Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Indebted Romanians face their own credit crisis

By Marius Zaharia | October 30, 2007

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - If it wasn't for the sharp drop of Romania's currency in September on the back of world financial troubles, Bogdan Voinea would be driving a new car now.

"When I open the newspaper in the morning, I don't read politics any more, I go straight to the exchange rate page, hoping for good news. I need a car," said Voinea, a 39-year-old architect who lives in Bucharest.

Like many Romanians who are seeking a better life after decades of shortages under communism and botched reforms after the country's 1989 revolution, Voinea has been borrowing heavily.

He hopes global credit jitters will subside soon, allowing the leu currency to rise and making low-interest loans in euros affordable for him again.

But economists warn Voinea and thousands of other Romanians, who are eagerly sinking into debt, to learn a lesson from the turbulent summer and step away from banks' lending counters.

Without some slowdown in rampant consumer lending, particularly loans in hard currencies, the emerging economy faces a serious risk of overheating that could destabilize its financial system and erode the economic gains of the post-communist era.

"It's a good thing the financial shock in the U.S. happened now. It opened many people's eyes," said central bank Chief Economist Valentin Lazea.

Standard & Poors rating agency said recently that Romania, with its rampant domestic borrowing, is among countries in Europe, Middle East and Africa which are most at risk of a negative fallout from tighter global credit conditions.

With Romania's high level of demand, global financial woes could hit the leu hard, making it hard for thousands of borrowers to pay back their debt. This could send damaging shockwaves through the economy, boosting inflation and slowing growth.

Borrowers see euro zone accession, expected in 2014, as an escape, but the central bank still warns about risks of currency volatility in the meantime.


Romanians have grown confident in recent years as economic reforms and foreign investment began to bear fruit, and consumption has taken off sharply.

"I would indebt myself to the maximum. If you save money, you'll never have the things you want," said Bogdan Parvulescu, a 29-year-old economist at the insurance arm of a Romanian bank in Bucharest.

He has euro-denominated mortgage debt and a local currency loan to finance his car. A third of his salary goes to the bank, conservative by Romanian standards, where a ratio of up to 65 percent is acceptable.

Thousands of Romanians have taken advantage of real wage increases of about 20 percent in the last two years, replacing their old, boxy Dacia cars with new imported models that bring traffic in large cities to a standstill most days.

Demand for new housing has powered a real estate boom that records some of the fastest rates of price growth in Europe.

In Bucharest, young people joining the real estate ladder are willing to pay as much as 2,000 euros ($2,841) per square meter of a "matchbox" apartment in drab and overcrowded housing built during the communist era.

Those who thought in March that 40,000 euros for a 30-square-metre apartment on the outskirts of Bucharest's was too much, now are struggling to find one for 60,000 euros.


Banks are making sure the temptation to borrow is high.

Offers for cheap and fast loans are part of almost every commercial break during popular television shows. Young people with handfuls of bank pamphlets dot major city streets, and tellers are cold-calling potential customers.

Debt levels are rising fast and catching up with western levels, where customers and banks are likely to be more prudent about their debt.

Compared with income levels, household debt was already comparable with countries in the euro zone in 2006. Compared to GDP, it stood at 12 percent in 2006, up from 8 percent a year before, but far below euro zone levels of more than 50 percent.

The leu's fast rise in recent years has also fanned interest in foreign currency borrowing, which offers lower interest rates. The Romanian currency has risen 25 percent against the euro in the last three years, before turning weaker this summer.

Central bank data also show non-government lending in hard currency was 61 percent higher on the year in August, compared with 24 percent a year before. Lending growth in lei slowed down to 41 percent, from 106 percent in August 2006.

Hard currency loans for households doubled on the year in August, the latest figures available show.

Banks say they have been modernizing procedures to cut red tape. But corruption, fraud and inefficient administration are still rampant, raising the risk of bad loans or excessive exposure for lenders and borrowers.

Housing evaluators often take bribes to give a higher value to a property, allowing borrowers to take out more cash. Some borrowers hide loans taken out elsewhere to appear more creditworthy.

"When loans are extended at this rate, with credit growth of 40 to 50 percent a year, it's difficult to do due diligence," said the IMF's regional senior representative, Christoph Rosenberg.

"There is anecdotal evidence of people cheating with their pay slips -- all the things we also saw in the (U.S.) subprime crisis."

(Additional reporting by Iulia Rosca in Bucharest and Boris Groendahl in Vienna)

Romania - Factors to Watch on October 31

BUCHAREST, Oct 31 (Reuters) - Here are news stories, press reports and events to watch which may affect Romanian financial markets on Wednesday.


The central bank board holds its monetary policy meeting. Analysts expect the bank to hike rates by 25-50 bps from 7 percent. A statement from the bank is expected in late afternoon.


The government holds its weekly meeting. No important items on the preliminary agenda.


If it wasn't for the sharp drop of Romania's currency in September on the back of world financial troubles, Bogdan Voinea would be driving a new car now.

Economists warn Voinea and thousands of other Romanians, who are eagerly sinking into debt, to learn a lesson from the turbulent summer and step away from banks' lending counters.



Romania's consolidated budget recorded a surplus of 0.2 percent of gross domestic product in the first nine months of the year, finance and economy ministry data showed on Tuesday.



Austria's Erste Bank (ERST.VI: Quote, Profile, Research), central Europe's second-biggest lender, posted a 34 percent rise in third-quarter net profit, as gains in its Czech and Romanian units offset a loss in its treasury department.



Romania pledged on Tuesday to make its system to disburse European Union cash to farmers fully functional to avoid sanctions from Brussels and initiate first payments from next year, Farm Minister Dacian Ciolos said.



Britain said on Tuesday it would prolong curbs on Bulgarians and Romanians looking for jobs in the country as it struggled to quell a storm over how many foreign nationals work in Britain.



KazMunaiGas, Kazakhstan's national oil and gas company, has launched syndication of a $3.1 billion loan to fund a refinery purchase, a banking source told Reuters Loan Pricing Corp.

ABN AMRO, Credit Suisse and Calyon are arranging the loan, which will finance the acquisition of Romania's Rompetrol.



Romania's Supreme Court asked prosecutors to review a landmark anti-corruption case against former Prime Minister Adrian Nastase.

Another graft case involving Nastase was also sent back to prosecutors on October 18, following a Constitutional Court ruling that it was based on incorrect procedures.


Romania's state-owned power distributor Electrica posted an annual rise in turnover of 11 percent to 4.7 billion lei in the first nine months, and a 43.4 percent drop in gross profit to 174.4 million lei.

Ziarul Financiar, page 3


Spain's largest savings bank La Caixa opened a unit in Romania for corporate clients, and said does not rule out the acquisition of a local retails lender.

Ziarul Financiar, Page 6

La Caixa is open to buying a financial entity in Romania

MADRID (Thomson Financial) - La Caixa is open to buying a financial entity in retail banking in Romania, managing director Jose Maria Nin said during the inauguration of an operating office in Bucharest.

