DIPLOMACY SUPPLEMENTS

Luminita Odobescu, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Romania to the EU: Romania after 10 years of EU membership, a view from Brussels

Romania celebrates this year the tenth anniversary of its accession to the European Union. It is an important and symbolic landmark that offers the opportunity to assess the evolution undertaken since that moment and the progress achieved.

Any anniversary, regardless of what it refers to, is usually seen in terms of changes and improvements. One should expect that the 10th anniversary of the Romania’s accession to the EU be no different from other anniversaries: how was (in this case) Romania 10 years ago and how is it faring today. The difference represents more or less an answer to the question of assessing the transformation since the starting moment. The problem with this approach is that it mainly takes into account basically two still, frozen pictures – 2007 versus 2017, – neither of which is actually true, because each one really has some moving parts.

Romania was already in a process of transformation in 2007, as was the EU, and that is the case in 2017 too, for both of them. Therefore, to be more accurate one would need to bring into discussion concepts such as the acceleration of changes starting with 2007 or the perception of such changes, but this would require a research, perhaps of a scientific nature, broader than the scope of this article. One would also need to take into account those characteristics which remained the same during this period.

So what could be the relevance of such an assessment, if it is not an entirely rigorous one? To the extent that one remains realistic about the quality of both pictures, such an assessment remains relevant because it offers a broad indication, an idea about the direction. If the changes are deemed positive, then we are talking about progress,  which is definitely the case for Romania’s accession to the EU.

The whole accession process that involved constant preparations undertaken in a consensual manner the by Romania. As such, 2007 is only a formal benchmark/deadline, because some of the processes associated with the EU integration were already in place years prior to the accession, while some of them started only afterwards.

The EU accession marked the formal fulfilment of a national project – a symbolic reintegration with a Europe of a particular set of values and a way of life, which since the dawn of modernity were considered by Romanians as being their own. It was a second project of this kind – that of the accession to NATO, equally and widely supported by the public opinion.  EU and NATO accession were the most important moments in the history of modern Romania, shaping significantly our lives.

The accession confirmed the efforts made previously by our country as regards democratic transformation and the transition towards a market economy, but also enhanced the convergence process both economically and socially with the rest of the EU. It acknowledged a degree of maturity of the Romanian society and administration and their readiness to share and make their own European values, objectives and, of course, governing rules (the acquis).

In foreign policy, we were already very active. Security-wise, as part of NATO, the UN or the OSCE we were actively engaged in activities with objectives very much similar with those of the EU Security Strategy of 2003 – for example, we were part of the NATO’s operations in Afghanistan or in the Mediterranean, we supported the UN peace-keeping efforts, and we were active in the OSCE missions in the Western Balkans. Complementarity of efforts, cooperation and solidarity remain key aspects particularly in a complex context such as the present one, marked by various challenges that require strong coordination and partnership.

Equally, strong relationships that Romania was already promoting before joining the EU, like the one with the Republic of Moldova, gained additional dimensions. For instance, in partnership with France, Romania has chaired the Group for European Action of the Republic of Moldova with ministerial meetings in the margins of the Foreign Affairs Council that allowed substantial exchanges between European counterparts and high officials from the Republic of Moldova, strengthening the ties between the Republic of Moldova and the EU.

European integration is an ongoing process, challenging at times, affecting in many ways the everyday lives of the Romanian citizens which are, since 2007, European citizens as well. Being part of the EU brought numerous advantages to the Romanian citizens, the most important one being free movement. Numerous citizens chose during this period to move, work, travel or study in another EU country, bringing added value to the economies and societies of those countries, but also to Romania. Workers from our country gained full access to the labour markets of all member states in 2014, allowing them to prove their expertise and skills in a different environment. In order to tackle the side effect of this process – the risk of brain drain –, several initiatives for encouraging the return of Romanians leaving aboard have been developed.

Economic development was fostered by the accession to the EU via increased investments (for example in the automotive industry or in the IT sector), but also by the use of European funds. The cohesion policy had a major contribution to growth and jobs, in all member states, including our country, reducing at the same time the development disparities between regions. The results of this policy are visible, measurable, the positive impact of this policy being visible especially during the economic crisis.

The benefits of the Cohesion policy – as the main investment policy at the EU level, – are also visible all across Romania. Investments are made mainly in the areas of transport (including expansion of airports), support to enterprise, environment, social infrastructure and social inclusion of disadvantaged people. Among the key achievements of the Cohesion policy in Romania could be mentioned  jobs creation,  support for SMEs,  new roads constructed and  upgraded, railways lines upgraded, modernized school and hospitals. But the support of the cohesion policy means also support to strengthen of the administrative capacity and improved cooperation.

