Romania: The last lap towards EU accession

16 April 2004

Romania was “obsessed” with achieving the deadlines for a 2007 entry into the European Union and welcomed the high bar set by the European Commission toward fulfilling all necessary criteria, Mr Geoana said. His government had taken the “courageous decision” of driving forward reform efforts at a rapid pace to ensure the deadlines set by the European Council were met, despite having to campaign in the national elections. “Romania has never had a better chance to make up for lost time in history - to not only catch up with the progress of the West but to change organically from the inside in an effort to modify our structural weaknesses,” Mr. Geoana said. Reform efforts were four-fold:

1.  public administration reform
2.  aggressive judiciary reform
3.  fight against corruption
4.  introduction of transparent working methods

Hesitance to fully institute public service reform had been the “number one shortcoming” in the transition period and the country’s “most severe mistake.” Romania was trying to make good for lost time by enhancing the financial resources available for these reform efforts from the country’s own budget and funds from the EU and the World Bank. “We cannot invent a new public administration overnight, but we are recruiting a new class of civil servants, which will be subject to a merit-based pay system, strengthening our fight against corruption,” he said.

He revealed the results of an overnight cabinet meeting, which had concluded the revision of the balance of power between the ministry of justice and the magistrates to assure the independence of the judiciary in legal, financial and human resource terms. Additionally, the government hoped to establish specialised commercial litigation boards and family courts by the end of the year. Integrity testing for the judiciary for these new bodies and existing entities should be introduced to ensure transparency, Mr. Geoana said.

His government was currently finalising the creation of a national anti-corruption prosecution board built on the Spanish model, which was already showing signs of being  “a feared and respected institution. This is a fundamental change, which we will continue to push for,” he said. Additionally, prevention, training of anti-corruption officials and prosecution would address the problem from all perspectives. Financial disclosure legislation was also planned, building on EU and US models to “give legislative teeth to our efforts.”

EU Foreign Policy

On Romania’s goals for the EU, once a full member, Mr. Geoana said that his country would focus on stabilising the European neighbourhood and increasing stability to the East. “Romania does not want to be on the edge of Europe. We will not tire until our neighbours are associated with the EU: the Western Balkans, Ukraine and the Black Sea region specifically. We want to help the West understand Europe as it was in its original geographic shape: extending all the way to the Urals. The Caucasus is a part of Europe,” he said. While Romania would be a strong external border both for the EU and NATO, its proclaimed foreign policy goal was to “spread our experience having joined the West, while extending a hand to the East.” The minister was adamant in underlining that Europe could not afford to be absent from the world stage. Romania only wanted to join a Europe that could defend its interests globally. Europe needed to play an active role in the East, the Middle East, Northern Africa and the Gulf region. “The price of not being courageous today will be paid tomorrow - now is the time to engage,” he said. Particularly for Europe’s policy toward the East, Romania could serve as a “springboard” for European values.