Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia sign trilateral agreement on combating organised crime

Sofia Echo
11:14 Tue 30 Sep 2008 - Clive Leviev-Sawyer

Bulgarian Interior Minister Mihail Mikov, his Serbian counterpart Ivica Dacic and Romanian interior minister Christian David have signed an agreement between the three countries on co-operation against organised crime, including a focus on countering trafficking in drugs and cigarettes and providing for joint anti-terrorist training.

The agreement was signed in Belgrade on September 29 2008.

Bulgarian National Radio (BNR) reported Dacic as saying that trafficking in drugs and cigarettes was one of the worst problems on the Bulgaria-Serbia border.

The Bulgarian side suggested measures to ease the system of crossing the Bulgaria-Serbia border.

The three ministers discussed the possibility of setting up a regional rapid reaction centre to deal with natural disasters. Mikov said that the proposal had been co-ordinated with the European Commission.

According to a media statement by the Bulgarian Interior Ministry, the agreement says that the three countries are concerned about the serious proportions that crime has reached in recent years at national and international level, which constitutes a serious threat to internal security and stability in the Balkans.

For this reason, Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia agreed on co-operation in prevention, detection and investigation of organised crime, and against serious crimes against persons, cross-border crime, terrorist acts, production and trafficking of drugs and weapons, and people trafficking.

The three countries will co-operate in preventing illegal economic activities, suspicious transactions, money laundering, smuggling, sexual exploitation, counterfeiting money, documents and trademarks. They will unite their efforts against cyber-crime, corruption
and extortion, the agreement said.

The interior ministries will exchange information, experience and expertise in combating transnational crime.

Speaking at a news conference after the signing, Dacic said: “We have to show in the short term that the Balkans may themselves define and pursue their priorities”.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Romania Govt Party Unveils Pre-Poll Platform

BalkanInsight.com

29 September 2008
Bucharest _ Romania's ruling Liberal Party has unveiled its governing programme ahead of the November 30 parliamentary election, proposing a mix of pro-business policies, additional welfare spending and improved wages.

The party, which opinion polls have in third place for the ballot, reiterated its support for maintaining the 16-percent flat tax and meeting euro entry criteria for 2014.

It pledged to more than double average pensions in four years to over €350 euros per month and oversee growth in average salaries to €800 from some €480 currently.

Despite its low standing, Prime Minister Calin Tariceanu's PNL may form a a coalition government after the vote, analysts say, either with the centrist frontrunner Democrat-Liberal Party, PD-L or the ex-communist Social Democrat Party, PSD. The party currently heads a minority government.

Economists have criticised PNL's policies in the last two years, saying it did not take advantage of strong growth to safeguard the economy against shocks from global markets.

Many have said Romania must tighten its purse strings to ease overheating that has led to a vast external deficit and threatens to unravel long-term gains in the former communist economy.

They have criticised Tariceanu for diverting too much public cash to welfare and salaries while failing to spend enough state and European Union funds on making Romania's ramshackle infrastructure more attractive to foreign investors.

But Tariceanu defended his policies, saying salary and pension hikes he introduced since last year were "sustainable".

"The PNL is committing to continue the path of economic performance which results in the welfare of the individual," he told a meeting of party officials and civil society.

It vowed to lower social security contributions and some value-added taxes, cut the number of taxes paid by individuals and companies as well diminish red tape and administrative costs for companies.

Its aim would to be ensure economic of at least 6-7 percent in coming years, compared with this year's expected rate of some 8-9 percent.

Analysts said the programme echoes the policy agenda of the PNL's main competitors and offers few clues on how the party would ensure Romania steers clear of a trouble if a widely anticipated economic slowdown next year exceeds expectations.

Bucharest's Baneasa airport closed for runway maintenance until Oct. 12

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) -- Officials from low-cost operators in Romania say the Baneasa airport in Bucharest will be closed from Monday until Oct. 12 for runway maintenance.

News agency NewsIn says five low-cost companies operate flights from Baneasa airport: Blue Air, SkyEurope, WizzAir, MyAir and Germanwings.

Most of them have transferred their flights to Henri Coanda airport, the city's main airport north of Bucharest. MyAir says it canceled half its flights during the shutdown.

Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu has proposed closing Baneasa permanently, to end noise and street traffic problems.

Pirelli to invest 250 mln euros more in Romania

MILAN, Sept 29 (Reuters) - Italian tyre maker Pirelli & C (PECI.MI: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) is to invest another 250 million euros ($358.7 million) in Romania to expand in eastern European markets, the company said on Monday.

