Friday, May 30, 2008

Romania Prepares for Local Elections

BalkanInsight.com

29 May 2008
Bucharest _ Romania is set to hold local elections on Sunday in what has been a very quiet electoral campaign.

Nevertheless Sunday’s local elections will be the first time Romanians have voted directly for a representative, rather than their preferred political party, which would otherwise select representatives based on prepared lists.

Mayors have been elected like this up to now but the presidents of the County Councils were previously chosen by members of the councils and not always according to the votes gathered by the parties.

So in some cases, the political colour of the County Council president was not representative of the majority of the people’s choice.

The electoral campaign has also been seemingly quiet while President Traian Basescu previously denounced the campaign as fake, arguing rival candidates were not holding debates with each other because of backroom power-sharing deals. Read more: http://balkaninsight.com/en/main/news/9909

Most candidates have concentrated their political speeches on the fight against corruption, while others have been giving away food and money to elderly voters in Romania’s poor rural areas.

One candidate even distributed mobile phones.

In Bucharest, though, there was a surprise as the few polls in this campaign revealed that an independent candidate would win.

Romania last held elections in November 2007 for choosing the representatives to the European Parliament.

Only a quarter of registered Romanian voters actually cast their ballots then.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Romania supports Turkey's EU bid: PM

BUCHAREST, May 28 (Xinhua) -- Romanian Prime Minister Calin Popescu-Tariceanu on Wednesday assured the visiting Speaker of Turkey's Grand National Assembly Koksal Toptan of Romania's unreserved support for Turkey's bid to join the EU.

"We support without reservation Turkey's EU accession and we want to offer you support based on our expertise acquired during the process of Romania's accession," said Tariceanu during his meeting with Toptan, who is paying an official visit to Romania.

"Bilateral relations of the two states are perfect and can serve as an example to other countries," Toptan said while thanking for Romania's support for his country's efforts for EU membership.

Bilateral economic cooperation was another subject approached during the meeting, with Toptan expressing hopes to see Romanian investments in Turkey advance as much as possible and for common investments to be initiated.

"We consider that Romanian and Turkish companies must seek common solutions to invest on third markets," said Toptan.

Energy is another field where Turkey and Romania could cooperate, they said, referring to projects such as interconnecting the cities of Constanta and Istanbul via an undersea power cable, the Nabucco oil pipeline and stopping Black Sea pollution.

"Romania is one of the most fervent supporters of this project (Nabucco), that is highly important for our country, for Turkey, but for the EU as well," said Tariceanu, adding that Turkey is in a key-position for the success of this European project.

Joint Task Force East HQ deploys to Romania

By Jim Tice - Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday May 28, 2008 12:09:26 EDT

Joint Task Force East has completed a headquarters staff deployment to Mihail Kogainiceanu Aerodrome, Romania, to prepare for training rotations this summer.

Joint Task Force East is a European Command initiative to establish annual U.S. training rotations to Romania and Bulgaria, two of the newest members of NATO.

The headquarters staff of about 160 soldiers is drawn from across U.S. Army Europe, while a contingent of 40 personnel is from the Romania Land Forces Staff.

Throughout the summer, some 900 U.S. and 300 Romanian service members will rotate to Mihail Kogainiceanu to conduct team, squad and platoon training.

Joint Task Force East deployments began in 2007 but have been scaled back from brigade-size rotations because of U.S. commitments to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Participating units are expected to include a headquarters element of the Joint Multinational Training command, Grafenwoehr, Germany, and elements of the 5th Battalion, 7th Air Defense Regiment from Hanau, and the 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment from Hohenfels.

Romania Banking ‘Still Secure’

BalkanInsight.com

28 May 2008
Bucharest _ Romania’s banks are still buoyant and secure despite the global credit crunch which has seen banks put down huge write-downs, the National Bank reassures.

The remarks were made by Napoleon Pop, from the Administration Board of the National Bank of Romania who added the overall aggregate solvency in the Romanian banking sector is 12.7 percent, which is still at an adequate level despite a downward trend.

Compared with the minimum 8 percent requirement specified by the European Basel II Accord, only three Romanian banks had a solvency rate of between 8 and 10% at the end of 2007, and the solvency rate of three other banks was between 10 and 12 percent, Pop added.

He also mentioned that the solvency rate of five Romanian banks was in excess of 30%.

A bank’s solvency refers to its ability to meet its long-term fixed expenses and to accomplish long-term expansion and growth. Ultimately the bank must be able to pay any debts that it owes.

Globally, many banks, particularly in the United States and western Europe, have issued loans to clients who otherwise did not meet strict benchmarks.

Such practices have left banks cash-strapped and out of pocket, forcing some to go insolvent or seek protection from bankruptcy.

Although Romania has been shielded from such woes, the National Bank admits it is not completely immune to the global credit squeeze.

In Pop’s opinion, the main weaknesses in the Romanian banking sector is the majority weight of foreign capital and the fact that the five largest banks hold 56 percent of the financial assets of the system, which pose a systemic risk in the event of negative developments.

According to data provided by Romania’s National Bank, the weight of domestic financial assets in Romania’s Gross Domestic Product rose from 37 percent in 2003 to 75 percent last year.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Romanian Boom Town Grapples With Growth

www.dw-world.de

Germans were outraged when the Finnish mobile phone company Nokia decided to relocate a profitable factory to Romania. Nokia and other companies have proved a boon to Romania's Cluj region. Nokia sees its future in the Rumanian village of Jucu in the booming Cluj region where it is currently building a complex on 90 hectares. And Nokia is the only western European company looking eastward to Cluj. Since 2005, more than 40 companies have relocated here, among them mobile phone companies such as Vodafone and Orange as well as Romanian software developers.

The factory is scheduled to open in 2008 While Cluj is booming, Nokia plans to close its production factory in the German industrial city of Bochum. Nokia announced the decision at the beginning of the year, facing protests that lasted for weeks in which activists and politicians turned in their Nokia phones. Viorel Gavrea got caught up in the commotion although his office is a world away in Cluj. Gavrea is the manager of the city's industrial parks Tetarom 1, 2 and 3. Last November, Nokia called him and offered to bring 3,500 jobs to his city. Nokia chose Tetarom 3 as its build site, leaving a little extra space for a potential neighbor.

"It's interesting right now what is happening," Gavrea said. Three large companies are interested in moving to be near Nokia. From his window, Gavrea, a dark-haired man in a refined suit, watches the project take shape. He enjoys working near the building site, where cranes hoist large parts of the factory into place. With growth come problems Everyone in Cluj knows Gavrea and the three Tetarom industrial parks and most are happy about the changes. "When you compare the current situation with that of a few years ago, it is very good," said Gavrea. "We have streets and it is clean. We have waited a long time for this."

There are officially 300,000 people in the Cluj area, but in recent years the number has grown to half a million making the town almost as big as Dusseldorf. The newcomers have shown up because of the job opportunities. And they've all brought their cars with them. Cluj's small inner city is barely able to handle the traffic. Each day Gavrea braves the crush and drives 10 kilometers to the city center for lunch. Ovidiu Pecican stands out for being one of the city's few pedestrians. With his beard and round belly, in Germany he'd be thought of as an old school hippie.

The university professor and writer has become a vocal critic of the changes his city is undergoing. He believes the cars are a problem in that they block everything, including the sidewalks. "Another problem is that the historical old city is being built up and the green spaces are disappearing. And that is very bad," Pecican said. Streets are jammed The city has grasped the seriousness of the traffic problem and plans to build new streets leading out from the center. A large highway is also planned between Cluj and Bucharest to make it easier for investors to get to the city. A big part of the city's attractiveness comes from it having inexpensive labor. An average salary is 200 euros per month.

The main question potential investors have when they take tours of the industrial park is whether they can find enough workers to open shop in Cluj. Gavrea assures them that the industrial parks draw people from a 60 kilometer radius. "The unemployment figures here are high. I asked Nokia and Emerson and they said they had no problem finding workers," Gavrea said.

