Europe stands at a crossroads in the fight against COVID-19. As on many occasions in the past, the leaders of the EU must choose a direction of travel. Will we move together to confront the virus while upholding the basic ideals which hold us together? Or will we choose to retreat, to retrench, into national siloes? Ludovic Orban explains what is at stake.
Ludovic Orban is the prime minister of Romania. This opinion piece has been made available exclusively to EURACTIV.
We must advance together. There could not be a worse moment to turn back. The next seven-year budget cycle is perhaps the most important in the EU’s history – certainly the most important since the expansions which brought Romania and our neighbours into the fold.
And we are so close. For months now, a deal has been on the table to secure both the main budget and support for the recovery in a historic €1.82 trillion agreement. Together with his European Council counterparts, President Iohannis agreed that for the first time the EU should take on borrowing collectively with a view to recovering collectively and rebuilding from the present crisis.
This is not a decision that has been taken lightly but it was the correct one and I am proud to support it as Prime Minister.
It is a decision that necessarily comes with safeguards. Romania stands to benefit significantly from this agreement. We will receive European investment totalling €80 billion, including €30 billion under the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) and €46 billion from the main seven-year budget– vital funds that will assist Romania’s recovery, modernise the country, improve competitiveness and continue our programme of reform.
We have a responsibility to be progressive and loyal neighbours in return. It is my government’s ambition to finally grasp our potential and deliver a tiger economy that will help to fuel Europe’s future growth.
Overall, this recovery package means €390 billion in grants and another €360 billion in loans to EU member states to reboot the economy as we emerge from the pandemic. It means a long-term EU budget of €1 trillion as our club of nations moves forward as a group of 27. This is a massive collective effort and it is right it comes with a specific mechanism to protect against breaches to the rule of law.
Just two members are standing in the way, Hungary and Poland, following vetoes at last week’s virtual EU summit that would block this mechanism. I hope and believe President Iohannis and other members of the European Council can find a way to a resolution that secures the assent of all member states.
The pandemic has shifted the political and economic environment across the globe. There has been unprecedented stress on multinationalism and trust in government and institutions. Europe has the chance to show our strength and despite the huge shock the virus has caused our economies and public health, we can exit this period as a stronger partnership. But, in achieving that we need to stay true to the basic values we share, the rule of law being one.
Romania has had its own rule of law issues in the past, the last PSD Government challenged the independence of the judiciary and failed to make any meaningful progress on corruption. My government has changed that, and while we still have work to do, I’m determined to deliver for my citizens to ensure our country can play its full role in Europe’s future.
Collective agreement on this scale requires collective trust among the public across the European Union. This is not about the imposition of unfair or unrealistic safeguards by wealthy countries in the old West. Law and order – and making sure this money is spent where it is supposed to be – is not some abstract concept. This is about relaunching the economy of the whole of Europe, for the benefit of citizens in the whole of Europe – including in Romania, and including in Hungary and Poland.
We have published a detailed plan on how the RRF will be invested in Romania. Significant infrastructure projects, a public sector digitisation programme and a long-term healthcare improvement strategy. Political leaders have a responsibility to take the opportunities that are ahead. Over the past nine months, we have asked so much of our citizens, they have endured unprecedented restrictions, with the end in sight we need to facilitate a recovery that delivers jobs, increased salaries and better public services.
The EU budget is an essential part of that endeavour and I hope in the coming days and weeks an agreement will be found.