Mr. Prime Minister, the INS [National Institute for Statistics] announced that Romania’s economy has grown. The European Commission however has revised downwardly its estimates referring to the increase of the Romanian economy. What is the source of these discrepancies between how the European Commission sees us and the way in which we see ourselves?
The only organism able in our country, and this time we are not talking of prognoses but real data after the first months of the years, the only institution is the National Prognosis Commission and, I repeat, the INS which is working with real data, with everything that means income, economic increases, extra income for the population, collections, everything, all the indicators, that you know said that we have this increase of 5.7 percent – the highest increase in the European Union. What was discussed at the beginning of the year was about prognoses and what you are saying now is a prognosis – what is real, however, is what the INS said and that is 5.7 percent economic growth. It is an extremely good thing, which makes us happy, but in no case are we careless for the future. We are extremely aware of the fact that we must continue to apply the measures that we have to adopt. All these things mean an addition for every citizen, whether we are speaking of higher wages in the pocket of every Romanian, or that we speak of over 100,000 jobs since the beginning of the year and until now, which again is a good thing; that is to give you just two examples.
But where does this increase announced by the INS come from?
Following all the measures that we applied since the beginning of the year until now, whether we are speaking of fiscal relaxation measures that you know of, which led to a friendly business environment, maybe the friendliest in all of Europe at this moment, whether we are speaking of a higher consumption due to the higher income that Romanians have, income that is not due only to salaries, but also to pensions. I can tell you that the average median wage compared to last year has increased by 16 percent. We are close to 3,200 RON. 16% more than last year – again, I believe that this is something that should make us glad and which reinforces what I said at the beginning of the year, namely that all these measures will lead to economic growth, to what I presented ultimately also in Parliament when we spoke of the budget for 2017. As you know, on the basis of the data provided by the National Prognosis Commission, we proposed to reach 5.2 growth, and behold after the first few months, we have 5.7.
Despite this positive path, a government reshuffle is very often invoked. The PSD [Social Democrat Party] President advanced a deadline – June. Is a reshuffling of your Cabinet necessary and opportune?
First of all, I didn’t see the PSD President advance a deadline, honestly.
A deadline for in-depth discussion…
Discussions as Prime Minister, you should know, I have every day with each member of the team that I lead and I meet with them individually, we discuss on each domain and we try and we succeed, see, judging by the data that both you and I spoke of – we try to govern as we committed to do to Romanians.
So you do not believe a reshuffle to be opportune?
We are starting from something discussed previously, namely that Romania has the highest economic growth in the European Union. You should know that that is my starting point in the evaluation I’m making. (…) I monitor constantly the activity of ministers that are part of the cabinet. I believe still that we speak too fast of reshuffling and I did not see anyone saying – me, as Prime Minister, the PSD President, Liviu Dragnea, the ALDE [Alliance of Liberals and Democrats] President, Mr. Calin Popescu Tariceanu – anything relating to a reshuffle. It just appeared, out of the blue, as a public discussion. I am leading a Government that has a wide support in Parliament.
We have the official data supplied by the INS, there are good things. And, if you allow me, a comparison to football, I don’t know if anyone makes substitutions in the 15th minute, when you’re leading 3-0. That’s where we’re at right now, but this does not mean that, I say again, that we will not continue in the same way, seriously, to analyze each measure that we want to take, we monitor and I monitor and the members of the Coalition as well, of course, each measure that we want to take. I know some would desire an earthquake at Victoria Palace [e.n. – Government seat], but I assure them the ground will only fall beneath their feet. The Government that I am running is extremely stable, it has the support of the PSD, it has the support of the coalition, as you know, and we look only towards the things we have to do for Romanians.
Who is currently stronger in the PSD? You, holding the keys to Victoria Palace, or Mr. Dragnea?
In the PSD there is a President, his name is Liviu Dragnea. In the Victoria Palace, there is a Prime Minister – Sorin Grindeanu. The matter does not appear in this form. It is, again, a question that keeps popping up. You should know that contrary to what Romania is maybe used to, maybe Romanians are used to and have been used to all these years was for discussions to always happen between the President in office and the Prime Minister. We have cases – Traian Basescu and Calin Popescu Tariceanu. Matters are not like that. Matters are in a whole different key, namely both me and the President of the party I am part of desire one thing – that what we said we will do, we actually do. This is what people voted us for, not for who holds the keys and who doesn’t. And for that matter, my door is always open and all know this, whether they are mayors, chairmen of County Councils, or deputies or senators. So there is no need for a key and I believe things are the same in Parliament. But I want to underline this. The Prime Minister and the PSD leader, Liviu Dragnea, do not compete on different lanes. Both of us, and I am telling you this as Prime Minister, are interested in doing what we said we have to do in these four years.