More roads are planned to handle the new traffic In the future it shouldn't be a problem to find qualified workers since the city has nine universities with around 100,000 students. Professor Pecican agrees that there is a big enough workforce, but someone "with two university degrees will naturally not be interested in digging holes." It remains relatively easy for most Romanians to find work, whether they are overqualified for the job or not. Gavreas' industrial park continues to grow. Tetarom 3 looks like it will be three times larger than originally planned – more than 300 hectares. And Tetarom is planning a fourth park as well. This is the game of globalization. At the moment, Cluj is playing and winning. But in 10 years it will likely be completely different and Viorel has no illusions that in the future jobs might continue heading even further East.

Romania rejects political decisions regarding Beijing Olympics

BUCHAREST, May 27 (Xinhua) -- Romanian President Traian Basescu said Tuesday that his country will not accept any political decision related to the Beijing Olympic Games, the official Rompres news agency reported.

"We want to be very clear with respect to Beijing: we'll never accept any political approach to the Olympic Games," Basescu was quoted as saying at a meeting with Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee.

"We consider that the Olympics are not a place to be covered by political decisions," said the president, whose view was echoed by Rogge.

Rogge is visiting Romania to attend the opening ceremony of the Olympic Sports Complex near Bucharest Wednesday, Rompres said.

New Ferry Connects Bulgaria and Romania over Danube

Sofia News Agency

27 May 2008, Tuesday

The new ferry complex connecting the Bulgarian port of Nikopol and the Romanian port of Turnu Magurele over the Danube River will opened in mid July, 2008.

The news was announced by Bulgaria's Deputy Minister of Transport Dimcho Mihalevski during his visit to the northern Bulgarian town of Nikopol.

The ferry complex has been constructed already but some additional safety guarantees are being completed at the moment.

About EUR 6,5 M have been invested in the ferry, EUR 2,5 M of which have been provided by the Bulgarian government, whereas the rest is EU funding under the PHARE Program.

The Bulgarian side of the ferry complex will be operated by the Bulgarian River Shipping company.

The Deputy Minister of Transport Mihalevski said in Nikopol that the new ferry would have a great economic impact as part of the country's policy to tackle the marginalizing of its border regions by opening up its borders.

Mihalevsky reminded that another ferry line between the city of Silistra and the Romanian town of Caluras had been opened recently, and said that two more border checkpoints would be opened on the Bulgarian-Greek border by the middle of 2009.

The Bulgarian platform of the new ferry can carry 12 trucks, and crosses the river in only eight minutes. Yet, the fees for using it have not been set because the ownership issue has not been settled.

The rehabilitation of the 45-km road connecting Nikopol and the district center, the city of Pleven, is going as planned.

Romania Retail Sales Could Double by 2010

BalkanInsight.com

27 May 2008
Bucharest _ The retail market in Romania could double in value in the next three years, the Belgian consultancy firm Future Lab announced at a press conference on Tuesday.

Last year, the retail market in Romania was worth € 31 billion, a 17.8-per cent increase over the previous year, Alain Thys, managing partner at Future Lab, said. According to a study quoted by Thys, retail sales, including traditional stores, hypermarkets and vegetable markets, could rise by a further 16.5 per cent this year, to Lei 121,7 billion (€ 38 billion).

Food products account for more than half of all retail sales, Thys said.

He also said that Romania has the potential to achieve retail sales of more than € 134 billion over the long term, as Belgium does at present.

Thys pointed out that Romania is now in the first phase of retail development, which includes copying patterns from more advanced economies. He said the next step should be to adapt these models to traditional Romanian models and create a new retail sales model in the country.

Future Lab will open a bureau in Romania in the coming months, to offer consultancy in retail and marketing and the real-estate business.e

A mini guide to Romania

Tim Dowling
The Guardian

Romanians are descended from the ancient Dacians, and the Romans who conquered them in 106AD. Dacia remained a Roman province for 200 years.

Romania became a member of the EU on January 1 2007, along with Bulgaria.

The country of Romania was formed through the merger of Moldavia and Wallachia in 1859, which both sought independence from the Ottoman empire. Transylvania, Bukovina and Bessarabia were added in 1918. Bessarabia was annexed by the Soviet Union after the second world war and now comprises the Republic of Moldova.

Wake Up, Romanian!, written in 1848, is the official national anthem of Romania, although from 1947, when the communists seized power, to the mid-1970s, it was forbidden even to hum it.

The Romanian language is so similar to Italian that Romanian speakers can more or less understand someone who is speaking Italian. For some reason it doesn't work quite so well the other way round.

The Danube runs for 40% of its length inside Romania, before emptying into the Black Sea.

Former president Nicolae Ceausescu rose to power in 1965 and ruled Romania until the revolution of 1989, when he was overthrown and executed along with his wife, Elena. To add insult to injury, on the day before his execution Ceausescu was stripped of his honorary knighthood by the Queen.

Under Ceausescu's brutally repressive dictatorship, Romania's secret police force, the Securitate, boasted 11,000 agents and more than 500,000 informers. At their instigation, some 80,000 political prisoners were detained in psychiatric hospitals.

The People's Palace in Bucharest, begun in 1984 and still incomplete at the time of Ceausescu's death, is officially the world's heaviest building, and the largest government building apart from the Pentagon. Its construction occasioned the demolition of 22 churches, six synagogues and 30,000 homes.

Mamaliga is a strong contender for the title of Romania's national dish: it's an ancient peasant staple made by boiling cornmeal with salt in a special cast iron pot called a ceaun. Actually, it's pretty much just polenta with a different name.

The oldest human fossils ever found in Europe were discovered in a Romanian cave in 2004.

Vladisav Dracula, the ruthless 15th-century Wallachian ruler who inspired Bram Stoker's vampire, was known as Vlad the Impaler for his preferred method of execution, although the nickname is somewhat unfair. He was equally fond of burning, drowning, skinning, boiling, cutting off limbs and nailing people's hats to their heads.

Romania now has one of the fastest growing economies in Europe, with average growth around 5.8% annually.

60% of all European brown bears live in Romania.

According to legend, the children who disappeared with the Pied Piper of Hamelin re-emerged from a cave in Transylvania, after being led through a tunnel that ran all the way from Germany to Romania.

Famous Romanians include the sculptor Constantin Brancusi, the playwright Eugene Ionescu, the tennis player Ilie Nastase and the gymnast Nadia Comaneci. The actor Edward G Robinson was born in Bucharest in 1893.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Gay activists march in Romania despite opposition

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Around 200 gay activists marched through Bucharest on Saturday in a heavily policed pride parade that defied efforts by religious and far-right groups to have the annual event banned.

Earlier this week, anti-gay groups tried to get a court to rule against the march, Romania's fifth annual gay festival.

Two counter-demonstrations were held ahead of the parade. At one, members of a far-right group chanted "Romania does not want you" in a protest they said was "against sin."

Romania decriminalized homosexuality in 2001, but gay people often face hostility in this largely conservative country of 22 million where the powerful Orthodox church views homosexuality as a sin and a disease.

Police said the gay rights march passed off without incident.

"It is encouraging," riot police spokesman Marius Militaru told reporters. "People are becoming aware that we are heading towards a degree of normality."

Last year riot police detained dozens of protesters who tried to break up a gay rights march.

About 1,200 police were deployed to protect the parade this year.

"I want to thank the police here today ... but we should be able to march and be ourselves without the police marching along," Michael Cashman, a British member of the European Parliament, told activists.

(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Giles Elgood)

Minister: Romania could adopt euro in 2014

BUCHAREST, May 24 (Xinhua) -- Romania could enter the euro zone on January 1, 2014, Minister of Economy and Finance Varujan Vosganian said in northeastern city Suceava on Saturday.

Vosganian said in the period 2012 through 2014 it is most likely that the payments will be made both in euros and in lei, but a decision to this end is to be taken by the governor of Romania's National Bank.

Vosganian voiced hope that the ministry he leads is to meet the incumbent obligations in this matter, so that the moment of entering the euro zone will be January 1, 2014.

Romanian President Traian Basescu said on Friday Romania has to set as a target the adoption of the euro in 2014.

Romania says EU farm aid problem over

BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Romania has resolved problems about distributing European Union direct payments to farmers on time, easing concerns in Brussels of funds being misspent, the head of the agency handling EU money said yesterday.

