The new Romanian President Klaus Iohannis made his first visit abroad to Brussels yesterday (15 January). Speaking alongside Commission President Jean Claude Juncker, he said that his country hoped to get rid of the EU monitoring on its deficient law-enforcement system before the end of their respective five-year mandates.
Iohannis, an ethnic German former mayor of the city of Sibiu, won the Romanian presidential election on 16 November and took office on 21 December.
Juncker told the press he had known Iohannis for a long time and had “privileged relations” with him. He added that few people knew that Hermannstadt wasn’t populated by Saxons, but by Luxemburgish. Hermannstadt is the old name of Sibiu, where Ioahannis served asmayor from 2000 to 2014, having repeatedly been re-elected by landslides.
Iohannis said that he found over his first Brussels visit not only understanding, but “almost identical views on many issues of importance for Romania”.
He said that his goal was to finalise the process of integration of Romania in the EU, so that the country would become “not exactly a full member, because it already is, but a member accepted and respected, as well as part of the EU hard core”.
“The full Europeanisation of Romania is the main objective of my mandate”, Iohannis said.
The Romanian president said that with Juncker, the two had “the same views regarding Schengen”. Juncker assured him of his support for Romania’s access to the EU’s borderless area, Iohannis said.
The Commission says that both Romania and Bulgaria, who joined the EU in 2007, are technically ready to join Schengen, the borderless EU area. But some member states still object to their accession and appear to link the issue to the fact that both Romania and Bulgaria are still under Commission scrutiny for their deficient law-enforcement systems, under the so-called Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM). The Commission has said that CVM and Schengen accession are unrelated issues.
Regarding CVM, Iohannis said that “in a few days” a new report will appear.
“We agreed that in the next few years, during our respective mandates, that we will complete with success this procedure, because Romania has achieved significant success in strengthening its institutions, in consolidating the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary,” the Romanian president said.
Developing his idea that Romania should be a member of the EU’s hard core, he said that he had discussed with Juncker the issue of Romania’s Eurozone accession.
“Without entering in too many details, we decided that we will work on this track as well,” he said.
Iohannis also said that he had discussed EU funding for his country and that he asked the support of the Commission President so that Romania’s absorption rate, which is the lowest in the EU, would increase.
Romanian Commissioner Corina Cre?u, responsible for Regional Policy, also took the floor alongside Iohannis and Juncker. She said that a special group had been created in support of member states with a low absorption rate of EU funds.
The Commission will make visits to those countries, it is in dialogue with their authorities, Cre?u said. She reminded the audience that December 2015 is the deadline for making use of funds from the 2007-2013 EU budget.
Cre?u also said that she and Neighbourhood Commissioner Johannes Hahn would visit Romania and Moldova together, in an effort to make sure that EU aspirants would feel closer to the Union.
When Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU on 1 January 2007, shortcomings remained regarding judicial reform and the fight against corruption. In the case of Bulgaria, problems also remained regarding the fight against organised crime.
A Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) was set up to assist both countries with judiciary matters after their EU accession. Seven years after their accession, the CVM is still ongoing and will continue under the next EU Commission.
So far, the Commission reported under CVM every six months on progress with judicial reform, the fight against corruption and, concerning Bulgaria, the fight against organised crime.