Monday, April 30, 2007

Bulgaria, Romania Brought to EU "Poverty, Nationalism, Corruption"

Sofia News Agency

Bulgaria and Romania, the latest additions to the European Union, arrived with a highly controversial baggage of poverty, nationalism and corruption, the Washington Times commented four months after the two countries acceded to the bloc.

The article claims that the two newest member states further strained the EU fabric and its coffers and increased the de facto creation of a "two-speed Europe," divided into "old and rich" and "new and poor".

"When Romania and Bulgaria joined the European Union, some West European governments imposed a delay on immigrants from the two countries, while others set selective quotas, causing protests and accusation by Bucharest and Sofia of "second-class" treatment."

The "Euroskepticism" is said to have gained momentum and given rise to sometimes extreme nationalism in Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria.

The article cites a Western analysis, according to which "the Bulgarian Attack Coalition and the Greater Romania Party are aggressively against any national or religious minorities, as well as against the European Union and the United States

Greece prepares military exercise with Bulgaria, Cyprus, Romania

30 April 2007, 12:00 CET

(ATHENS) - Greece is preparing to host military exercises from May 7 to 19 with a new battle group that includes Bulgaria, Cyprus and Romania, its general staff announced Monday.

After map-based exercise for the first five days, 1,200 soldiers and police officers will take part in the manoeuvres in the northern Askos region.

The Evrop II-07 exercise is designed to test the participants' readiness to handle humanitarian operations including the evacuation of the civilian population.

The HELBROC battle group that unites the countries was drawn up under the auspices of a European Union initiative to create relatively small forces that can deploy rapidly to deal with crises.

AFP

Fabian Romania buys office building in Bucharest for about 60 mln eur

LONDON (Thomson Financial) - Fabian Romania Property Fund Ltd said it has agreed to buy a class A office building in North Bucharest for about 60 mln eur.

The real estate investment trust said it will initially pay 12.25 mln eur for the building with a gross area of about 44,000 square metres, 5 mln eur of which has already been paid in the form of a secured loan.

The company said it will pay the final instalment based upon a forward purchase yield of 7.4-7.8 pct applied to rents achieved, on completion of the building and estimates the total equity requirement for the project to be about 12 mln eur.

Fabian Romania said the building is being developed by a local developer and it expects to complete construction in the second quarter of 2009.

Euro-free Europe: Heading east for bargains, old-world charm

By Carol Pucci

Seattle Times travel writer

Leave it to an upstart airline sowing its post-Soviet-era oats to redefine the word "discount."

With the weak dollar and strong euro blowing the medieval roof off prices in countries such as France and Italy, I'd been thinking a lot about Eastern Europe when a notice popped up in my inbox from Slovakia-based SkyEurope.

The airline offered to whisk travelers from London, Paris, Rome and Amsterdam to Budapest, Bratislava, Krakow and Prague. The deal: tickets for 7 cents.

Working my keyboard like the lever on a slot machine, I punched in some dates, and hit the jackpot — two seats on a flight from Amsterdam to Budapest.

You can guess what happened next. With taxes and a $6.50 "transaction fee," the total came to $52.19 per ticket. Not exactly airfare for pennies, but still a bargain, considering British Airways was quoting $146 and the train takes 20 hours.

It was just what I needed to jump-start a trip I'm beginning this week into Hungary, and Romania and Bulgaria, the European Union's two newest members.

For adventure-seekers looking for an escape from $5 cups of coffee and hordes of tourists, these and the other ex-Communist countries are the final frontier for European budget travel.

Things are changing fast, but for now, there are enough cultural differences to leave you feeling as if you're not in Kansas anymore — or Paris or Rome for that matter — and enough 21st-century mod-cons to make travel easier than it's ever been.

Euro- free Europe

Remember Europe before the euro when you had to switch currencies as often as you changed countries? That's the way it still works in most of Central and Eastern Europe.

Even though many of the countries are now members of the EU, a move that boosts foreign investment and makes travel easier, most haven't yet adopted the euro as their currency (Slovenia is the exception) — a separate process that depends on budget deficits, interest rates and inflation.

The trade-off is that things still cost less than they do in Western Europe, and the dollar still buys more.

I'll be paying in Hungarian Forint, Romanian Lei and Bulgarian Lev, but unlike years ago, there are plenty of ATM machines and lots of hotels, shops and restaurants take credit cards.

Communication is easier. I've tried teaching myself some Romanian. It comes out sounding a little like Italian with a mouthful of mush. So I feel better knowing that English has replaced Russian in the schools, and most people under 30 speak enough to help out a traveler.

Everyone has cell phones and e-mail. I used the Internet to book a flight on Romania's Air Tarom and rooms in family owned guesthouses, private homes, hostels and hotels. Bloggers offered some of the best tips. Postings on VirtualTourist.com and TripAdvisor.com yielded lots of lodging suggestions that I didn't see in guidebooks.

Embracing capitalism

No-frills airlines are the Greyhound buses of Eastern Europe. Getting around is faster and cheaper with Sky Europe, Wizz Air, Ryanair and others adding flights from London, Paris, Amsterdam and Rome. (see www.flylc.com for a list of who flies where).

Enterprising locals are embracing capitalism. Forget those Cold War images of concrete high-rises and abandoned factories. Think frescoed monasteries, ancient castles, modern cities and restored medieval towns.

It's true that the secret is out on many destinations. Prague and Budapest are flooded with tourists. Europeans flock to Bulgaria's Black Sea coast and Montenegro instead of the pricey Italian beach resorts, and Croatia is on everyone's radar.

I'm happy to be getting to Romania while Adam Marius still rents rooms for $25 in the old walled city of Sighisoara in Transylvania. He speaks English and built a Web site showing the four new rooms and bathrooms he built next to the family home in the birthplace of Vlad Tepes, the 15th-century Romanian prince known as Dracula.

Entrepreneurs such as Nicolae Prisacaru, in the farming village of Vadu Izei near the Ukraine border, offer inexpensive travelers' services.

He heads up a community effort aimed at introducing visitors to traditional village life in the rural Maramures, a forested corner of Transylvania where locals live and work much the way they have for centuries.

I hired Nicolae as my guide for two days at $30 a day plus gas money. He's arranged to pick me up at a train station, and booked rooms for me in two guesthouses — one a traditional wooden farmhouse owned by an artist who paints religious icons on glass — for $25-$30 a day per person, including meals.

The Gypsies of Sliven

Of course, low prices alone don't make a destination worthwhile.

I'm happy with my $50 room in a family owned hotel in Eger, Hungary. But I'm going there to soak in the thermal baths and sip the Bulls Blood wine sold from cellars tucked into hillside caves.

In the Maramures, I'll explore hand-built wooden churches, visit blanket weavers, and maybe hitch a ride into town on a farmer's horse-drawn wooden cart.

The journalist in me is looking forward to a visit to the Bulgarian mountain town of Sliven. There I hope to meet traveling sock saleswoman Diana Beleva to whom I loaned $25 through Kiva (www.kiva.org), a San Francisco Web-savvy nonprofit that pairs individuals in the U.S. and elsewhere with entrepreneurs in developing countries.

Diana and others whom Kiva helps in Sliven belong to a minority group called Roma. We know them as Gypsies.

Originally thought to have come from Egypt, the Roma (Sanskrit for "man" or "husband") arrived in Turkey around 1068 as lower-caste refugees forced out of India by Islamic armies. They made their way into Eastern Europe in the 14th century. Some became slaves. Others traveled from town to town looking for work as coppersmiths, entertainers or bear-tamers.

Most Roma today are settled, but segregated into poor neighborhoods called mahalas. They face job discrimination, some turn to stealing, but many more would like to find work.

Helping to make that happen is American Peace Corps volunteer Greg Kelly. He helps arrange the Kiva loans through REDC Bulgaria, a microfinance venture sponsored by Hungarian-American businessman George Soros and the University of Wisconsin School of Business.

Through Kelly and REDC, Kiva has linked hundreds of "lenders" like me with Roma trying to make a living. There's Idriz Akiof, 64. He lost his job in the state-run light-bulb factory after the fall of Communism. Now he owns his own barbershop where haircuts cost $1.30. Todor Beleva, Diana's brother, plans to use $750 in new working capital to expand a firewood-delivery business he runs with his wife, Silvia.