Romania, the second biggest Eastern member of the EU after Poland, was told by Brussels to improve its farm payments system but escaped subsidy cuts after the Commission decided it met the bloc’s standards.

But Brussels asked Bucharest to tighten fraud controls as million of euros of aid are paid to Romanian farmers between end-March and mid-June 2008.

Dan Gherghelas told Reuters in an interview that his agency has addressed flaws triggered by wrong land statements and drastically cut the acreage eligible to receive aid.

One-third of farmers who applied for subsidies declared larger-than-real crop areas, Gherghelas said. “We have excluded 1 million hectares of farmland from financing, consisting of overlapping land and non-eligible plots... 12,000 farmers will not receive any money,” he said.

The official, who blamed mostly poorly drafted land databases and lack of information among farmers, said controls revealed that 445,000 aid claims out of 1.24 million requests were wrong. “These figures have stirred concern in Brussels,” he added.

Under its Common Agricultural Policy, the EU has earmarked 440 million euros for Romania in 2007, or 50.5 euros per hectare. For 2008, farmers could receive 528 million euros’ worth of direct payments, or 60.6 euros per hectare. Payments will increase to 141 euros by 2013.

Gherghelas said direct aid payments for 2007, the country’s first year of membership, speeded up earlier this month. “No money will be returned to Brussels. The whole sum will be absorbed... We hope to have 900,000 farmers paid by the end of this month and finish distributing the sum by the middle of next month, before a June 30 deadline.”

Romania has also started to gather farmers’ requests for funds earmarked for 2008, a process that will end on June 9, the official said.

Like other ex-communist countries that joined the EU in 2004, Romania is expected to receive a smaller number of applications compared to the previous year, partly due to land consolidation.

One in five Romanians now has a small farm of an average 2 hectares following land restitution after communist-era collectivization was scrapped in 1989. One-third of the active population lives on subsistence farming.

“We’ve received only around 1 million aid requests so far... People may have not submitted requests for non-eligible land anymore... We can also assist the merging of plots to create bigger farming exploitations.”

Romania deems impact of crude price rise as inevitably recessive

BUCHAREST, May 23 (Xinhua) -- The impact of the rises in the prices for crude oil is almost inevitably recessive that weakens economic growth, stressed Mugur Isarescu, Governor of Romania's National Bank on Friday.

"Any increase in a reference price that spins the entire modern economy will certainly have an impact on the overall level of prices," said Isarescu at a press conference here.

In the same context, he voiced hope that the mistakes of the 1970s, when a similar phenomenon occurred, will be avoided and so stagflation will be avoided, "which is a highly unfortunate combination of economic stagnation and even recession coupled with high inflation."

Attending the press conference on Friday was also Secretary General of the Rome Club Martin Lees, who emphasized the idea that any rise in the crude prices will have an impact on all food prices, because one of the reasons is that in order to make farm fertilizers very much energy is required and food production and transport are two activities also requiring very much energy.

Lees pointed out that the oil prices are not determined by supply and demand, but by speculations.

He said he does not believe the prices will go down any soon, only maybe if the world were headed for recession that would still entail only a temporary, not a permanent change in fundamentals.

The press conference was held as part of an ongoing conference in Bucharest of the Rome Club on what forces are driving Europe ahead.

Romania plans new nuclear plant launch after 2020

By Jan Korselt and Martin Dokoupil
PRAGUE, May 23 (Reuters) - Romania is eyeing construction of a new nuclear plant with capacity of up to 4,800 megawatts, whose first unit could come on line after 2020, the head of the state nuclear operator Nuclearelectrica said on Friday.

Along with some other former communist EU members, Romania is at the forefront of a renewed push for nuclear energy as an alternative to coal and gas which emit carbon dioxide, blamed for global warming.

Nuclearelectrica operates Romania's only nuclear power station in Cernavoda, where the first of two 706 MW units went on stream in 1996.

Two more reactors at the same site are planned by 2014 and 2015, and Nuclearelectrica would like more.

"For the time being, the issue is at the political level. My interpretation is that in 2020 we could commission the first unit," Chief Executive Officer Teodor Chirica told Reuters.

"The discussion is about 2-4 units between 600 and 1,200 megawatts each," he said in an interview on the sidelines of the European Nuclear Energy Forum in Prague. The government now needs to find solutions on financing a selection of sites for the project in the summer, Chirica said, adding a database of potential locations was already available due to an intensive search before 1990.

CERNAVODA DEAL CLOSE
Chirica said he expected the cabinet to approve shortly a draft that would give the state a 51 percent stake in a partnership designed to build the third and fourth reactor in Cernavoda, confirming last month's remarks by the economy ministry.

The state had initially sought a 20 percent stake in the 2.2 billion euro ($3.47 billion) project.
Romania obtained six binding bids last year for a licence to build the reactors at the Danube river plant.

Chirica said the new plan would be discussed with investors after it is cleared by the government in a week or two.

"Up to this moment, there is no intention from any of the six investors to leave the project. Of course they are (waiting) to see the official document ... after that we will see how to continue with the project," he said.

The bidders are Belgium's Electrabel, Italy's Enel, Spain's Iberdrola, Czech CEZ, a Romanian unit of ArcelorMittal and Germany's RWE.
(Writing by Martin Dokoupil)

Friday, May 23, 2008

Romania to donate 860,000-dollar worth of humanitarian aid to China

BUCHAREST, May 22 (Xinhua) -- Romania will donate relief goods worth some two million lei (about 860,000 U.S. dollars) to China, consisting of humanitarian aid and first need stuff from the state reserves, the Foreign Ministry announced on Thursday.

The aid will be from the budget of official assistance for development, managed by the Foreign Ministry and the stuff will be sent by air close to the area in Sichuan province hit by a devastating earthquake on May 12, according to a press release from the Foreign Ministry.

"Beyond the value in money and along with the reaction of some Romanian local authorities, of the Romanian press and the civil society, the assistance is a normal expression of the friendship and solidarity between the Romanian and the Chinese peoples," said the release.

The diplomatic offices of Romania in China lowered the flags at half mast during the three days of national mourning in China in mourning for the earthquake victims.

The Romanian Foreign Ministry expressed the hope that the Chinese people will overcome the terrible tragedy as soon as possible.

Cubic Delivers Deployable Combat Training Centers to Romania and Slovakia

CNN.com


Cubic Defense Applications (CDA), a defense subsidiary of Cubic Corporation (AMEX: CUB), announced it completed installation of two new deployable combat training centers simultaneously in Romania and Slovakia.

Separate Initial Homestation Instrumentation Training Systems (I-HITS) went operational in late March in Romania, and early April in Slovakia. Cubic furnished I-HITS to the two nations under a 2005 contract with the U.S. Army Program Executive Office for Simulation and Training Instrumentation (PEO STRI). The system includes GPS-based player instrumentation and portable communications systems that are fully integrated with a software-based exercise control system. These technologies track the positions and casualty status of troops and vehicles in real time, and relay exercise data to command centers for post-mission analysis.

"Cubic's training systems business is showing real strength in Eastern and Central Europe after we began a concerted effort a few years ago to win business there," said Ray Barker, senior vice president in charge of Cubic's Readiness Systems Business Unit in San Diego. "In 2006, we delivered a system similar to I-HITS to the Hungarian Army. Since Hungary, Romania and Slovakia all have similar systems, they have the potential to conduct training with each other as well as with U.S. forces with our instrumentation. Our training products will have a significant impact on combat readiness in the region."

"The fielding of advanced training systems to Romania and Slovakia represents an important capability of Cubic's Readiness Systems and Mission Support business units to provide hardware, software and analytical and technical expertise to emerging democracies," said Larry Smith, vice president and general manager of the Virginia-based Force Modernization Division of Cubic Applications, Inc. (CAI), Cubic's government services subsidiary. "For the past eight years, CAI has supplied force modernization experts to countries seeking to join NATO, including Romania and Slovakia. CAI personnel currently provide computer-based simulation support at military simulation facilities in Romania, Lithuania and Ukraine."

