Sibiu was intended to be the synonym of a ‘new hope’ for Europe. But the landmark summit to take place in the Romanian city in May is increasingly overshadowed by the tricks and faults of the host country.
Romania’s rotating presidency of the EU got off on the wrong foot. The country was ill-prepared to assume the leading role among the 28 member states in one of the most sensitive moments for the bloc.
The pending departure of the UK, the European elections, the urgency to conclude key legislative dossiers before the end of the mandate and the difficult discussions to agree on the EU’s seven-year budget, were but a few of the herculean tasks waiting on its desk.
Even if the country is technically well prepared, the “Bucharest government has not fully understood what it means to preside over the countries of the EU,” Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker lamented in December – too late to change anything.
Still, the institutions hoped that the situation would improve once the Romanian presidency got underway, and that the Sibiu summit could still convey “a strong perspective for the future”, as Juncker and many others wanted.
While displaying skill in some of the sensitive EU trilogues, Romania itself only moved from bad to worse. Adding to the deteriorating situation of the rule of law, the government did its best to block its former anti-corruption chief, Laura Codruța Kövesi, from becoming the new European Public Prosecutor. Her sin: trying to do her job too well.
Last week, Finance Minister Eugen Orlando Teodorovici seized the presidency role to charge against the European Commission’s economic forecast. He blamed the Commission for “systematically” underestimating growth, which had an impact on investors’ appetite and increased credit costs.
The minister wasn’t very happy with the Commission’s growth forecast of 3.8% projected for this year, compared with 5.5% included in the budget the Romanian Parliament approved that week.
He had reasons to be suspicious. Between 2015 and 2017, Eurostat’s final figures of GDP growth were visibly lower than the Commission’s winter projections for each of those years (2.7% versus 3.9% in 2015, 4.1% versus 4.8% in 2016, and 4.4% versus 6,9%).
But he was not expressing the Council’s position or presenting a summary of the discussion held that day on the Commission’s winter forecast as an honest broker, as presidencies do. Rather, he brought the domestic battle to the European stage.
“Take it as a Romanian presidency recommendation”, he told puzzled reporters and EU officials.
“Variations can occur,” conceded Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis, but added that the performance of their forecasts is comparable to those of other international institutions, including the IMF or the OECD.
This week, the country hit a new low by launching a criminal investigation into Commissioners Frans Timmermans and Vera Jourova over alleged false claims made in the report on the rule of law in Romania: A new challenge thrown in the EU’s face only to score a few points in the run-up to the European elections.
By the way, the EU executive’s report concluded last November that Romania was backsliding in the fight against corruption and judiciary reforms.
After a long and arduous process that began at the Bratislava summit after UK referendum in 2016, Sibiu was the opportunity for EU leaders to forge a long-term vision to uphold the European values, lately in retreat at home and elsewhere.
But the summit risks being clouded over by a host nation more concerned about its short term interests than the protection of the rights and laws. Is this the right cradle for the Future of Europe?
by Zoran Radosavljevic
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