|If only I had read this book before the Sussex Branch Study Session on Enlargement in November 06, colleagues might have been treated to a more coherent account of Romania’s journey to accession! So it is only right that I should tell you where you can find such an account. This volume follows the path from 1989 to 2006 and sets out the wider economic, social and political background to events and situations I had seen as vivid and often disturbing snapshots during regular visits through the nineties to the early years of this century.
The editor is Jean Monnet Chair of European Political Integration at Queens University, Belfast, and contributors are distinguished academics, parliamentarians and officials, each reflecting on a key aspect of Romania’s journey to membership.
These reflections are set in four sections covering the context, the road to the EU, Romania in the EU, and implications for the region.
Little is known about the country here; since the 2004 Big Bang the focus has been on Turkey; Romania has mostly been presented in the press in a negative light – orphans, corruption…; our ethno-centric Western European history books rarely ventured this far. So the first four chapters setting the context are very welcome, allowing the reader to understand where the problems on Romania’s difficult road to membership came from. The changing frontiers between 1878 and today which define relationships with the immediate neighbours, the historical reasons for the decline of a predominantly agrarian society and economy, with disastrous industrial developments compounded by the catastrophic last ten years of Ceausescu; the difficult exit from Communism. However the historical and emotional nature of the application to join the EU was the overwhelming desire to “return to Europe”, and regain Romania’s rightful place in the European family.
Revolution in 1989 did not lead to democracy, there was no consensus for capitalism, political parties never succeeded in providing good quality governance and predatory elites remained in charge. For the first ten years of the transition from communism, the economic results were disastrous, with hyper-inflation and millions impoverished.
It is a measure of how far the country has come that it finally achieved recognition as a “market economy” in 2004. The different chapters spell out the detail of the challenging and painful path of political and economic transition, the boom and bust 90’s, the collapsing banking system, the powerful people above the law.
|Alongside the economic and political analysis there are chapters looking at the massive societal changes needed. Difficulties over human rights and the treatment of minorities, Hungarian minorities in Romania, Romanian minorities in surrounding countries; no-one mentions the Roma. Child protection – a problem that shocked the Romanian public as much as the outside world; it has taken 15 years to come up with a policy that addresses some of the causes and provides community and family based solutions, though it remains to be seen how the 2005 law is implemented. Civil society is weak; it only evolves over decades and hopefully will as the economic situation evolves. The media, still controversial but becoming more free and dynamic.
The negotiations to join the EU are charted. The formal application for membership was submitted in 1995 but Romania was quickly left behind by the other former communist countries. The Ministry of European Integration was created in 2001 and several years of tough bargaining began. The environment chapter for instance was bound to be challenging in a country with no tradition in environmental protection and a complete lack of environmental collective conscience. Adhering to demanding EU standards will bring hardships in heavily polluted areas. There are still concerns about corruption and the independence of the judiciary, about product norms and standards, about discriminatory restrictions affecting public procurement, the collection of taxes and so on. However, through all these difficult years the aspiration to become part of the west, for Euro-Atlantic integration has not wavered and each painfully achieved step, from the Council of Europe in 1993 to NATO in 2004 has given a huge external push to the transition process.
The final section deals with the new situation for the EU, with the frontier pushed eastwards to the virtually unknown Black Sea. Romania’s role in this new space for the European Neighbourhood Policy, for relations between the EU and the Western Balkans and with Turkey remains to be seen. Will Romania, the laggard of eastern enlargement, have anything to offer Turkey, the laggard par excellence?
The EU & Romania
Accession and beyond
Edited by David Phinnemore
published by the Federal Trust 2006
reviewed by Margaret Tuccori