Randy Hoyt, I-HITS program manager, commented: "The Army ordered its first I-HITS system in 2005. Eight months later, we delivered that system to the soldiers of the Eighth U.S. Army at Camp Casey in the Republic of Korea. In addition to delivering two systems within a month of each other to Romania and Slovakia, we have also installed systems at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii, and have deployed or upgraded similar systems to Fort Benning, Georgia; Fort Bliss, Texas; and Fort Lewis, Washington state. Cubic has also supplied I-HITS to various emergency response and Department of Energy customers."

Cubic Defense Applications (CDA), one of Cubic Corporation's major segments, is a world leader in realistic combat training systems, mission support services and defense electronics. The corporation's other major segment, Cubic Transportation Systems, designs and manufactures automatic fare collection systems for public mass transit authorities. For more information about Cubic, see the company's website at www.cubic.com.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Romania on Flood Alert

BalkanInsight.com

21 May 2008
Bucharest _ Romania is set to see flooding in central and western regions in the coming days, weather forecasters warn.

The National Hydrology Institute issued an amber alert for flooding and some twenty major rivers in three quarters of the country are at risk of overflowing.

On Wednesday, the government adopted a strategy for raising awareness of the threat using the media to warn residents of the danger.

”People must know that in emergency cases they should cooperate with authorities and trust them,” the Secretary of State in the Administration Ministry, Victor Paul Dobre, said.

He added that all local officials are on alert preparing for the threat of flooding and have already established contingency plans.

On Tuesday night, hundreds of houses were flooded in the northwest parts of the country in the Cluj, Salaj and Baia-Mare counties.

The people there will get food and water to the value of Lei 30,000 (€ 8,571), the government said.

Meteorologists have already urged Romanians to expect temperatures this summer in excess of 40 degrees Celsius, together with freak storms and heavy rainfall long periods of hot, dry weather will generate.

In 2005 and 2006, Romania was hit by exceptionally heavy rainfall and flooding.

Many dams, which have suffered a lack of funding for years, simply collapsed.

Last year Romania was hit by a particularly severe drought.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Romania: IMF Takes Stock

Oxford Business Group Latest Briefing

Gentle cooling, overheating or bust. These are the scenarios for Romania's economy posited by a recent report by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). While praising the growth of recent years, and the caution of the central bank, the IMF warned that macroeconomic policy is disturbingly pro-cyclical, contributing to inflation and the growing current account deficit. For the time being, a gradual slowdown in economic growth, easing the pressures on these two symptoms, seems the most likely - but the IMF warned that considerably less positive outcomes are likely if fiscal policy in particular is not tightened.

The IMF's report opened on a positive note, commenting on Romania's strong economic performance in recent years. "Romania's per capita income, while still at the tail end of the EU's income league, has been catching up fast," it said, observing last year's "robust" 6% growth, achieved despite the poor performance of the agriculture sector. The Fund remarked that, while income levels are still low at just over one third of the EU average, this gap has narrowed by an "impressive" 10% over the past five years.

However, this praise was tempered by worries about growing macroeconomic imbalances, which, given the shaky global financial market situation, have created what the fund terms "stability concerns". Specifically, these concerns relate to high levels of spending growth and the ballooning current account deficit (which jumped by two-thirds to 14% of GDP last year), as well as dependence on external funding, which the IMF fears increases the country's vulnerability. The inflows of foreign capital have driven up expenditure on consumption and investment beyond the pace of income growth OR have acted as a demand-pull factor, further widening the current account shortfall.

Furthermore, inflation has reared its head, reaching 8.6% in March, compared to around 5% in 2006. As the IMF noted, this is in large part attributable to external supply shocks which are outside the government's control. The oil price increase above $100 and rising global food prices due to changing consumption trends, as well as the damage to Romania's agricultural output following last year's droughts, have all played their part.

However, the IMF had tough words for Romania's "very short-term oriented" and pro-cyclical macroeconomic policy, including increases in public sector wages well above productivity growth which have fed through into the private sector, as well as for what the report wearily calls "the traditional end-year spending surge". These have contributed not only to inflation, but also to the current account and fiscal deficits. The minority government, which rules with Socialist support from outside the government coalition and faces an election this autumn, has been reluctant to tighten its fiscal stance.

Therefore it has fallen to the National Bank of Romania (NBR) to hike interest rates up in an attempt to fulfill its inflation-targeting brief. Over the past decade, the NBR, under the guidance of the widely-respected Governor Mugur Isarescu, has consistently been a reliable institution, including at times when the political leadership was found deficient and again the IMF has welcomed the bank's moves to limit banking system vulnerability. However, the IMF indicated that its job was not being made easy by the pro-cyclical fiscal policy.

In early May, the NBR increased its base rate to 9.75%. Ironically, the resulting squeeze on homeowners and small businesses which borrow domestically may annoy the country's growing middle class, counterbalancing the electoral effect of the government's largesse elsewhere. Having said that, the central bank has hinted that a moderate slowdown in growth and a possible strong harvest later this year may mean that inflation has peaked.

The IMF remarked that "the main challenge for Romania is to adopt economic policies that are much more coordinated and forward looking... Fiscal and incomes policies under the baseline will need to be tightened relative to plans". However, this is not a call for brutal retrenchment; the fund included in its policy suggestions improvements in infrastructure and workforce skills, which will surely involve continued public investment, and the judicious use of European Union

As for the outlook, the fund's baseline scenario is upbeat, but with the caveats that, without the necessary policy shifts, the situation could swiftly flip to negative. The core forecast sees a gentle slowing of growth to 5.5% this year and 4.75% next year, with inflation returning to within the NBR's target range of 3.5% +/-1% in 2009. Imbalances would gradually shrink. With the global economic cooling and the tightening of credit (which should reduce capital inflows), as well as the likelihood of improved harvests and the effect of the NBR's vigilance (counteracting supply shocks and demand pulls respectively), this seems a realistic prediction.

Nonetheless, the IMF also outlined two scenarios at opposite ends of the spectrum: "a continued boom" or "a sharp slowdown". The former foresees a continuation of capital inflows, better than expected economic performance by Romania's European trade partners and continued consumer confidence, which would keep inflation high and the current account deficit growing. The latter could occur if there is a sharp drop in consumer and business confidence and the economies of trading and investment partners contract more than expected. In this case, which seems marginally the more probable of the two scenarios given worries about Romania's macroeconomic stability, the global credit crunch and the US economy's travails, "the risk of a sharp slowdown turning into an economic bust would also be significant".

Global and local factors should help cool the economy gently over the next two years. But the IMF has sent a clear warning that if the authorities are unwary, this may not necessarily be the case.
(EU) funding.

Romania Politicians ‘Influencing Justice’

BalkanInsight.com

20 May 2008
Bucharest _ Romania’s President claims some politicians have pleaded with him to interfere in justice on their behalf.

Traian Basescu claimed that some of them had even come to his home and office to ask him to interfere for resolving their run-ins with the law.

He refused to give names or to specify the parties represented by those politicians, saying that it is not important, as he never took any further action.

”Please, don’t act like to I don’t know that these things are happening,” the President told the presenter of the television show.

Basescu pointed out that now the whole political class had turned against him because he refused to talk to people who had asked him to interfere in the justice system on their behalf.

Political analysts suggest Basescu simply used the remarks as a publicity stunt as the country gears up for local elections and Basescu seeks to secure votes for his Democratic Liberal Party.

“He must have given names and he should have gone to the prosecutors to denounce those politicians,” Cristian Tudor Popescu, an analyst said.

At the beginning of March, Basescu claimed that the country's politicians are continuing to pressure the judicial system. Read more: http://balkaninsight.com/en/main/news/8447

Speaking to press, Basescu said that politicians had been so infuriated by their inability to control the judiciary that they had adopted laws protecting them against investigation.

As an example, Basecu cited laws adopted last year which had served only to block the higher levels of the fight against corruption and protect those disrespecting the country's banking laws.

The judicial system is also threatened, added Basescu, by groups within the mass media that are mainly controlled by politicians.

In a survey published by the country's General Prosecutor's Office, 40% of respondents said that they thought prosecutors weren't doing their job efficiently, while 43% said they had little trust in the Romanian judicial system.

Secretary of the Navy Visits Romania

From Secretary of the Navy Public Affairs

BUCHAREST, Romania (NNS) -- Secretary of the Navy, Donald C. Winter visited with senior officials in Romania, May 13-15, to discuss U.S.-Romania military relations and visit the Romanian fleet.