Most tourists who come to Sliven head into the mountains for the hiking trails and mineral springs. I'll be touring socks stalls and barber shops, and, of course, looking forward to my stay in a $40- a- night Bulgarian guesthouse with built-in wooden wardrobes, woven carpets and a tavern that serves roasted lamb and rabbit.

TRANSITIONS ONLINE: Romania: Long-Distance Families

SPERIETENI, Romania | To reach Sperieteni, a village some 50 kilometers from Bucharest, leave the highway and drive half an hour along a dusty, unpaved road. Despite its remoteness, the village is infamous in Dambovita County.

“If you’re looking for a place where only children and old people live, you have to go to Sperieteni,” says a woman in a village on the main road.

Indeed, the children here – as in many other settlements in the county – grow up virtually alone, many waiting for their house-cleaning mothers to call from Italy or Spain on Christmas, hoping to see them for perhaps two weeks during the summer holiday. Some wait to finish carpentry or another trade school, then join their fathers on construction sites across Europe. Others end up in foster homes or even orphanages, though they have parents. And on occasion, a 10-year-old drops out of school, runs away from home, or even hangs himself in the closet with father’s tie.

The Romanian government estimates that 40,000 children – though the actual figure may be much higher – have been left behind by migrants who go west in search of a job and money they cannot find at home. These are the children raised by mail, telephone, even webcams.

But the parents’ financial calculations wreak long-term costs on their children: teachers describe assorted behavioral issues in the classroom, while of greater concern, hospitals in eastern Romania recently began reporting a rash of suicides and suicide attempts among troubled adolescents unable to cope with their feelings. While westward migration has been widespread over the past 17 years, government officials and activists say they were unaware of any such crisis until Romanian media first began highlighting the problem last year.

“We are devastated that 10- or 12-year-olds commit suicide because they cannot talk on the phone with their parents,” says local UNICEF representative Pierre Poupard.

YOUNG AND OLD

Some child protection activists blame parents for limited understanding of their children’s emotional needs and the stigma attached to any form of psychological therapy as a sign the person is “crazy.” And the problem of children left behind may soon grow – if, as some observers predict, Romania’s accession to the European Union this past January encourages countless more Romanians to emigrate.

For a Frenchman like Poupard who came to Romania to monitor children’s rights, the tens of thousands left in the care of relatives – and deprived of that special parental bond – is quite unique. “It’s an alarming phenomenon,” he says. “But we cannot judge anybody. We need to understand first. In Romanian society, there is the idea that a child’s upbringing needs only material things: a roof, food, and going to school. But the parents have to understand that a child needs his or her mother.”

In Sperieteni itself, the place hums on a springlike Saturday afternoon. The road is full of boys playing football and girls skipping rope. Old women sit on small chairs in front of their gates, sighing from time to time, keeping an eye on their grandchildren. They don’t talk to strangers easily. The words come heavily.

“Eh, most of the young ones have left; more than half the village,” whispers an old woman in her seventies, sitting alone under a blossoming cherry tree. “A few have taken the children with them. But the rest live with their grannies. It’s so difficult to live here now. I am old and at my age, it’s not easy to take care of the house and these girls.”

Indeed, her daughter, Liliana, left her two daughters, 12 and 9, with her two years ago when she went to Spain to work as a housekeeper. “She had to,” her mother laments, her voice rising as she paints a picture of parental sacrifice. “Her husband left her. We had no sign of him for years. She had nothing to do here, in this village. She had to go to get money and raise these girls properly.”

Soon the old woman returns to her own troubles. The girls “ are so difficult to raise,” she says. “Liliana sends money every month, but it’s still difficult. I am ill … I don’t know what to do with them. I would give them to an orphanage, but they won’t accept them.” A state institution would only accept the girls if they were orphans.

By now all the children in the neighborhood have surrounded the old woman. Her granddaughters have taken their place by her side. As their grandmother calmly admits to having considered giving them away, the girls look down.

“I miss Mom,” says Nicoleta, the older sister. “Most of the children in my class are home alone – 15 out of 20. I hope my mom will come home to take us with her. I have seen her once this year on the webcam. It didn’t work very well, but we saw each other. I want to go live with her. She promised to come home at Easter, because she couldn’t be here on Christmas.” She seems calm, perhaps trying not to cry in front of strangers. “I want to go and work there with Mom,” she says. “But I have to wait and finish high school first.”


IT ALL LOOKS GOOD ON PAPER

Sperieteni Mayor Marin Voinescu’s papers document just 100 people who have left the village of some 2,000 for Spain. “I'm glad they left,” Voinescu says. “They have spared me some money from the budget. They all relied on the social programs.” Local women typically work as maids in Spain, the men on construction sites. However, the mayor asserts, “We don’t have abandoned children here.” With scientific precision, he states, “Out of 100 people who left, four have taken the children with them. We have three children at the orphanage in good conditions, and the rest are with their grandparents – who are young and healthy, physically and psychologically as well.”

Voinescu notes that children whose parents work abroad are better dressed at school and often envied by their classmates. Anamaria Neagu, the village English teacher, agrees. Yet their classmates’ envy only adds to the children’s sorrow, Neagu says: “Most of the children at school have both of their parents away. Grandparents and aunts take care of them, but this is not enough for a child. The teenagers often have behavior problems – they are violent, they skip school.”

She talked to some parents about their children’s problems, but they weren’t receptive.

“They don't seem to believe the kids are acting this way because they don’t have the parents at home,” she says. "They are not all very educated people. They worked all their lives. They grew up alone, too: ‘Remember when our parents used to work double shifts in the factories during Ceausescu’s time, and we would play outside with the apartment key hanging around our necks? If we survived, why couldn’t these kids face it?’ That's what the parents say. Most of them chose to work abroad, to live in outskirts of Paris or Rome, to save money and support their children. And they expect the children to understand this.”

GETTING RID OF THE JOBLESS

Sperieteni and Dambovita County are hardly unique.

In other parts of Romania, like the impoverished Moldavia region, Italy is more popular, especially for nurses and women who care for the elderly. Numbers are difficult to assess. According to an Open Society Foundation study, more than 2.5 million Romanians – one in nine – currently work abroad. Many took their children with them and moved away for good. But most only go for a couple of years and leave the children behind, believing they are safer at home, in school, in the care of relatives.

The national Authority for the Protection of Children’s Rights estimates there are 13,000 families with either one or both parents away, leaving some 40,000 children in a relative’s care. But Authority spokeswoman Cristina Niculescu asserts the numbers are far from the reality. The statistics, she says, rely on the good will of local officials to count these children. And many did not answer the government’s demand to send accurate numbers.

On 26 April, the children's authority raised its estimate to 60,000 children whose parents currently work abroad.

Her boss at the Authority, Bogdan Panait, expresses his frustration.

“Most mayors believe … they are getting rid of the unemployed and won’t have to spend the budget on stipends for the poor,” Panait says. “And there is the mentality that there is nothing wrong with the grandparents raising the children.” But he says the generational gap should not be underestimated.

Observers suggest the government is at a loss over the situation. But Panait says the children's rights authority is trying to cope, issuing in June 2006 an order for child-protection agencies nationwide to count the children left alone and monitor them. Yet, there is no deadline and no sanction against agencies not doing their job properly.

The children who cannot be cared for by relatives should by law be placed in institutions or foster care. But, according to the Authority, only 600 children of 40,000 are now in this situation. These are the truly abandoned children. Their parents left for good, typically disappearing without a trace, so the state stepped in. The others are only to be monitored by the too few and poorly paid social assistants.

“Moreover, the government recently prepared a new draft law on preventing child neglect,” Panait says. The bill would set up some 10 specialized offices and information centers to help the children whose parents left to work abroad. But it's a long way from becoming law.

Another tool to keep track of children left behind is the requirement that migrant workers who find a job through government agencies must give the name of the person caring for their children. Some 40 percent find a job through such agencies. The children of the rest, those who inform no official bodies they are leaving, are most in danger, Panait says. “We are trying to find a solution for the problem, but it is rather new to us,” he says. “This phenomenon has been going on for years now. But we became aware of it just a few months ago.”

THE SEARCH FOR ALTERNATIVES

Child care professionals and the general public both became aware of the phenomenon early in 2006, when the media revealed several suicides among such children. One 11-year-old boy who had lived for two years with a foster family in a village in Iasi County was found hanging from a beam in the basement. It shocked the public. He was well taken care of, the media reported, but missed his mother. This March, a 16-year-old girl in Campulung Moldovenesc, in northern Romania, hanged herself in the bathroom, reportedly because she had low grades and didn’t want to disappoint her father, who was working in Italy.

