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Belarus opposition leader expresses “gratitude” to Romania and Klaus Iohannis for their solidarity: “We feel the support from Romania, Lithuania and Poland”

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© Photo Collage (Images sources: European Union)

Sviatlana Tikhanovskaya, the leader of the democratic opposition in Belarus, expressed her gratitude to Romania and President Klaus Iohannis for the support that Bucharest, together with Warsaw and Vilnius, has given to the democratic movement and the peaceful demonstrators that took the streets of Minsk and other Belarusian cities against the oppressive regime of Aleksandr Lukashenko.

Sviatlana Tikhanovskaya, who took refuge in Lithuania, made this comments in an online intervention during a debate organized in Bucharest by the Embassy of the Republic of Lithuania and the Centre for Conflict Prevention and Early Warning (CPC-EW) at the Romanian Diplomatic Institute.

Given the opportunity, I would like to take the time to express my gratitude to our Romanian friends, who’s President (e.n. – Klaus Iohannis) on September 21st together with his Polish and Lithuanian colleagues signed a letter to the international community to help ensure that Belarusians receive the support we drastically need in our economical, political, and social transition. (…) The old saying, and friend in need is a friend indeed, has never seemed more resonant for Belarusians as our country is ruled by an autocrat giving order to use violence on peaceful demonstrators. We welcome, every bit of solidarity, as support, and we feel the support from Romania, Lithuania and Poland“, Tikhanovskaya said.

Not so long ago, in 1989, Romania, Poland and Lithuania walked in the same shoes. Today, the time for Belarusians has come to unshackle ourselves, to acknowledge and let go the ghosts of our past and to look into the future“, she added.

 

Romania played has an active role in the European Union’s position on the situation in Belarus, the debate also taking place in the context of the Joint Declaration signed by the Presidents of Lithuania, Poland and Romania in support of a democratic Belarus, in which the three heads of state called on the European Union to identify economic support measures for a democratic Belarus.

The call of the three presidents has been included in the conclusions of the special European Council of 1-2 October, when the leaders of the 27 member states of the European Union invited the European Commission to come up with proposals to support this country.

Previously, Romania provided 100,000 euros in support to Belarusian civil society and independent journalism. The Romanian ambassador to Minsk also joined his EU colleagues and visited Svetlana Aleksievich, a Nobel Prize winner and a member of the Democratic Opposition Coordinating Council, an entity that will receive the Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought from the European Parliament.

At the same time, in another gesture of solidarity with Poland and Lithuania, Romania decided to recall its ambassador from Minsk for consultations. Lithuania and Poland have decided to resort to this measure after Belarus recalled its ambassadors to Vilnius and Warsaw for consultations following EU sanctions on Belarusian officials accused of electoral fraud and human rights violations.

Also, both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies have adopted two declarations on the violation of fundamental human rights in Belarus, documents by which the Romanian Parliament expresses its solidarity with the Belarusian people, calls for an end to violence against peaceful protests in Belarus and considers necessary more articulated reaction ”from the international community in the event that the situation does not improve urgently.

Last but not least, Romania is among the countries requesting the inclusion of Alexandr Lukashenko on the list of sanctions of the European Union.

The situation in Belarus deteriorated following the presidential election on August 9, when the democratic opposition led by candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and civil society accused the regime of President Aleksandr Lukashenko of defrauding the election results.

Violent repression by the authoritarian regime in Minsk of the protests and demonstrations that followed, as well as suspicion of fraud in these elections, led the European Union to take a position in support of the democratic opposition and to take restrictive measures against Lukashenko regime officials.

There are major concerns at EU level and about Belarus’ interest in the size of nuclear energy and nuclear safety, given that the unsafe operation of the Astravets plant poses a major threat to the region and implicitly to the European Union.

The European Union has also warned that an additional list of sanctions could include Alexander Lukashenko, whose new presidential term is considered illegitimate by the Western community, which was adopted on October 12.

