Ireland and Romania established diplomatic relations with each other only 26 years ago. That is how new our bilateral relationship is. It is rewarding to see how much has happened over the past 26 years to solidify and strengthen our relationship, which continues to flourish.
The 1st of January 2007 was the single most important occasion in the history of Romania-Ireland bilateral relations. On that day, Romania acceded to the European Union, joining us in a family of nations working together for the betterment of our countries and our peoples. It was a great day for Romania, but also a great day for the EU because it showed the world once again the attractiveness and the value of the EU project. Other EU qualities such as resilience have been strongly demonstrated over the past year, as the Union has grappled with an unprecedented migration crisis. Recent events have also reminded us that it is only by working together, supporting each other and sharing the burden that we can overcome the challenges that are regularly thrown at us.
Over the past nine years, membership of the EU has proven to be very good for Romania. EU funds have been a contributory factor to the strength of Romania’s economy, which is now recording one of the highest growth rates in Europe. Encouraged and supported by the EU, Romania has taken huge strides forward in areas such as judicial reform and the fight against corruption. In welcoming the EU Commission’s 2015 Report under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism, the Council of the EU recently commended the continued trend of significant progress demonstrated by Romania in many areas which, it said, heralded an increasing sustainability of reforms. The Council also noted that, during 2015, action taken by key Romanian judicial and integrity institutions to address high-level corruption had maintained an impressive momentum. High praise indeed.
EU membership has also been very rewarding for Ireland. It helped our economy to recover and begin growing again following a very severe setback in 2007 and 2008, involving a collapse in construction activity and in the banking system and resulting in our being assisted by the EU/IMF from 2010 to 2013. Indeed, our economy has successfully rebounded to such an extent that, at 7.8% last year, it is the fastest growing one in Europe. The European Commission’s expectation is that Ireland will maintain that position this year and in 2017. This remarkable recovery can also be attributed to the underlying strengths of the Irish economy, to the deliberate, although sometimes painful, policy decisions of the Irish Government and to the resilience of the Irish people.
Just as Romania’s and Ireland’s economies are both growing strongly and steadily, our bilateral relationship is continuing to grow. Over the past year a number of major new investments have been made in Romania by Irish companies, household names in Ireland, such as CRH and Origin.
And of course Ryanair, which has been here for a number of years, recently announced the decision to locate 3 of its aircraft at Henri Coandă International Airport from next October. It will also increase the number of its internal and international routes from Romanian airports. This will bring more revenue to the airports, more airline jobs to Bucharest and Timişoara and more tourists and business people to Romania generally.
There are many other examples of large and small Irish companies that have established a presence in Romania including Smurfit Kappa, ICON, Kingspan, e-Frontiers and Taxback International. An Irish investment company, Caelum Development, is a major partner in the development of the new ParkLake shopping centre due to open in Bucharest Sector 3 in September. I understand that it will be on a par with the other major and highly successful shopping malls already established here in Bucharest.
I am fully convinced that the Romanian-Irish bilateral relationship will continue to thrive and grow. The large size of the Romanian community in Ireland will, I believe, accelerate this process in the future. The fact that there are direct flights between Dublin and Bucharest almost every day, most of them full to capacity, guarantees that.