Pirelli has already invested 250 million euros there over the last five years to create an automotive centre with plants for car tyres, steelcord and particulate filters. (Editing by David Holmes)

Romania rejects Czech bid in sale of aircraft maker

BUCHAREST, Sept 29 (Reuters) - Romania's privatisation agency AVAS rejected a bid by Czech firm Aero Vodochody to buy the state's majority stake in aircraft maker Avioane Craiova SA, saying its claims were unnaceptable.

'Contractual claims issued during the negotiation process exceeded current legal framework and they couldn't be taken into account,' AVAS said in a statement.

In July, AVAS selected the Czech investor to buy a 80.98 percent stake in Romania's sole producer of military aircraft. Aero Vodochody offered 16.3 million euros for the stake, of which 8.9 million represented planned five-year investment.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Bulgaria and Romania call for greater UN role in Black Sea region

Sofia News Echo
17:30 Sun 28 Sep 2008 - Clive Leviev-Sawyer

Senior officials from Romania and Bulgaria have called on the United Nations to play an enhanced role in promoting democracy and regional peace and stability across the Black Sea area, saying that the recent conflict in Georgia signalled some of the challenges the region faces, the UN press service reported.

According to the UN press service, Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev said that the UN’s experience in peacemaking and conflict prevention could be much better utilised by the Black Sea region.

“Democracy, security and co-operation still have their further way to go in the Black Sea region,” Stanishev was quoted as saying. “More coherent efforts are needed for the ultimate settlement of the protracted conflicts there. Frozen conflicts should not be neglected because they tend to re-ignite tension time and again.”

Stanishev said that the fighting in South Ossetia between Georgian, Russian and South Ossetian forces provided “ample evidence” of the need to resolve frozen conflicts sooner rather than later.

“Should the plans for a regional centre for UN mediation in the Western Balkans/Black Sea area meet approval by member states, Bulgaria stands ready to host it in Sofia, and to facilitate in every possible way its activities in South-East Europe, in the South Caucasus and other neighbouring areas,” Stanishev said.

Romanian foreign minister Lazar Comanescu told the UN General Assembly’s annual high-level debate that the benefits that would flow from a more stable region would be enormous.

“If we take a closer look we see a region with a large population, an important hub for energy and transport flows, a great economic potential,” Comanescu said.

Comanescu said that the conflict in August in Georgia’s breakaway South Ossetia region, “with its reverberations in Abkhazia and the entire state of Georgia and beyond, should focus the attention of the international community on all protracted conflicts in the area, including Transnistria and Nagorno-Karabakh.”

Croatian prime minister Ivo Sanader, also speaking in the General Debate, said that it was vital to keep working towards greater stability across South-East Europe, particularly given the “unfinished business” in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“The foundations for stability in this country reside in the respect for equal rights for all three constituent and sovereign people: Croats, Bosniaks and Serbs,” Sanader said.

“The Republic of Croatia, along with the international community, stands ready to support and assist Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as all the countries in the region, through an active policy of co-operation. Such cooperation paves the way for long-standing security and prosperity in South-East Europe.”

Meanwhile, the Bulgarian Cabinet press office said that Stanishev, Round Table 1 on Poverty and Hunger during the UN high-level meeting on the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) within the 63rd session of the UN General Assembly, had noted progress in accomplishing the MDGs so far and had warned of delays and open issues which remained in a number of areas.

Stanishev said that new challenges, including climate changes, as well as the energy, food and financial crisis were further impeding the achievement of the MDGs.

He highlighted Bulgaria's efforts to join the world fight against extreme poverty and hunger and said that Bulgaria was resolved to meet the EU-set targets for a share of GDP to be set aside in development assistance.

Stanishev called for a doubling of efforts the preparation of a detailed action plan to make feasible meeting the deadline of 2015 enshrined in the MDGs.

He emphasised the importance of the Doha Conference which will review the funding available for development in a bid to step up the process of accomplishing the goals.

According to the Cabinet media office, Stanishev called for “determined and immediate action” by the official institutions and the non-government and the private sector to overcome any delays and accomplish the MDGs.

Failure in this area would undermine confidence in the ability of the international community and the UN to take on global commitments, Stanishev said.

On September 25, Stanishev met former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright, who is currently serving as chairperson of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs.

According to the Bulgarian Government media statement, Albright gave Stanishev her analysis of the pre-election situation in the US in the context of the “unprecedented” economic crisis.

Albright paid special attention to the detailed analysis by Stanishev of events in Georgia and the main issues concerning Bulgaria’s and EU’s energy policy in the region, the media statement said.

Stanishev briefed Albright on the intiative for a summit level energy conference in Bulgaria next year.

The Cabinet media statement quoted Albright as saying that Bulgaria was the “most appropriate EU member state” to play a significant role in constructive dialogue with the Russian Federation.