Robert Lupițu este redactor-șef, specialist în relații internaționale, jurnalist în afaceri europene și doctorand în domeniul reasigurării strategice a NATO. Robert este laureat al concursului ”Reporter și Blogger European” la categoria Editorial și co-autor al volumelor ”România transatlantică” și ”100 de pași pentru o cetățenie europeană activă”. Face parte din Global Shapers Community, o inițiativă World Economic Forum, și este Young Strategic Leader în cadrul inițiativelor The Aspen Institute. Din 2019, Robert este membru al programului #TT27 Leadership Academy organizat de European Political Strategy Center, think tank-ul Comisiei Europene.

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French-German Day. Ambassadors Laurence Auer and Cord Meier-Klodt: Europe was made possible because two countries decided to reconciliate. The spirit of the Elysée Treaty shaped EU’s recovery fund

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© Photo Collage (Official Embassy images)

Interview conducted by Dan Cărbunaru and Robert Lupițu

As everywhere in the world conflicts and tensions multiply, the main achievement of France and Germany is still to have brought more peace and prosperity to our European continent, and based on a living legacy of historical ties with Romania the three countries are building a common European future today, Laurence Auer and Cord Meier-Klodt, ambassadors of France and Germany to Romania said in an joint interview given exclusively for CaleaEuropeană.ro on the occasion of the 58th anniversary of the historic Franco-German reconciliation.

58 years after the signing of the Elysée Treaty by President Charles de Gaulle and Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, who laid Franco-German relations on new European foundations, and two years after the new impetus for this partnership by the Treaty of Aachen, signed by President Emmanuel Macron and Chancellor Angela Merkel in the presence of President Klaus Iohannis as representative of Romania’s Presidency to the EU Council, France and Germany offered a new show of unity, friendship and cooperation when Europe needed it most: a compromise that formed the basis of the € 750 billion recovery fund to relaunch the European Union following the COVID-19 pandemic, the biggest crisis since the European project was founded.

“The plan is called Next Generation EU because we believe that we need to address the future of all European citizens, not only short term consequences of the pandemic” said Laurence Auer, France’s ambassador to Romania, praising the work of the German presidency of the EU Council, which ended on 31 December 2020.

“It was not easy and the road was difficult, but at the end of the road there was consensus. (…) We can even say that the spirit of the Elysée Treaty was the one that drew the course of the agreement later”, Cord Meier-Klodt added, in a symbolic reference to the fact that the historical milestones of Franco-German cooperation materialized through the “spirit of the Elysée” and the “spirit of Aachen”.

The two ambassadors also set out their countries’ views on the Conference on the Future of Europe and the fact that it “aims to build on the 10 commitments for the future of the EU that were agreed in the 2019 Sibiu Declaration”, also arguing for a continuation of the close relations with Romania.

Referring to the future ambitions of the French Presidency of the EU Council, which will begin on 1 January 2022, Laurence Auer welcomed Romania’s support in including the rule of law as part of the future Multiannual Financial Framework: “The rule of law in the EU is not an ideology, it is a set of legal rules, it is the heart of the political contract that binds us”. Equally, Cord Meier-Klodt stressed that France and Germany would be happy to welcome Romania among the eurozone member states.

Laurence Auer and Cord Meier-Klodt also emphasized the importance of the European Union’s strategic autonomy, as well as the broad transatlantic agenda between Europe and the US with the inauguration of the Joe Biden administration.

Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle at the signing of the Elysée Treaty, 22nd of January 1963. © Wikipedia

CaleaEuropeană.ro: It’s been 58 years today since the signing of the Élysée Treaty that brought the Franco-German reconciliation at the heart of the European construction. Two years ago, stepping on the foots of presidents de Gaulle and Mitterrand and chancellors Adenauer and Kohl, President Macron and Chancellor Merkel reinforced the European cooperation between the two EU powers with the Aachen Treaty. What are the main milestones born from this historical reconciliation and what can the future possibly lie ahead?