According to Nin's declarations to Spanish state media agency, Efe, La Caixa wants to acquire 3-4 pct of the Romanian market in the short term.
La Caixa has 64,000 Romanian clients in Spain and hopes to support its clients or potential clients with commercial interests in the area, starting with the office they now have in Bucharest.In July, La Caixa opened an office in Warsaw, Poland.

Romania, Ukraine to monitor Bastroe Canal project jointly

Romania and Ukraine will jointly monitor the Bastroe Canal project carried out in the Danube Delta, said visiting Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko in Bucharest on Tuesday.

The Ukrainian authorities officially inaugurated the project in2004, with the intent to provide a deep-water route from the Danube to the Black Sea under Ukrainian control and reduce the ship transit costs.

Romania has complained that Ukraine has failed to consult it about works on the canal slicing through the ecologically sensitive Danube Delta.

According to Yushchenko, discussions on the subject dominated the talks between Romanian and Ukrainian official delegations.

Yushchenko informed his Romanian counterpart Traian Basescu of Kiev's position that the Bastroe-Black Sea Canal is a sovereign territory of Ukraine, which has the right to carry on a sovereign activity.


A visit to Dracula's castle in Romania

By Laura Elliott, Special to the Los Angeles Times

After touring Suceava and the painted monasteries in Bucovina, I board a bus for the seven-hour ride south to Bucharest. When I take my seat, a friend turns to me and says, "Bucovina is seeing Romania in Technicolor and Bucharest is seeing Romania in black and white." I press play on my iPod and look out the window.

Red-tasseled horses draw wooden carts laden with potatoes or watermelons, sharing the road with cars and pedestrians. Haystack mounds march upon grassy fields and disappear over purple hills. Water wells, a symbol of good fortune, dot the roadside. Three carved wooden crosses, as tall as me and enshrined in a glass room not much bigger, give thanks for crops, water and good harvests.

Three small crosses top its blue-porcelain-tiled roof. Peonies, roses and marguerite daisies bloom around the foot of the shrine and cascade over a white picket fence in shades of orange, purple and yellow. A wrought-iron cross stands in front of the fence, staked in the grass. An ivy wreath encircles its iron beams.

I reach into my backpack and pull out a 100,000 lei note, worth around $50. Illustrations of hollyhocks on the plastic currency match the portrait of the painter Nicolae Grigorescu in size and detail. Romanians love flowers -- and artists. Fresh flowers adorned the darkest concrete stairwells of the Ceausescu-era block apartments in Suceava.

One roadside shrine blurs into another. How can a land of such beauty, with a people who honor art and literature, be synonymous with horror around the world? Tomorrow, my last day in Romania, I will tour Transylvania, the land of Dracula.

In Bucharest, I open my second-floor window at the Hotel Carpati, a not-quite one star hotel. Harvest fires scent the air. Crows swarm the city skyline. Their intense cawing sounds like screaming children.

Club Dracula in downtown Bucharest is the perfect place to crank up the scare factor.

My friends and I settle into our seats in the restaurant's dungeon.

Rubber severed human heads and skulls are mounted on the walls. A coffin nestles next to the bar close by. The menu reads like something out of the novel "Dracula."

I order a drink called the Longest Kiss. Veins of melted red sugar stream down the outside of my cocktail glass and taste of cinnamon. My friend orders impaled chicken. Skewered breasts, legs and thighs hang from black steel prongs, languishing over a wooden plate. On my walk back to the hotel, the cawing of crows and yelping of wild dogs increase my pace. I search the shadows thinking about the monsters I've met in Romania.

A monster simply defined: One who inspires horror.

My first encounter with real Romanian monsters happened a few days after I arrived. As a friend and I walked in Revolutionary Square in Bucharest I heard faint whispers. I glanced from side to side. A bunch of children, none more than 8 years old, had gathered around me. I bent down to hear them better. They wanted money. More children crowded around me. I felt a tug on my small backpack.

As I turned around to face the mob, a boy unzipped the backpack. My cellphone flew into the air, a football going to the best player. As the boys ran away with my phone, I knew the real monsters were not the children but the adults demanding that the boys meet begging quotas in exchange for food and housing.

On my last day in Romania, my guide Patricia arrives early. Her broad smile and excitement calms any lingering spooky feelings I harbor from last night even as I am about to meet another Romanian monster.

My friends and I get into the van and we chit-chat with Patricia on our hour-long ride to Transylvania. Carstic rock crowns the Transylvanian Alps and drips -- like the wet sand sculptures that my kids and I make at the beach -- into the woodlands below.

Patricia says in a thick Romanian accent, "Vlad Tepes, the real Wallachian prince about whom the story of Dracula is based, is a national hero because he saved Romania from Turkish invasion. His cruel ways of impaling his enemies reflected the violence and cruelty of medieval Europe, not of him personally."

I think about the impaled chicken from last night's dinner. I also think about the closets in my bedroom when I was a little girl. Nothing scared me more than those closets at night. The small "way up" closets had little witches hiding in them, and the big closets below had big witches hiding in them.

I figure its human nature to make up stories about the things that scare me. Considering how closets haunted me as a little girl, I try to imagine the story I might tell if I had seen someone impaled. That's horror.

Patricia adds, "Vlad's father had shipped him off, along with his handsome brother Radu, to a Turkish Sultan to further the understanding between the two nations. Unfortunately the torture and abuse that the brothers suffered fueled Vlad's personal flame of hatred against them and caused his chilling policy of impaling the Turks in such a way as to cause the slowest death and most excruciating pain. For this reason it is difficult for Romanians to accept that their legendary hero is portrayed to the rest of the world as Dracula, a blood-sucking monster." That's horror too.

It was Vlad's dad, she said, who became known as "Vlad Dracul, after a brave Order of the Dragon (draco in Latin means dragon). His son became Vlad Dracula, meaning son of the dragon. Tragically, another meaning for draco is the devil. The peasants' legends ran away with this interpretation of Dracula, son of the devil."

So, the combination of impaling and misunderstanding created the legend of Dracula. But that doesn't explain why this place gives me the creeps.

Maybe it is all the talk of impaling. Maybe it is the strange magnetic field rumored to occur in this part of the mountains.

As our van pulls into the little town of Bran, wooden signs advertise "Vampire Camping" and "Vampire Wine." Kind of like a Dracula Disneyland, campy not creepy. "Cazare" (rent) signs hang from many homes in Bran and welcome visitors. Hotels here are rated with flowers, not stars.

At my first sight of Bran Castle high atop a hill, chills race up my spine.

"A beautiful garden once stood at the base of the castle, tended by Queen Marie who used the medieval fortress as a summer royal residence," Patricia says, flicking butts off her cigarette. Mountain winds whip as I walk up the long, spiral cobblestone path to the castle entrance.

