Since Romania joined the EU in 2007, successive governments have failed to make the best of bloc membership but there is strong pressure for change in the country, the man who supervised Bucharest’s accession negotiations told EURACTIV.com.
“What happened since 2004 [when Romania wrapped up its talks] was, unfortunately, that the governments were not very much committed to implementing EU policies,” said Vasile Puscas, the chief negotiator of Romania’s EU accession and former minister for European affairs.
“Successive governments, not a specific government, both conservatives and social democrats, followed the same pattern of EU policy inside the country,” Puscas said, adding that the European Commission was also “not very strong in monitoring and in finding ways of helping the implementation of EU policies within new states”.
But he said that the appointment of three different social democrat-led governments in Romania in one year highlighted the need for a serious change.
“It is a signal that people want a real change, not simulating change. It’s a strong pressure towards the change and, of course, politicians are not very happy because they are short-termist and interested first of all in political campaigns, rather than in developing long-term strategies”.
While there is no ‘third way’ party in Romania yet, Puscas said the change would come from three social groups: entrepreneurs whose small local companies sell on EU markets, managers with international business experience and young people “who begin to understand they have to be part of the dialogue on the future of the EU and the future of Romania in that framework”.
Eleven years after joining the bloc together with Bulgaria – both missed the ‘big bang’ enlargement in 2004 – Romania has not managed to join the passport-free Schengen area and has no concrete plans to adopt the euro, essentially failing to become a part of the ‘core EU’.
But Puscas rejected the idea that Romania is a marginalised, second class EU member.
“We may have third-class politicians, but we are not a second-class member… Romania still has strong potential.”
He said Romanian politicians have not managed to give Bucharest a real voice in EU policy-making and “even now, the European decision process inside Romania is not very good. But I think new social and political professional groups will change this quickly”.
The upcoming European elections, due next May, will have a specific weight in Romania as they will test political ratings ahead of a presidential election. The incumbent Klaus Iohannis has been at odds with the social democrat government and in April called for Prime Minister Viorica Dancilla to step down.
Romania, Puscas said, has no proper Eurosceptic parties, but there are “a lot of Eurosceptic groups within the main political parties” and during Romania’s six-month EU presidency, from January to July next year, “one of the positive outcomes will be to clarify their positions, their Western, EU orientation”.
In general, he said, the election campaigns across the bloc will see much more of an aggressive, Eurosceptic rhetoric from populists who oppose EU policies without offering solutions.
“But what people are expecting is the vision, not only from institutions but from leaders. A big problem of the EU is that it needs a driver, a strong and valuable leadership…We don’t have this now”.