Laurence Auer: As we celebrate the anniversary of the Élysée treaty, it is important to remember that Europe was made possible because two countries which fought in devastating wars decided to reconciliate and build a system that would forever prevent new wars. Attention was paid to cross-border relations, to a better mutual understanding, to the learning of each other’s language. Today, as everywhere in the world conflicts and tensions multiply, the main achievement of France and Germany is still to have brought more peace and prosperity to our European continent.

Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron a the signing of the Aachen Treaty, 22nd of January 2019 © Bundesregierung

The 2019 Aachen Treaty on Franco-German cooperation and integration represents a new step in deepening the links between the two societies. It created an Economic council of experts, a joint information platform, a Franco-German Parliamentary Assembly and a new fund for citizens that fosters projects between civil societies.

Moreover, as we face the multiple effects of the health crisis, I must stress that it is after a Franco-German initiative that the European recovery plan was proposed. We should praise the immense work of the German Presidency of the EU that made possible the decision of all member states to allocate €750 billion in order to rebuild our economies. The plan is called Next Generation EU because we believe that we need to address the future of all European citizens, not only short term consequences of the pandemic.

CaleaEuropeană.ro: The signing of the Aachen Treaty in 2019 took place in a broader European context with Romania at the helm of its first EU Council Presidency. The spirits of Élysée and Aachen were adopted by President Iohannis under “the Sibiu Spirit” inked in 9th of May EU Summit Declaration. Has the European Union and its member countries lived up to the commitments enshrined in these spirits across the most difficult challenges in its history – the COVID-19 pandemic?

© Administrația Prezidențială

Cord Meier-Klodt: First of all, I particularly liked that the reaffirmation and revision of the Elysée Treaty in 2019 took place during Romania’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union, thus benefiting from the special appreciation from a partner state in Southeast Europe.

Secondly, no one says that the response to the COVID-19 pandemic went smoothly and without crises. Neither in Member States nor at the level of the European Commission. Especially in the early stages! In fact, no one was prepared for a crisis of this magnitude.

Taking all this into account, I believe that Europe has proved its capabilities in this very crisis. Only if we look at the unprecedented € 750 billion post-COVID-19 “Next Generation Europe” Economic Recovery Plan adopted during the German Presidency of the EU Council. The procurement of vaccines by the European Commission has also been particularly important.

Who would have thought in the spring of 2020 that Member States would be able to agree on € 390 billion in non-reimbursable funds? It was not easy and the road was bumpy, but at the end of the road there was consensus.

This was only possible because Germany and France, Federal Chancellor Merkel and President Macron, had already agreed in May 2020 on a compromise that was the basis for the agreement that followed. We can even say that it was the spirit of the Elysée Treaty that shaped the course of the agreement later.

CaleaEuropeană.ro: The 750 billions EUR recovery fund is the most recent and tangible result of Germany and France being the engine that fuels a compromise between the EU-27. What kind of example does this EU-27 agreement set for the future of the European integration in political terms but also in the perspective of an in-depth fiscal and economic integration?

Cord Meier-Klodt: The German-French initiative, which has resulted in an unprecedented recovery package for Europe, has made it very clear that European solidarity is not just an empty word. Romania alone obtained 30 billion euros for the post-pandemic economic recovery. Of course, this financial aid also imposes political obligations: the rule of law and democratic values ​​are basic conditions for being able to use European funds. In this context, I welcome the announcement made by Prime Minister Florin Cîțu to quickly fulfill the remaining recommendations regarding CVM. 

With this compromise – difficult to negotiate, as we must admit – the EU has shown that it can reach an agreement and that it is fully operational, despite the very different positions initially expressed. This is also an important signal regarding our capacity for action on the international stage.

In terms of financial and economic integration, we all know that for deeper integration we need greater convergence between Member Sates. That is why the EU offers Romania massive support in order to stimulate economic development. But it is obvious that this development cannot come “from the outside”, but that Romania must take decisive steps in this regard. The new government has made it very clear that it wants to continue on this European path.

