The founder of the blog „The Bridge of Friendship“ has given an interview to the Bulgarian National Radio on the occasion of beginning of the Romanian europresidency – about the perspectives in the following six months before the relations between Bruxelles and Bucharest, between the president Iohannis and the government of the social democrats, about the economic measures introduced in the end of 2018 and about the media reflection on the eve of the presidency
On 5th January 2019 the founder of the blog “The Bridge of Friendship” and editor of the Romanian section of the site “The Barricade” Vladimir Mitev was interviewed by Georgi Markov in the emission for international comments and analyses “Saturday 150” of the programme “Horizon” of the Bulgarian National Radio. The occasion for the interview is the start of the Romanian presidency of the Council of the EU. The beginning of the presidency was marked by a wave of negative evaluations and comments in Western European media about the government in Bucharest and the Romanian political elite. In the first days of the new year Bulgarian media have given tribune to a number of analysts, who showed scepticism towards Romania similar to the Western European one, given that literally until the middle of 2018 Romanians had beeng given constantly as an example for successful reforms in justice, economy and loyalty to the West. The media reflection towards Romania in the beginning of 2019 reminds of the one towards Greece, when it resisted the prescribed treatment of the debt crisis. Then Greeks were often described in European and Bulgarian media as irresponsible, because they resists and destabile the whole of the eurozone. But it wasn’t pointed out that the Greek debt actually rose as a result of the “treatment”. In this context Vladimir Mitev pointed out that we know vaguely our neighbours and we are tempted to compete with them who is more responsible and more European. However it is worthy if when we know our neighbours, we don’t remain limited to the satisfaction that we make one thing or another better, or to the pitifulness that we fail as people and institution in comparison to them. As a part of the EU we could need more cooperation in the European South-East. Not only competition, but cooperation is an European value.
Georgi Markov: Hello, fellow colleague Mitev!
Would the starting euroresidency improve the dialogue between the EU and Romania?
The dialogue between the EU and Romania is not so bad as it seems. Bucharest has its strategic importance for the EU – both in geopolitical and in economic plan. On the other hand, Romania also needs the European business, which gives it dynamics, which it can’t achieve otherwise. But indeed in the last years the social democrats stir rising criticism
in Western Europe with their judicial reforms and economic policy.
The opponents of the Liviu Dragnea’s party are manyand have influence both in the country and abroad. They accuse the social democrats of being anti-European, of returning the country back to socialismor of its attachment to the “evil forces” of Hungary and Poland.
The social democrats declare themselves pro-Europeans. The prime minister – Viorica Dancila, or the strong man in the party – Liviu Dragnea, say that in their capacity of Europeans ask for the right to have a propoer opinion, to respect from the European partners, to recognition by these partners of some Romanian interests. The supporters of social democrats’ policies from the last years describe their activities as attempts to correct some excesses and abuses. For example, it is claimed that the fight against corruption was realised on the basis of illegal protocols for collaboration between the secret services and the prosecution, which brought to condamnations of contested legality. Another thesis of the social democrats’ supporters is that the foreign companies – such as banks, have greater return on investment than they do in Western Europe. It happens even though the Romanian citizens are poorer that Western Europeans.
Social democrats use this feeling of injustice, in order to introduce measure, which help them balance the budget. For example, the minimal salary and the minimal pension are raised, they introduce a ceiling for the prices of natural gas and electricity, and the so-called tax on greed in the cases, when the interest rates of banks rise over a given level. It is seen however that the measures doesn’t deal with the automotive sector, where there is big foreign investment. One should not forget that after an earlier reform of the social democrats as of the start of 2018 Romanian pay social contribution without sharing their burden with the employer, unlike in Bulgaria.
Such an ambivalent policy could be interpreted as populist in different senses. On one hand in the sense that social democrats are not real eurosceptics and only pretend to be like that. On the other hand, in the sense that the government makes gestures towards its electorate, but doesn’t alter the state of poverty, dependence and underdevelopment in the regions where its electoral base lives.
The contradictions in the country and between Bucharest and Bruxelles would probably continue. There are topics for disputes: from the question who will preside some formats of the European dialogue in the following six months – the president or the prime minister, until the lasting desire of Liviu Dragnea for the issuing of an emergency decree for the amnesty of those who were condemned illegally. Apart from political interest, he also has personal interest to insist on such a decree, because at this moment he appeals a verdict against him and will avoid the punsihment. It seems to me plausible that the dialogue between Bucharest and Bruxellles will be active in the next 6 months, without a change in the contradicting interests of the participants in it.