It took exposure of these deaths for child-protection workers to link migration with adolescent suicide. The problem appears to be larger than anybody thought. According to a study released by the Social Alternatives Foundation in Iasi, a quarter of the children left by parents skip classes or drop out of school. Moreover, some 30 percent of juvenile delinquents have parents working abroad.

Over the past year, the situation in eastern Romania has been even more dramatic. Dozens of villages are populated only by children and old people. In Iasi County, a local hospital has estimated that every four days, a schoolboy or girl tries to commit suicide. The psychologists at St. Mary Children’s Hospital in Iasi have so far treated 89 children for life-threatening overdoses of pills. Many tell doctors they miss their absent mothers and fathers.

A hospital spokeswoman says the staff is struggling with the epidemic.

“We have the psychologists, and these children get therapy here, but it’s not enough,” Dr. Catalina Ionescu says. “They should be in therapy after they leave the hospital, too. And they can’t, because they come from rural areas and most people [there] think that if you talk to a psychologist, you must be crazy.”

Meanwhile, just a handful of nongovernmental organizations and concerned individuals search for a solution of their own. To date, the Social Alternatives Foundation is the only NGO to request UNICEF’s help.

UNICEF’s Poupard says he hasn’t seen anything comparable among other emigrants: “I’m sure that if you ask a mother from any other European country, 'Do you want to leave for the United States, for Japan or China, and leave your child behind?' I’m sure she’ll answer, ‘Are you crazy? I would never leave my child for all the gold in the world' ... People from North Africa migrate in great numbers to Western Europe. But the pattern is different. First the man goes, works for a couple of years and then he brings the family. But the mother always stays with the child.” In Romania, though, women leave first, because it’s easier for them to land a job as maids or caretakers of the elderly. Poupard insists that Romanians need to change their mentality. “A child needs the mother, needs love; it’s only natural,” he says. “Putting a child in an institution is not the answer. We need to assess the cause, understand, and then do something. Explain to parents what their kids need. Talk to the children. Contact the parents and tell them the kid is in trouble. There are ways.”

Neagu, the English teacher in Sperieteni, says she would never leave her little boy, Mihaita. Her husband left for Spain in May 2006. Their 13-month-old, she says, has only seen his father once since, on the computer, and cries “Daddy, Daddy!” every time the phone rings. Yet Neagu says she knows dozens of children less fortunate than her child. At least Mihaita has her to hold him when he cries.

Meanwhile, she’s saddened to see some schoolchildren around her falling apart.

“They have money,” she says, “but what’s the use without a parent’s love?”

Ana Maria Luca is international news editor with Romantica TV in Bucharest.

Romanians sense home in church

In a one-story building in Apopka, members can recall memories of the old country.

Sonia Chopra
Special to the Orlando Sentinel
April 29, 2007

APOPKA -- Madelina Wood misses her home, her country and the traditions of Romania.

But for a few hours on Sunday mornings, she says she feels as if she has been transported back there when she attends Sts. Michael and Gabriel Mission, a Romanian Orthodox Church in Apopka.

"It is my home away from home. It feeds my spirit. I go for my God and the prayers said in our language. It feels so good," said Wood, 29, an office administrative assistant who lives in Orlando.

"And our priest is the real thing."

That priest is the Rev. Daniel Ghica, 43, who has dedicated his life to spreading the gospel and the existence of Romanians in Central Florida.

Because he speaks English haltingly, Ghica asked his wife, Corina, 40, to translate what the church means to him.

"He likes that he is God's servant and that he is doing God's work. He likes to help people," Corina Ghica said, explaining that her husband is a full-time priest. He was instrumental in building and obtaining a mortgage for the 1,400-square-foot, single-story church and the 2 acres of land adjoining it six years ago.

But the parish has existed since 1994. Its members met in different places through the years.

"Beginnings are always hard, but we had to have a church. We feel it is important. This is who we are. We are born into this religion, and we will die in it," said Corina Ghica, who works at a Walgreens pharmacy in Orlando. The couple have two children, Natasha, 14, and Vlad, 9.

The money for the building was collected through donations from the Romanian community and from church membership dues, which are $100 annually. Ghica estimated membership at 75, and attendance at Easter and other holy days swells to 250.

Census 2005 community surveys show an estimated 12,797 Romanian-born Floridians, with an estimated 154 in the Orlando metro area, which includes Lake, Orange, Osceola and Seminole.

Church officials estimate at least 450 Romanians in Central Florida and maybe as many as 600. They point out that there is a niche for ethnic religious and cultural institutions.

"I think this community deserves to be known all over Orlando. We want people to learn about our traditions," said Theodore Bradea, 42, president of the church association. Bradea is self-employed and lives in Orlando with his wife, Vasilica, 44, and their son, George, 19.

"One day God will help build us a bigger church," Bradea said.

Romania is in southeastern Europe. It borders Hungary and Serbia to the west, Ukraine and Moldova to the northeast and Bulgaria to the south.

According to church officials, (citing the country's 2002 census) about 87 percent of its citizens are members of the Romanian Orthodox Church.

For many, the church is a place to gather and meet the community.

"I go there because I am Romanian, and it's a Romanian church," said Alex Omat, 52, of Orlando. "I enjoy the services."

Maria Caldureanu, 77, one of the oldest members, says that the culture and heritage have to be passed down and kept alive.

"The church's altar looks like it does in my country. I like my church. The priest is very kind and speaks softly and gently," she said.

Phone tapping violates privacy rights

Pravda

The European Court for Human Rights has considered Romanian legislation on phone tapping violating privacy rights.

Romania should abolish laws that allow prosecutors to order indefinite phone taps, the court said. It also criticized the law for not requiring prosecutors or secret services to justify why they order wiretaps.

The court - set up in Strasbourg, France, by the continent's top human rights body, the Council of Europe, to uphold human rights standards in member states - issued the ruling in a case filed by a suspect in a cigarette smuggling case who had argued that Romanian authorities had violated his human rights.

The court, whose rulings are binding for member states, also ruled that authorities did not conduct a proper investigation into complaints by the suspect, Dumitru Popescu, that he was beaten by police investigators. Despite its findings in favor of Popescu, the court awarded him no damages, saying the ruling itself was a moral reparation.

Popescu was sentenced to 12 years in prison for his role in helping arrange the landing of a plane loaded with contraband cigarettes on the military part of Otopeni International Airport in Bucharest.

Romanian courts also have criticized legal loopholes allowing for excessive phone taps by prosecutors, who often claim suspects threaten national security and then charge them with other, less serious offenses.

Phone tapping is believed to be widespread in Romania, and there have been several phone tapping scandals in recent years

U.S. CALLS FOR MULTILATERAL TALKS ON TRANSDNIESTER.

The United States on April 26 called for the resumption of five-party talks on the future of Moldova’s breakaway region of Transdniester, Moldovan media reported the same day. David Kramer, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, told journalists in Chisinau that talks should immediately resume in the old 5+2 format, which brings together Moldova, Transdniester, and mediators from Russia, Ukraine, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), with the EU and the United States allowed to observe.

Multilateral talks were suspended in February when Transdniestrian representatives refused to return to the negotiating table. That breakdown in multilateral dialogue followed a year after the last 5+2 meeting. However, an April 13 report by the Jamestown Foundation suggested Moldova and Russia were nearing a bilateral deal containing substantial concessions to Moscow and Tiraspol (see “RFE/RL Newsline,” April 23, 2007). It is not clear whether the visit by Kramer was prompted by the report, but the statement by Kramer, who acted as Washington’s observer in earlier 5+2 meetings, is only the latest indication of heightened Western activity since the article.

The EU’s special representative to Moldova, Kalman Mizsei, on April 21 flew to Moscow for talks on Transdniester at which, according to euobserver.com on April 23, U.S. diplomats were present, while, according to a report by the Basa news agency, Romania called on April 26 for a return to the old format. Romania is not a party to the talks, but, as a neighbor of Moldova with a shared history, it has a particularly significant stake in developments in the region. Moldova itself discussed the issue of multilateral talks with Russia on April 24, local media reported the same day.