Referring to the Opposition, how do you see the role played by President Iohannis on the political scene, given the fact that the PNL [National Liberal Party] also has internal elections, and that Dacian Ciolos is trying to consolidate the Romania 100 platform?
You may not like what I will say or the Romanians will not like it, but I will tell you what I said in front of the Association of Communes of Romania, of Cities, or of Towns – I’ve been to all of them – I wish that in these three years that have remained until the election – we are speaking of the local elections – or three and a half years until the Parliamentary elections to leave politics a bit aside and do administration, whether it is local administration or the central administration. Nearly every time in the 27 years after the Revolution we all fared very well – the PSD, the PNL, the PD [Democrat Party], I don’t mean to particularize – in making noise, in making a racket and less well in doing things (…) for Romanians and I will keep the same method of doing more than just communicating, of doing things that Romanians feel in their pockets, by increasing income, growing the economy as has happened in these first three months instead of saying that I want to do this. In this way I have governed in these months and that is how I want things to go on still because you cannot lie to Romanians. As long as they have higher income the Opposition or the Power can say what they want in the media and communicate what they desire because Romanians see if their income is higher or it is lower, they can see if they are living better or worse.
Coming back, I am not interested in what the PNL is doing and I am not interested in what the USR [Save Romania Union] is doing. I am interested in only one thing, if they want to make opposition, to make constructive opposition; this helps me and helps us. Otherwise it’s their duty to choose who they want and it is normal to manage things as they see fit. The appeal is to a constructive opposition that helps us, not an opposition for the sake of opposing the Government. It is also a piece of advice.
Mr. President Iohannis fits in with the Opposition? Is he in opposition to you or is he a mediator?
Me and… or the Government and the Presidential Administration? Now I don’t want to personalize; at this moment we have a fair, constitutional relationship and I have no reason to believe that things will deviate from what has happened in the first months of the Government that I lead, I do not have reason until now. Surely I do not believe he forgets that he comes from the PNL. No President of Romania has, whether we are speaking of Traian Basescu, Ion Iliescu and ultimately it’s not normal to forget, but I do not see him getting involved, I do not have signals of this type, I did not see him saying that he supports one candidate or another in the PNL’s internal elections. Maybe I didn’t follow. I say again, I am not very familiarized with what some or others want to do within the party and I am not really interested either.
You spoke of the USR, but not of the platform of former Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos…
Is he in politics and I’ve missed it? I don’t understand… Did he register, is it a political party? This would translate to something similar to what happened in the elections: you want to be a Prime Minister, but you’re not running, you’re both with the USR and the PNL, but it’s a bit hard. At the moment he will register, and he will do politics and will come in front of the citizens to be voted, then we can discuss, the rest are matters that do not pertain… You cannot represent if you do not run. You want to be a mayor? How? You go in front of the people, they vote for you or not, you try again in four years, maybe in four years they vote for you, but to want to be something without running, to want to do politics without having a party, to want to be something without being in Parliament, no, those are not the rules of democracy, so I have nothing to comment on. Platforms. If they will register, they will very well make a party. We are in a country that respects the rules of democracy and I think we will be the same moving forward.
When will the first budget rectification of this year take place?
In August, according to the law.
Will it be a positive one or a negative one?
The way things are now, I am optimistic. But I don’t want to get drunk on euphoria… I am holding my feet in a tub of cold water, I always want us to be very well connected to reality and I say this one day after the INS presented not a prognosis, but the reality. Maybe I should be more happy, more euphoric, in relation to this data, I am not, I am the same way that I was until now.
You have allotted 2 percent of the GDP for defence, is there a risk of reducing the budget for Defence at the rectification? What major acquisitions will you make so that this risk does not exist and the money would not be lost?