"Saxons built Bran Castle in 1382 to protect the gateway to Transylvania at Bran pass. By building the castle, the Saxons gained their freedom from the Romanians. In order to provide rapid access to weaponry and fortifications, a labyrinth of secret passages and tunnels exist throughout the castle and beneath its courtyard."

I spot a water well in the center of the courtyard. A metal grate bolted over its opening prevents adventurers from further tunnel exploration.

Real bear skin rugs and winding secret staircases add to the Dracula legend. In the marketplace at the foot of the castle, elongated sinister faces carved into wood capture my imagination. I buy a few. They remind me that little about Romania is black and white, especially its monsters.

They also remind me of how setting, imagination and circumstance can inspire horror in anyone anywhere, even in a land of such beauty. I buy a watercolor of Bran Castle but pass on the vampire wine.

Church TV in Romania to be also used to retort

Eurasian Secret Services Daily Review

Romanian daily Cotidianul reports that in addition to its own daily newspaper, radio station, publishing house and printers, Romania's Orthodox Church now has its own television channel.

Commentator Bogdan Pacurar marks in the paper’s latest issue that although he hasn't been in office for a month yet, Romania’s Patriarch Daniel has already revealed the kind of management skills that would be the envy of any media mogul. But what's really surprising is that an institution that is so geared towards the future is at the same time being so secretive about its past, observer points out.

Cotidianul underlines that the country’s Orthodox Church refuses to recognise a report compiled by the Council for Studying Securitate Archives (CNSAS) according to which Metropolitan Nicolae Corneanu worked as a Securitate spy for 41 years.

This is only the latest example of the snub demonstrated towards the archives studying institution. Yet the Church is now setting up a special commission subordinate to the
Synode solely for the purpose of re-examining the files, the paper notes. „With the church TV, Romania's Orthodox Church now has the complete range of media at its disposal, which it can use to pronounce its own brand of truth," Cotidianul concludes.

Last week the Romanian Orthodox Church complained that CNSAS deliberately and illegally leaked information to the media about clerics accused of collaborating with the feared communist-era secret police. The Romanian Orthodox Church, to which more than 80 percent of Romanians belong, has said in the past that collaboration with thecommunist secret police,
Securitate, should be considered an internal matter rather then an issue of public debate.

www.axisglobe. com/article. asp?article= 1417

Romanian Central Bank to Raise Key Interest Rate, Survey Says

By Adam Brown

Oct. 31 (Bloomberg) -- Romania's central bank will probably raise its key interest rate today after inflation accelerated to a year high and the government prepares to increase spending, a survey of economists showed.

The central bank, which cut the Monetary Policy Rate four times this year, will raise it to 7.5 percent from 7 percent, according to seven of 13 economists in a Bloomberg survey. Four economists expect a quarter-point increase and two expect no change. An announcement is expected late this afternoon in Bucharest.

``The National Bank of Romania will begin a tightening cycle,'' Miroslav Plojhar, an economist at JP Morgan in London, said in an e-mailed note. ``The risks are tilted to rather aggressive rate hiking'' with ``more tightening in the pipeline.''

The annual inflation rate in September rose to 6 percent, above the central bank's year-end target, as a drought pushed up food prices. The central bank, which targets a year-end inflation rate of 4 percent, plus or minus a percentage point, has said government spending in coming months is also a threat.

The benchmark rate was 8.75 percent when Romania joined the EU in January, the highest among the 27 members. The bank cut the rate at its first four monetary policy meetings of this year, citing slowing inflation and a strengthening leu. It left the rate unchanged at its last two meetings because of rising inflation.

`Sharp and Sudden'

Central bank Governor Mugur Isarescu said in an interview on Oct. 15 that there ``was not a good probability'' the year- end inflation rate will come in below 5 percent. Still, he said the bank will refrain from any ``sharp and sudden'' reaction to accelerating consumer price increases.

Isarescu said more than two-thirds of consumer price growth in September stemmed from a drought that damaged most of Romania's crops this year. He said he expected the effect to linger in October and said another major threat to inflation targets is the government's plan to boost spending.

The government targets a 2007 budget deficit of between 2 percent and 2.8 percent of gross domestic product, after 1.7 percent last year. The government posted a budget surplus of 0.3 percent of GDP in the first eight months of the year, meaning most of the spending increase will come toward the end of 2007.

Budget Surplus

Romania's budget was also in surplus for the first 11 months of last year. The spending increase that drove it into a full-year deficit of 1.7 percent of GDP came in December, mainly for pensions, roads, railways and other investments as the country prepared to join the European Union on Jan. 1.

The exchange rate of the leu is another risk factor to inflation this year and next, economists and the International Monetary Fund have warned.

The leu's gains against the dollar and the euro over the past two years have slowed inflation by making items gauged in euros and paid in lei cheaper. In Romania, rent, gasoline, phone bills and other goods and services are quoted in euros and paid in lei.

The leu has declined 5 percent against the euro since the beginning of August, boosting consumer prices, and economists say a widening current-account deficit makes the currency vulnerable to further declines as the U.S. subprime crisis makes some international investors reluctant to invest in countries they see as carrying a higher risk.

The current-account gap in the first eight months of the year widened to 10.23 billion euros ($14.7 billion) from 5.47 billion euros a year earlier, the central bank said on Oct. 15. Much of the deficit was created by a surge in imports as the leu's gain made them cheaper for Romanians and the country eliminated import barriers as it joined the EU.

To contact the reporter on this story: Adam Brown in Bucharest at

Tarom Traffic Up 33% in First 9 Months of Year, Financiar Says

By Adam Brown

Oct. 31 (Bloomberg) -- Tarom SA, Romania's state-owned airline, said traffic rose 33 percent in the nine months after the country joined the European Union on Jan. 1, Ziarul Financiar reported.

Traffic rose to 1.3 million passengers in the period as more Romanians flew to and from other EU countries such as Spain and Italy, the newspaper said, citing Sorin Georgescu, Tarom's vice president for sales and marketing.

EU member-countries dropped many travel restrictions on Romanians when the country joined the community.

To contact the reporter on this story: Adam Brown in Bucharest at

U.K. Extends Curbs on Bulgarian, Romanian Migrants

By Kitty Donaldson and Mark Deen

Oct. 30 (Bloomberg) -- The U.K. government, under mounting pressure to end an open-door policy that has made Britain a magnet for eastern Europeans, said it will extend restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian economic migrants for another year.

``Today, the right balance points to continuing to restrict access to the labor market for those low-skilled migrants coming from Romania and Bulgaria until at least the end of 2008,'' Home Office Minister Liam Byrne said in a statement to Parliament today. ``This is a prudent decision and will allow us to manage numbers entering the U.K.''

Prime Minister Gordon Brown is fighting opposition criticism that his government has lost control over immigration after it disclosed yesterday that there are 300,000 more foreign nationals working in the U.K. than it originally estimated. Conservative leader David Cameron promised a significant cut in the level of migration if his party wins power.

