years standing is truly a partnership between friends. It continues to flourish.