Interview

Speaker: 
Teodor Baconschi, Minister of Foreign Affairs
Date: 
01/16/11
Author: 
Chris Bryant, Financial Times


Romania warns EU over Schengen delay

Romania’s foreign minister has warned that the European Union’s credibility is at risk unless all member states abide by the same rules instead of using them selectively. 

Calling for a decision on Romania’s admission to the EU’s Schengen passport-free zone within sixth months, Teodor Baconschi told the Financial Times that the country had met all technical criteria for membership. He branded other political arguments for a delay as “irrelevant”.

Romania, with Bulgaria, had expected to join Schengen in March but France and Germany have indicated they will block a decision, because of concerns over corruption, the judiciary and organised crime.

Schengen evaluation experts presented their final report behind closed doors in Brussels on Friday. Officials are said to have identified border problems in Bulgaria, but Romania is thought to have received a clean bill of health.

This has hardened suspicions that political factors are to blame for the delay – for example, because of France and Romania’s falling out last summer over the Roma.

This threatens to compound tensions between the EU’s new and old member states, which came to a head last month when Britain, France and Germany backed a freeze in EU spending that goes disproportionately to the new member states. “I think every member state – the recent ones and the founders, older ones – needs to see that Europe is functioning on the same standards and playing by the& rules,” Mr Baconschi said.

Teodor Baconschi, foreign minister, comments on Schengen, EU accession and relations with the country’s eastern European neighbours “If I want my fellow citizens to avoid the temptation of Euroscepticism ... I have to show them that Europe is respecting its own principles, rules, standards and procedures. So without that the credibility of the European project is at risk,” he said. “We have done our homework and the level of preparation for the accession [to Schengen] has been confirmed by no less than seven evaluation missions . . . So I would say de facto we already are in Schengen.”

“We don’t see any legal basis or other kind of arguments to link the political decision in the Council [of EU Ministers] regarding our Schengen accession to other issues,” he said. He added: “Our legitimate political goal is to see a decision made under the Hungarian presidency,” referring to Budapest’s six-month leadership of the EU which concludes at the end of June.

Mr Baconschi this month warned that Romania could set additional conditions for the accession of Croatia to the EU if its Schengen application was delayed. He also hinted that Romania could unilaterally withdraw from the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism – the EU programme that monitors progress on fighting corruption. However, Romania’s president subsequently backtracked from both positions.



Interview transcript: Teodor Baconschi, Romanian foreign minister.
The following are a selection of his comments.

Schengen.

The Schengen accession is not some kind of gift, it’s a clear obligation stipulated by our treaty of accession to the European Union – a legal obligation that was assumed by all member states.

We have done our homework and the level of preparations for the accession [to Schengen] has been confirmed by no fewer than seven evaluation missions. So I would say de facto we already are in Schengen.

The legal framework and procedure contains clear rules and objectives for candidate states and those have been strictly observed. So our legitimate political goal is to see a decision on accession made under the Hungarian presidency [of the EU]. We do believe that our membership in the Schengen area is a step forward to better contribute to ensuring the security of the EU and European citizens.

We have heard a lot of so-called arguments, but our position is once again very logical and legitimate – we don’t see any legal basis or other kind of arguments to link the political decision in the Council [of Ministers] regarding our Schengen accession to other issues. 

The Co-operation and Verification Mechanism is designed to promote the reform of the judiciary – a distinct mechanism for a distinct field.

I see no reason to punish a fully fledged member state – we are entering our fifth year of membership. From the last country report of the [European] Commission on the CVM there has been a lot of progress in the reform of the judiciary. It’s clear that an honest assessment of this will be reflected in the next country report this summer.

The CVM means the co-operation and verification mechanism, it is not a punishment mechanism, it is a way to further promote and accelerate the reform of the judiciary, which is a complex process in any country. So I am optimistic about the finalising of the CVM, but under the strict criteria involved.

It is useful, very important as a tool – if we maintain the CVM in the field for which it was introduced. We don’t need to extrapolate this to other fields and to create false arguments against Romania as a member state.

We need the reform of justice first and foremost for own citizens ...but we don’t accept to extrapolate it to other domains.

All other arguments that have been presented against our [Schengen] accession in March as scheduled are irrelevant in this context – for example, the regaining of the Romanian citizenship for some citizens of the Republic of Moldova. [The regaining of the citizenship] is made possible in a precise legal framework and it’s done according to international standards and regulations.

The rate of growth of EU citizens in Romania is one of the smallest in the whole Union and the number of Romanian citizenships granted is much smaller than in other member states.

We are talking about thousands [of Moldovans], no more than that. So this is largely less than what’s happening in other member states.


EU and bilateral relations.

We expect Europe to preserve its own foundations by playing by the rules and as we are ready [to join Schengen], a fact assessed by the European Commission, it’s normal to expect a clear calendar for our accession this year. So we have a demand for a political decision under the Hungarian presidency in this respect.

We have a strategic partnership with France and historical excellent bilateral relations – we have huge projects, a lot of trade and many successful French investments in our economy.

So we absolutely want to keep open the political dialogue and to co-operate with France – because if there any fears sent to the French government from the public opinion, then we need to co-operate and explain, to give details and strengthen this co-operation. All we want is an equal treatment and a sense of fairness, which is fundamental to the European construction. So we need France, as always, as a partner, a reliable and honest partner in these efforts, not only for our accession to the Schengen area but also for continuing all the necessary reforms.

This government has adopted very tough austerity measures for the fiscal consolidation and the macroeconomic stability of the country – we are still fighting against the negative impact of the economic crisis. So we have our own political context and we would like to see France, which is traditionally our major ally in the EU, understanding what we are doing and acting accordingly in the spirit of the strategic partnership.