The possibility of a deal between Moscow and Chisinau has raised questions about whether the EU’s reluctance to embrace Moldova has encouraged a drift back toward Russia. Moldova’s relationship with the EU has featured prominently in recent days, with French and Austrian officials backing Moldova’s aspirations to join the EU during prearranged visits on April 25 and 26, and with the opening on April 25 of a European Commission-backed center in Chisinau that will process visa applications for four members of the EU.

Romanian Delegation Visits Izto

Turkishpress.com

IZMIR - "Turkey supported Romania`s NATO and EU memberships. We expect Romania to support Izmir`s candidacy for EXPO 2015," said Jak Eskinazi, deputy chairman of Izmir Chamber of Commerce (IZTO), who received Romanian delegation led by Liliana Deac, Director of the External Relations Department of the Chamber of Commerce & Industry of Romania, on Wednesday.

Eskinazi noted that there are more than 9,600 Romanian-Turkish joint companies in Romania.

"Investment capital of these companies is nearly 460 million USD. However, there are only 33 Romanian companies registered in Turkey. We wish this figure to increase. There is a big partnership potential between the two countries in energy, contracting services, construction materials, defense industry, tourism, automotive by-industry and informatics sectors," he noted.

Eskinazi said that Romania is the 9th biggest export partner of Turkey.

"Turkey`s export amount to Romania is 2.3 billion USD and import from this country is 2.6 billion USD. We have nearly 5 billion USD of foreign trade volume," he added.

On the other hand, Romanian Director Deac asked members of IZTO to examine and contribute to Romanian Romexpo project.


Bulgaria and Romania help far right raise profile in EU Parliament

Alanat News
Published April 27, 2007 by Editor-in-Chief

SOFIA: The arrival of Romania and Bulgaria has lent an unexpected twist to the proceedings of the European Parliament, which is expected when it convenes Monday to include a new grouping of extreme rightists intent on undermining the European Union from within.

This is no empty prospect: In the 785- member Parliament, legislators previously bereft of political party backing will now enjoy speaking rights, committee positions and about Euros 1 million, or $1.3 million, in yearly funding. Under parliamentary rules, such rights are accorded to political groupings of at least 20 deputies from six countries.

The far right is now reaching that level, courtesy of five members of the Greater Romania Party, a nationalist group founded by Corneliu Vadim Tudor, the former court poet of Nicolae Ceausescu and an unapologetic racist and chauvinist, and a lone deputy from Bulgaria’s anti-Roma, anti-Turk Ataka Party. They are among the 35 deputies from Romania and the 18 from Bulgaria who are entering the Parliament following their countries’ accession to the EU on Jan. 1.

As of Friday, 19 deputies had signed on to the new grouping from France, Italy, Belgium and Austria, as well as Romania and Bulgaria and a 20th, Ashley Mote of Britain, intended to join them. More may well follow.

The new group will be led by Bruno Gollnisch of France, the deputy leader of Jean-Marie Le Pen’s National Front, who is awaiting a Lyon court verdict on charges of questioning the Holocaust. It will be called “Identity, Tradition and Sovereignty.”

Analysts said that they did not expect the new grouping to wield much power in the chamber, although flamboyant characters on the right like Alessandra Mussolini, a granddaughter of Benito Mussolini, would undoubtedly use every opportunity to grandstand and attract attention.

“They are too few in number to have a legislative impact they will make lots of noise,” said Tony Robinson, spokesman for the socialist grouping in Parliament, which is urging other groups to join forces to sideline the new faction. “They will certainly be the most extreme-right fringe in the legislature, a mix of ultranationalist EU skeptics.”

Other members of the new grouping include Frank Vanhecke, the leader of Belgium’s separatist Flemish nationalist party, Vlaams Belang; and Andreas Mцlzer, a former aide to the prominent Austrian far-rightist Jцrg Haider. The French have the strongest contingent, with seven members.

This is not the first time a group of extreme-right deputies has created a political grouping in the European Parliament. Le Pen teamed up with Flemish nationalists and German nationalists in the 1980s.

Gollnisch said that the new group would focus on “defending Christian values, the family and European civilization.” It will oppose immigration, Turkish accession to the EU and the passage of a European constitution.

For years, the formation of an EU parliamentary bloc had been a goal of far- right deputies not linked to a specific political group in the European Parliment. Ironically, many of the deputies making up the group had opposed opening the EU to poor East European countries like Romania and Bulgaria.

Nonetheless, said Dimitar Stoyanov, of Ataka in Bulgaria, “When I first went to the European Parliament as an observer, I was greeted very warmly by the other nationalist parties.” At 23, he is the Parliament’s youngest member.

“They weren’t especially against Romania and Bulgaria, they were against what enlargement would bring,” he said, citing the growth of EU bureaucracy and the loss of national control. “That’s why we decided to shake hands and cooperate.”

Stoyanov is the stepson of the Ataka Party leader, Volen Siderov, a former journalist turned xenophobic nationalist. Siderov, usually dressed in black, often raises his fists during angry speeches. Observers compare his public persona to a studied imitation of Hitler. Ataka entered the Bulgarian Parliament in 2005, winning 8 percent of the vote on a platform of “Bulgaria for the Bulgarians.”

The Greater Romania Party, which got 13 percent of the vote in 2004 parliamentary elections, is unlikely to have a significant European agenda, said Sorin Ionita, an analyst at the Romanian Academic Society in Bucharest. “They will play in the European Parliament to increase their visibility at home,” he said.

Krasimir Kunev, president of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, an international human rights organization, expressed concern that the new parliamentary group would fan xenophobic feelings in Europe.

“I’m concerned that Islamophobia, which is widespread in Europe, will increase,” he said. And while the funding may not be much for the Western parties, he said, it could be enough to help East European parties “in a significant way.”

EU Vows To Crack Down On Corruption In Romania, Bulgaria

Focus News Agency

Brussels.
The European Commission Friday vowed to crack down on corruption in Bulgaria and Romania, refuting reports that it was acting in a lax way, DPA informed.
"We see progress being made," but "more has to be done," said E.U. spokesman Mark Gray. The commission was preparing "a rigorous and independent report" for publication in June on the two Balkan countries' corruption problems.

EU Vows To Crack Down On Corruption In Romania, Bulgaria

Focus News Agency

Brussels.
The European Commission Friday vowed to crack down on corruption in Bulgaria and Romania, refuting reports that it was acting in a lax way, DPA informed.
"We see progress being made," but "more has to be done," said E.U. spokesman Mark Gray. The commission was preparing "a rigorous and independent report" for publication in June on the two Balkan countries' corruption problems.

Romania’s interim president calls on parliament to back deployment of US bases

Focus News Agency

Bucharest.
Romania’s Interim President Nicolae Vacaroiu called on the parliament to back the deployment of US bases on the territory of the country in accordance with the bilateral agreement formalized between Bucharest and Washington in December 2005, AFP reported. The urge was set out in a letter addressed to the Chamber of Deputies (parliament’s lower chamber). The parliament is expected to announce its decision next week.

Friday, April 27, 2007

AP: Romania: 2,000 opposition supporters call for impeaching president

BUCHAREST, Romania: Over 2,000 opposition supporters rallied Friday to call for impeaching President Traian Basescu, accusing him of abusing his powers.

Parliament suspended Basescu until a May 19 national referendum on whether he should be removed from office. Basescu, a widely popular figure in Romania, has denied the accusations against him.

"We need a president to unite Romanians, not divide them," said Senator Mircea Geoana, who chairs the Social Democratic Party, which wants Basescu impeached. "Vote 'yes'" to dismiss Basescu in the referendum, he said.

In order for Basescu to be removed from office, more than half the electorate must vote to suspend him, which observers say is virtually impossible, given traditionally low turnouts and the fact that the president is among the most popular Romanian politicians. Some 2 million Romanians work abroad, mostly in Italy and Spain during the farm seasons.

The Constitutional Court has dismissed allegations by the opposition-dominated parliament that the president violated the constitution, but its ruling was not legally binding.

Since Basescu took over the presidency in 2004, he has angered lawmakers with his outspoken criticism of high-level corruption and with his open dislike of Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu, a former ally.

Basescu also has irked some politicians by refusing to be a figurehead president that takes a less-prominent role in politics. Basescu is expected to be supported by about 65 percent of voters in the referendum, according to a recent poll.