Winter met with Corneliu Dobriþoiu, State Secretary, and Chief, Defense Policy and Planning Department, and with Lt. Gen. Mihail Orzeaþã, Deputy Chief of the General Staff May 14 in Bucharest. The agenda included issues of mutual interest on the participation of Romania in ISAF operations and Operation Enduring Freedom, on the Extended Black Sea Region, and on bilateral military cooperation relations.

Winter expressed the United States' thanks and appreciation for Romania's support of coalition efforts in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan, pointing out the importance of reliable partnerships in these vital areas. He also highlighted the importance of the U.S. - Romanian strategic relationship and the need to continue to build upon it to ensure the security of the Black Sea region.

The visit Romania also included meetings with Constantin Degeratu, State Adviser, Presidential Administration, with Stejãrel Olaru, State Adviser, Office of the Prime Minister, and with Costicã Canacheu, Chairman, Defense, Public Order, and National Security Committee, House of Deputies, Parliament of Romania.

After official meetings in Bucharest, Winter traveled to Constanta to visit the Romanian Naval Fleet. There he was the guest of Rear Adm. Dorin Danila, the Romanian Chief of Naval Forces, and toured the Romanian frigate Regina - Maria (F-222). The ship tour was followed by a review of the Navy staff and briefings on Romanian Naval capabilities at the Fleet Command Headquarters.

Discussions with the Romanian Navy included maritime security, maritime domain awareness, modernization of the U.S. and Romanian fleets, and the expansion of education and training opportunities for Romanian Navy personnel in the U.S.

For more news from the Secretary of the Navy, visit www.news.navy.mil/local/secnav/.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

U.S., Romania probe organized crime

BUCHAREST, Romania, May 19 (UPI) -- The United States and Romania are committed to working together to fight international crime, U.S. Deputy Attorney General Mark Filip said in Bucharest.

As an example of the two countries' cooperation, Filip noted U.S. and Romanian law enforcement officials worked together in a probe of an international organized crime ring. Speaking during a news conference in Bucharest, the federal prosecutor said the U.S. Justice Department brought racketeering and other charges against 38 people living in the United States and Romania, unsealing the indictments Monday.

The cases "demonstrate the close cooperation our two countries have developed to fight international organized crime," he said.

The cooperation will be ongoing, Filip said.

"(We) are learning from each other as we jointly help to protect our citizens and people in other countries from this sort of theft and crime," he said. "This kind of coordinated response is absolutely vital to our fight. We look forward to working together in the future."

Romania gets three bids for aircraft maker

BUCHAREST, May 20 (Reuters) - Romania has received three binding bids in the sale of the state's majority stake in aircraft maker Avioane Craiova, privatisation agency AVAS said on Tuesday.

Italy's Alenia Aeronautica (SIFI.MI: Quote, Profile, Research), AERO Vodochody of the Czech Republic and local firm INAV had submitted offers for an 80.98 percent stake in the firm, AVAS said in a statement.

Earlier this month, AVAS extended the deadline for binding bids to May 20 from May 9 following requests from investors.

Last year, AVAS failed to strike a deal to sell the company to a consortium of local private firms and said it would relaunch the sale. (Reporting by Radu Marinas; Editing by Sue Thomas)

Daimler Considering Factory in Cluj, Romania, Financiar Says

By Adam Brown

May 20 (Bloomberg) -- Daimler AG is considering building a Mercedes car factory in the northern Romanian city of Cluj or the western city of Timisoara, Ziarul Financiar reported.

Mercedes production in Romania could total 350,000 cars a year starting in 2011, the newspaper said, citing unidentified people. An investment of that size would make Daimler the biggest car producer in Romania.

To contact the reporter on this story: Adam Brown in Bucharest at abrown23@bloomberg.net

Sex and elephants woo voters ahead of Romania polls

Reuters

From parading an elephant through the streets to wrapping a condom on a finger or posing as Jesus, Romanian politicians are finding new ways to woo voters ahead of municipal elections on June 1.

In the Black Sea port of Constanta, a bulky candidate for mayor, nicknamed "the elephant," publicized his campaign by walking the animal through the town centre.

"It eats peas," the candidate Victor Manea said, poking fun at the current mayor of Constanta, whose last name, Mazare, means peas in Romanian.

The election for thousands of city mayors and county council members is an important gauge of the popularity of Romania's centrist government ahead of a parliamentary election this year. Hence the eye-catching stunts.

A candidate from the western city of Arad has printed banners showing himself sitting behind a long table, together with 11 colleagues, in a depiction of the Last Supper. His message is he "believes" in his team.

Banners in central Romania display images of a finger with a condom wrapped around it. The candidate for city hall in Bistrita, Gelu Dragan, hopes to show he will protect voters against ever-present corruption.

And in what a Romanian blog called "eggvertising," a candidate for the Navodari sea resort stamped his name on eggs to be sold in supermarkets. Their sell-by date is set for a week before a potential run-off on June 15.

Many voters, angry about Romania's dilapidated infrastructure and poor public services, are not impressed.

"I feel harassed," said Ileana Zamfir-Berca, a 49-year-old accountant from Bucharest.

"These people will do anything to get into power but just because they are walking an elephant doesn't mean they'll repair roads."

(Reporting by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Keith Weir)

Unlicensed French doctor performed back surgery on 100 people in Romania

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) - Police said Monday they believe an unlicensed doctor performed back operations on about 100 people in Romania before leaving the country as complaints began to be filed.

Romanian newspapers reported that the man in question _ a Frenchman named Francois Pinori _ also had performed surgery on more than 500 Italians before moving to Romania.
And he may be in Britain now, police said.

Pinori reportedly left Romania in 2006, shortly after the first complaints against him were filed. While police have yet to find him, they think they know where he is.

«We have information that Pinori is now in Britain,» said police spokesman Sergiu Rus.
Police are also looking for Pinori's patients so they can talk to them.

Rus said officials have determined that Pinori, who came to Romania in 2004 and worked as a doctor in a private clinic in Timisoara, presented phony papers when he obtained permission to practice.

Even so, after obtaining local approval, he should have also applied for a health ministry license, but the health ministry officials in Bucharest say he never did.

Health officials in Timisoara could not immediately be contacted.
The Romanian ministry of Health said it never licensed Pinori to practice medicine, as is legally required.

He worked in the clinic in western Romania for two years.
Patients reportedly paid ¤600-¤1,000 (US$900-US$1,550) to have Pinori perform operations such as the repair of a herniated disc.

Rus said some patients complained about their treatments and about the sums of money that they had to pay.

Romanian authorities began an investigation when they received the complaints, and asked Interpol for help.

Romanian newspapers wrote that Pinori had performed surgery on over 500 Italians before moving to Romania.

The chief of Interpol in Romania, Catalin Ionescu, said Pinori does not appear in the database of people for whom the institution is looking.

U.S. May Sell Romania Lockheed F-16s for $4.5 Billion

By Edmond Lococo

May 19 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Defense Department may sell Romania a combination of new and used F-16 jet aircraft built by Lockheed Martin Corp. with a total potential value of $4.5 billion.

Romania has requested the purchase of 24 new F-16C/D aircraft and the upgrade of 24 older models, the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in an e-mailed statement today.

The proposed sale would contribute to U.S. foreign policy and national security objectives because Romania is a North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally, the Defense Department said in a statement supporting the sale. The jets will ``greatly enhance'' Romania's interoperability with the U.S. and other NATO nations, making it a more valuable partner, the statement said.

The sale would include related equipment such as engines, radar, targeting pods and navigation systems, the statement said. Contractors for the equipment include General Electric Co., United Technologies Corp.'s Pratt & Whitney unit, Raytheon Co., Northrop Grumman Corp., Boeing Co., L-3 Communications Holdings Inc. and Goodrich Corp.

Lockheed, which had 2007 revenue of $41.9 billion, rose 78 cents to $109.94 at 4:15 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. They have gained 11 percent in the past 12 months.

To contact the reporter on this story: Edmond Lococo in Boston at elococo@bloomberg.net.