CaleaEuropeană.ro: Deals on the Multiannual Financial Framework, Next Generation EU fund, link between EU money and the rule of law, compromise on EU climate goals, post-Brexit agreement, a principled agreement on investments with China and a political debate on EU’s strategic autonomy. All these have in common one thing – the German Presidency of the EU Council. One year from now, the French Presidency will lead the EU Council. What will be the aim for Paris and Berlin for the key European files like the Single Digital Market, the Economic and Monetary Union, the Banking Union and the resilience of the Internal Market in the years ahead?

Laurence Auer: While the German Presidency’s slogan was « Together for Europe’s recovery », we are now, for the next six months, under the guidance of the Portuguese presidency with the motto « Time to deliver: a fair, green, digital recovery ». After the difficult and uncertain times of the pandemic and after Brexit, we need to transform our budgetary decisions into concrete results for the citizens. Never was it more important to preserve unity and cohesion among the now 27 Member states and to put into force the historical decisions which were taken on December 10th.

 The French Presidency will come in 2022 with priorities, of course, in due respect of what our Portuguese and then Slovenian partners will have achieved in 2021. I should mention the rule of law, a key element of the new financial framework, adopted with the support of Romania. The rule of law in the EU is not an ideology, it is a set of legal rules, it is the heart of the political contract that binds us. Furthermore, the French Presidency will of course follow up on the implementation of the green and digital agendas. As you know, we set ourselves the goals of reducing carbon emissions by at least 55% by 2030 and reaching carbon neutrality by 2050. But no ecological transition will be possible without handling a big digital transformation of the European economies. I should add the social dimension : Europe will be stronger if we reaffirm that sustainable development goes along with innovation and inclusion. We are very happy that the Erasmus and « Horizon Europe » education and research programmes were reinforced for the next period.

CaleaEuropeană.ro: There is one special subject that was intended to be framed between the German and French Presidencies of the EU Council, namely the Conference on the Future of Europe. Mainly because of the pandemic the launch of the Conference has been postponed. What is the hope for the French-German close partnership in regards with the foreseeable results of this Conference with respect to scenarios such as treaty changes, QMV in the Council or multi-speed Europe?

© Ambasada Franței în România

Laurence Auer: The Conference on the Future of Europe is a tripartite initiative between the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament to promote dialogue between citizens, experts and institutions. It aims at building up on the 10 commitments for the future of the EU that were agreed in the 2019 Sibiu declaration. The German Presidency of the EU has accomplished a lot of work on its preparation but indeed, due to the pandemic the official launching of the conference has been postponed to the Portuguese presidency.

Fundamentally, the conference is not about experts meetings on treaty changes. It will promote a collective reflection on the meaning of «le vivre ensemble européen », on our common destiny. Its objective is to set up new priorities for concrete advances in terms of training, education, culture, mobility, etc. We want the conference to reaffirm the way of life we want to promote for the EU citizens, and reinforce our global European project.

CaleaEuropeană.ro: While thinking to the EMU and the BU we see that the highest level of EU integration today is the single currency. What would be the benefits for Romania in joining the euro area, a path already half-completed by other new member states such as Bulgaria and Croatia?

Cord Meier-Klodt: Economic and Monetary Union, as well as the Euro, aim to make the European economy work better and create more jobs – in short: to give European citizens access to more prosperity. Joining the eurozone therefore comes with economic benefits. Of course, this path must be accessible to all EU Member States.

However, membership of the eurozone also involves many responsibilities and challenges. It is a complex process, and the changeover to the euro requires extensive preparation. So any country needs to be well prepared for this transition to truly become an asset for their own development. Sound public finances and a robust and competitive economy are essential. The accession process already brings many benefits and a package of measures for economic improvement.

Of course, we would be happy, as eurozone countries, to welcome Romania, as soon as all the conditions are met, because that will strengthen the eurozone. The fact that Romania is very intensely concerned about joining the eurozone is a very good precondition for all other stages.