Albright, according to the media statement, emphasised Bulgaria’s new role as a factor for the stability on the Balkans and said that both the US and the EU saw Bulgaria as a privileged partner in coping with the problems of security, energy policy and other issues of importance.

Bulgaria’s stand on the significance of the Nabucco and South Stream energy projects were also discussed during the meeting.

“(Albright) expressed her satisfaction with Bulgaria’s pragmatic stand on energy security of the EU and Europe,” the Cabinet statement said.

Stanishev also had a meeting with UN Development Programme Administrator Kemal Dervis. The two discussed co-operation between the UNDP and Bulgaria where the UNDP has “one of its most successful programmes in all Central and Eastern Europe” the media statement said.

Stanishev said that many Bulgarians had seen the results of the UNDP's work in Bulgaria, especially the Beautiful Bulgaria and JOBS projects.

Stanshev and Dervis also discussed future co-operation in supporting development from a new perspective, as Bulgaria is making a transition from a user of assistance to a donor nation. Stanishev emphasised that this is part of Bulgaria's commitments as a EU member state.

Stanishev and Dervis also discussed ways to transform the experience with joint work to other nations of the Black Sea region and the Western Balkans, through the Bulgarian programmes for assistance and through support from UNDP. The building of a regional UNDP office in Sofia was also on the agenda of the meeting, the Bulgarian Cabinet statement said.

Bulgaria and Romania to Manage Jointly Danube Bridge II

Sofia News Agency

27 September 2008, Saturday

A joint Bulgarian Romanian company is to be created to manage the so called Danube Bridge II, according to the Bulgarian Transportation Minister Petar Mutafchiev.

Mutafchiev is in the northwest Bulgarian city of Vidin along with the Deputy Prime Minister Meglena Plugchieva and the Interior Minister Mihail Mikov to inspect the bridge construction works. According to Mutafchiev, it has now become unacceptable to waste anymore time since the construction works have been already delayed by six months.

Representatives of the European Commission are also visiting Vidin on Friday and Saturday in order to inspect the construction of the bridge, which will connect Bulgaria to the Romanian town of Calafat across the river.

The Minister further stated that the delay was due to the delay in the project design, but real construction activity has already begun. Mutafchiev further said that some increase of the project's price was expected due to the fuels' price hike, but the Cabinet was conducting negotiations and would resist pressure on the part of the company about any other rises.

The bridge is scheduled to be completed in 2010 and if the company does not adhere to this deadline, new negations would take place. This scenario was qualified by the Minister as a crisis situation, which would require that the State takes part in the project's financing.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Romania Leaves Main Rate Unchanged as Inflation Slows

By Adam Brown

Sept. 25 (Bloomberg) -- Romania's central bank left its main interest rate unchanged for the first time in a year as a bumper harvest slows inflation and policy makers study the local impact of global economic turmoil.

The Banca Nationala a Romaniei left its Monetary Policy Rate at 10.25 percent, the highest in the European Union, the bank said in an e-mail today. That's in line with the median forecast in a Bloomberg survey of 12 economists.

``This means the central bank believes inflation could fall substantially during the coming quarters,'' said Nicolaie Alexandru-Chidesciuc, a senior economist at ING Bank Romania, in an e-mail today. ``In the first quarter of next year, we should expect cuts in the key rate.''

Romania's central bank has raised its main rate at every policy meeting in the past year, lifting it from 7 percent last October. The inflation rate rose from a 17-year low of 3.7 percent in March 2007, to 9 percent in July. It fell to 8 percent in August. Central bank Governor Mugur Isarescu sees the year-end inflation rate at 6.6 percent at the highest.

The central bank board today also left its minimum reserve requirements on commercial bank deposits at 40 percent for foreign-exchange deposits and 20 percent for deposits in lei.

`Vigilantly Monitor'

The bank will ``vigilantly monitor developments in macroeconomic indicators both domestically and internationally and will adjust its instruments as to ensure a consolidation of the disinflation process,'' it said in an e-mail today.

It also said that ``increased turbulence on world financial markets have had a limited impact so far on the Romanian banking sector,'' and liquidity, ``while undergoing a reduction, remains at an adequate level.''

The decision to leave the interest rate unchanged is in line with other central banks in eastern Europe amid easing inflation and a global financial crisis.

Poland left its main rate unchanged yesterday at 6 percent and the Czech central bank held its rate at 3.5 percent today. Slovakia and Hungary are expected to do the same next week.

In Romania, a bumper crop lowered some food prices and slowed gains in others in August. The Agriculture Ministry said on Sept. 10 that the wheat and rye harvest will be twice as big this year as 2007, when farms were stricken by a drought.