The present europresidency takes place in a moment of big contradictions in the internal Romanian politics, as you have also observed. It also takes place in the context of some economic measures, introduced by the government. Could these measures influence the europresidency and what reactions do they stir in investors and society? Voices have appeared that these measures could be a cause for the departure of the Austrian investments from Romania.
The economic measures were introduced at the end of 2018 and contain different elements. Among the important measures is the tax on greed for the banking and financial institutions. It is progressive at levels between 0,2% and 0,9% upon the actives of the financial institution at the end of each quarter and will be applied when ROBOR – the index of the medium interest of the 10 largest banks, gets higher than 1,5%. Another measure is the raise by a few times of taxes for licensing of mobile communication companies and a tax on energy companies. The sum to be paid for these taxes is determined in accordance with the turnover of the company. The representatives of the business have already affirmed that these measures would probably lead to infringement procedures by the European Commission, because the measures go against the European regulations.
The measures would probably have not direct effect upon the europresidency. However the companies in the financial and energy sector are often foreign, which means that there will be a rise in the tensions between the Romanian government and the political and business elite of Europe. As you have said, during a visit to Bucharest in December 2018 the Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz, warned that the Austrian companies could leave the country, because of the measures.
However, many Romanians believe that foreign companies make good fortune in Romania and will no lose easily “the golden apple”, which the Romanian market represents. There is also certain support for these measures in society, which is explained by the perception of inequality between the foreign business and the Romanian state. But as I have already said – the social democrats take with one hand from the business, and give to him with the other. One can not say with determination where do they stay in the equations of power.
Fellow colleague Mitev, you have already discussed about the tension between the government of social democrats and the president Klaus Iohannis. This tension is not something new. Do you expect that after Jean-Claude Juncker’s remarks the government and the president would overcome their differences and will unite in order to resolve the vital problems of the country and Europe?
The differences between the camps and the persons at the top of these camps can’t be easily overcome. In December 2018 took place a lot of conflicts in the Romanian policy. One of the hot topics was the economic measures, which we have already discussed. Another contradiction was connected to the attempt to take down Liviu Dragnea from the position of president of the lower chamber of the Romanian parliament. This activity is probably explained by the fact that the europresidency would impose limits on what is possible in Romanian politics. In the last days Juncker, the former minister of European affairs Victor Negrescu, the PM Dancila, talk about the need for unity. Evidently, the EU exercises pressure so that the europresidency passes without destabilization, which could hinder the functioning of the EU.
I am not sure that the political contradictions could unfold at a reduced level in the following months, because time is running for Liviu Dragnea and the government. If they want to keep on governing,they have to realise their interests in economy, justice and other spheres. But each attempt of theirs to protect their interests
provokes European reaction
Let us conclude with your view about the way, in which the europresidency is mediatised. How do you evaluate the way, in which Romanian and foreign press writes about the europresidency in its beginning?
The topic stirs interest in Romanian media. Given that the last year Bulgaria had a presidency of the Council of the EU, it is inevitable to make some comparison.One of them is that the Bulgarian europresidency was supermediatised in Bulgaria.
Probably the Bulgarian government wanted to use it for internal goals. It seems to me that in Romania it is said more often than in Bulgaria that the europresidency is a technical activity, that it realizes the will of Europeans, not of Romanians. In spite of that the high-ranking politicians and the European cadres of Romania are permanently present in media in the country and abroad. They comment the europresidency and thus they underline the importance of this period of six months.
It could be seen that the media interest in Bulgaria towards the Romanian europresidency is big. In the days round the new year a wave of articles from the press of Western Europe came out, which criticize Liviu Dragnea as a politician with a suspended sentence and criticise the course of the government in the last two years.
The sceptical news towards the Romanian political class are distributed rapidly in Bulgaria in connection with the six-month provocation before Bucharest. What is common in these cases is that the media reflects a hidden competition between the countries and the nations in our region. The reflection also uncovers a relatively superficial knowledge of what is going on in the neighbouring countries. In my view, it would be beneficial, if we are interested in our neighbours not only in order to find calmness that we do better or in order to feel pity that we fail as a people and institutions, but thinking about how to develop ourselves together with these neighbour in collaboration, not in rivalry.
We put the end of our interview here. Thank you! We heard the journalist Vladimir Mitev, with whom we commented on the expectations with regard to the Romanian europresidency, which started on 1 January 2019.
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