* By Cyril Muller, World Bank Vice President for Europe and Central Asia
This is an opportunity to put into perspective the World Bank’s contributions in Romania over the last 25 years, and it is a forum for us all to look towards the future and understand what it will take to build a stronger, more prosperous, and more inclusive Romania.
I have travelled to Romania several times in my life, including when I was a young student. Every time I return, I witness Romania’s progress and I see improvements in the lives of Romanian citizens. I am proud to say that during the 25 years of partnership that we are celebrating today, the World Bank has been a trusted partner to support Romania in tackling some of the most difficult challenges it faced.
The World Bank’s cooperation with Romania started in 1972 when Romania joined IBRD. Our first loan amounting to $60 million was provided for the Tecuci Fertilizer Plant in 1974. We supported emergency reconstruction after floods and the earthquake of 1978, as well as investments in agriculture, energy, water supply and other sectors.
But it is really in the 1990s that we can start speaking of the partnership that we are celebrating today. The early governments of the 1990s were faced with the task of transitioning the country to a market-based economy while protecting those who were vulnerable either in their jobs or their lives.
That is when we resumed lending and advice and opened our office in Bucharest, in the fall of 1991, in a Villa on Dacia Street. Since then the World Bank has been a partner for Romania in most milestones of its transformation and development trajectory.
Back in the 1990s, the Bank provided support for $3 billion in loans and grants for projects and budget support. More than twenty projects were implemented to support Romania’s transition and to provide critically-needed investments in health, education, social protection, child welfare, cultural heritage, and biodiversity preservation.
After the December 1999 decision of the European Union to open accession negotiations with Romania, the collective will of Romanians to become an EU member state, gave impetus to accelerate the transformation and building of institutions. Hence, the World Bank’s engagement shifted to institution-strengthening and governance reforms, while we continued to implement new projects supporting critical sectors to prepare the country for EU accession.
Allow me to mention just a few, although this does not do justice to all the areas left unmentioned:
In the justice sector, the Bank helped with overhauling the legislation governing the Superior Council of the Magistracy, which gave magistrates more independence and fueled the justice reform that Romania is being applauded for today.
In energy, the Bank supported the liberalization of tariffs for gas and electricity and the privatization and public offering of the most important companies in the sector. As a result, Romania is now one of the least dependent EU members on foreign energy resources, with a dynamic energy market, competitive tariffs and a legal framework aligned with the EU’s Third Energy Package.
In education, the Bank helped with the establishment of the first curriculum framework – using for the first time the word curriculum in education. Support was provided for the rehabilitation of more than a thousand pre-university schools and for the integration of ICT at school level.
As EU accession neared, Romania experienced an economic boom, which was halted by the global financial crisis. We adjusted our program to accelerate the recovery and build resilience against future crises.
Since 2010 we have transformed again our work programs, and in addition to our more traditional instruments of policy and investment loans, we stepped up our efforts to provide technical assistance and advice, expanded the office in Bucharest, and made a major effort to support Romania make full use of its EU membership.
Two Memoranda of Understanding were signed, in 2012 and a second one in January 2016.
Since 2011 we implemented more than 50 technical assistance agreements (RAS) for an amount of over US$80 million, offering strategic and practical advice to more than 22 line ministries and government institutions. We mobilized more than 800 experts, produced around 500 outputs, in areas going from support to the preparation of the country’s new poverty reduction and social inclusion strategy, to the new climate change strategy, four education strategies, support to the strengthening of the center of government, and so on.
Over the past twenty-five years, the World Bank has provided over $12.5 billion dollars to Romania and helped implement more than 95 projects. We can all stand proud of the results achieved and take this record to shape ambitious future program with the same results focus.
I could not finish without thanking all of the stakeholders/people of Romania and my colleagues who invested their ideas, energy and hard work to achieve these impressive results. Romania today is a very different country from the one I visited in 1980. Let’s continue in this trend and achieve prosperity for all in the next 10 years. These last twenty-five years have been an amazing journey for Romania and we are happy to have been a partner for some of its most memorable successes.
*Speech delivered at the Anniversary Conference, hosted by the Cotroceni Presidential Palace, November 1 2016, Bucharest