There are several matters that you touched upon with this question. We are the first Government, after Romania’s entry into NATO, that respects what Romania committed to doing, namely to reach 2 percent of the GDP for Defence. Secondly, and I told you this from the beginning, we want for this money, which is more this time than in the past, firstly to be spent within Romania? What does this mean? To revitalize the national defence industry, whether we do so by using what we have now as a national industry or through various associations between Romanian companies and foreign companies it is important that a large part of this sum be spent in Romania, because it’s the Romanians’ money and because I wish to revitalize this branch of the economy, because I want new jobs, even though I am – and I must say it again – I am glad that since the year’s start and to now we have 100,000 new jobs, until the end of the year we should have over 200,000 of what we proposed. But at the rate at which we started I can say this is a target that we will reach. Coming back, it’s normal to want this, and not only me us, all of us, because it’s our money, all of ours. Contracts in the realm of defence have a certain specificity, it’s not like going to a furniture store and buying furniture, you pay for it and it’s delivered to you. They are multi-annual contracts, the delivery does not happen overnight. They have the money, they have the openness, they have not commitment credits, but budgetary credits, so it’s direct money, they have the approval of the Parliament, what was missing, let’s say at the end of last year, when those corvettes were to be bought and the Parliament’s approval did not exist. But there is something else, beyond the condition to spend these sums in the national industry and to try to make it grow. All these acquisitions must be done in agreement with the commitments that Romania has undertaken as a NATO member state. We will not make acquisitions for the sake of doing acquisitions, but based on our commitments, this entire picture of the alliance that we are part of, that we have undertaken.
But concretely, what acquisitions will you make? You have approved in the Government a Memorandum, it went to Parliament, the Parliament gave its approval. What acquisitions will you make, we only know of these corvettes.
Without going into detail, although I know, I had meetings yesterday and last week and in the past weeks with the Defence Minister, with those in the Defence Ministry, with those who are directly involved in these things, whether we speak of armor, of corvettes, of rockets, because I saw some positions being taken by some who shouldn’t be talking…
Are you referring to the US Ambassador?
No. I was referring to those who came out and said that we already have a contract. I don’t know, I believe a State Secretary or someone else from the Defence Ministry.
The Chief of the General Staff?
I don’t know, but it wasn’t their business to speak of these things. All those things that we will acquire must fulfill these conditions or largely, because we will not be able to produce rockets in Romania overnight, as an example, of intercontinental capability or I don’t know what else. No. So we want a large part of these to be made in our country.
Is there still need for a pardoning law?
Is there need for a pardoning law that would be part of that package that we spoke of, because just a law on pardoning, without speaking of – for example, and I know there is a project at this moment, but I’m just saying it as an example, does not mean that… the Parliament is sovereign, it decides – a draft law for alternative measures can be a something to take into account. Why? Because we have the six months that the ECHR gave us to come up with a solution, not to do it overnight, to build penitentiaries and so forth.
Will you request ECHR to extend the six month deadline?
No, in these six months surely that package will come to satisfy the demands of the ECHR, clearly. But I can give you an example. You should know it’s hard for me to understand and I told the Minister to give details. It is hard to understand that a new penitentiary costs 150 million euro. A penitentiary that should hold one thousand prisoners. If we make a calculation, that means around 150,000 per prisoner, as a cost. It seems a bit too much because, if we think about it for 150 thousand you can build a little cottage for each one. These are things that come from before. And I told Mr. Minister to look carefully. Because for 150 million euro as some studies done by some in the past show, you can build three or four or even more. I understand that you must ensure a degree of safety in accordance with the law and all the matters that pertain to this case. But, it’s a bit too much 150,000 euro per prisoner when we are speaking of a single building.
You went on foreign visits, you will go to Turkey, you have in your plan visits to the USA and France. Can you confirm an eventual visit of President Donald Trump to Romania?
Surely it would be a very, very good thing for Mr. President Trump, the new President of France, Mr. Macron, to visit Romania. Not only the visit itself is important or would be important, but the fact that, if we speak of France and the USA we are speaking of two strategic partners of Romania. Those are the coordinates that we, in foreign policy, the Government, wish to move towards in the future and there are things that functioned very well in the past – regardless of the governments there were or their colour – and that we want to consolidate. Consolidation is extremely important for us. And regarding the strategic partnership with the USA, as you know we are extremely involved, focused, if I can use this term, on the economic side. We have a very good political, military collaboration, as well as in other aspects. We want the economic side to be at the same very high level. And there are extremely good signs from this point of view.
Since taking over the mandate you have faced all sorts of accusations, both from within the party, as well as from outside. I noticed that you have not responded to one in any manner, that which makes you out to be an undercover officer. What message do you send to those who consider you a sort of James Bond?
I am Sorin Grindeanu, Prime Minister of Romania, and I am not an undercover officer. So we can put that to rest as well.