CaleaEuropeană.ro: Back in the 2017, when the European Parliament building in Strasbourg hosted the funerals of former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Jean-Claude Juncker recalled the tears of Kohl in 1997 when the European Council decided to enlarge the European Union to Eastern and Central Europe. “Europe at its best”, he said. As founding countries of the European dream, how would you describe the benefits of the European integration for a country like Romania and for the European Union as a whole?

Cord Meier-Klodt: I consider that it is of a special symbolism that Romania joined the European Union in 2007 during and with the concrete support of the then German Presidency of the Council of the European Union. And I am deeply convinced that this affiliation of Romania (and of other Eastern European partners) represents not only a success for Romania, but also for Germany.

Let us remember that in the post-war period, Germany was the only Western and Eastern European country in the political sense. It was in this spirit that the “Eastern policy” (Ostpolitik), significantly promoted by Federal Chancellor Willy Brandt, emerged in the Federal Republic of Germany in the early 1970s, with its slogan “Change through rapprochement” (“Wandel durch Annäherung”).

In the same spirit, the treaties of good neighbourhood and friendship with the countries of Eastern Europe were signed at the beginning of the 90s, after the Fall of the Wall, among them Romania. These treaties were later followed by NATO and EU accession.

In short, for post-war Germany, Europe has always meant East and West, together as much as possible. And this is true to this day.

On September 25, 1984, 70 years after the start of the First World War, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl met the French president François Mitterrand in Verdun. Mitterrand extended a hand to Kohl – a gesture of friendship symbolizing the lessons learned from a frightful past. © Source: EC – Audiovisual Service/ 1984

CaleaEuropeană.ro: There is one key issue on which Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said “our French friends” were pleased during the German EU Council Presidency: putting forward the political debate on EU’s strategic autonomy. This seems like an objective of paramount importance for President Macron, who acknowledged unrest induced by terms such as “EU sovereignty” or “strategic autonomy”. In this part of Europe, it is regarded as a tendency to decouple from our allies in Washington. How do France and Germany see Europe building its strategic autonomy?

Laurence Auer: Since 1963, France and Germany have discussed a lot on these issues, at the highest level and not only to prepare EU Presidencies ! In the Aachen treaty for instance, we included a mutual defence clause, at a bilateral level.

 I want here to avoid being misunderstood : there has been a lot of debates on the concepts and of course this is an important track for the future of collective security in Europe. Security is a field with very quick evolutions, if you take for instance the cybersecurity domain.

Today, both countries are strongly committed at EU level on the implementation of the European defence fund, which was created under the new Financial Framework to build common capacities.  Romania is part of many projects designed under this fund. As a whole, I can say that France aims at strengthening Europe’s strategic credibility, and we have the same goal in a bilateral context. We have concrete challenges and we want to provide concrete answers to them. In a context of growing threats, and relations governed by power relations, we should be able to defend our interests.

© Ambasada Germaniei în România

Cord Meier-Klodt: And, if I may add, reaching even beyond the field of security policy, a sovereign Europe should entail all aspects of our European foreign policy and be reflected in a truly multilateralist approach.

CaleaEuropeană.ro: European unity cannot replace transatlantic unity. This is often said by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg while it was diminished during the difficult and tense relations between Europe and the Trump administration. However, with the oath of the Biden administration comes a signal of hope. Do France and Germany expect a “New transatlantic deal”, as it was phrased by Foreign Ministers Maas and Le Drian, and what are the hopes coming out from NATO, EU-US and G7 summits in the future months?

Laurence Auer: The arrival of a new American administration means a lot to France on all global issues, climate change, conflict resolution under the UN Framework, global governance, for instance of the pandemic under WHO, or the regulation of digital platforms, but also on all regional crises. Remember that Valery Giscard d’Estaing, a great European President, gave birth to the G7 in 1975, just one year after the European Council was created. As a former Finance Minister, he believed in a better wold regulation of the economy after a monetary crisis. At a European level we have a large agenda of transatlantic discussions. We also need to talk to our American allies about security challenges as I mentioned above. The EU and the US have many issues to work on together, including multilateralism, development, trade or conflict prevention issues. Together, the French and German ministers of Foreign affairs laid out a possible roadmap for these transatlantic discussions in the coming years.