The U.K. can place immigration restrictions on Bulgaria and Romania for up to seven years, after the two Black Sea states joined the 27-nation European Union on Jan. 1.

The decision to keep restrictions comes amid mounting public concern about the pace of immigration, which has leapt since Britain and Ireland, eager to fill labor shortages, opened their doors to the 10 mainly eastern European nations that joined the EU in 2004.

Too Late

``This is closing the stable door after the horse has bolted,'' Chris Grayling, Work and Pensions spokesman for the Conservatives, said in an interview. ``What the government did not do was to put in place the right controls when Poland and most of the rest of the eastern European countries joined the European Union.''

In the first six months of 2007, 23,675 Bulgarians and Romanians were awarded work permits, according to Home Office figures. They are among the 700,000 eastern Europeans, mainly Poles, who have arrived since the EU expanded its borders three years ago.

Unions criticized the decision to extend curbs, saying Romanians and Bulgarians who want to work here will circumvent the restrictions.

``The truth is that any EU citizen is free to come to the U.K. and work as long as they are self-employed,'' Trades union Congress General Secretary Brendan Barber said in a statement. ``The main effect of the restrictions therefore is to force many Romanians and Bulgarians into bogus self-employment where they are more likely to face exploitation.''

`Already Here'

The Institute for Public Policy Research agreed. ``Romanian and Bulgarian workers are already here in Britain,'' said Danny Sriskandarajah, head of migration policy at the London-based institute. A more ``sensible approach'' would be to allow them to work legally and to pay taxes.

The Bulgarian government said the impact of the restriction would be minimal because its citizens would rather find jobs elsewhere.

``Britain is not the most-favored work destination,'' Nikolai Nikolov, an official at the Labor Ministry in Sofia, said in an interview. The U.S., Canada, Spain and Germany are preferred, he said.

Immigration topped the list of U.K. voter concerns this month, with 41 percent saying it is the most important issue facing Britain, up from 25 percent in January, according to a monthly survey by Ipsos Mori Ltd. The poll interviewed 1,004 adults Oct. 18-23.


Pressure on the government intensified today after Work and Pensions Secretary Peter Hain acknowledged that 1.1 million foreign nationals have found work in the U.K. since 1997 rather than the 800,000 originally estimated.

The Conservatives later released a letter dated July 18 written by Karen Dunnell, head of the Office for National Statistics, to Grayling. In it, she states that 1.5 million foreign-born people who had entered the U.K. since 1997 were in work, including those who were children when they arrived. The estimate is based on the U.K. Labour Force Survey.

The government has defended the increase by saying that immigrants add more to the economy than they claim in services, an argument backed by British business leaders for whom migrant labor has helped hold down costs.

Byrne said the curbs are designed to restrict the inflow of low-skilled migrants, and reaffirmed plans to introduce an Australian points-based system in 2008 that uses job and language qualifications for assessing whether migrants should be accepted.

``If we need low-skilled workers they should be coming from the U.K. first and Europe second,'' Byrne told reporters in London today.

The Office for National Statistics forecast this month that the U.K. population will reach 71 million by 2031 from 60.6 million currently, with almost half of the gain stemming from migration.

The government said last month it expects to receive 190,000 foreign workers a year over the ``long term,'' a third more than it predicted three years ago. It raised its estimate after the pace of eastern European immigration since 2004 dwarfed the 13,000 officials had forecast.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kitty Donaldson in London at . Mark Deen in London at

Yushchenko: Ukraine is interested in relations development with Romania

President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko and President of Romania Traian Băsescu noted significance of bilateral relations between two countries. The leaders of two countries said about it at the beginning of the meeting in Bucharest in scope of official visit of Viktor Yushchenko to Romania.

Yushchenko has noted relations between two countries have strategic character and Ukraine is interested in their development.

In turn, Traian Băsescu has noted that there is a range of unsolved issued between the States, but he is convinced that today’s meeting will become a new step on the way towards their solution.

After the meeting, the first plenary session of Ukrainian-Romanian Presidential commission is planned. After it, the signing of official bilateral agreements is going to take place.


Romania To Participate In The Seven Stars 07 Military Exercise In Turkey

Bucharest, Romania (AHN) - Romania's Defense Ministry stated on Tuesday that its country will take part in the Seven Stars 07 military drill program on October 31 to November 10 in the city of Istanbul, Turkey.

South-East Europe multinational Brigade (SEEBRIG) manages the drill, which aims to boost inter-operability of military troops in South-Eastern area of Europe for peace and humanitarian assistance operations.

Upholding mutual aid between civilians and military forces is also one of its goals.

The SEEBRIG trans-national force, will be formed by troops from Romania, Turkey, Albania, Italy, Bulgaria, Macedonia and Greece.

SEEBRIG's force structure is to be fully activated for exercises and operations. Its current headquarters are in Istanbul, Nation 7 and will be relocated to Kilkis, Nations 3 in 2011.

Romania uninterested in further building of Kryvy Rih oxidized ore mill, wants return of investments

Bucharest, October 30 (Interfax-Ukraine) – Romania is not interested in completing the building of Kryvy Rih Mining and Enrichment Plant for Oxidized Ores (KGOKOR) in the settlement of Dolynske, Kirovohrad region, and wants the return of its investments, Romanian President Traian Basescu has said.

He was speaking at a joint press conference with Ukrainian President Viktor Yuschenko in Bucharest on Tuesday.

"Romania is already uninterested in further investing in Kryvy Rih oxidized ore mill, because the metallurgical industry in Romania has been privatized… At the same time, we are interested in the decision Ukraine will take after consultations with us, [so that] we would be able to recoup investments worth around $ 1 billion made in the Kryvy Rih mill," Basescu said.

He said "the main thing wasn't what sum Romania would recoup, - this can be either 30% or 200% - everything will depend on the results of [the possible] privatization [of KGOKOR]."

Harry W. Morgan, founder of World Press Institute, dies in Romania

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) - American journalist Harry W. Morgan, who interviewed Mother Teresa, John F. Kennedy and Indira Gandhi and taught generations of journalists their art, died Tuesday in the western Romanian city of Timisoara, his son Benny said. He was 73.

Morgan died of a heart attack, three weeks after he was admitted to a hospital with breathing problems.

During an almost 50-year journalism career working for Reader's Digest, Morgan traveled to more than 100 countries and interviewed numerous presidents and personalities, among them Eleanor Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Elvis Presley and Ernest Hemingway.

In 1961, he founded the World Press Institute, which provides fellowships for foreign journalists from around the world to spend time living and working in the United States. He also founded the Friendship Ambassadors Foundation, which promotes cultural exchanges around the world.
Morgan moved to Romania in 1994, when the Romanian government invited him to assist in the development of journalism schools at the universities of Bucharest, Sibiu and Timisoara.
For the past 11 years he had lived in Timisoara, in western Romania, where he taught at the university and set up a journalism club. He was made an honorary citizen of the city.

