We are celebrating this week the birthday of Her Majesty Queen Elisabeth II. Our celebrations here in Romania provide an opportunity to reflect on the deep and special partnership we have built with Romania.
This week the UK and the European Union began our talks regarding our future of relationship once we leave the EU.
While this is still to be determined, we are not leaving Europe. Britain will remain a strategic partner for Romania, a trusted ally and a hub of innovation open to the world at large.
Britain may be steeped in tradition, but we rarely look backward when it comes to business. Our business-friendly environment attracts investment from around the world –it takes as little as six days to set up a business here. The City of London is the number one financial hotspot in the world, according to the index of global financial centres published by Bloomberg in March.
Many Romanians work in the City of London. Their professional aspirations are closely tied with it. Many young Romanians come to the UK to study because of the strength of our educational system here. The UK has 4 universities in the global top 10.
My message today is one of hope and intention that Britain becomes an increasingly more important partner for Romania. We have a strategic partnership and we enjoy deep historical ties: 137 years of formal diplomatic relations, while the informal ones stretch back into antiquity, to the Dacians stationed on Hadrian’s Wall.
Last month I visited Galati, Tulcea and Sulina, where the British heritage is significant. In the second half of the 19th century, the British representative to the European Danube Commission brought with him an engineer, Sir Charles Hartley. The latter conducted a number of works to widen the Sulina channel, essential for the development of ports at Tulcea, Galati and Braila. Sir Charles Hartley worked in the region for almost five decades; a commemorative bust was unveiled in Sulina last year, right in front of the former office of the Danube Commission.
I was intrigued to learn that the first ever football game played on Romanian soil was held between two teams of British sailors from HMS Cockatrice. And Mila 23, a village in the Danube Delta known for its Olympic sprint canoe champions, reveals the influence of the British engineers working for the European Danube Commission – measuring in miles, not kilometres.
Our strategic partnership with Romania is based around the twin pillars of security and prosperity. As regards security, this is the busiest year for our bilateral defence engagement in recent memory.
As we speak, RAF Typhoons based at the Mihail Kogalniceanu military base are patrolling Romanian airspace. Last week, 1,000 British troops took part in a very large multinational NATO training exercise, under British command and on Romanian soil, at the National Centre for Instruction at Cincu. I was delighted that the UK Minister of Defence Sir Michael Fallon was able to visit both, only days after the reconfirmation of his ministerial portfolio.
As regards the prosperity agenda, I would start by highlighting the great role played by the British Council in Romania. More than 30,000 Romanians will this year take an exam from one of the many UK professional and educational bodies.
Our commercial ties are a very important aspect of the strategic partnership. Give that the trade balance is now in Romania’s favour, I am determined to find new opportunities for business and investment in the years to come.
Energy, infrastructure, healthcare and financial services are only some of the areas in which the UK and Romania could cooperate more closely. The total volume of our bilateral trade exceeded 4 billion Euros in 2016. British investment is diverse, ranging from telecommunications, to the IT sector and to wine production.
In recent years, Romania has been enjoying a period of favourable economic conditions with high growth, low unemployment and low inflation. This will be Romania’s fifth consecutive year of growth above 3% making it one of the fastest growing economies in the EU.
The UK strongly supports the Romanian authorities’ efforts to improve the business climate by combating corruption and increasing transparency in the public sector. Significant steps have already been taken to improve the conditions for business, including through new Civil and Civil Procedure Codes, and the National Anti-Corruption Strategy.
It is also important to engage widely with business stakeholders, and ensure that engagement takes place early, so that business needs are understood from the outset. A comprehensive effort is vital – a strong legal framework is not enough. An effective judicial system, a transparent institutional culture and a lively public dialogue are all essential to tackle the enabling environment for corruption. Important dialogue underway, including with the involvement of the British Romanian-Romanian Chamber of Commerce, the BRCC.
The BRCC is helping British businesses to seize the opportunities that this fast growing European economy presents. It has a stronger presence across Romania, having opened two new regional offices in Cluj and Timisoara in the last two years.
Just last week, the BRCC and the EBRD together with Emerging Europe online publication held a conference in London to showcase investment opportunities in Romania. UK Minister of State for Trade and Investment and Minister for London Greg Hands spoke at the event.
And next week the Lord Mayor of the City of London will be visiting Bucharest as part of a wider tour to look at opportunities to work together with the region.
We are increasingly seeing the benefits for Romania of the unique advantages of the City of London. For example, the successful dual listings on Bucharest and London Stock Exchange of Romgaz in 2013, Electrica in 2014 and Fondul Proprietatea in 2015. We will continue to support such listings.
I would also like to highlight innovation and the many talents that Romania has demonstrated, particularly in IT. A recent report titled ‘Europe’s Hidden Entrepreneurs’ commissioned by the World Economic Forum placed Romania in the top 10 of Europe’s entrepreneurial hotspots. And this is a strength confirmed by the London Stock Exchange. LSE runs a programme named ELITE that supports high growth companies from all over Europe and beyond to access to more sophisticated skill-sets, networking and a diversified capital pool in order to accelerate growth opportunities, innovate and create jobs. ELITE is designed to help the most exciting and ambitious SMEs, with a sound business model and a clear growth strategy, prepare and structure for the next stage of growth through the access to long term financing opportunities. Romania has the largest number of companies Europe enrolled in the programme after the UK and Italy, the founders of this initiative.
I would like to underline one thing: trade, security, defence and political ties work here because they are underpinned by interpersonal contacts and shared values. At a ceremony in Cluj last month at which HRH The Prince of Wales was awarded an honorary doctorate from Babes Bolyai University, His Royal Highness said the following:
“I have been asked many times why I come so often to Romania, what is it that makes it so special, so attractive? For me, the answer is clear: you, my Romanian friends; your natural and cultural landscape, your traditions, but also your capacity to innovate and change. (…) This is what makes you special. This is why I always return to Romania and this is why a part of my soul is always here.”