Romania to hold first ‘democratic convention’ on future EU

Victor Negrescu on 7 December in Bucharest. [Georgi Gotev]

Romania could become the first country to organise a debate in the spirit of the EU-wide ‘democratic conventions’ proposed by the French President Emmanuel Macron in his Sorbonne speech, according to statements by a Romanian Minister.

In a speech in Athens, French President Emmanuel Macron sketched a plan to “rebuild” the European Union through wider democracy, including ‘democratic conventions’.

In Athens, Macron outlines 'roadmap' for European democratic revival

French President Emmanuel Macron sketched a plan to “rebuild” the European Union through wider democracy and public accountability at the start of a two-day visit to Greece on Thursday (7 September).

Online consultation across Europe, then local debates: democratic assemblies for EU reform should be held from May to October 2018, ahead of the 2019 European elections.

France to launch bottom-up consultation for European reform

Online consultation, then local debates: democratic assemblies for EU reform should be held from May to October 2018, ahead of the 2019 European elections. EURACTIV France reports.

But Romania could become the first country to organise such debates. Victor Negrescu, the Romanian Minister Delegate for European Affairs, said Romania will organise such a debate next month (January). If so, this could be the first such debate to be held.

He informed of the preparation of the Romanian Presidency which will begin on 1 January 2019, its main priorities, and the broader EU agenda of his country. In particular, he said that Romania will organise a debate next month (January) in the spirit of the EU-wide ‘democratic conventions’ proposed by the French President Emmanuel Macron in his Sorbonne speech.

This could be the first such debate to be held.

‘Citizens’ and ‘values’

Negrescu, who is a former MEP from the S&D group, said Romania was trying to evaluate what should be done in two main avenues of its presidency: citizens and values.

Regarding citizens, it is obvious many of the problems the EU faces today stem from the breach between decision-makers, at EU and national level, and the wider public. Regarding values, in the context of successive crises, the ‘interest’ appears to take precedence over the ‘values”. It is absolutely unclear how the two can be reconciled, but in any case this issue was not discussed during the meeting.

Negrescu said European affairs needed democratisation, as for now only a professional elite had of understanding of its wheeling and dealing.

Countries and counties

Negrescu said that international presidency events would be held in every county of Romania – meaning more than 40 cities.

This may look ambitious, but Negrescu said Romania will take advantage of its several airports. “Even Bacau is connected to Brussels,” he said.

60,000 foreign visitors are expected to come to Romania for the Romanian Presidency. Bulgaria said it expects 20,000 foreign visitors for its presidency, which begins on 1 January 2018. The minister said that local communities were enthusiastic about the chance of hosting such events.

“The EU is also for them. The presidency is not about the minister, it’s not about the government, and Romanians citizens must feel this presidency as theirs”, he said.

The Romanian minister also focused on the need to ‘upskill’ the Romanian civil servants, as many of them went to work for the European institutions, and those who are replacing them need training.

He said he personally met the 250 chairs and co-chairs of working groups under the presidency that have been identified.  Also, he said that the Romanian human resources were being tapped in EU institutions, for work during the presidency

Negrescu, who has spent his youth in France, where he became at the age of 17 a supporter of the French Socialist Party, said he considers himself a representative of the Romanian diaspora, which is estimated at least four million people.

He said that on each of his travels abroad he made sure that meetings with the diaspora were organised,  that he gave them his personal contacts, that he tried to be in touch with them, and that he was perfectly aware of their legitimate will to participate in identifying issues and priorities for the presidency.

“The consultation we are going to do about priorities is also going to be done through the minister for relations with the diaspora, in a public consultation with them as well,” Negrescu said, adding that the website of the Romanian Presidency, which will be online before Christmas, will have special features for reaching out to the diaspora.

Websites and outreach

In comparison, the Bulgarian Presidency website was launched on 1 December, just a month before the presidency, and it doesn’t contain any features for reaching out to the diaspora. In fact, this website has received reactions from representatives of the diaspora who deplore the lack of interest of the authorities in Sofia for their ideas.

The minister also mentioned recruitment programmes for Romanians living abroad to return and work for one year for the presidency.

He admitted, however, that it was difficult to develop tools to reach the entire diaspora, conveying the message that Romanians abroad should also actively be looking for those channels.

He was also asked many questions regarding the political situation in Romania, as the visit coincided with new series of protests over a judicial reform, perceived as an attempt by the left-wing government to backtrack on efforts to fight corruption.

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More than 10,000 people on Sunday (10 December) braved biting cold to stage protests across Romania to denounce the left-wing government for backtracking on efforts to fight corruption.

Negrescu’s defence line was axed over the lack of concrete proposals on behalf of Western partners on how the proposed draft laws could be better formulated.

Schengen accession

Negrescu was asked if he hoped Romania would be able to join Schengen before its presidency, and avoid border checks for its many EU visitors.

Both Bulgaria and Romania have been considered fit by the Commission to join the borderless Schengen space since 2010. However, as admission requires unanimity, they have been blocked by member states such as France, Germany and the Netherlands, mainly due to electoral concerns in the older EU members.

In his State of the Union speech on 13 September, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Bulgaria and Romania should join Schengen “immediately”. However the issue was not even put in the agenda of Justice and Home affairs Council meetings.

In his answer, the Romanian minister suggested that even if it were not possible for Romania to join Schengen before 1 January 2019, there was a strong hypothesis that a decision to abolish border checks at airports could be reached, and consequently the guests of the Romanian Presidency would not need to pass border controls.

The idea of a two-stage accession to Schengen is not new. The idea is that at the first stage, travelers would be exempted from border checks at ports and airports only, and if the experience is positive, the next step would be to abolish border checks at terrestrial borders as well.

As a first step, Romania wants a vote in the Council, Negrescu said. Even if the vote would end up in one or several vetoes, Bucharest wants to know which countries oppose its accession. In the absence of such a vote, as the official explained, “everyone tells us to talk about it with another country”.

The country best positioned to obtain such an agenda item is of course Bulgaria, during the six months of its presidency, which begins in three weeks’ time.

An earlier version of this article was published with the website BulgarianPresidency.eu

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