Morgan first came to Romania in the 1970s, when he met and interviewed communist president Nicolae Ceausescu. His visit resulted in the setting-up of Romanian-American cultural exchanges, for which he was awarded Romania's Cultural Merit distinction.

«Harry was a firm believer in the need for understanding between people of all nations, and in establishing the World Press Institute he sought to build a multiplier effect by exposing foreign journalists to the United States, 'warts and all' as he put it,» said Claude E. Erbsen, a member of the World Press Institute board of director and retired vice president of The Associated Press.
Benny Morgan, one of Morgan's two adopted Romanian sons, said he used to greet his students at the beginning of his course with a sentence that summed up his creed: «As a journalist, you can make a difference in your life and the lives of others».

Morgan is survived by his wife, Margareta, and four sons.

Greek Cosmote's Romanian unit surpasses 3 mln customers in 22 months

ATHENS (Thomson Financial) - Greek mobile operator Cosmote said that its Romanian unit, Cosmote Romania, has surpassed the 3 mln customer mark in only 22 months of operation since it launched operations at the end of 2005.

The company said that Cosmote Romania is the fastest growing mobile operator in Romania with its increasing market share and demand for its products and services.

The company noted that Cosmote Romania is expected to be EBITDA positive in 2008 and to produce a net profit in 2009.

The CEO of Cosmote Romania, Nikolaos Tsolas, said: 'exceeding 3 mln customers in only 22 months is clear evidence of the markets responsiveness to Cosmote Romanias competitive offerings and relevant mobile solutions'.

'Leading the markets net new additions for three consecutive quarters is yet another testimony of the companys significant market appeal and growth momentum,' Tsolas added.

Smyrna soldier helping bridge new partnership with Romania

MIHAIL KOGALNICEANU AIRBASE, Romania — On a rural, grassy, wind-blown hilltop near the Black Sea, a group of U.S. soldiers stand on soil that over the ages armies and empires fought for. The Greeks, Romans, Turks and Soviets have all paid the price of blood to stand on this land.

For the son of a Smyrna couple, standing on this land in an American military uniform required no bloodshed. His presence here merely illustrates a newly forged cooperation between the United States and Romania, a NATO nation since 2004.

Army Spec. Joshua Brown, the son of Douglas and Clarise Barton, Smyrna, is a multiple launch rocket system fire directions specialist who is spending a few months in Romania, sharing military tactics and interacting with Romanians. Brown's actions here are helping bridge the new partnership between the two militaries.

"I'm serving with the support unit. We supply food, water, laundry and any basic supplies the soldiers need while serving in the field," said Brown.

Brown is a part of what the U.S. military is calling a "proof of principle" exercise, which means the two countries are building military relations to help prepare for the prospect of future coalitions. With a joint task force comprised of U.S. soldiers, sailors and airmen, this base is helping define future basing and training in the region. Brown is learning from his experience here.

"Romanians are very cool people. Every one is very polite. They love to play and learn new sports with us. So far I've learned a little about their culture and a little of their language," said Brown.

Brown's regular, permanent duty station is located in Idar-Oberstein, Germany, with 1st Battalion, 94th Field Artillery. But while here, Brown is absorbing Romanian culture that will leave a lasting impression.

"I love the beach here. I've never really been to a beach before, but here it is absolutely gorgeous. The city nearby is also very nice," said Brown.

Brown has served for almost five years, and served in Iraq from 2003 to 2004.

For Brown, standing on Romanian soil is but a temporary assignment. Brown now lives with allies who less than a generation ago would have been considered an adversary with Romania a member of the Soviet bloc.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

DPA: Britain criticized for restrictions on some EU workers

London - The British government Tuesday voted to extend restrictions on workers from EU member states Romania and Bulgaria until "at least the end of 2008," a move described as "disappointing" by trade union leaders and diplomatic representatives. The decision, which had been expected, means that tight controls introduced before the two countries joined the European Union (EU) on January 1 this year, will continue, and citizens from Romania and Bulgaria will be refused the rights given to migrants from six other eastern European accession countries.

Raduta Matache, Romania's acting ambassador to Britain, called the decision "disappointing," saying she had repeatedly told the British government that Romanians accounted for less than 1 per cent of migrant workers currently in Britain. "This measure has a symbolic value more than a practical one," she said. Matache challenged claims by the British government that applications from Romania and Bulgaria were running at 4,000 a month. "This figure is a surprise for me ... it definitely does not correspond to the information the embassy has. There must be a mistake," she said.

Brendan Barber, the secretary general of Britain's Trade Union Congress, said the main effect of the restrictions was to force many Romanians and Bulgarians into "bogus self-employment," meaning they were more likely to be exploited, while driving down wages and conditions.
Britain's economy depended on a "ready supply of migrant workers," said Barber, as society was growing older. The decision to extend the restrictions comes amid a lively political debate on the economic benefits of migration from new EU member states, and its impact on social and welfare structures in Britain.

Under existing rules, citizens from Romania and Bulgaria can only come to Britain under special schemes defined by skills and economic needs, whereas members of other east European nations are free to take up any work they can find. It is estimated that some 680,000 workers from eastern European countries have come to Britain since the 2004 EU expansion, mostly from Poland, Slovakia and the Baltic states. "The right balance points to continuing to restrict access to the labour market for those low-skilled migrants coming from Romania and Bulgaria until at least the end of 2008," Home Office Minister Liam Byrne said.

The British government is preparing to introduce an Australian- style points system for migrants next year, aimed at steering skilled labour according to economic needs and curtailing the influx of unskilled migrants.
According to the latest figures, foreign nationals now account for between 7 and 8 per cent of the 29.1 million people in work in Britain.

DPA: Presidents of Romania and Ukraine discuss bilateral issues

Bucharest - Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and his Romanian counterpart Traian Basescu met on Tuesday in Bucharest to discuss several long-standing issues which have been weighing heavily on bilateral relations. The talks addressed among other issues the controversy over the sovereignty of Snake Island in the Black Sea and the canal construction which threatens the environment in the Ukrainian Danube Delta.

After talks, which went on for three hours longer than planned, Basescu said they had "diagnosed" all problems and would now continue to work on their resolution. Romania continues to support Ukraine's moves towards the European Union, he added, while Yushchenko said the countries' bilateral relations were developing "dynamically."Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Romania and the Ukraine have been arguing over the Black Sea Snake Island which de facto belongs to Ukraine.

The 17-hectare rock, 12 nautical miles off the Romanian coast, is said to sit on oil and gas both countries are keen to access. The island belonged to Romania until 1948, when the then leadership, loyal to Moscow, left it to the Soviet Union, which stationed military surveillance systems on the uninhabitable island. In the Danube Delta, Ukraine is planning to make the old Bystroe Canal navigable again, while Bucharest has criticized the move as destroying the environment because the Romanian part of the conserved delta would be deprived of water for its flora and fauna.

