How can Romania refresh its EU image in 2013

radu magdinThis article wishes to be more of a common sensical strategy than an oracle which confirms or not if we are beyond European hope; i.e. whether we are or not “different”. Romania has no reason to be “a different case” in the EU, but it is, for the moment, because of substantial issues (justice, Schengen, good administration – including EU funds) and form (deteriorated image in 2012). If, in 2013, Romania decides to stay “different”, it’s only its fault and the fault of the ones who govern it; if politicos cannot understand each other not even as regards the foreign arena (a minimum peace for the sake of our international reputation) it’s then a shared responsibility between the ones that run the government and the leaders of the opposition.

But let us focus on the solutions for refreshing our image in the European Union. This means Brussels, but also the national capitals. I propose we start with national capitals since it is shorter. First of all, we should realize that each member State has its own interests via which they see us. There can be political interests, economic one (foreign investment, bilateral trade) or strategic (if an alliance is useful or not). These interests should be carefully looked into in order to see with who and on what files we are compatible. In some dossiers, this will be the case for France, in others Spain and / or Italy, in others the Irish Presidency of the EU, in others Visegrad+ countries. What we need is a lucid analysis, beyond friendship. In fact, friendship in between nations must not be confused with a certain affinity (presumed for example between latin countries, or slav ones); friendship grows in time, and is blended with common interests. For example, can we become friends quickly with Germany, comparably to the traditional relationship with France? It’s possible, but not very probable. Anyway, Paris, Berlin, London, Rome, Warsaw -and other- are expecting from us at least a minimum predictability. European Partners would like to know what to aspect from us; if we surprise them, it should be for the better. At the same time, we should understand that we don’t have to be friends with everyone; not even understand each other perfectly or be pleasant to everyone. It suffices to be respected, and to have some strategic bridges on which we can go up with honor. This means also not being shown as an example to the class by the European Commission or EU States’ chanceries.

What can be done in Brussels? This is a bit more complicated since “Brussels” is something generic that expresses different interests, in continuous movement. Beyond state interests – expressed primarily in the Council – there are “in town” business interests, associations, federations, civil society, and also other two big institutional actions (separately from the already mentioned Council). They are often quoted in Romania: the European Parliament and the European Commission. Managing well Romania’s relationship with the EC and the EP is key. First of all, it’s pretty awkward for a Member State to be the object of an EP resolution pointing out to democratic problems in your country; others have been through this, Hungary and Italy for example, but it surely isn’t a title of glory. Second, just as awkward is to get slaps from the EC periodically. The irony is that both resolutions and a lot of the inquiries addressed to the European Commission are started at a national level. The typical screenplay is that the opposition complains that life is difficult and the government is evil and goes to the Brussels Gates to save itself, preferably together with the country. Then, once in power, the former opposition gets the same treatment, symmetrically, from the new “vengeful” opposition. Magic; but the circus has to be stopped by somebody responsible.

The first step in refreshing our image in Brussels is to stop laundering our clothes in public. Otherwise, we shall always be seen as a second hand country – if you can’t solve your own problems, why would you be a good partner for common issues? Bluntly put, even European political families are sick and tired to intervene in local fights for their political partners, being invoked periodically in internal politics. Swoboda, Daul, Verhofstadt, as well as their counterparts from European political parties, have other things to do than analyse the latest evolutions in Bucharest. Whoever doubts this is invited to check the EP’s (increasingly busy) and EU agendas: a struggling eurozone, a continued crisis, jobless youngsters, unsustainable pensions system and so on – surely Romania’s issues are not Europe’s main priority …

As regards the second step, we should be in the center of Brussels debates, at least of the ones that are of interest for us. Actively present, not just present, not just “aligned to the consensus”, so  that we can be taken seriously as a rule, not an exception. This means monitoring interests -important for negotiations- but also a lot of networking at all levels – alliances are key. Diplomats can be (very) active, but politics should follow them with quick steps. We need an involved HR, on the substance and the form, at all levels. In the end, when you have 27 national interests at the table, only the best manage to stay till the very end. We are not necessarily more beautiful or smarter than others. Maybe we have more olympians, too bad they leave the country. Do we have potential? Yes, but this potential has to be valued, and a proper attitude is needed in this sense, doubled by work, will, strategy. Otherwise, the title of “the 7th country in the EU” will be empty of substance.

If 2013 will be the year of a Romanian charm offensive in the EU, we shall wait and see. But in order to refresh our image and strengthen our basis, like one of our jokes says: “we should start organising”. For the beginning, one needs will, a plan and two victories: one in Brussels (a Romanian proposal in terms of EU policies that attracts a “wow”, in a good sense) respectively an internal progress in a key area, whether we are talking about fund absorption or the anti-corruption fight, or something else of importance. This double victory would mark a qualitative step forward, internally and externally, and would transform Romania in a reliable partner. We would stop being “different”.

Radu Magdin is CEO of SmartLink Communications. He worked for 5 years in Brussels, at the European Parliament and the private sector. He is passionate for EU affairs and an advocate of a strong Romania in the European Union.

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