I only ask for an equal treatment, the appliance of the same set of rules in the Schengen issue and for a normal political dialogue, which is supposed to solve any difficulties in the bilateral relations with France.

We have adopted constantly within the European Council a constructive and very European attitude as a member state and we still would like to avoid any real or artificial dividing lines within Europe because this was the major historical achievement of our continent after the fall of communism.

We would like to think that principles, basic values, standards and procedures are not only lip-service – adopted and applied selectively – but the real political substance of our common destiny.

I remember a few years ago a US official introducing this language of “new Europe” versus “old Europe”, etc. We don’t really need such things ... If we really want to correctly implement the provisions of the Lisbon treaty, if we want to have a fruitful perspective of the EU as a global player, so I think it’s a pity to put at risk any of our achievements – that’s why we need transparent rules, real equity between member states and political debate on a democratic basis if we really want to build up the EU in the 21st century in a completely transformed global environment.

I think every member state – the recent ones and the founders, the older ones – need to see that Europe is functioning on the same standards and playing by the rules. This is instrumental for the solidity and credibility of our political energy to continue the European construction.

If I want my fellow citizens to avoid the temptation of Eurosceptism, for instance, I have to show them that Europe is respecting its own principles, rules, standards and procedures. So, without that, the credibility of the European project is at risk.


Croatia’s EU prospects and the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism.

It is well known that we have very strongly supported EU enlargement to the western Balkans and we are clearly supporting Croatia’s accession.

We are aware that there is a need for every candidate state to be evaluated on its individual merits.

My statements concerning Romania’s participation in the CVM should not be taken out of context ... this is no matter for any regret, because we have worked very hard diplomatically to contribute as a member state to this enlargement process, so there is no ambiguity on this (regarding our support for Croatia’s accession).

Croatia is clearly the frontrunner in the western Balkans, so, as I said, we support its accession to the EU once the criteria are
fulfilled.


Bulgaria.

As neighbouring countries [Bulgaria and Romania], we would like to preserve a sense of active solidarity between us. And we hope that if  this lack of compliance [by Bulgaria] to the technical criteria is officially confirmed, they will be able to solve the problem very rapidly.


Greece’s border problems.

It’s clearly unfair to punish somebody for somebody else’s problems ... I want that all member states join efforts in order to improve their standards in terms of border security all around Europe.


Moldova.

It’s not true that we had a border problem with the Republic of Moldova. We have been the first state to recognise the sovereignty and independence of the Republic of Moldova.

We signed the first border treaty in 1947 in Paris. On November 8 last year, we signed a treaty for the common management of the border – we have enough real problems to face without adding to the list imaginary issues.

A pro-European reformist government in Chisinau is good news for the EU and the stability of its neighbourhood and, as a side effect, also for the chances of solving the Trans Dnestr conflict. Because, once the Republic of Moldova is clearly engaged in structural reforms and a pro-European policy, it will become much more attractive for Trans Dnestrians as well. So we are still committed to the earliest possible resumption of formal negotiations in the five-plus-two format. We look
forward for a settlement of the conflict that respects the sovereignty and integrity of the Republic of Moldova.

I think the capacity to elect democratically and to install a new pro-European government is very much linked to the activism of the EU in the Republic of Moldova. We will continue to promote any efforts designed to promote a rapprochement between Chisinau and Brussels.

We have, as Europeans, the interest to project our values in our eastern neighbourhood as well as in other directions ... we would like to see this European agenda of the Republic of Moldova fully fulfilled through the implementation of reforms, European standards and adopting the acquis. It is in the interest of the Republic of Moldova first of all.


Hungary’s EU presidency and its media and citizenship laws.

I know and have enough information to say that Hungary is a perfectly functional European democracy and that our neighbouring and partner country is fully respecting all the basic rules of a functioning democracy.

The media law is a complex internal legislative act – it is being discussed in Brussels and I believe the dialogue between Brussels and Budapest on this issue will be really fertile.

We have a constant dialogue with our Hungarian friends on [the citizenship law] and other issues and there is no negative impact internally.


Ukraine and Belarus.

Romania is a strong supporter of the European perspective of Ukraine. We need them to implement further reforms and I think they are aware that success in this great endeavour is only possible if the EU requirements on internal reforms are implemented. 

We are much more concerned about the post-electoral events in Belarus. We have expressed our disappointment and condemned the brutal police intervention against peaceful demonstrators. We think that Belarus’s participation in this eastern partnership should be examined carefully...

There are clear requirements and what is happening there on the ground is not encouraging – particularly the complete lack of dialogue with  the opposition and NGOs [non-government organisations]. These are basics for any democracy, so we need to see some results.


The Romanian economy.

Fortunately, after these two years of pretty severe recession, the economic outlook is quite encouraging right now. There are positive signs visible and we expect real growth to build up this year.

So, in this context, in order to consolidate the reforms undertaken so far and to protect them from possible negative external developments, we envisage a precautionary agreement with the [International Monetary Fund], supported by the EU. We are on a good track of economic recovery this year and the prognosis for this year is even better, so I think the worst is behind us.

The improvement of the absorption rate of EU structural funds is clearly the major priority of our government for this year.


Organisation of the Black Sea Economic Co-operation. 

We have to revitalise BSEC – next year, we will celebrate 20 years of this regional co-operation format. We would like to bring the BSEC closer to the EU in some common projects.

In addition to the strategic positioning of its member states, the Black Sea area is a hub for transportation corridors, trade and
commerce routes.

This region holds rich natural resources, including energy – it should attract much more attention from the EU.