EU pledges to stay tough on newcomers Romania, Bulgaria

Brussels - The European Commission vowed Friday determination to stay tough on Bulgaria and Romania, brushing off allegations that it was going soft on corruption in the two European Union newcomers.

The EU executive was preparing a 'vigorous and independent' report on Romania's and Bulgaria's performance to be published in June, a commission spokesman told reporters. 'We will continue to assess the situation on the basis of the facts on the ground,' he said.

Sweden, the Netherlands, France, Britain reportedly have criticised the commission for acting too lax in demanding that Bulgaria and Romania tackle serious corruption as was agreed before the two countries joined the bloc on January 1, 2007.

But the commission spokesman denied that the newcomers were left off the hook, saying that EU experts were currently assessing the results of fact-finding missions to Romania and Bulgaria.

'We clearly see that progress has been made (in the countries), but we also see that more needs to be done,' the spokesman said.

The EU missions were aimed at scrutinizing Romania's and Bulgaria's progress in bringing their justice systems in line with EU standards. In addition, the EU experts wanted to evaluate reforms in areas such as agriculture, food safety and aviation.

Commenting on claims that EU justice commissioner Franco Frattini had grown too close to Sofia and Bucharest, his spokesman said that a ski vacation Frattini was invited for by Bulgaria's interior minister had 'allowed for very thorough, in-depth discussions.'

Bulgaria and Romania were given the green light for EU entry last December, but were warned to step up reforms urgently or otherwise face a suspension of multi-million-euro EU subsidies.

Such stringent 'accompanying measures' - the toughest ever imposed by the EU on acceding nations - were needed to correct persistent shortcomings in key areas, it has said.

Bulgaria and Romania missed the EU's 2004 'big bang' expansion into Central and Eastern Europe because of the slow speed of their reforms.

Deutsche Presse-Agentur

NL wants EU to clamp down on Romania

27 April 2007

AMSTERDAM – The Netherlands wants Brussels to take stricter measures against corruption in new EU member state Romania. Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen said this today.

The Netherlands fears that Romania has stopped doing its utmost to fight corruption since it joined the EU. "We are very concerned about this," the minister said on the sidelines of a meeting with colleagues in Oslo.

"We made it clear before Romania's accession last January that the fight against corruption must be stepped up," Verhagen said.

The EU expects a follow-up report on the situation this year. The reports from the countries themselves at the end of March show that Romania and Bulgaria do not satisfy the EU's conditions for the justice system and the fight against corruption and crime. The Romanian president who took a stand against corruption was also recently put out of office.

Russian Machines can buy the Romania-based plant

Russian Machines holding submitted the bid for the participation in the tender on the sale of 94.4% in the Romania-based Daewoo Automobile Craiova, as it was informed.

Other participants include General Motors and Ford Motors. 72.4% in Daewoo Automobile Craiova are held by the Romanian government. To this stake 22% will be added as being held by IC SIF Oltenia. In line with the terms of the tender the production process should be launched in 2 years. Daewoo Automobile Craiova was built by Korean Daewoo Motor in 1998.

The capacity is set for 130 cars and 300 engines a year.

"AK&M", 27.04.2007 13:34

AP: NATO agrees to hold next summit in Romania

OSLO, Norway: NATO will hold its next summit in Bucharest, Romania, in the spring of 2008, alliance Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said Friday.

The decision was taken at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers. The Romanian capital had been competing with Lisbon, Portugal, to host the gathering of allied leaders.

The summit is expected to invite three Balkan nations — Albania, Macedonia and Croatia — to join the alliance, the first expansion since Romania joined along with six other countries in 2004.

Romania pulls out some of its troops from Iraq after U.N. mission ends


BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) - Romania has begun pulling 99 of its troops from southern Iraq after the United Nations mission they were protecting ended, an official said Thursday.

Defense Ministry spokesman Lt. Col. Florin Jipa said 89 soldiers have been pulled out and 10 more will be withdrawn on May 3.

"The soldiers were guarding United Nations officials and as the U.N. is withdrawing there is nothing left to guard," Jipa told The Associated Press. He said a U.N. temporary office in Basra, where the soldiers were, was closed down in recent weeks.

Romania has 500 more troops in Iraq as part of the multinational coalition. Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu has called for withdrawing them before the end of the year, but the decision has to be made by the Supreme Defense Council, which is chaired by the president.

President Traian Basescu, who is staunchly pro-American, has opposed withdrawal, but he has been suspended pending a referendum on May 19 on alleged constitutional abuses.

Brussels under fire for being too soft on Bulgaria and Romania

EUobserver
27.04.2007 - 09:29 CET | By Lucia Kubosova

Some EU member states have criticised the European Commission for failing to be tougher in demanding Bulgaria and Romania to tackle serious corruption cases as was agreed before the Black Sea newcomers joined the bloc.

Britain and France have joined Sweden and the Netherlands in calling on the EU executive to keep up the pressure on both countries to continue their legal reforms, warning that otherwise the EU risks undermining its enlargement policy, the Financial Times reports.

EU justice commissioner Franco Frattini has in particular come under fire for allegedly getting too close to Roumen Petkov, Bulgaria's interior minister, says the newspaper.

Mr Frattini is accused of joining the Bulgarian minister for private trips such as skiing in February, while closing his eyes to Bulgaria's insufficient performance in dealing with high-level corruption cases.

Mr Frattini's spokesman rejected the allegations insisting that Brussels is doing its job with coherent and consistent monitoring of the newcomers.

Sofia and Bucharest got the green light for EU entry last year only on the condition that after accession they would meet certain "benchmarks" on crime and corruption, facing a regime of continued EU monitoring which no new member state ever faced before.

Dissatisfied with the progress of that monitoring, the four member states have called for a special meeting with Catherine Day, the commission's secretary general, to urge for tougher language by the EU executive, particularly towards Bulgaria.

For its part, Bulgaria has criticised the way the EU goes about its post-accession monitoring. The Bulgarian interior minister recently said that Europe should not apply double standards, suggesting that corrupt areas in other countries are being ignored while the newcomers are given a hard time.

But both commission officials and diplomats insist that Sofia must respect the tutelage system in place as it was set up as an alternative to postponing the country's entry to the EU due to its continuing shortcomings in the legal area.

Some diplomats and MEPs suggest insufficient monitoring on the part of the EU could damage the credibility of its enlargement process with consequences for treating future candidates.

"It was a big failure of the EU to say that Romania and Bulgaria would become members in 2007," German centre-right MEP Doris Pack said earlier this month when speaking about EU enlargement in Southeast Europe at a conference in Sarajevo.

She explained that once the Southern Balkan countries had been told about the date of entry, they had relaxed progress on necessary reforms as they knew they would enter the bloc anyway.

"This is a failure we will never do again," she said.

A captain faces the storm

Apr 26th 2007 | BUCHAREST
From The Economist print edition

AGAINST the darkening background of ex-communist politics, President Traian Basescu of Romania was something of a star. He identified bad government and corruption as the biggest obstacles to his country's accession to the European Union, and he forcefully—his foes say ruthlessly—pushed reforms of the justice system and the public services.

Foreigners liked the former sea captain's personal style: a mixture of mischievous humour and straight talk. Romanians liked him too, though his popularity rating has fallen to 41%, down from 49% in March and 57% last November. But most Romanian politicians detest Mr Basescu, finding him confrontational, devious and—perhaps most important—threatening. Last month the coalition that took the country into the EU on January 1st fell apart. Almost the first act of the incoming government was to push through a vote to suspend the president from office. Romanians will vote in a referendum on May 19th on whether to impeach him.

Romania's political theatre has turned positively operatic. The electoral law is badly drafted. It says that a majority of the electorate must vote for impeachment for the poll to be valid. That is a high bar, so parliament has just changed the rules. Now it will decide what happens if the impeachment fails. Mr Basescu will be lucky to return to his hill-top palace soon.

Mr Basescu has played a strong hand badly. He has been too dependent on the country's powerful security and intelligence services. Too often he has chosen cronies and nonentities as advisers; they have tended to quit after a few months, exhausted and exasperated by his short attention span and frequent changes of mind. His colourful private life has created grist for Romania's active rumour mill.

He has also picked his fights poorly. He quarrelled at once with the new government, obstinately refusing to accept its nominee as foreign minister, Adrian Cioroianu. The parliamentary vote for his impeachment was a striking 322 to 108. Rather than seek compromise, Mr Basescu tends to take to the airwaves. “I will not negotiate,” he said before last week's vote. “I am not that interested in my political comfort. I will not stop talking either.”

