Vol 1, No 2, 5 July 1999
C E N T R A L E U R O P E A N N E W S:|
Romanian News Round-up
For the week of 28 June 1999:
Heads of State are meeting in Salzburg, Austria, for the World Economic Forum summit for Central and Eastern Europe. On Thursday, Balkan leaders accused the West of backsliding on its promises of aid to help rebuild South-eastern Europe. Macedonia, Albania, Bulgaria and Romania all suffered economically from the Kosovan conflict. Initial Western promises of substantial aid and a new 'Marshall Plan' appear to have been just words. The Stability Pact has been delayed until September and might be delayed further. The West is turning its focus towards Kosova and neglecting the problems caused by the conflict in other areas. Romanian President, Emil Constantinescu, said at the summit that it was positive the West had quickly established agencies for rebuilding South-eastern Europe but it remained to be seen how quickly they would act. 'It seems very hard for the West to understand that peace and stability have a price' (Reuters, 1 July 1999). On the other hand, the solution does not only lie with Western involvement, and hasty acceptance of a rushed pact may not provide the best results for South-eastern Europe.
On Tuesday, the Romanian Defence Minister, Victor Babiuc, met with the US Defence Secretary, William Cohen. Cohen thanked Romania for the help given to NATO during the Kosovan conflict but went on to say that he would make no commitment to Romania for admission into NATO. He said '...all who qualify can be candidates. But there are very high standards'. (Reuters, 30 June 1999). (The inferred promises for support and fast-track entry into the EU and NATO seem to be hollow words).
Cohen and Babiuc also discussed a Pentagon study which outlined reforms for the Romanian military to enhance her chances of NATO entry. One of the main reforms would be to strengthen Romania's eastern border to make it impenetrable. This problem was illustrated recently when Russian aircraft violated an agreement concerning overflights to Kosova. Flights are only allowed into Kosova providing there is a four-hour gap between each aircraft. Two Russian planes had entered Romanian air space within 92 minutes of each other. The second plane was escorted back to the border by Romanian aircraft.
In Bucharest on Wednesday, the European Integration Minister, Alexandru Herlea said that Romania hoped to start accession talks after the European Summit meeting later this year. A report sent to the European Commission this week highlighted the progress made through reforms over the past ten months. Herlea admitted that economic reforms had taken place more slowly than he would have wished, but he reported several achievements. Last week, Romania resolved one of the critical issues facing its economy by clearing the last large chunk of its USD 2 billion 1999 foreign debt servicing. This has satisfied the IMF condition for a further stand-by loan to be reviewed in July.
In a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, the Romanian government agreed to put before Parliament a bill to settle the sensitive issue of property seized by Communists and wartime fascists. The bill promises to compensate in kind or in reparations for factories, banks, houses and other buildings. The bill is the first attempt in ten years to resolve the problem of property confiscated in 1940 by fascists allied to Nazi Germany and by the Communists after World War Two. Along with this bill, the government also agreed to sell off Ceausescu's property. Ceausescu's fortune, never officially evaluated, was confiscated by the military court that sentenced Ceausescu and his wife to death ten years ago. The court had ordered the return to the state of money, precious metals and valuables deposited in foreign banks. USD 4 million is still missing - allegedly deposited in secret foreign bank accounts. The government stated that all goods considered cultural treasures could not be sold, and those items remaining unsold would be given to charities.
On Thursday, the Romanian Parliament reached a compromise over the two-year-long debate concerning the establishment of minority universities. Instead of separate universities the government agreed to establish departments in existing universities offering courses in minority languages. Under the new law religious communities may reopen schools closed down by the Communists when they assumed control after the Second World War. The new law also enables primary school children to study both history and geography in their mother tongue. (see related article in this week's CER)
Once again, Vrancea County was hit by an earthquake measuring 4.1 on the Richter Scale on Tuesday.
This week, Romania can look forward to a visit from NATO Secretary General Javier Solana. The Romanian Prime Minister, Radu Vasile, sees the visit as a positive indication that Romania has improved its chances of gaining entry into NATO following their support in the air campaign against Yugoslavia. However, only time will tell.
Catherine Lovatt, 2 July 1999
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