The anniversary of 135 years of official diplomatic relations between Romania and Belgium provides a timely opportunity to share with the distinguished public of Nine O’Clock magazine the richness of this relationship, although difficult to summarize in a few words. In 1880, Romania acquired international recognition as a state and initiated diplomatic relations with a number of European states. As the readers have probably noticed, several 135-year anniversaries are celebrated in 2015 in our country. Romania – Belgium connections can be defined today, in my view, as a comprehensive relationship between two medium-sized countries. This relationship encompasses everything, from a problem-free political dialogue, strong economic ties, substantial local bilateral partnerships, to common science and research projects, training, a completely free movement of workers, shared culture, and numerous people-to-people contacts from Brussels, Flanders or Wallonia to nearly all the regions in Romania.
Our countries’ foreign policy and international posture are fundamentally shaped by three factors: their EU membership and the way our two countries imagine and work for EU’s future, their allied status within NATO and their attachment to international law and multilateralism. As EU members, there are many fields and policies in which our interests converge; in a few others, distance matters perhaps, but there are many channels for listening and understanding each other’s positions in order to bring them closer.
In economics, trends are positive and significant: Belgium is today among the top 10 foreign director investors in Romania, while bilateral trade surpassed annually 2 billion euros, for the last two years. What I find important is not only quantity, but also quality of investments; to give just a few examples (given that I do not want to be unfair to so many others who create growth and jobs in Romania): Delhaize, through Mega Image, is one of the most dynamic retailers in Romania, or Allianso, with the West Ploiesti Industrial Park, or Essers, which made Romania their second global hub in intermodal transport, or Agrobirda of the Riga brothers, who developed a state-of-the-art, 21st century agricultural exploitation in Western Romania (Timis).
At the same time, more and more of my compatriots have settled in Belgium for making a career or fulfil their personal dreams. Some of them have set up SMEs or gained top positions in bigger companies. They all contribute to the development of Belgium and some day, hopefully, some of them will decide to return to Romania and become an engine of growth and further modernisation of the country.
These elements are rather widely known. Yet, as Romania’s Ambassador in Belgium, I have discovered much more about these relations, an insight that is worthy to share with the public. During the last 25 years, local-to-local and people-to-people contacts between our two countries have diversified and multiplied beyond any estimates. When in the late 1980’s Ceausescu regime decided to destroy rural areas in an absurd systematization process, Belgian civil society reacted massively. Their amazing solidarity created Opération Villages Roumains and Actie Dorpen Roemenie, a process, further on structured as NGO’s, meant to safeguard the Romanian heritage in the rural world. Hundreds of Belgian municipalities adopted Romanian ones, thereby sending their citizens to visit Romania. At the beginning, the logic that underpinned those connections was humanitarian aid, but later on, as Romania evolved, these hundreds of jumellages evolved towards projects for empowering Romanian civil society, for community building, durable development and eco-tourism. With Romania’s accession to the EU, this umbrella of decentralized cooperation became a structured process of local authorities and communities cooperation from both countries, named the Romania – Belgium Forum for decentralized cooperation. The forum is heading towards the 5th edition this year, in November, in Iasi.
Celebrating 135 years of diplomatic relations between Romania and Belgium means also looking for the future: it brings excellent prospects for deepening and further diversifying cooperation, while simultaneously reminding us of the existing mutual trust, shared approaches, and valuable models. Romania and Belgium are two countries with European vocation, faithful to a European project that is visionary and inclusive. They are brought together in a solid and long-lasting partnership, which can act for a stronger, united Europe, able to ensure prosperity, social harmony and security on our continent.
Romania – Belgium Forum of Decentralized Cooperation
The Romania – Belgium Forum of Decentralized Cooperation offers a unique platform for bilateral interaction at the local and regional level, as well as an opportunity to exchange best practices and explore new initiatives. This type of cooperation continues to be particularly relevant especially in the context where Romania has launched the reform of the local administration targeting a stronger commitment of the local authorities in the process of modernization and development of the Romanian society. So far, there have been four editions of the Forum: in Brussels (2006), in Caras-Severin (2008), in Arad (2010) and in Leuven (2013). The 5th edition of the Forum will be organized this year in Iaşi (5-7 November 2015). For more information, visit the Forum’s site: http://www.fobero.eu/
The Romania – Belgium Business Club
In 2009, the RO-BE Business Club was set up as a flexible entity aimed primarily at facilitating trade and investments between Romania and Belgium. In 2012, new factors favored the revival of the initiative with the support of the Embassy of Romania in Belgium. It was re-branded as the Belgian-Romanian Business Club (CAROMB). The club main goals, to this day, are to further enhance bilateral business relations by, inter alia:
- disseminating Belgian success stories from Romania;
- attracting potential new investors in Romania;
- opening Belgian market perspectives for Romanian entrepreneurs.
CAROMB has been active for more than two years and is continuously engaged in building up an open business network for investors, entrepreneurs and managers currently operating between Belgium and Romania or interested in developing business projects between the two countries. The Club organizes quarterly thematic meetings, as well as other events with a business focus, with special guests from Romania and Belgium. For more information about the Club, visit its website www.caromb.eu.