Vol 1, No 19
1 November 1999
R O M A N I A:
Great Expectations, Slim Chances
Romania's road to Europeanization
During the Kosovo crisis, Romania was hoping to rapidly become a NATO member, and after the end of the NATO bombing campaign against Yugoslavia, the Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe brought a new wave of optimistic declarations in Bucharest. During and soon after the Kosovo crisis, the Bucharest government had, or maybe just tried to show that it had, the feeling that Western Europe would forget that Romania's progress was below expectations. This was not the case.
Although Kosovo was seen by Bucharest as an opportunity to get closer to NATO and the EU and change the country's situation for the better, it soon became clear that Western integration remains no more than a distant aspiration. On the issue of NATO, a new enlargement is still only a remote possibility. In 2002 or 2003, NATO countries will again discuss the possibility of new candidate states joining the Alliance.
On the question of EU membership, Romanian authorities welcomed the European Commission's recommendation regarding the opening of joint negotiations in January 2000. But, there was probably not much surprise in Bucharest when EC chief Romano Prodi announced that Romania should improve the situation of institutionalized childcare and economic reform. Bucharest is expected to confirm its commitment to resolving the problem of childcare before the end of 1999.
The government recently decided to release EUR 55 million from the state budget for this issue. The situation within institutionalized childcare facilities is indeed disastrous. Five institutions are involved in taking care of children in the country, but they are more preoccupied with fighting for budgetary funds than with actual childcare. In the meantime, children suffer from disease, lack of medicine, insufficient food, and miserable and improperly heated accommodation.
The current economic and social difficulties are severe enough to place Romania in an unfavorable position with respect to EU integration. The EU officials avoided estimating an entry date when Romania would become a member state, and even the most optimistic officials in Bucharest claim the matter won't be resolved for a decade.
Based on the two sides' statements, there is no doubt that both Romania and the EU have a mutual interest in Romania's integration. "The EU believes that Romania represents a key country for regional stability," the European Commissioner for enlargement, Gunter Verheugen, said when visiting Romania last week. The Commissioner also said that the EU is directly interested in helping Romania in its preparations for membership. But he pointed out that Romania must put forth a much stronger effort. "The future of Romania belongs to the government and the Romanian people. There is no doubt that Europe will support the reforms, but it depends on Romania to achieve this," the official said.
So far, the means to confront the country's existing crises have proved to be a serious difficulty for Romania. "The lack of funds and weak management represent two of Romania's problems," the European Commission pointed out in the 1999 report. The instability of the legal framework also represents a difficulty, which was underlined by the EC and recognized by the Romanian authorities. When a law is changed just few days after its adoption, potential foreign investors become cautious.
The issue of the public mentality and attitude worries the Romanian intellectuals. But, what can be done about this when every day people see politicians ruling without any common sense? Let's take some examples surrounding the EC recommendations. President Constantinescu presented the EC decision as "a Romanian foreign policy success." Isn't it too early to speak about winners? Even if Romania receives the invitation to begin negotiations during the Helsinki summit, it will be too soon to talk about success. The main opposition party (Romanian Social Democracy Party, PDSR) did not forget to remind Romanians that Romania started taking steps to join the EU when the PDSR was ruling the country. Furthermore, a few days before the EC recommendations came out, the PDSR sent a letter to EU countries, asking for a favorable decision. Thus, PDSR concluded, the integration strategy was begun when it was the ruling party and it was steps it had taken which drew it to the attention of outside authorities.
This tendency of using anything to get people's votes was noted by the EU, and thus Gunter Veurhegen said that the EU wants political parties not to make EU integration an issue during the electoral campaign.
In fact, next year's parliamentary and presidential elections should bring the political parties closer to the people. But, according to opinion polls, after ten years of democracy, Romanians' trust in politicians is continuously decreasing.
Since 1996, the country has been ruled by fragile coalitions. The ruling parties often have great misunderstandings. If elections were held tomorrow, the opposition Romanian Social Democracy Party, led by former president Ion Iliescu, would win 37 percent of votes. PDSR is the former government party, which ruled until 1996. Its rising popularity and the possibility of its coming into power show that people are fully disappointed by the current government's "achievements."
"Romania cannot be considered a functioning market economy and, in the medium term, it is not able to face the competition and market forces of the Union," the EC said in its report. Almost ten years after they witnessed the fall of Communism, Romanians face a significant reduction in their living standard. Thus, in a recent opinion poll, almost 64 percent of Romanians said that life was better when the Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was leading the country.
Reinforced by poverty and bribery, which remains a well-known custom in the country, corruption and organized crime represent growing challenges for Romania. The parallel economy represents between 25 to 40 percent of Romania's official economy, Minister of Interior Constantin Dudu Ionescu said a few weeks ago. Gangs fighting for supremacy have also become a problem in many Romanian towns, and, according to a recent opinion poll, the majority of Romanians (52 percent) do not trust Police.
It is clear that with problems such as these, Romania has much to do before it can become a potential European partner.
Calin Cosmaciuc, 30 October 1999
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