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Romania and the European chessboard

Anton COMĂNESCU

Romania still pays the penalty of the isolationist attitude it built in the past few decades, which is obvious at all levels of our foreign relations, starting from the work style of our diplomats and going to the way we have seen fit to play the game on the European chessboard so far. Consequently, a reform in approaching the European arena is critical for Romania.



We talked in our previous issue of the need for Romanian politicians and businessmen to understand that our country's accession to the European Union should not be left to the bureaucratic mechanism, either the one in Brussels or in Bucharest, but should be accompanied by sustained efforts so that Romania gain a sound bargaining position. We were saying that accession, although a historic process of an overwhelming importance, must not become a purpose in itself, that we pursue at all costs.Former communist states which joined the EU this year learned that the historic dimension of the event should be backed by pragmatic aspects related to access to European funding, markets, ensuring export quotas or exclusive manufacture rights for national products.

Now, that European leaders reiterated, in the summit held for endorsement of the European Constitution, their firm support to Romania's entry in 2007, and the European Commission gives more and more positive signs on the evolution of negotiations, it is more important than ever to look at our country's accession strategy clear-mindedly and sensibly. Fortunately, rumors on the suspension or re-directing of negotiations have been driven away by European officials' statements, which means we no longer need to feel frightened by the prospects of failure. Romania needs to get passed the statute of the mediocre pupil struggling to avoid a non-pass, and to show more concern with the " how " rather than the " when " of the accession.  

Conditions under which we are to join the European Union, and in particular those under which we will operate once inside, depend on our ability to prospect and prepare strategic alliances. The agreement on the European Constitution was a new confirmation that, beyond generous principles and the technicalities of the European project, big decisions are being taken on the basis of games of power. The voting of the Constitution was the theatre of a genuine confrontation between the French-German axis, integrationist and federalist, on the one hand, and the United Kingdom, supporter of national sovereignty, backed by Poland and other Eastern European states, on the other hand. The closeness to America has been another decisive element in the equation of recent negotiations, as UK stood up unequivocally against the appointment of the incumbent Belgian Prime Minister, Guy Verhofstadt, at the helm of the European Commission, on account of the latter's anti-American position.

Most importantly nonetheless, the agreement on the new decision-making mechanism in the European Council, in which in most of the cases decisions will require the "double majority " - 55% of the Member States and 65% of the population - opens a wide range of alliance options in the coming years.The voting arithmetic's has always been a concern of smaller states, which sleeked to consolidate their position in the European arena. Countries such as Ireland or the Netherlands have greatly gained from this possibility to enter alliances, enabling them to counteract big country maneuvers and assert their own interests.

So far, Romania's main interest was to avoid being left behind in the accession race, coveting the position of those states which have already got over the finishing line. We have already tried to reach a tactical partnership with Bulgaria, yet it proved hardly viable.On the other hand, certain divergences in the relationship with Hungary did not allow for the creation of a corridor towards Western Europe- via Budapest. France, which has always been seen as Romania's elder sister, turned into a rather uncertain partner in particular as a consequence of our pro-American orientation and migration issues. Under these circumstances, Romania found itself alone at the negotiation table each time, facing the Member states, having no other choice but to accept Brussels's recommendations without comments.

One of the important elements leading to Romania's inability to establish alliances is the lack of sound bilateral economic relations with European Union Member states. Although most of our foreign trade is carried out with Western Europe-, trade interests of both parties are rather fuzzy. Western partners preserve their wariness as to the Romanian business environment and very cautiously launch large scale investments, their interest in Romania being consequently focused on the short or medium term, at most. On the other hand, Romanian companies see the European market as an incomprehensible jungle, equally mysterious and risky.Under these circumstances, favorable conditions for alliances are confined to historic affinities or, at best, ideology-driven, which is by no means enough to build strong and functioning partnerships.

Romania still pays the penalty of the isolationist attitude it built in the past few decades, which is obvious at all levels of our foreign relations, starting from the work style of our diplomats and going to the way we have seen fit to play the game on the European chessboard so far. Consequently, a reform in approaching the European arena is critical for Romania. General elections at the end of the year can bring about this fresh approach, as either PSD gets out from the cold shower of elections cleaned of its excessive concern for party affairs, or the D.A. Alliance asserts itself as a coherent and viable alternative to Power. There is no doubt that the structural problems of our politics regarding Europe cannot be solved simply by the power rotation, yet it is highly important that the Romanian political class grow increasingly aware that the governance must produce outcomes, and elections cannot be won only on promises and posters in the electoral campaign.

And, to the extent to which results of the governance in Romania are increasingly depending on an efficient connection with the European economic and political system, on capitalizing on the trade, financing and strategic co-operation opportunities at a European scale, our political class will have to prove their maturity and value not by revolving around party cliques, but rather through remarkable performances in the European game. Those who best learn the rules of this game and grow skilful at building alliances will reap the fruits of accession and turn them into a genuine political capital.

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