Yet for all Mr Basescu's own shortcomings, his adversaries seem a lot worse. The acting president is the speaker of the Senate, Nicolae Vacaroiu. He led the authoritarian ex-communist government that ruled the country, badly, from 1992 to 1996. The new minority government of Liberals and ethnic Hungarians is stuffed with youthful party hacks. It also epitomises everything that has held Romania back. According to the Romanian Academic Society, the country's leading clean-government campaign, seven ministers breach the terms of the “Coalition for a Clean Parliament”, an anti-corruption pact agreed with all main Romanian parties in 2004. Some have dodgy ties to powerful businesses. Another received a colossal book advance from a mysterious source.

Outsiders are nervous about the second-biggest new EU member. The EU is pressing for a new ethics watchdog to be set up. The American secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, refused to meet Mr Cioroianu this week. A NATO summit planned next year has been shifted, probably to Portugal. Boosted by EU membership, Romania's economy is booming. But its political stock is falling fast.

FT: ‘Serious’ corruption sparks EU rift

By George Parker and Sarah Laitner in Brussels and Kerin Hope in Athens

Published: April 26 2007 23:14

Britain and France have joined forces to demand that Brussels gets tough on ­Bulgaria and Romania over “serious” corruption, amid claims that the European Union’s two newest members are being let off the hook.

Sweden and the Netherlands also voiced fears that the European Commission is not taking seriously its promise to maintain pressure on the two states to complete promised legal reforms, undermining the credibility of the EU’s enlargement process.

The formal complaint, made at a private meeting this month, saw member states allege that Franco Frattini, the EU justice commissioner, had grown too close to the two countries he is monitoring. Mr Frattini’s decision to go skiing in February with Rumen Petkov, Bulgaria’s interior minister, caused consternation in some national capitals and among some colleagues in Brussels.

The Italian commissioner’s spokesman said the skiing took place during a working weekend in the Bulgarian mountains and he refuted “in the strongest possible terms” any suggestions of a conflict of interest.

However, EU ambassadors claimed Mr Frattini’s public assessments of progress in Bulgaria in particular did not reflect what one diplomat called a “very, very serious” situation.

“The credibility of the enlargement process is at stake because if we can’t handle this properly the conclusion will be that we cannot take in countries like this in future,” the diplomat said.

Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU on January 1, but were told to step up work urgently to meet the bloc’s standards in the justice field, including fighting high-level corruption and organised crime. The Commission set up a monitoring regime, with the threat of penalties if good progress had not been made, including non-recognition of court judgments in the two countries and potential suspension of EU subsidies.

Several EU member states claim Commission officials have been told privately to not be too critical of the two countries, even though Bulgaria has a non-existent record for convictions for high-level corruption. The ambassadors of Britain, France, the Netherlands and Sweden demanded a meeting with Catherine Day, the Commission’s top civil servant, to insist her office got a grip on the situation and ensure that a progress report in June was rigorous.

The Commission said Ms Day’s secretariat-general was overseeing the work and that expert missions had been undertaken recently in Bulgaria and Romania.

France and the Netherlands are sceptical about enlargement, but Britain and Sweden want to ensure the Bulgarian experience does not tarnish efforts to further extend EU borders.

Mr Frattini’s spokesman said it was normal for Ms Day’s team to co-ordinate the work. The commissioner had been “consistent and coherent”, welcoming re-forms where they were carried out, encouraging the countries to improve for their own sake and insisting reforms yielded concrete results, he said.

KBC Securities finalises acquisition of Swiss Capital (Romania)

Today, KBC Securities has received official approval from the Romanian Securities Commission to acquire full control of Swiss Capital, the second biggest independent broking company in Romania.

The name of Swiss Capital will be changed to KBC Securities Romania.

Swiss Capital was set up in 2002. It expanded and became a top-10 player in Romania, with a 3.4% share of the market. Swiss Capital is also the second biggest shareholder in the Bucharest Stock Exchange, with a stake of 1.8%. It employs 37 FTEs and has five regional offices.

Over the past few years, the Romanian stock markets have grown over three times faster than their Polish, Czech and Hungarian counterparts.
The acquisition of Swiss Capital will enable KBC Securities to further develop its Central and Eastern European home market.

Romania: the death of reform

Tom Gallagher
openDemocracy

On 19 April 2007, Romania became the first European Union state ever to impeach a sitting president. The previous three months, Romania's first as a full member of the EU, had seen an escalating power-struggle over the extent to which the country's political elite was prepared to abandon serial bad habits and make itself accountable to the law.

It was not supposed to be like this. European Union entry on 1 January 2007 was the moment when Romania's tortuous transition from hardline communism was to end. The crooked businessmen who had invaded the political arena - in order to avoid retribution for transferring billions into their own pockets by engineering spectacular bank failures and looting companies made ready for privatisation - were now due to face their day of judgment.

This expectation was grounded in the series of bold reforms of the Romanian justice system launched - at the EU's insistence - from 2004 onwards. After years when this system had been extremely pliant to those in power, major prosecutions were undertaken against a string of important politicians unable to satisfactorily explain the origins of their fortunes. But instead of recognising that the years of plunder were over and it was time to salvage what they could, members of the Romanian oligarchy mounted a brazen counterattack.

The reforming justice minister Monica Macovei, a human-rights lawyer detested by the establishment, was flung out of office on 2 April. It mattered little that she had been hailed by the EU commission as the main person responsible for Romania joining the EU on schedule. On 19 April, her chief protector, President Traian Basescu, was himself suspended by parliament. This was no simple challenge by a legislature to an overmighty leader; rather, it reflected the fury that someone parliamentarians had assumed would discreetly safeguard the interests of the powerful, instead had spoken out with growing insistence about how many top fortunes were based on systematic theft while millions of Romanians survived on the edge of destitution.

The cynicism of Bucharest's MPs is matched by the dilatoriness of European Union officials. The EU had advised doubtful member-states in 2006 that reforms were sufficiently consolidated for Romania to be able to join and assume the benefits as well as the responsibilities of membership. The Romanian government's part of the bargain was to prepare an extensive set of modernising projects that would, over the next six years, unlock access to €30 billion ($40 billion) of EU taxpayers' money designated for this task. Instead, the government took a holiday from reform, as it expended energies in hounding individuals committed to fulfilling the EU's blueprint for change from their positions in the various ministries, regulatory agencies, and state media.

When EU officials have demurred, government figures have responded with mounting irritation. We are no longer a candidate but a sovereign member-state, is the message, and we resent being ordered around. In truth, there is very little Brussels can do other than impose a "safeguard clause" which prevents Romanian legal decisions being recognised in the rest of the EU.

A warped direction

On new-year's eve in central Bucharest, EU dignitaries should have recognised the warning-signs when they found themselves being shuttled between rival celebration parties: the president's in one square and the prime minister's in another. They assumed - as did the international media when it deigned to give glancing attention to Romania - that such evidence of political division and difficulty could be attributed to the contrasting personalities of the two figures whom the Romanian constitution requires to share power.

Traian Basescu is the former captain of an oil-tanker, an eloquent populist, flamboyant in style, sometimes erratic in judgment, who was narrowly elected president in 2004. Calin Tariceanu, the prime minister, is an uncharismatic and wealthy car-dealer with diversified business interests thanks to an alliance with Dinu Patriciu, who controls much of the privatised oil industry and whose firm Rompetrol is the biggest contributor to the state budget.

The political trouble began in earnest in 2005, when Patriciu was arraigned on corruption charges. Basescu accused Tariceanu of exceeding his prerogative and intervening with other officials (including the chief prosecutor and justice minister Macovei) to try to influence the case. Patriciu showed the scale of his ambition when, at the end of 2005, he launched a multi-million international lawsuit against the Romanian state for damaging the reputation of his businesses. Tariceanu's response, far from one befitting a custodian of the national interest, was to state openly that he respected the decision made by his friend.

In a political system where most parties lacked programmes and were dominated by a shifting coalition of private interests, this frank admission revealed the warped direction Romania's transition from communism had taken. Many of the leading lights in Tariceanu's Partidul National Liberal (National Liberal Party / PNL had, like himself, been well-paid employees in Patriciu's companies. They proceeded to vilify Basescu; and cooperation with his party, the Democrats, collapsed and for an entire year - until EU entry - government became a mere holding operation.