CaleaEuropeană.ro: Finally, a zoom in your countries bilateral relations with Romania. Adding to the common European destiny and the economic exchanges, between France and Romania there is a powerful cultural and francophone link, while the Romanians in Germany and the German ethnics in Romania play a key role in our special ties. In which areas do you believe the relations between France and Romania, respectively Germany and Romania, will continue to develop in the new decade?

Cord Meier-Klodt: Both France and Germany have close historical ties with Romania. For France, the common position in the francophone world is especially important, while Germany emphasizes the traditional bridge represented by the German minority in Romania, and today by the growing community of Romanians living and working in Germany. Based on this living legacy, the three countries are building a common European future today.

In this sense, the commitment of Romanians to Europe is extraordinarily useful. Within the EU, Romania is a very important partner, which can reach compromises and convince other Member States of their need. I saw this both during Romania’s presidency of the EU Council in 2019, and, in full, during Germany’s recently concluded presidency.

I would like Romania to consciously develop this potential, because the EU needs a lot of support to face the current challenges: reinforcing democracy, tackling climate change, continuous digitalisation, foreign policy issues, relations with China and much more. We will only succeed if we agree. Partners who are able to reach compromises are more important than ever.

Laurence Auer: And if I may add, I would also insist on the fact that we share with Germany a total commitment towards the European project, a strong capacity and a will to build consensus with all our European partners, that we respect and with whom we developed strong historical ties. We will need in the next period of time to be innovative as the stakes are high. Between France and Romania, we will rely on the strong strategic partnership we have built in all sectors at the bilateral level and we will develop paths of concrete cooperation and convergence everywhere we can. I am personally fully committed towards this objective for the next three years.

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MEP Vasile Blaga: The last day with Great Britain in the EU, the first day of a new relationship that we want to be close

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Great Britain, the historical partner of the EU, leaves our table but remains a friend of the European Union, said MEP Vasile Blaga in a statement sent to CaleaEuropeană.ro.

December 31 is the last day on which the UK still applies Community law, and from January 1 the Brexit agreement will be applied, having already been signed by European officials.

“There are a few more steps for this agreement, concluded in extremis, on Christmas Eve: the evaluation of the agreement by the European Parliament, the British Parliament and its ratification by the Parliaments of all Member States,” said Blaga.

“We are talking about an extremely important agreement given that official figures show that over 3 million EU citizens live in the UK and over one million Britons live in one of the 27 Member States. The agreement has been worked on, and often on the brink of collapse, by a team led by Michel Barnier who deserves congratulations for the tenacity with which he defended the rights of European citizens and European companies. It is an unprecedented agreement, no other such agreement has been concluded by the EU so far, from a commercial and economic point of view. Basically, the historical partner of the EU leaves our table but remains a friend of the EU. Because not even a democratic vote can cancel a family relationship and a history like the one between Europe and Great Britain “, declared Vasile Blaga.

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MEP Vasile Blaga: “A coordinated vaccination campaign at European level, an example of unity and solidarity”

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MEP Vasile Blaga (PNL, PPE) welcomes the start of the vaccination campaign at the same time in the European Union.

„The debut of the European level vaccination campaign, which is more or less simultaneous in all European Union states, has not been able to mobilize the EU to be able to provoke the annulment of all countries.” It is clear that you are critical of the address of the module in the European Commission to manage the contracting seminar with vaccines, tattoos, but through care, the moment of this moment, the functioning of the European Union, according to the European Plan.

The European MP informed Romania about the 150,000 vaccine dose of Pfizer BioNtech: „The European Commission has allocated 10 million vaccine doses for Romania to COVID 19″, said Vasile Blaga.

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