Other issues between the two countries related to visa regulations and the rights of the Ukrainian and Romanian minorities in the neighbouring countries.

UK extends curbs on Bulgarian, Romanian workers

LONDON, Oct 30 (Reuters) - The British government, under pressure over the number of foreign workers coming into the country, said on Tuesday it would extend restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians until at least the end of 2008.

Britain limited migrant workers from Bulgaria and Romania when they joined the European Union in January in a shift from the open-door policy it adopted towards other eastern Europeans.

The government announced its decision as it was forced to apologise for underestimating by 300,000 the number of foreign nationals who have come to work in Britain in the decade that the Labour Party has been in power. That is similar to the population of a medium-sized English city such as Coventry.

The admission shocked opposition politicians, and even some of the Labour government's own members.

Reviewing government policy, Immigration Minister Liam Byrne said in a statement that while migration had made a positive contribution to the economy, there were signs immigration was putting pressure on public services.

"The right balance points to continuing to restrict access to the labour market for those low-skilled migrants coming from Romania and Bulgaria until at least the end of 2008," he said.

Under the scheme, low-skilled workers from Bulgaria and Romania may work in Britain under a quota system in food processing industries and agriculture, but skilled migrants are only granted jobs if they cannot be filled by residents.

New analysis of labour market data showed that, instead of 800,000, "there are, in total, an extra 1.1 million foreign nationals in employment in the UK since 1997," Work and Pensions Secretary Peter Hain said in a letter to legislators on Monday.


A lack of reliable data on migrant flows has been a major headache for policymakers, complicating everything from the allocation of government resources to setting interest rates.

"I do accept it is a big mistake," Employment Minister Caroline Flint told BBC radio.

Immigration has become a hot political issue in Britain with some fearing that rapid migration has undercut resident workers and put severe strain on housing, education and health services.

Opposition Conservative leader David Cameron called on Monday for annual limits on migration to Britain from countries outside the European Union.

A projection from Britain's statistics office last week showed the population is set to grow from 60.6 million last year to 71 million by 2031, with immigration a key factor.

The far-right British National Party has sought to take advantage of concerns over the influx with a hardline anti-immigration message.

Chris Grayling, the Conservatives' employment spokesman, accused the government of losing control of systems for monitoring migrant workers.

Keith Vaz, the Labour chairman of a parliamentary law and order committee, described the mistake as "pretty astonishing".

Britain's national statistics office announced on Tuesday it will change the way it collects migration data, questioning larger samples of people entering and leaving the country. (Additional reporting by Christina Fincher, Kate Kelland and Sophie Walker)

German lawmaker: Romania has to meet responsibilities towards EU

Bucharest (dpa) - The Speaker of the German Lower House of parliament, Norbert Lammert, on Tuesday called on the Romanian government to fulfil all its responsibilities towards the European Union.
Germany understood that some reforms were difficult and needed more time. However, it did not help to run away from them, Lammert said in his speech before the Romanian parliament.

The EU was also the focus of Lammert's talks with Romanian Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu.

The premier asked Germany to intervene on behalf of Romania so EU member states would lift their restrictions on workers from his country.

The efficiency of recent reforms of the judiciary and its fight against corruption has been controversial in Romania, while Brussels has threatened to withdraw agricultural subsidies from Romania because its registration and payments system for arable land was not working.

It was important for work restrictions on Romanians within the EU to fall, especially because they were free to travel the union's area as EU citizens, Tariceanu said.

Restrictions on Romanian workers would only increase black-market labour, he added.

However, Romania did not intend to support migration for work and was looking for possibilities to create more and better jobs in the country, the premier said.

During his official visit to Bucharest, Lammert also met his Romanian counterpart Bodgan Olteanu and was to receive an honorary doctorate from Bucharest University.

Romania to attend military drill in Turkey

Romania will participate in the Seven Stars 07 military drill scheduled for Oct. 31-Nov. 10 in the largest Turkish city of Istanbul, Defence Ministry said Tuesday.

The drill, organized by the South-East Europe multinational Brigade (SEEBRIG), is aimed at increasing inter-operability of military forces in South-Eastern Europe for peace support and humanitarian assistance missions. It also intends to promote cooperation between civilians and troops in such operations.

Troops from Turkey, Romania, Italy, Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Greece will form the SEEBRIG multinational force, which is headquartered in Istanbul.

Source: Xinhua

Austria Opens Labour Market for Bulgarians, Romanians in 2008

Austria will lift the restrictions on its labour market for Bulgarian and Romanian job-seekers as of the beginning of next year, according to reports.

Austria's government will provide unfettered access for citizens from the new EU member states, including Bulgaria and Romania, who seek employment in a group of fifty jobs, the Bulgarian news agency reported, citing an announcement of the Romanian Employment Agency.

The group includes construction workers, cooks, painters, etc.

After Bulgaria and Romania's accession to the European Union on 1 January, the map of free movement of labour in the EU got complicated.

In Austria workers from the 10 former communist states have to apply for work permits, at least until 2009. Like Germany, Austria justifies the restrictions by pointing to its problems with unemployment and the fact that it is geographically close to the new members.

October 29

Romania - Factors to Watch on October 30

BUCHAREST, Oct 30 (Reuters) - Here are news stories, press reports and events to watch which may affect Romanian financial markets on Tuesday.


Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko meets President Traian Basescu in a one-day visit to Romania.


The Supreme Defence Council, chaired by president Basescu holds meeting with foreign policy, outlook of Romania's defence industry and next year's NATO summit on the agenda.


EU commissioner for multilingualism Leonard Orban meets Farm Minister Dacian Ciolos to discuss the current state of Romanian agriculture.


The Supreme Court of Justice may decide whether to send back to prosecutors a landmark graft case against former Prime Minister Adrian Nastase or close it down.


Austria's Erste Bank (ERST.VI: Quote, Profile, Research)m central Europe's second-biggest lender, posted a 34 percent rise in third-quarter net profit as its Czech unit recovered and its Romanian bank beat estimates.



Romanian president Traian Basescu denied Justice Minister Tudor Chiuariu's request to sack a top anti-corruption prosecutor, saying the laws he initiated made the minister untrustworthy.


Unions' representatives said they will start strikes in severeal areas of the economy if employers' associations do not improve their views on 2008 minimum wage, so far set at 480 lei ($207), by Nov. 1, the deadline set for negotiations.

Gandul, Page 8


Polish private equity manager Enterprise Investors said it sold local Romanian supermarket chain Artima to French retailer Carrefour (CARR.PA: Quote, Profile, Research) for 55 million euros.