The president vs the rest

Patriciu won the oil franchise under the PSD, and in 2004 he handsomely financed the election campaign of both it and his own Liberals. Basescu's unexpected presidential victory upset hopes in other quarters that a cross-party alliance could distribute EU pre-accession and structural funds in the way that much of privatised state revenue had been allocated.

The PSD had strenuously opposed the post-2004 reforms the EU insisted on, but in early 2007 it teamed up with Tariceanu's Liberals to depose Basescu and emasculate serious change. A parliamentary commission of enquiry into the president's conduct was set up on 28 February under Dan Voiculescu, a media mogul who in August 2006 was unmasked by a state commission investigating the Ceausescu era as an informer for the Securitate (a charge he denies).

The EU commission was a helpless spectator as these events unfolded; its vice-president rushed to Bucharest in March to defend the reform-minded ministers, but was effectively told to mind his own business by Tariceanu and other Liberals. At the same time, the anti-Basescu coalition was able to obtain backing in the European parliament both from the Socialist group (few surprises there) and - more surprisingly - from the ninety-six-strong strong Liberals. Its head, the British Liberal Democrat MEP Graham Watson, granted Voiculescu's Conservatives membership despite the fact that leading elected members faced trial on very serious corruption charges (Voiculescu himself was issued with an indictment on 16 April).

It is a worrying sign that some European groupings, instead of exercising a restraining role on the more unattractive parties in southeastern Europe, are lending themselves to be manipulated by them. After meeting Voiculescu, Watson declared that Basescu's suspension was justified - even though, the day before parliament had stripped him of his powers, the constitutional court in Bucharest had ruled that none of his parliamentary opponents' charges had any foundation. The court further endorsed the view that the president should have an active role in political life, not the merely ceremonial one desired by his opponents; yet on 20 April, it also ruled that the president's suspension by parliament was legal.

The naïve and the ruthless

The Romanian people will have the chance to judge parliament's actions after 19 May 2007, when a referendum required to validate the president's removal from office is held. Basescu remains the country's most popular politician by a clear margin, but almost all the media is in the hands of his opponents and Tariceanu has hired top advisers used by Republicans in the United States to advance his cause.

As for the EU, it remains to be seen when it will wake up and acknowledge that its efforts to export its values and governing methods have failed in Romania. Its methods were superficial and it never properly audited them or became acquainted with the degree to which the local power-structures were opposed to what it intended. Romania's political cartels were desperately keen to get inside the EU to enjoy the huge economic benefits membership would bring; to them, the EU is yet another entity that they need to suborn. In the attempt, they have seen close up how short-sighted, irresolute and even opportunistic some Eurocrats are in defending the values and processes that made the EU strong over the fifty years of its existence.

A naïve post-modern entity is no match for Bucharest's ruthless cartels. Without a profound and rapid rethink in Brussels, these predatory forces - now with only an isolated ex-president standing in their way - could threaten the stability of the European Union itself.

This is no alarmist statement. My prediction is that despite historic suspicion of Russia, the power-brokers of Bucharest will not hesitate to link up with its economic interests (particularly in the energy sector) and become a phalanx of Russian influence inside the EU. In that event, instead of the EU being a westernising influence on one of Europe's borderlands, Romania instead could help to corrode the EU from within.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Comment: Romania's Political Drama is Losing an Audience

BIRN
Catalin Dimofte

Old habits die hard. Since both the carrot and stick of the EU accession process were removed in January 2007, when Romania joined the European Union, the turbulent politicians have returned to doing what they are most adept at - fighting each other.

Little or no surprises here. Deepening rifts within the coalition that formed the government after the 2004 general elections occurred first in 2005, when President Traian Basescu attacked the Conservative junior members of the coalition as "immoral". That reference was
clearly to the party leader, Dan Voiculescu, a tycoon with acknowledged links to the communist-era intelligence services, the feared Securitate.

The president's subsequent attacks on the National Liberal Party, PNL, a senior party in the coalition along with Basescu's Democrats, PD, and the party to which Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu belongs, have further escalated tensions.

At first, Basescu seemed to be making many of the right moves in politics. Whereas the Romanian political left always had a strong party in the Social Democrats, PSD, the forces of the right were divided between two or more parties.

Basescu tried to forge a merger between his Democrats and the Liberals and the Liberal Democrat Party, PLD, was born, staffed by Liberal defectors and headed by a former prime minister and Liberal leader Theodor Stolojan.

But these days, neither Basescu, nor his closest allies within the PD and PLD look as squeaky clean as they once did. His camp includes wealthy businessmen whose practices and reputation are just as questionable as those in the opposing camp.

Then there is the question of his past record. Only those who trust him blindly believe that in the dark days of the 1980s, when he was a Romanian commercial representative in Belgium, he could have filled such a position while being free of links to the Securitate.

Nor is it credible that Romania's commercial fleet could basically disintegrated in the early 1990s, partially during Basescu's tenure as transportation minister, without him having had anything to do with it.

His propensity for relying on Romania's many intelligence services - which may prove fatal to his political career - has also come at a cost.

Finally, one cannot forget his key role in the failure of Romania's first center-right government in the post-communist era from 1997-1998.

The alternative to the good guys vs. bad guys scenario is that the current political struggle is, in fact, all about competition for power and privileged access to abundant EU funds.

Basescu has superb skills as a political street fighter. But even he may have taken a step too far in trying to fight on too many fronts at once. At the same time, he has embroiled himself in struggles against corruption, five of the six parties in parliament, the business oligarchs
and Russia.

In the end, an overwhelming majority of deputies recently voted to suspend him from the presidential office, against the advice of the country's constitutional court.

Three hundred and twenty-two deputies voted in favor of the suspension, 108 against and 10 abstentions. The president's foes even included about a dozen deputies from the two parties that were supposed to be loyal to him, the PD and PLD.

Basescu's PD has now been ousted from the government, along with possibly the most popular minister - certainly in the eyes of the West - the former justice minister Monica Macovei, widely praised for leading a genuine anti-corruption drive.

The PSD, the big losers of the 2004 elections, have staged a de facto return to power through a back door alliance with the Liberals in support of the incumbent minority government.

The PSD president of the Senate, Nicolae Vacaroiu, has meanwhile become interim president until a referendum - scheduled for May 19 that will confirm or revoke parliament's decision to suspend Basescu.

Even the generally diplomatic EU is worried. The EC president, Jose Manuel Barroso sounded an ominous note via a press release in which he recalled that Romania had made commitments, in particular with respect to fighting corruption, and would be obliged to observe them.

As one Romanian PhD student in New York told this author, "As the last country to be accepted into the EU, it's as if we are now struggling to be the first to be kicked out."

Basescu has said he will rest his case with the people. But although he has always been able to rely in his previous political wars on strong public approval, especially amongst younger, urban voters, this time the omens for the upcoming referendum are bad.

Several pro-Basescu rallies held in Bucharest and other major Romanian cities, aimed at showing off support for him, were pale copies of the crowds that propelled him to a spectacular victory in the 2004 presidential election.

A fable may be relevant here. During the American civil war an old African-American was lying under a tree, watching one of the battles, when a Unionist soldier came and asked, "Why don't you come help us, when we're fighting for your freedom?" The old man answered, "Have you ever seen two dogs fighting over a bone?" The soldier said, "Yes." The old man
went on, "Well, was the bone fighting?"

The parallel with the bone is marked. The endless political bickering in Romania has left many people feeling as apathetic as the old man in the tale about the outcome.

That mood of apathy could not have come at worse time for Basescu whose opponents are frantically manoeuvering to make sure he is knocked out for good, including, if need be, passing legislation to change the rules of the political game.

In the end, the assumption of many political analysts that Basescu will easily win early presidential elections may turn out to be false. It relies on a single risky belief, which is that his opponents will not be able to come up with a credible candidate of their own.

Catalin Dimofte is an economics consultant and political analyst, based in Bucharest. Balkan Insight is BIRN's online publication.

Black Sea Ring Highway Caravan expected to enter Romania

Sofia. The Black Sea Ring Highway Caravan is expected to enter Romania, the Association of Bulgarian Enterprises for International Road Transport and the Roads told Focus Agency.