The perfect budget eco break? Romania

From
May 18, 2008

Rod Liddle finds a corner of Europe yet to be invaded by Starbucks. And it cost only £1,500 for a holiday for five

In winter, the wolves migrate down from the frozen Carpathian mountains and prowl the snow-covered, wooded hills beyond our farmhouse – usually just out of sight, though you can hear them doing their famous howling thing.

In spring, the wolves head back to the peaks, but the brown bears have given birth to their young and are feeling decidedly querulous and antagonistic towards humans. Chippy, you’d probably call it. A year or so back, a local hunter was partially eaten by a brown she-bear, despite having apologised profusely for having disturbed her.

There are lynx and wildcats in the forests too; this is Europe’s last natural wilderness, a scenery of unremitting grandeur and minimal subsistence agriculture that the European Union has yet to streamline and thus destroy (though give it time).

I hadn’t thought it would be like this, Transylvania – quite so beautiful, quite so insulated from the exhausting, moronic clamour of western Europe – despite having read Patrick Leigh Fermor, who walked through this landscape in the 1930s, astonishedly counting the gigantic white storks perched on every church roof.

That was then, I thought to myself before setting out: there’ll be a Starbucks on every corner now; there will be, God help us, malls.

I was wrong. I had figured without Nicolae Ceausescu and nearly 50 years of incompetent, totalitarian state socialism. If anything, old Nick put the country back another 100 years or so – especially this, the Hungarian part of Romania, the bit the Romanians look at with grave suspicion and muttered oaths. Every cloud, then.

It is a region that has been preserved, if not in aspic, then in horse dung; there’s a horse and cart on every corner, and it’s no affectation for the tourists; there are few cars, and many of the roads are too rutted for them anyway, mere mud tracks even in the centre of town. Up above, there are stars, loads of them.

Do you remember stars? And there are more storks than you could shake a stick at, their vast nests teetering on telegraph poles. You want to get away for a while? Then get away here, before it’s too late, before they spoil it, before the entire province is painted in the virulent yellow of oilseed rape under some fatuous, planet-destroying CAP scheme.

Believe me, this was the best holiday I’ve had in 30 years of fairly serious holidaymaking. And the cheapest. And the most tree-huggingly ecofriendly.

I think the kids liked it, too. A year or so back, we took the family to one of those all-inclusive resorts in Turkey with 427 swimming pools and X-treme water chutes and kiddie discos and synchronised-swimming aerobics and DVDs and video games. I don’t know exactly why we did this – mental laziness, probably.

We knew we’d hate it, but we thought our three children might welcome being suffocated by prepaid corporate-entertainment bilge, which was gravely wrong of us on any number of counts. The kids remember little of the holiday except for occasionally vomiting, and me throwing a strop and telling the Turks that even Greece was better than this.

The holiday this time around – no television, no prepackaged, sanitised entertainment of any kind – cost us less than a third of the price of that hideous Turkish jaunt, and the children want to go back NOW. They want to live there, in perpetuity. That, it turns out, is all they wanted: space, the outdoors, the suggestion of exciting wildlife close to hand and room for imagination.

This holiday cost us about £1,500 for five people, including all flights, all accommodation, all food, all alcohol, all excursions (of which there were two per day). I’ve never seen the children happier, even the two-year-old, whose physical development came on by a factor of about 10 as a result of being exhorted to walk more and be carried less.

And, for the snobs among you, there’s the chance to be taken bird-watching by royalty. Come on, how many holidays can guarantee you that? The place at which we were staying – beautifully converted farm buildings in the placid hamlet of Miklosvar, about 30 miles north of Brasov – is owned by Count Tibor Kalnoky, one of Europe’s last blue-blooded links to the Austro-Hungarian empire.

He is also the diplomatic representative of the world’s smallest state – the Knights of Malta, a strange Roman Catholic enclave that clings to the side of a hill in Italy – and, of course, a naturalist.

Are you beginning to comprehend how magnificently arcane, how otherworldly, this holiday was? The count is perhaps part of that growing web of eco-toffs, of well-born environmentally friendly monkeys who count among their number Zac Goldsmith and the Prince of Wales. Charlie, incidentally, owns a similar establishment near Miklosvar, which the count has helped him to renovate. They all know one another, the well-born scions of this well-mannered and charming greenerati.

I do not mean any of this slightingly; Tibor was a funny and extremely knowledgeable guide. One morning, he put on his walking boots and took me and my two boys out to see the shrikes and the eagles and the giant bats, all flapping purposefully about down by the river. He does this every week, he says; he enjoys it. My girlfriend chose not to join us. “See one f***ing bird, you’ve seen them all,” she said, opening a novel on the garden terrace.

I liked the count a lot. So did my boys. And they’ve been brought up to believe that royalty are parasitical vermin who must be exterminated. In fact, they asked me about this parasitical-vermin business while the count was actually with us (“I don’t think we should shoot him, he seems really nice ...”), which led to a ticklish situation for a while.

I’ve revised my position, anyway – maybe they should be allowed to run guesthouses. Kalnoky runs his better than any I’ve been to. The count is fervently green. Pretty much all of the food comes from the local village or the village a few miles down the road; the kids can milk the cows and goats, then drink the stuff at breakfast.

The alcohol, of which there was a welcomingly copious amount, is all made on site – sweet, pale caraway brandy and another more fiery distillation made, I suspect, from spent uranium rods (excellent stuff, it was).

A few days after we left, the count had a “green day” planned, when he and the staff, and any guests who felt like it, were to go out and clear up the litter left by the local fishermen at the oxbow lakes. We missed that, sadly – never rains but it pours, huh? The point is, this place takes its eco-credentials very seriously indeed. I felt so virtuous on my return home that I almost went out and bought a 4WD to compensate.

We were housed in large peasant buildings equipped with bourgeois furnishings – nice, heavy furniture, comfortable beds, warm showers. The handful of guests ate together each night in the lovely candle-lit cellar, sharing fine meals (and free wine) drawn from that Mitteleuropa tradition of pork goulash, caraway soup with dumplings, pikeperch, or zander, grilled and served with the freshest available vegetables, huge Hungarian cakes flavoured with cinnamon and sugar.

The scale of the operation is small enough for you to tailor the excursions as you might wish – what I wanted to do was walk, down the spectacular ravines and up in the high forests, and there was a willing and knowledgeable guide on hand for all that stuff. You can also do the usual Transylvania thing and see “Dracula’s castle”, or visit Saxon villages and sulphurous caves that are supposed to endow you with good health and sexual vitality, neither of which I possessed before I went there and neither of which I possess now.

Incidentally, the Hungarians are a bit sniffy about Dracula, his being a fictional character and all. But we went to his spectacular castle and walked around, noting Dracula’s disabled-access ramp and Dracula’s CCTV security system and Dracula’s TV lounge.

Elsewhere, there are pretty mountain lakes where, in late April, the snow still lay on the ground and fresh bear prints could be made out at the water’s edge, and fossil-collecting expeditions deep in the Carpathian forests, where the black woodpeckers scurry from branch to branch and there is not a sound to be heard but for the birdsong and the gentle susurration of my haggard lungs, finally giving up the ghost.

By the way, I spiced up this trip, just for the benefit of the kids. (Well, that’s my argument.) Instead of doing the simple thing and flying to Bucharest, then taking a two-hour train ride to Brasov (from which city the guests are collected), we flew instead to Budapest and took the sleeper train south and east, across borders that have shifted more frequently than Conservative policy on the EU.

There is something inexpressibly romantic and exciting about boarding a big Soviet-era train in Europe’s loveliest city, Budapest, armed with only a few bottles of grain alcohol and some chocolate, then heading slowly off into the mysterious eastern European night.

And being woken at 0500 by cheerful Romanian soldiers demanding to see your passports, the mountains of Transylvania closing in on either side of the track. A decent sleeper berth for five of us, plus the cost of the 12-hour journey, was no more than £150 in total – and, of course, the kids were entranced by it all. To think that we put ourselves through all that Turkish corporate misery, all that prepackaged bilge, a year ago, when we could have had this all the time.

Travel brief

Getting there: EasyJet flies to Budapest and Bucharest. Or try Wizz Air (www.wizzair.com), Jet2 (0871 226 1737, www.jet2.com), Ryanair (www.ryanair.com) and Aer Lingus (0818 365000, www.aerlingus.com).