Developing the energy network infrastructure has been as well an important objective of Romania in this period, in line with the aim of reaching a fully functional Energy Union.  We intend to promote our role as a regional energy hub through the development of gas interconnections with our neighbours (Bulgaria, Hungary, the Republic of Moldova). Also, the EU grant (179 million euro) for the Romanian section of BRUA (Bulgaria-Romania-Hungary-Austria) pipeline reflects the importance given to this project on the EU energy map. The BRUA project will increase the security of supply of the region, by ensuring a better interconnectivity and access to diversified gas supply sources and routes. For the coming years, we envisage to make use of the Black Sea potential in terms of gas resources for increasing the security of supply in the region.

There are areas were the European integration is not complete, be it the Eurozone, the Schengen area or the transitional periods that still apply in some environment related areas (although they will soon reach their deadline 2017/2018).

But, Romania has and is making consistent efforts to bridge the existing gaps. It was and it remains of political importance for us to be part of major political European initiatives aimed at driving forward the common undertakings of the member states in fostering economic growth, combating unemployment and bringing citizens closer to the Union. Examples are our commitments related to the former Euro Plus Pact or the Fiscal Compact. Among other initiatives, they reflect our willingness to be there and to put in the necessary efforts in order to make steps towards economic and social convergence.

Against this background, in 2017 Romania is in many ways a different country, one that succeeded in being the fastest growing economy in the EU (one has to recognize that this is possible inter alia because we are part of the European market and know how to take advantage of the incentives provided by our EU membership).

We have learnt and adapted to the intricacies of the how the “system” works in Brussels, and therefore become part of the decision process: we are therefore now in a position to claim the privilege and the duty of holding the rotating Presidency of the EU Council in the first semester of 2019.

2017 will be focused on the preparation of the Presidency, a new test for the Romanian administration and society, to prove its maturity, its synchronization with the issues at stake and the political debates at EU level.

The complexity of our task is increased by the current context and the challenges raised by the Brexit perspective or by the migration crisis. The Union itself is undergoing transformations and our aim is to keep it cohesive and inclusive.

2017 represents as well the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, an opportunity for us – member states and institutions – to confirm the attachment to the founding core principles of our Union: unity and diversity. It is only by working together towards commonly agreed objectives and bearing in mind our specificities that we will achieve relevant progress and respect those core principles.

We have been part of many processes, contributing our share, in accordance with our resources and specific circumstances, to the common policies of the EU. These policies include our main interests. Therefore, it is in our benefit, as well as the EU’s, to implement them faithfully.

A telling example would be the significant role Romania played in generating the decision to replace the 2003 Security Strategy with a new one. Now everyone appreciates the new EU Global Strategy for foreign and security policy, which is suddenly seen as precisely what the EU needed in order to be the coherent and decisive actor all its member states want the Union to be. No need to mention the consistent contribution Romania brought to the elaboration of this strategy, which we intend to maintain also in terms of implementation.

Another flagship project – reflecting both the relevance of the European support (310 million euro for the Romanian component) and the extent of the Romanian expertise – is the major research infrastructure of ELI (Extreme Light Infrastructure). By its size, level of excellence and open approach, the project reflects the kind of dynamic and innovative society that Romania aims at. This laser facility – currently under development, together with the Czech Republic and Hungary – entails the construction in Măgurele (near Bucharest), by 2018, of the most powerful laser in the world. It will allow high-level research and bring about applications in various fields with a significant impact for the Romanian economy.

In the field of foreign policy, our country continues to put its expertise and traditional knowledge in the diplomatic areas in the service of the EU. Many Romanian experts were chosen in missions, while Romanian diplomats and civil servants were appointed Heads of EU Delegations or of EU Missions.

Our technical expertise is put to good use as well in the area of migration and management of external borders. We understood the importance of being an active part of the effort undertaken at EU level in these fields. As such, Romania ensures the security of one of the EU’s longest external borders and – at the same time – is ranked among the top Member States in terms of number of days of deployment of border guards and in number of deployed officers as part of Frontex. Romania’s contribution is also significant for other Agencies such as EASO, eu-LISA, Europol and Cepol.

In economic terms, Romania tops the table of economic growth in the EU in 2016 and is likely to stay at the top in 2017. The performance is even more noteworthy as being realized against the background of falling prices. The public debt level is relatively low (below 40% of GDP), budget deficit is under control (below 3%), and the unemployment rate is relatively low and on a decreasing path. The situation of the financial system is stable. The accession to the banking union is not outside our radar screens.

 

So, in conclusion, can we speak about a useful assessment? And if so, what would this be?

The short answers to these questions are: Yes, one can see clearly that changes introduced by the Romania’s accession to the EU can be assessed even with less scientific instruments. Furthermore, one can resolutely say that these changes have been for the better, both for Romania and for the EU.

We still have a lot of work ahead of us, and as an EU member, with a decade of expertise now, an important responsibility we assumed is the contribution to the European project. That is why we can be reasonably optimistic and confident that the next anniversary would find both Romania and the EU even better placed to face future challenges.

 

 

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