On Wednesday the carriers were welcomed in the Bulgarian town of Plovdiv.
The international Automobile caravan around the Black Sea, which set out on April 19th 2007 in Belgrade, arrived in Plovdiv on Wednesday. The caravan passed via Tirana and Thessaloniki, and will cover a total distance of 7,500 km.

The caravan includes 12 automobile compositions and will pass via the 12 member states of the Organization for Black Sea Economic Cooperation (Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Moldova, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Turkey and Ukraine). The caravan’s final destination is Istanbul where it is due to arrive at the end of May

Replacement of Political Power in Romania will not Affect Azerbaijani-Romanian Relations : Ex-President of Romania

Trend News Agency
Azerbaijan, Baku

“The changes in the Romanian political structure will not affect relations between Romania and Azerbaijan,” reported the former President of Romania, Ion Iliescu, who held this position for three terms, informed Trend.

According to Iliescu, presently the events occurring in Romania are linked with the Constitutional rules regarding the regulation of relations between the President, the Government and Parliament. “We have different rules. Unlike Azerbaijan, the Government of Romania is appointed not by the President, but by Parliament. The Constitutional Court is independent and the judges of the Constitutional Court are not appointed by the President. The Romanian President has violated the constitutional rules and tension has been observed in the Country for over two years,” he said.

On 19 April a joint meeting of both Parliament chambers made a decision to dismiss the President of Romania, Trayan Basesku, from his position. Until the pre-schedule presidential elections, the responsibilities of the State Head in Romania will be fulfilled by the Chairman of the Senate, Nikolai Bekeroyu.

According to the law of Romania, when the President of the Country violates constitutional rules, the Parliament has the right to remove him/her from his/her position for a month. Thereafter, a referendum is organized and the people decide the destiny of the President. Presently such a referendum is being organized in the Country. The referendum will take place on 19 May.

Iliescu said that he does not intend to put forward his candidature again as it is contrary to the Constitution of Romania. According to the law, the President has the right to be elected for two terms.

Romania to change disputed tax on cars

26 Apr 2007

Romania will change a disputed tax on cars designed to keep out second-hand vehicles after the European Union warned that it violated the bloc's trade rules, the finance minister said Wednesday.

Varujan Vosganian said the first registration tax, which ranges from about €140 ($191) for a new car to up to €7,000 ($9,500) for an older vehicle, would be changed to conform to EU rules. Taxes on older cars would now be drastically reduced, but cars would be taxed according to how much they pollute, Vosganian said. The EU had threatened to take Romania to court if it refused to change the tax, saying it violated free trade rules within the bloc. The tax is backed by local carmakers and new car dealers, but is unpopular with many Romanians who want to buy cheaper cars. The country's largest carmaker, Renault-owned Dacia, warned that its sales could fall by 50% if the tax is scrapped. (chron.com)

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

AP: Romania vows to change car tax after EU warning it breaks trade rules

BUCHAREST, Romania: Romania will change a disputed tax on cars designed to keep out second hand vehicles after the European Union warned that it violated the bloc's trade rules, the finance minister said Wednesday.

Varujan Vosganian said the first registration tax, which ranges from about €140 (US$191) for a new car to up to €7,000 (US$9,500) for an older vehicle, would be changed to conform to EU rules. Taxes on older cars would now be drastically reduced, but cars would be taxed according to how much they pollute, Vosganian said.

The EU had threatened to take Romania to court if it refused to change the tax, saying it violated free trade rules within the bloc.

The tax is backed by local carmakers and new car dealers, but is unpopular with many Romanians who want to buy cheaper cars. The country's largest carmaker, Renault-owned Dacia, warned that its sales could fall by 50 percent if the tax is scrapped.

Mechel Announces Commissioning of Shearing Press at Mechel Targoviste

TARGOVISTE, Romania, April 25 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- Mechel OAO announces the installation and commissioning of a new shearing press in the electric arc furnace shop at its Romanian steel plant Mechel Targoviste in compliance with its technical re-equipment plan. The work has been completed in line with the current stage of Mechel Targoviste production facilities modernization program designed for the period of 2007-2011.

The shearing press is designed to process oversized metal scrap and provide steel melting works with high quality charge. This is the second shearing press installed at the plant, with the first put into operation in 2004. The new shearing press is a modern, fully automated unit, and is completely analogous to the current operating equipment in terms of its technical characteristics. Depending on the metal used for reprocessing, its production capacity ranges from 15 to 22 tonnes per hour with a cutting force of 700 tonnes. The manufacturer of the equipment, SIERRA of Italy, is among the global market leaders in manufacturing these units. The project cost is about EUR 1.0 million and the payback period of the new equipment is about five months.

With the new continuous caster put into operation this year and modernization of the mills, which lead to the blooming closure, the commissioning of the second shearing press will allow the plant to increase metal scrap density with a concurrent reduction of scrap returns. During the EAF No. 2 modernization at Mechel Targoviste in 2006, annual productivity was increased to 500 thousand tonnes. The Company plans to significantly reduce per-tonne fixed costs with a complex of technical measures aimed at further modernization of EAF No. 2, including modernization of the transformer and a change of the furnace's operating charging baskets and steel teeming ladles, and to reach annual capacity of 600 thousand tonnes in 2008.

Due to the plant's two-year experience in operating the first unit, it has high-class specialists and trained personnel capable to operate the new equipment, and eliminates the additional costs that would typically be necessary to train employees.

Mechel is one of the leading Russian mining and metals companies. Mechel unites producers of coal, iron ore, nickel, steel, rolled products, and hardware. Mechel products are marketed domestically and internationally.

Some of the information in this press release may contain projections or other forward-looking statements regarding future events or the future financial performance of Mechel, as defined in the safe harbor provisions of the U.S. Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. We wish to caution you that these statements are only predictions and that actual events or results may differ materially. We do not intend to update these statements. We refer you to the documents Mechel files from time to time with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, including our Form 20-F. These documents contain and identify important factors, including those contained in the section captioned "Risk Factors" and "Cautionary Note Regarding Forward- Looking Statements" in our Form 20-F, that could cause the actual results to differ materially from those contained in our projections or forward-looking statements, including, among others, the achievement of anticipated levels of profitability, growth, cost and synergy of our recent acquisitions, the impact of competitive pricing, the ability to obtain necessary regulatory approvals and licenses, the impact of developments in the Russian economic, political and legal environment, volatility in stock markets or in the price of our shares or ADRs, financial risk management and the impact of general business and global economic conditions.

Migrant numbers triple from new EU countries

thisislondon.co.uk


The number of migrant workers from Bulgaria and Romania in the UK has tripled since they joined the European Union.

Figures today show 60,000 citizens from the two Eastern European countries arrived in Britain in the three months to February, compared with 23,000 for the same period in 2005/06.

The Office for National Statistics estimates around one in 10 Eastern Europeans, or 2,000 a month, arriving at Britain's ports and airports plan to stay for more than three months to work or study.

The Home Office imposed restrictions on Romania and Bulgaria when they became EU members on 1 January-The number of their workers that can get job permits has been capped at 20,000 a year.

The limit was imposed in response to concerns following the large influx of immigrants from Poland and other new EU states.

Shadow immigration minister Damian Green said: "These figures demonstrate we were right to call on the Government to use the powers available to them to place restrictions on the numbers coming here from these two countries.

"Immigration can be of real benefit to the country but only if it is properly controlled including taking into account its impact not just on the economy but on the wider public service infrastructure."

However, Hammersmith and Fulham MP Greg Hands today called for the limits to be scrapped. He says the regulations, which affect a relatively small number, are easily bypassed, unfairly discriminate by treating the migrants as " secondclass" citizens, and encourage people to work illegally.

The Conservative MP will tell the Commons: "I strongly favour there being equal access to all citizens of European Union countries to the UK labour market.

"I am not approaching this debate with a general belief that the UK should loosen its immigration controls - but I strongly believe the restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians are wrong, counter-productive, expensive and chaotically administered."

The ONS figures also showed that the number of people travelling to Britain from Eastern Europe, Malta and Cyprus continues to rise, up from 598,000 to 690,000 in the three months to February, compared with the same period a year ago.

A Home Office spokesman said: "These figures are not about immigration. The vast majority of people in this survey came as short-term visitors."

In total, 32.3 million people visited the UK in the year to February, up seven per cent on the previous year, while the number of UK residents going abroad rose by 2.5 per cent to 66.8 million.