Vol 2, No 10
13 March 2000
M I O R I Ţ A:
The Romanian Foreign Minister, Petre Roman, has recently been in London to visit his British counterpart, Robin Cook. Prior to his appointment he met with members of the British press to announce the content of their proposed discussion.
Roman sat on a large orange sofa in the Romanian Embassy, London. His conventional good looks came as a surprise but complemented his public image - polite, suave, sensitive, strong. One can see why many Romanians support him. Roman said nothing wrong. He merely stated in the most basic of ways what people wanted to hear. However, occasionally he would shift uncomfortably in his seat, possibly in nervous anticipation of the discussions to come.
The main focus of the discussions with Robin Cook were to centre on Romanian development in relation to European Union accession. Roman stressed that British assistance and support for Romanian aims has proved valuable and is essential for further advancements. But, Romania has achieved much already. Internal economic reforms are underway to de-collectivise the farms and to transform the mining and petrochemical industries. Last year Romania repaid USD 3 billion of her capital debt without assistance. Fiscal reforms are set to establish an ordered taxation system within the year. The aim of the new taxation system is to place everyone on an equal footing, eliminating discrimination and exemptions. There are also plans to introduce a national income tax. Roman highlighted privatisation reforms in main sectors such as banking, gas and electricity which it is hoped will be complete by the end of the year 2000. By establishing a strong private sector competition would be increased, thereby encouraging investment from abroad. During the Press Conference at the Romanian Embassy in London Roman stated: "We are very interested in increasing British investment in Romania."
Roman was convincing. It is true that much has been achieved over the past few years and there are many plans for future improvements. However, he skirted important issues that effect the overall representation of Romanian advancement. Although Roman recognised that economic reforms have had serious social costs, he did not go into detail. In early 1999 the miners marched on Bucharest in protest against pit closures and poor pay. Many more sectors in Romanian society have since come out on strike or in protest against government reforms, as have the homeless. Wages have stayed at roughly the same level as prices have risen. The period of austerity is beginning to convince some that they were better off under Ceauşescu.
The political ramifications of social unease are apparent. The end of 1999 saw the removal of Radu Vasile from the post of Prime Minister - a scapegoat for the social unrest. At present the internal Romanian political situation is relatively unstable and unpredictable. There is considerable conflict over the position of the Romanian Defence Minister, Victor Babiuc, following his resignation from coalition member, the Democratic Party (PD) (see this author's article in CER8). The resultant political instability diminishes Romanian efforts to portray an image of a secure, advancing nation ready for EU accession.
Despite immediate internal political problems, Petre Roman announced that positive political issues would be discussed with Robin Cook, such as Romania's presidency of the OSCE, due to begin next year, and issues relating to Yugoslavia and the implementation of the Stability Pact. The blocking of the Danube, a consequence of the Kosovan conflict, resulted in unforeseen economic hardships on the Danubian countries. Romania has been working with her neighbours to restore the Danube as a main trading and transportation link. The EU has responded to this problem by offering to pay 85% of the costs. EU assistance in this matter has emphasised their support for the accession of the Eastern European countries.
Roman has a charisma and an image that is subtle but commanding. He has the talent to show Romania in a glowing light whilst also recognising that problems do exist. He possesses a realism that he manipulates in order to appeal to intellect and emotion. Indeed, at the press conference after announcing the main topics of discussion he raised an important issue but one which appeals to the general British perception and knowledge of Romania. When asking the average British person what they know about Romania they will reply: orphanages, Dracula and Ceauşescu. Roman emphasised Romanian efforts to improve conditions for institutionalised children and stressed the need to thank those individuals and organisations that have assisted Romanian orphans. Although a vital component for achieving EU membership the manner in which Roman approached the subject was seemingly intended to appeal to the emotions. However, important moves have been made. A National Agency for the Protection of Children's Rights has been set up which has established a strategy for improving the possibilities for institutionalised children, including the disabled and sick. They propose to reduce the number of children in institutions and to improve the quality of these institutions. They are establishing a foster care system and further alternatives for children.
Petre Roman, the Romanian Foreign Minister, is an artful politician. His preview of his discussions with Robin Cook convincingly portrayed Romania in a positive light but recognised that improvements are necessary and underway. However, in his 'sale of Romania' many gaps remained, distorting impressions. Romanian-British relations are being promoted successfully and the plans for EU accession are being fully supported by Britain. As Ioana Zamfirescu writing for Nine O'clock commented "Petre Roman's visit to London expressed the excellent quality of Romanian-British relations" (Nine O'clock, 9 March 2000).
Catherine Lovatt, 9 March 2000
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