Ziarul Financiar, Page 1

Yushchenko to attend session of Ukraine-Romania panel

KIEV, October 30 (Itar-Tass) -Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko leaves for Romania on Tuesday for a two-day official visit. He will attend the first session of the Ukraine-Romania common presidential commission, the presidential press service has announced.

While in Bucharest, Yushchenko is to meet with Romania's President Traian Basescu, Prime Minister Calin Popescu-Tariceanu, Nicolae Vacaroiu and Bogdan Oltianu. Speakers of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, respectively, and with Patriarch Daniel of the Romanian Orthodox Church. The sides are to sign a number of Ukrainian-Romanian bilateral documents.

Bucharest's new Green Belt should reduce air pollution

After years of continued deforestation around the Romanian capital, authorities are taking ecological warnings seriously by planning to build a Green Belt around Bucharest.

By Paul Ciocoiu in Bucharest for Southeast European Times - 29/10/07

Bucharest has suffered severe deforestation over the past two decades, with growing air pollution as a result. Now municipal authorities hope to reverse the trend by planting trees in seven villages around the city, creating a Green Belt.

"We aim at planting 200,000 new trees," said Mayor Adriean Videanu, assessing the cost at between 5m and 10m euros.

The project, recommended by the agriculture ministry, is being implemented over a six year period. Besides improving air quality in the capital, the project will help control urban sprawl, provide recreational spaces and preserve the scenery.

According to experts, over the past 17 years almost one million trees have been cut down in Bucharest, and another two million in surrounding areas. After the overthrow of communism, large tracts of forestland were returned to private owners, many of whom decided to convert them to agricultural use. As a result, Bucharest boasts only 25% of the forestland it had in 1989.

The impact on health is serious. According to the Environmental Experts' Association (AEM), the dust quantity in Bucharest measures 260 to 280 tonnes per sq km, while in other European capitals -- some of them much larger -- the volume is around two tonnes per km.

Green spaces provide "a barrier against dust, purify air and diminish phonic pollution" says AEM Vice President Florin Vasiliu. "At the same time, they help maintain the temperature differences between seasons, days and nights."

Almost 10,000 residents die annually from pollution-related causes, the group Eco-Civica reports.

City Hall experts have started to inventory the trees in Bucharest, which is estimated to total around 1.5 million. Old and sick trees will be cut down and replaced with saplings.

Almost one million trees in Bucharest are more than 30 years old, and risk uprooting by storms, posing another threat, Videanu says.

Monday, October 29, 2007

NATO Secretary General visits Romania

The NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer paid a one-day visit to Bucharest on 29 October to hold talks with the Romanian President, Traian Basescu, the Prime Minister, Calin Popescu-Tariceanu and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Adrian Cioroianu.

Their discussions centred on preparations for the upcoming Bucharest Summit, which Romania will host in April 2008. Mr. De Hoop Scheffer also visited the Summit site and met with the Summit Task Force working to prepare the meeting.

Source: NATO

Regal Petroleum makes gas discovery in Romania on Barlad Concession

LONDON (Thomson Financial) - Regal Petroleum PLC said it has discovered gas in its RBN-4 exploration well in the Barlad Concession in Romania.The company said it has successfully drilled the well to a total depth of 973 metres.

Its RBN-3 well is also planned to evaluate a Sarmatian formation gas prospect and is estimated to take about 20 days to drill at a cost of about 1.1 mln usd, the company added.Chairman Frank Scolaro said the company's recent discoveries in Egypt and Romania create potential for enhanced value through future production revenue and reserves.

Romania - Factors to Watch on October 29

BUCHAREST, Oct 29 (Reuters) - Here are news stories, press reports and events to watch which may affect Romanian financial markets on Monday.


NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer is expected to meet President Traian Basescu, Prime Minister Calin Tariceanu and other Romanian officials on a one-day visit to discuss preparations for next year's NATO summit in Bucharest.


The minority government is expected to drive electoral reform through parliament by forcing a confidence vote on Monday. The cabinet can ask that a confidence vote be attached to a bill to speed up its approval.


Romania's heightened inflationary pressures stemming from drought are likely to show up in October price growth figures after a spike in September, central bank governor Mugur Isarescu said.



European industry will have to to emit 10 percent less carbon dioxide than governments had wanted from 2008-12, after the European Commission tried to put the bloc back on track to meet its Kyoto targets on Friday.



Romania, hard hit by prolonged drought this year, has so far harvested 3.2 million tonnes of maize from 91 percent of acreage, boosting expectations of the lowest crop in 18 years, the farm ministry said on Friday.



* The Romanian unit of Czech giant CEZ (CEZPsp.PR: Quote, Profile, Research) has 2 billion euros available to set up power units with overall production of roughly 1,000 mega watts over the next 2-3 years.

* Italy's Enel (ENEI.MI: Quote, Profile, Research) will produce energy from wind turbines in Romania as of 2010, after it acquired local wind turbine developper Blue Line Bistrita.

* Romanian power distributor Electrica is considering a bourse listing of a minority stake in up to five years.

Romania, which has already sold five out of eight units of Electrica to CEZ, E.ON (EONG.DE: Quote, Profile, Research) and Enel, has said it plans to sell the remaining ones through the stock exchange.

Ziarul Financiar, Page 2


Justice Minister Tudor Chiuariu has filed on Sunday a request to President Traian Basescu to sack a top anti-corruption prosecutor, saying the section he heads is "majorly deficient".

Gandul, Page 3


Mon 29 Oct 2007
Sofia Echo

Disputes over the ownership of terrains that had to be disowned and cleared for the accompanying infrastructure were stalling development of the project to construct a second bridge on the river Danube, linking Bulgaria and Romania, Dnevnik daily said on October 29.

Transport Ministry was still expecting to get an independent evaluation of 20 land plots by November 5, to be able to complete the compensation negotiations with the owners of the terrains.

On October 26, Deputy Transport Minister Vessela Gospodinova signed a contract with Spanish company FCC Construccion for building the infrastructure adjoining the bridge that would link Vidin in Bulgaria with Calafat in Romania. The deal, worth 62.6 million euro envisaged that FCC Construccion would by 2010 build a 15 km railway line, the electrical and lighting system, an international cargo railway station, the reconstruction of a railway station, four two-level transport links and others. Another agreement was signed with a consortium led by High-Point Rendel of the UK for oversight of construction works on the adjoining infrastructure.

Land disputes delayed signing of the two contracts by two months because of some ill-judged steps by the Vidin Municipality. The local authorities did not offer the terrains to the Transport Ministry but divided some of them into smaller parts and sold around three hectares of the land that were to be used for the bridge according to a Government decision. Now, the Cabinet had to pass a new decree for the land plots to be disowned. However, the decree would not go into force before mid-December.


Sofia Echo

The European Commission (EC) was expecting Bulgaria and Romania to submit their action plans in the area of internal affairs and justice next week, EC spokesman Mark Gray said on October 26.

The deadline for submission had been decided on in June 2007, BTA said.

