Romania in the EU and the future of Europe

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Romania in the EU and the future of Europe

The Prime Minister of Romania,Adrian Nastase, addressed on 6 June 2002, the latest in an EPC series of meetings with the new Member States. He spoke on “Romania in the European Union and the Future of Europe.” A question and answer session followed. This is not an official record of the proceedings and specific remarks are not necessarily attributable.

A road map for Romania

Mr Nastase said that now Romania was certain to join the EU, the question was what the nation’s place would be in the enlarged bloc. The country was strongly committed to European integration, and had made impressive progress towards fulfilling the accession criteria. However, the challenge ahead was to open negotiations on all chapters of the acquis by the end of the Danish Presidency, with a view to closing them in early 2004 at the latest – allowing Romania to sign the Accession Treaty before the European Parliament elections.

According to the Prime Minister, this would pave the way for Romanian participation in the elections and the IGC on Europe’s future. It would also allow them to participate in the debates on the financial perspectives of an enlarged EU on an equal footing with the other candidate countries. Mr Nastase said he hoped December’s Copenhagen summit would adopt a clear road map for Romania and a specific target date for accession.

Enlargement concerns

The process of integration was posing concerns for existing Member States and candidate countries alike, not least labour market competition, enlargement costs, employment, and the divisions of powers between national authorities and the EU institutions. One of the most urgent issues was how to finance common policies on the basis of solidarity and equality between all Member States. What was needed was a reform debate, particularly on the CAP and structural policies, with a link to the outcome of the Millennium Round within the WTO. The key factor was to ensure that the reform process did not become a new obstacle to the completion of the enlargement process. In particular, the costs of enlargement must not be a reason to postpone indefinitely the date of accession for those countries that will not be joining in 2004.

Economic progress

Meanwhile, Romania’s economy was moving in the right direction, with 5.3% growth last year and the expectation of continuing growth in the future. “From a certain point of view, the economic criteria are the easier part of our task compared to the membership demands that all of us will face, including meeting the objectives of the Lisbon Process”, said Mr Nastase. Romania favoured the Lisbon process economic model, even though achieving EMU would be difficult, but “EMU will be good for our economy, for our industry and our services.” For that reason Romania advocated a stronger economic role for the European Commission, which was best placed to strike a balance between the needs of the most developed economies in Europe and those emerging in the Eastern part of the continent.

Security issues

Turning to security, Mr Nastase said the management of EU external borders was crucial in promoting freedom, security and justice, and Romania was committed to the task of ensuring efficient border surveillance of the future Eastern EU border. But there had to be an integrated approach in the fight against illegal immigration. The setting up of a common border police should be the first step in establishing a common immigration policy. Such a force should be similar to the Rapid Reaction Force: a collection of national units, deployed mainly from the regions that will become internal after enlargement towards the n ew eastern borders and the Mediterranean. Such a formula would have the advantage of avoiding increased pressure on the common budget. A “Fortress Europe” was not part of Romania’s vision: “Nowadays the people of Europe need more Union, within diversity, while the world needs more Europe.”

The common foreign and security policy had developed significantly in the past decade, but the current “unique window” of opportunity for the EU to return to the front line in world affairs, would not be open for long. The EU had to establish the future of the Trans-Atlantic relationship, the best policy towards Russia, and its approach towards China. Since 11 September 2001, it was obvious that internal security could not be separated from external security: “We need to identify sustainable solutions to the various crises in the world, and the Union is well placed to be among the sponsors of this approach.”

Romania was already playing its part in projecting stability and prosperity towards Eastern Europe and the Balkans, and could become a bridge between Europe and the neighbouring regions. To achieve sustainable external policies, the EU needed to integrate its trade, development and security policies – measures, which would require a more rational division between the responsibilities of the European Commission and the EU Council. In addition, a stronger role and profile was needed for the High Representative for CFSP, who should be perceived as “an EU foreign minister.”

A federation of nation states

Mr Nastase said his country envisaged an EU that was constituted as a “federation of nation states,” with reinforced European institutions, mainly the Commission. The major issue in the Union was not its competence, he said, but its leadership. Should the limited powers of current EU institutional heads and national government leaders be enhanced by the creation of an EU President, possibly replacing the functions of the President of the Commission? Such an idea had to be carefully analysed, taking into consideration all the possible implications for the functioning of the Council, the European Commission and the Union as a whole. What would be the job of a “President of Europe,” and what method of election would be used?

All these questions needed answers based on the voice of the European citizens.

Mr Nastase also called for reconsideration of the role of national institutions in European affairs, including the rationalisation of the executive and legislative functions of the Council, and upgrading the role of national parliaments. Romania favoured strengthening the parliamentary component of the European institutional system to remedy the democratic deficit and ensure greater democracy in the Union. This would mean a bigger role in the Community legislative process for national parliaments, and possibly the creation of a “Committee of National Parliaments,” after the models of the Economic and Social Committee or the Committee of the Regions. A possible consultative role for this new body should derive from the future constitutional model of the Union.

European integration was not an end in itself, said the Prime Minister, but rather a means to deliver the most positive values of European culture: fundamental rights for everyone, pluralistic democracies, shared prosperity and economic competition.

Discussion

Answering questions, Mr Nastase repeated thatRomania’s aim was to take part in the 2004 European Parliament elections, although he conceded: “This might be impossible.” The important thing was for the two candidate countries not in the first wave of enlargement in 2004 (Romania and Bulgaria) not to become “decoupled” from the ten that seemed likely to be going ahead on th at date. Romania was seeking a “good compromise” to avoid disconnection. On the institutions, he said he was in favour of a “rather more serious role” for the Commission.

Quizzed on the chances of Romaniabeing able to join the EUunder the current budgetary framework for enlargement, Mr Nastase pointed out that budgetary difficulties were unlikely before 2007, and that there would always be budgetary restraints governing events. Meanwhile, Romania was getting on with the job of implementing the “acquis” – 33 000 pages having been processed last year. The country was already working to dovetail its national legislative plans with European legislation.

On EU development aid, he said parts of Romania were themselves “Third World regions” and the country had not yet established “dynamic” strategies for tackling the problem. Nevertheless, it was trying to emulate the European model of development aid in a country where the average monthly wage was only 100 dollars.

Mr Nastase saidRomania was still a very centralised country, but the authorities were trying to decentralise to give the regions a more important, autonomous role. Local communities were being brought into regional financial decision-making, particularly becoming involved in projects involving EU financial assistance.

Challenged onRomania’s human rights record, the Prime Minister said the situation in Romania had changed a lot, but there was much still to be done. On a scale of one to ten, he considered the country’s human rights record now merited “a six or seven.”

Finally, Mr Nastase spoke proudly ofRomania’s modern telecommunications system, pointing out that in his country workers in the IT sector were given tax-free status to encourage the development of IT skills and ensure they remained at home. The result was that in the last few years the IT sector had grown hugely, with full liberalisation of the telecoms market due from the start of next year.

For more analyses see The European Policy Centre’s

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