Getting around: there are four direct trains per day from Budapest to Bucharest. Book through Deutsche Bahn (0871 880 8066, www.bahn.co.uk); a two-berth couchette costs £195, one-way. Trains from Bucharest to Brasov cost £8, one-way; tickets can be bought locally. For timetables, visit www.cfr.ro. Where to stay: Kalnoky Guesthouses (www.transylvaniancastle.com) has doubles from £77.

EUROPE: Home to Roma, And No Place for Them

By Claudia Ciobanu

BUCHAREST, May 16 (IPS) - A Roma ghetto in Ponticelli neighbourhood of Naples, Italy, was burnt down May 14 by locals angry over a reported attempt by a Roma young woman to kidnap a baby. The incident shows that, when it comes to living together with the 10 million Roma, Europeans today have no better answer than the "Gypsy hunts" of the Middle Ages.

The attempted kidnap in Naples is merely the last in a string of publicised crimes committed in Italy by Roma, usually from Romania. In the most notorious case, Romanian Nicolae Mailat raped and killed Italian teacher Giovanna Reggiani Oct. 30, 2007, on the outskirts of Rome.

Italian human rights organisation Opera Nomadi has calculated that of the 160,000 Roma living in Italy, roughly 60,000 come from Romania. Most of them inhabit improvised camps on the outskirts of towns or next to rivers. The Roma are a community that is believed to have migrated to Europe from India since the 14th century.

According to a survey commissioned this year by the Romanian Agency for Governmental Strategies, over 60 percent of Italians believe that criminality rates in their country have increased because of Romanians. Italians further said they considered Roma "the most difficult to tolerate."

Close to one million Romanians currently work in Italy. Romanians are said to be responsible for most of the illegalities committed by foreigners there. There is no clear indication that criminality rates for Roma from Romania are higher than for their non-Roma compatriots.

Anti-Roma and anti-Romanian feeling has been growing in Italy since last fall, reaching a boiling point with the attempted kidnap in Naples. Several shanty towns inhabited by Roma across the country have been burnt down over the past week. The Italian authorities are currently raiding Roma camps, rounding up "illegal immigrants" and issuing expulsion decrees.

While Italy's rejection of Roma is in the limelight these days, "voluntary repatriations" of Roma from France to Romania have been taking place for months without much public discussion. The French government pays for the flights back home and gives 300 euros to each person agreeing to return to Romania.

At the beginning of April, trains leaving from Bucharest to various towns in the country were full of Roma families returning from France. One of the women told IPS that the money would be spent on Easter celebrations and that her family would try to return to Western Europe. On the trains, the Roma slept in the corridors, while non-Roma inside the sitting compartments guarded the doors carefully. This reporter was not let into a compartment until those inside were confident she is not Roma.

Non-Roma Romanians are keen to be differentiated from the Roma. They claim they do honest work in the West and should not be demonised because of the criminal acts committed by Roma.

But allegations that Roma commit more crimes than non-Roma are unfounded. A 2008 study commissioned by the National Agency for Roma in Bucharest ('Come Closer. Inclusion and Exclusion of Roma in Present-Day Romanian Society) quotes chief police officer Stefan Campean from the General Police Inspectorate as saying that in spite of the public perception, Roma do not commit more crimes than non-Roma in Romania. Besides, most of the offences by Roma are petty crime, often involving food thefts.

While Western European countries are pushing Roma eastwards, back to their places of origin, in countries like Romania and Bulgaria, where Roma have lived for seven centuries, they are usually excluded from regular residential areas, schools and jobs.

About 2.5 million Roma live in Romania, and close to another million in neighbouring Bulgaria, out of a total of six million all over Central and Eastern Europe.

In Zapaden Park, a neighbourhood in the Western part of Bulgarian capital Sofia, the areas inhabited by Roma begin right where the city ends along with the paved roads. To visit Roma dwellings, one has to walk a muddy path, and fields scattered with trash on both sides. The garbage collecting truck makes its way along the same route, seemingly just cruising around because at no point do the workers stop to pick up the dirt.

There are no waste collecting points anyway, so the people in the area are forced to dump their rubbish in the street. This is the classic picture of Roma urban areas in Bulgaria and Romania, spatially segregated from the non-Roma neighbourhoods, and often lacking basic facilities.

In Romania, according to the 2008 study 'Come Closer', 60 percent of the Roma interviewed declared that someone in their family had gone to bed hungry in the past month. Over 50 percent of Roma children do not have a winter coat and another 50 percent live in a household that cannot afford shoes for all members.

The same study shows that only 17 percent of Roma households have access to gas and just 14 percent have water pipes in the house. Some 40 percent of the Roma interviewed do not have any documents for the land their shelters are situated on.

According to the Institute for Quality of Life Research in Bucharest, 47 percent of employable Roma in Romania had jobs in 2007, a significant improvement over previous years. However, write the authors of 'Come Closer', "Roma are generally informally employed, on a daily basis, mostly in unqualified occupations which require hard physical work, but which are stigmatised as temporary, inferior occupations."

Only 9 percent of the Roma interviewed for the 'Come Closer' study had completed high school, and another 2 percent held university degrees.

In some regions, as many as 10 percent of the Roma do not hold valid identity documents, Andreea Socaciu from the local Association for Community Partnership told IPS. This situation leads to difficulties in accessing education, jobs and social welfare.

Socaciu, who is involved in a programme helping Roma get official papers, says "there are areas where we are back in the Middle Ages. Entire families live in 20 square metre spaces, in one room, with no facilities. Children are forced to drop out of school, so the labour force of the future is jeopardised."

A national strategy for documenting Roma and facilitating their access to information about health, education and jobs was put forward in 2005, says Socaciu, adding that what her organisation does is merely "the starting point." Other measures taken by Romanian authorities include reserving places in higher education for Roma students and providing "health mediators" for Roma communities.

Progress is slow, however, and the authors of 'Come Closer' say that working abroad remains "the main strategy for emancipation" for Roma. Of those interviewed, 74 percent declared they plan to go abroad for work, half of them saying they will do this within a year, an indication of the seriousness of their intentions.

"Those who come to Italy for work don't do it because this is a beautiful country, they do it because of poverty at home," says Najo Adzovic, the informal leader of a Roma camp on the outskirts of Rome. "Conditions must be created for them to return to their country with dignity. They need a work place above all. Perhaps Italian businessmen, who make good money in Romania, could offer work places to Roma." (END/2008)

Serbia, Macedonia and Romania Join Europe in the Night of the Museums

Balkan Travellers

16 May 2008 | Various cities throughout the Balkans are joining the international Night of the Museums event, which will take place around the world on the evening of May 17.

The museums in 23 towns in Serbia, Skopjie in Macedonia and Bucharest and Cluj in Romania will stay open late into the night, offering their residents and visitors nocturnal tours through permanent and special exhibitions, light shows, theatrical and music performances.

In Serbia, more than 130 museums and galleries will stay open in 23 towns, including the capital Belgrade, Novi Sad , Valjevo, Šabac, Pančevo, Niš, Kragujevac, Kraljevo, Zrenjanin, Sombor, Kikinda, Jagodina, Sirogojno, Požarevac, Subotica, Čačak, Vrbas, Kladovo, Zaječar, Vršac, Aleksinac, Vranje and Užice.

One of the planned events in Serbia that BalkanTravellers.com found out about will be internationally-renowned artist Maria Dubin’s “live” painting at the Museum of Natural History in Kalemegdan in Belgrade. Sponsored by property consultants Colliers International Serbia, Dubin will paint three artworks – capturing her impression of the museum’s exhibits, which will then be exhibited Museum on Saturday night. The artist will be working in a tent that the general public will be able to visit.

In Macedonia’s capital Skopje, two original paintings by Pablo Picasso will be displayed at the city’s Museum of Contemporary Arts. The two artworks include “Head of a Woman,” which the artist himself donated in 1964, after the Skopje earthquake and “Dance of Satires,” which is the property of an anonymous Macedonian collector.

In Romania, the cities of Bucharest and Cluj will participate in the Night of the Museums. In the capital, according to National Network of Romanian Museums website, well-known artworks of the National Art Gallery and the European Art Gallery are to be (re)discovered in a new context, with lights, music and video.