The EC sent independent experts to the two countries to advise the governments on content, methodology and internal logic of the plans. Gray said he welcomed the news that the advisers' help had been taken by the two governments.

Once the EC would receive the reports, they would be analysed and an interim report would be published in January 2008, Gray said.

Another SA contract in Romania

29 October 2007

The South African company Dex Security Solutions (DSS) has just signed another access control contract in Romania. The contract is with a huge fun and theme park in the city of Piatra Neamt in the Northeast of Romania.

As many as 25 000 people visit the park every day.

This not the first time that South African access control technology is implemented in Romania. Dex’s previous contract was for access control at the Stadionul Ceahlaul sport stadium in Piatra Neamt, the capital city of Neamt province.

Dex Security solutions provides the hard and software, and has trained a Romanian team to control and manage the process. Dex personnel from South Africa visit Romania on a regular basis, too.

The Head of Business Development at DSS, Darryl Davis, says Dex has already penetrated the West European market and established a number of sales representatives for its South African products. Dex also has a long-established office in Brazil, which takes care of its many projects in South America

Davis says it is gratifying to witness the great demand for South African technology all over the world.

Carrefour firms foothold in Romania with acquisition

PARIS (MarketWatch) -- Supermarket and hypermarket giant Carrefour (12017.FR) Monday pushed further into one of Eastern Europe's fastest growing retail markets, saying it will buy Romanian supermarket operator Artima for EUR55 million.

Analysts said the transaction fits Carrefour's strategy of growing in high-potential markets and, at first glance, looks to be a decent price. "We'd have to see the Artima's profit figures" to better judge the price but, given the sales figures, it looks correct, said a Paris-based analyst who declined to be identified. Artima, which operates 21 supermarkets in the western part of Romania, posted EUR75 million in 2006 sales, excluding taxes, Carrefour said.

This year, the figure is expected to rise to EUR95 million. Carrefour, which already operates eight hypermarkets in the country, posted EUR509 million in sales there last year. A report last month from consultancy firm Business Monitor International estimates that sales of Romania's grocery retail sector will almost triple between 2006 and 2011, to $5.31 billion - the fastest sales growth in Central and Eastern Europe. Carrefour competes in the region with retail heavyweights, including U.K.-based Tesco PLC TSCDY, , ) and Germany's Metro AG (MEO.XE).

It said the acquisition, which is subject to approval by market regulators, will be earnings-enhancing in the first year. At 1030 GMT, Carrefour shares were up 1.1% or EUR0.54 to EUR48.63, higher than a broadly positive Paris market. The shares have risen around 6% since the beginning of the year, slightly outpacing a 5% rise of the CAC-40 index, partly on expectations the company will unlock some of its real estate value. Carrefour has a market capitalization of almost 34 billion.


By Claudia Ciobanu
IPS, Oct 22 2007

BUCHAREST, Oct 22 (IPS) - Twice this year, the Romanian National
Anti-Discrimination Council has had to issue judgments about
problematic statements made by President Traian Basescu. In one
of the instances, the Council declared the head of state guilty of
discrimination against the Roma.

But the Council cleared Basescu Oct. 15 of accusations of
discrimination against the Armenian community. The ruling came in
response to a complaint Sep. 12 by the Union of Armenians in Romania.

Basescu underwent surgery for a thyroid problem early September. He
was operated on by a team of eight medics led by Mircea Ghemigian,
a Romanian citizen of Armenian origin. When leaving hospital, Basescu
said he had found in the doctor "finally, a good Armenian."

Varujan Vosganian, leader of the Union of Armenians in Romania,
immediately retorted: "The statement of President Traian Basescu is
a very serious insult to the Armenian community in Romania and to
Armenians everywhere."

Vosganian said Basescu is "obsessed with personal conflicts" and that
his attitude could become a threat to democracy in Romania. Some
commentators have suggested that, more than an example of a
discriminatory attitude against Armenians, the President's comment
was an attempt to provoke Vosganian, one of Basescu's political rivals.

The Armenian community in Romania numbers around 2,000, in a population
of 22 million. Partly because of this tiny size, discrimination
against Armenians in rarely considered an issue.

On the other hand, it is hard to deny that the almost two million
Roma living in the country are being discriminated against. Another
controversial comment, made by Basescu in the spring of this year,
validates this view.

Romanians voted in a referendum May 19 to confirm Basescu as
president. The majority of political parties in Romania, both from
the government and the opposition, had called for suspension of the
President, but more than 80 percent of voting Romanians backed Basescu.

That day, while waiting for the results of the referendum, Basescu,
a fan of direct contact with "the people", decided to go shopping
in one of the capital's largest supermarkets. The media was informed
about this outing.

Annoyed by several insistent questions from a reporter, Basescu took
away the mobile phone of a reporter with which she had taken pictures
of him. When the phone was returned to her the next day, the device had
on it the recording of a private conversation between the President
and his wife. In this recording Basescu was heard describing the
journalist as "a stinky gypsy".

The Roma rights association Romani Criss immediately filed a complaint
against the President with the National Anti-Discrimination Council,
arguing that the phrase Basescu used to describe the journalist was
offensive to the Roma. The Council agreed that the statement was
discriminatory, and issued a warning to the President.

Sociologist Andreea Vantu has been studying how this incident was
perceived by Roma people in Romania. According to her, interviewees
said that the words of the President represent merely the "tip of
the iceberg" in a larger structure of discrimination that affects
them in all aspects of life.

"Roma people are more bothered by offences coming from their
colleagues and other people they interact with on a daily basis,"
Vantu told IPS. "A stereotypical portrait of the Roma has already
been formed in the minds of the people, and now it is reproducing
itself to become stronger and stronger." Numerous common phrases or
spontaneous expressions containing negative references to the Roma
(such as the one Basescu used) are frequent in daily conversations.

The Roma people interviewed by Vantu also say that the language of
the President contributes to the legitimisation and perpetuation of
discriminatory views, as it encourages people to behave offensively
towards the Roma.

"Through his attitude, President Traian Basescu is seriously damaging
the efforts made lately by the Romanian society towards the promotion
of tolerance and implementation of policies of social inclusion," says
Renate Weber, president of the Romanian branch of Soros Foundation,
one of the more active organisations in the country in the field of
Roma inclusion.

At the same time, Vantu says, Roma people feel "disengaged with the
views of the President", and they no longer expect him to represent
them. "They do not any more perceive themselves as belonging to the
audience the President of Romania addresses. They are less and less
interested in voting, in political activity."

The Roma already represent one of the most socio-economically
disadvantaged segments of Romanian society. If they withdraw from
the political process, their chances of improving this condition
significantly decrease.

As a result of strong prejudice against them and their marginalisation
in the political sphere, Roma people in Romania could become
increasingly isolated. "And the more isolated the group, the stronger
the discriminative stereotype becomes," warns Vantu, indicating that
such a vicious circle might become too difficult to break.