In the latest in the Ambassador series, Cormac Ó hEadhra interviews Romania’s Ambassador to Ireland, Iulian Buga.
Romania is one of the European Union’s newest members. Since accession in 2007, the country has made significant progress both economically and socially. However, stubborn challenges remain.
“We are talking about a very profound transformation which took place and needed to take place in Romania, starting with changing a system from a State-owned to a private economy and then socially to change the whole basis,” Mr Buga said.
Romania emerged from Communism in 1989. The Ambassador is keen his country’s rate of progress and current challenges are viewed in a wide context.
“One of the challenges is coming from a short period of time since we’ve started the transformation.”
He said accession to the European Union was vital for his country and expedited a programme of reform. Romania experienced recession in the late 1990s, but a more prosperous period followed.
It fares relatively well now – a rate of growth of approximately 2% - considering widespread economic problems in Europe.
However, one wonders if the country would do better still if it were not for some home-grown difficulties.
A political battle has rumbled on for some time between the country’s President Traian Basescu and Prime-Minister Victor Ponta.
Mr Ponta’s administration has tried to impeach the president a number of times. The president has claimed the prime minister wanted to control the country’s constitutional court. There have been allegations that judges and journalists have been put under pressure by politicians.
Allegation and counter-allegation, along with political and legal machinations, have drawn international attention. Various institutions in the EU and the United States have monitored political developments in Romania for some time.
“It’s still part of a democratic process. There are different opinions. There are different political parties....those differences, campaigns...that is part of the culture, that is part of the way it is done in Romania.”
Mr Buga believes the highly charged political battles have not had an adverse affect on the Romanian economy.
“That may cause a certain perception of ‘turmoil’ as you said,” Mr Buga said. “In real life – in terms of investments, in terms of transformation – I don’t think that created a major problem.”
Of late, a ‘truce’ has been called by Mr Ponta. The Ambassador said a period of political stability is best for all countries, not just Romania.
But he insists foreign investors have always understood real business opportunities were available in Romania, which were never affected by the country’s politics.
Romania’s education sector has received some international attention recently.
Some are critical of high failure rates in important exams, the lack of consistency from a policy point of view – Romania has had nearly 20 education ministers since 1989 – and that no Romanian university is included in the Top 500.
Organisations like UNICEF say more investment and reform is needed to improve the education system.
Mr Buga insists a long process of reform is underway, and that progress is being made. However, he readily accepts it is not a fait accompli.
“[Educational courses need to be]...more skill oriented, preparing the graduate for the real economy, not just giving them general information...and also creating better connections between universities and private companies,” Mr Buga said.
He rejects the assertion Romania is failing its young people because of its system of education.
Some media outlets have reported complaints regarding how foreign journalists have been treated by political parties in recent times. These complaints relate to coverage of the aforementioned political conflict between the president and the executive.
Some claim journalists have been put under pressure, or undermined, because of their coverage of the story.
The Ambassador said he has neither heard of the complaints nor the reports. He said he follows the news and events in Romania.
“I’m not avoiding the subject. I understand your curiosity, and your professional interest. But I frankly and sincerely have no knowledge of the case...if there are such cases, it is a very isolated case.”
When a recent article in The Economist magazine is referred to (which reports the complaints involving numerous well-known international news publications), he repeats he hasn’t heard of the story.
“For me, at least, this is something new and I have doubts that in Romania, nowadays, something like that in a general fashion is happening.”
He also said there may be a difficulty with how the story is perceived.
EU – Challenges and Opportunities
The Ambassador said it was still his country’s intention to join the euro in 2015. Realistically, however, because of Romania’s economy and the wider economic difficulties, it may take longer.
- He supports further EU enlargement, but only if prospective countries make strides on social and humanitarian issues.
- When asked if Romania has made enough progress on improving the situation of the Roma community, he says progress is being made. Mr Buga said it is not just a Romanian problem, but the country is working with France and the European Commission to help integrate the Roma community.
He stresses it is a highly complex situation.
- Mr Buga said Romania is looking forward to the Irish Presidency of the EU, and supports Ireland’s goals for the period; issues surrounding economic governance, employment, information technology and research, agricultural policy and cohesion funds, in particular.
- He said he hopes Ireland can help Romania join the Schengen area, which permits easier travel within an international space, during its Presidency.
The series continues next Friday with Spain’s Ambassador.