At the Art Collections Museum in Bucharest, artworks from broad fields – painting, graphics, applied art – and cultural spaces (from the Western world to the Far East) within its 15 collections will be available for viewing. There will be a light show in the Honor Court of the Royal Palace and various theatre and music performances, including a classical music and operetta mini-concert at the Little Museum Opera.

The Art Museum in Cluj will open its doors to visitors with an exhibition by artists, including Theodor Aman, Nicolae Grigorescu, Ion Andreescu, Ştefan Luchian, Theodor Pallady, Nicolae Tonitza, Gheorghe Petraşcu, Hans Mattis Teutsch.

Bulgaria’s capital Sofia also joins in the Night of the Museums. BalkanTravellers.com highlighted

The Night of Museums, conceived to be a free for all social event, was created in 2005 by the French Ministry for Culture. According to event’s official website, in 2007, it brought an estimated 1.3 million visitors to 956 museums in France and 960 museums in 41 other European countries.
earlier this week some of the planned events for the evening of May 17.

Italy and Romania to hold talks on immigration

Rome - Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni and his Romanian counterpart Cristian David were to focus on immigration and crime in talks scheduled later on Thursday.

The meeting in Rome comes amid moves by Italy's new conservative government to tighten controls on immigration, including from other European Union member states like Romania.

Earlier this week Romania's Prime Minister Calin Tariceanu denounced reports that Italy was considering reimposing border checks, saying such measures could fuel xenophobia.

Maroni, who is from the anti-immigration Northern League party, on Tuesday said he favoured making illegal immigration a crime and that such a measure could be included in a security decree to be approved soon by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's government.

Maroni also said he would give the government's top public order official in Milan special powers to deal with the city's Roma camps which, as elsewhere in Italy, have been associated with crime in the northern city.

On Tuesday authorities in Naples evacuated a Roma camp torched by local residents who were incensed by a Roma girl's alleged attempt to kidnap a baby.

By Wednesday the 100 or so Roma in the camp situated in the low-income Ponticelli district had been moved to other Roma settlements in Naples.

The incident is the latest of a series of high profile cases involving Italy's Roma community - many of whom are of Romanian nationality and live in squalid shanty towns.

Late last year the previous centre-left government expelled over 200 Romanian nationals with criminal records in the wake of the murder, allegedly by a Roma man of Romanian origin, of a housewife in Rome.

Romania Leader Let Off over Gypsy Slur

BalkanInsight.com

15 May 2008
Bucharest _ Romania’s Justice Court have given the country’s President a reprieve over comments in which he referred to a ‘stinky Gypsy.’

Traian Basescu was heard making the statement on May 19 last year, while a journalist was filmed him shopping with his wife.

Basescu snatched the journalist’s phone with which she was filming after she was told to stop several times.

When the President returned her phone, the journalist discovered a conversation between the President and his wife was recorded without their knowledge, and Basescu could be heard referring to the journalist as a ‘stinky Gypsy.’

The case was discussed last summer by the National Council for the Fight against Discrimination, CNCD, which issued Basescu with a warning.

Basescu disputed this at the Appellate Court but it was rejected although the Justice Court on Thursday upheld his appeal.

The President’s lawyer, Robert Ros, claimed that the recording of Basescu’s comments were illegally obtained and was private comment.

The CNCD representative, Cristian Nuica, said under European Court law, the public and the private lives of politicians are combined since they are people in the public eye.

The CNCD president, Csaba Asztalos, added that in a country where 70 percent of the population says they would not like Gypsy (Roma) neighbours, such a statement made by the President could have negative consequences.

After the incident in May 2007, Basescu apologised to the journalist.

The Presidency said in a press release that Basescu’s statement was due to “media and public pressure, and not the attitude of the President towards the Gypsy community in Romania.”

Friday, May 16, 2008

In Romania, high-level corruption resists reform

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Chocolate and candy are among the things a Romanian football club owner said he wanted his representatives to buy with 1.7 million euros, found in a car near a restaurant where they were watching a match.

Gigi Becali, owner of Steaua Bucharest, later said the money was to buy a plot of land. He is now under investigation for alleged corruption related to football championships.

In the same week, Romanian President Traian Basescu called the country's Constitutional Court "a shield" for corruption.

The comment earned him reprimands from politicians across the spectrum. Combined with the Becali affair, it shows how corruption is a day-to-day concern in Romania.

Basescu's comments touched a raw nerve in the Black Sea state, which many observers say has regressed in reforms against high-level graft since joining the European Union last year.

As Romania heads into local government elections on June 1 with the ballots rife with candidates tainted by corruption accusations, the worry is that reforms have not been sufficient to keep corrupt officials from office.

Basescu was referring to a ruling by the Constitutional Court in March requiring prosecutors to seek parliament's approval for checks on some senior politicians.

That decision opened doors to new delays in investigations of corruption, adding to accusations that the establishment is not serious about fighting fraud.

A handful of probes into allegations of abuse among former and current cabinet ministers, including ex-prime minister Adrian Nastase, are already stalled by other delays in courts and changes in legislation.

"Other than with prosecutions, there is no progress since 2005," said Laura Stefan of the Romanian Academic Society, a think-tank. "The message to the people is that to have a nice life you have to be rich and powerful.

"There is no law but power."

FAR-REACHING PROBLEMS

Bucharest's struggle to clean up is raising concerns in the European Union as diplomats say Romania may have joined the bloc too early. Brussels monitors the reform progress but its ability to enforce the new members' commitments wanes after accession.

Such disappointment in Brussels may make it harder for other countries in the Balkans to join the wealthy bloc, analysts say. They argue the EU will be more cautious in setting entry targets and much tougher in demanding reform results.

"The lesson is that if there are things you don't seem able to resolve in the run-up to accession, then we are not confident you will able to achieve them afterwards," said Katinka Barysch from the Centre for European Reform in London.

For Romania, the foot-dragging means slower transformation from the brutal pre-1989 regime of Nicolae Ceausescu towards democracy as Romanians are reluctant to trust state institutions. According to Transparency International, Romania is the most graft-prone EU member.

Its ruling centrists argue they are doing what they can to combat widespread abuse and reform the judiciary.

They point to statistics from the anti-corruption prosecutors' office (DNA) showing hundreds of people have been indicted in recent months and dozens convicted.

"Of course there is resistance to strong reforms," Justice Minister Catalin Predoiu told Reuters. "I wouldn't believe in reform measures that do not face the tendency to preserve the status quo. However ... I am happy to see that both the government and parliament showed commitment to fighting corruption."

Despite the tough rhetoric, results in the war on top-level crime are scant.

The Romania Libera daily newspaper said its research showed almost every county is fielding a candidate for the local election who is either being investigated for graft or has faced accusations of abuse.

One of the highest-ranking officials to be sentenced to jail on graft charges, Nicolae Mischie, is now running for office again, after switching allegiances from the ex-communist PSD to the nationalist New Generation Party of soccer tycoon Becali.

Mischie was sentenced to four years for abusing power while he headed a county council in southwestern Romania.

DEEP ROOTS

Civil society observers and diplomats say too many Romanian politicians are entangled in powerful interest groups that oppose reforms while others simply protect their own practices.

An example, they say, is a protracted parliamentary debate over Romania's new criminal procedure code, which some observers have said could effectively prevent prosecution of graft if introduced in its full form.

Romania's Senate has improved the draft, including removing a ban on wire-tapping phones before pressing criminal charges against a suspect. But resistance is strong.

"The system is far more powerful than we thought," said Stefan. "People are defending themselves like crazy."

In coming weeks, parliament is also due to decide whether to approve prosecutors' request to investigate former Prime Minister Nastase, former Transport Minister Miron Mitrea and current Labor Minister Paul Pacuraru. All three face corruption charges which they deny and label as politically motivated.

"Nobody believes the deputies will hand them (the politicians) over to the Justice Hall," wrote Mircea Marian, a columnist for Evenimentul Zilei daily. "Their files of corruption will be lost forever."

(Additional reporting by Radu Marinas and Iulia Rosca)

(Editing by Sara Ledwith)