Leu Depreciation

The leu's slower depreciation also helped keep inflation in check. Romanian consumer prices are sensitive to fluctuations in the leu as rent, gasoline, telephone bills and other items are measured in euros and paid for in lei. The leu is down 7 percent against the euro over the same period last year, after being down as much as 15 percent in July.

The central bank's previous interest-rate increases have also helped slow a lending boom that was pressuring prices. Private debt increased an annual 50.4 percent in August, compared with 55.8 percent in July and 63.4 percent in June.

Chidesciuc said the central bank may raise the rate again later in the year because of an expected increase in government spending leading up to Nov. 30 parliamentary elections, rising wages and accelerating economic growth.

Romania's economy expanded an annual 9.3 percent in the second quarter and Finance Minister Varujan Vosganian predicted full-year growth may accelerate to as much as 9 percent from 6.6 percent in 2007. Net wage growth, which the central bank has cited as another main inflation threat, quickened to an annual 25.8 percent in July.

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

International exercise on civilian security ends in Romania

A five-day joint exercise on civilian security, involving the European Union (EU), Hungary and Romania, ended in western Romania Thursday.

The exercise, designed to improve the EU nations' ability to deal with disasters, such as chemical contamination and flooding, was held in Hungary and Romania in succession.

A total of 10 nations joined the exercise sponsored by the EU. Member states of the EU and NATO also sent some 30 observers to the exercise.

Source:Xinhua

Rigour needed for Romania euro entry plan-c.bank

BUCHAREST, Sept 26 (Reuters) - Romania will be able to join the euro zone in 2014, as planned, if government policies are rigorous and inflation continues to fall, the central bank said on Friday.

"If we have rigour in Romania and inflation helps us, Romania will adopt the euro in 2014," Adrian Vasilescu, an adviser to the central bank's governor Mugur Isarescu, told business television The Money Channel.

On Wednesday, President Traian Basescu accused the country's centrist government of putting the country's euro entry plans and economy at risk with spending plans ahead of a Nov. 30 election.

Speaking in parliament two months before the polls, Basescu said the country could fail to join the single currency in 2014 due to loose fiscal policy and poor absorption of EU funds.

Inflation is expected to overshoot this year's goal of 2.8-4.8 percent with price growth seen roughly at 6 percent in December, after it likely peaked at 9 percent in July.

Romania Says It May Scrap Eurobond Sale Amid Turmoil

By Adam Brown

Sept. 26 (Bloomberg) -- Romania may scrap or delay until next year a further sale of 10-year euro-denominated bonds because of the turmoil on global financial markets.

``We have to wait for the markets to calm down and yields to improve,'' Stefan Nanu, the head of the Finance Ministry's Treasury Department in Bucharest, said in a telephone interview today. ``This means it's very unlikely to re-open it soon, like this year. We may not re-open it at all.''

Romania sold 750 million euros ($1.1 billion) of 10-year euro-denominated bonds last June. The Finance Ministry was authorized to sell as much as 1 billion euros of securities, meaning it can still sell 250 million.

The bonds, paying 6.5 percent interest, were sold in June to yield 213 basis points more than Germany's 4.25 percent note maturing 2018. Yesterday the yield reached a record high of 7.544 percent and was at 7.467 percent as of 1 p.m. local time today.

``We would need to be very close to the price of where we launched the last bond and we are now about 100 basis points above the yield of where we launched,'' Nanu said.

Moody's Investors Service ranks Romania's long-term foreign currency debt at Baa3, the lowest investment grade rating.

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

Romania govt party eyes higher wages ahead of vote

BUCHAREST, Sept 26 (Reuters) - Romania's ruling Liberal Party (PNL) unveiled its governing programme ahead of the Nov. 30 parliamentary election on Friday, proposing a mix of pro-business policies, additional welfare spending and improved wages.

The party, which opinion polls have in third place for the ballot, reiterated its support for maintaining the 16-percent flat tax and meeting euro entry criteria for 2014.

It pledged to more than double average pensions in four years to over 350 euros ($512.1) per month and oversee growth in average salaries to 800 euros from some 480 euros currently.
Despite its low standing, Prime Minister Calin Tariceanu's PNL may form a a coalition government after the vote, analysts say, either with the centrist frontrunner Democrat-Liberal Party (PD-L) or the ex-communist Social Democrat Party (PSD). The party currently heads a minority government.

Economists have criticised PNL's policies in the last two years, saying it did not take advantage of strong growth to safeguard the economy against shocks from global markets.

Many have said Romania must tighten its purse strings to ease overheating that has led to a vast external deficit and threatens to unravel long-term gains in the former communist economy.
They have criticised Tariceanu for diverting too much public cash to welfare and salaries while failing to spend enough state and European Union funds on making Romania's ramshackle infrastructure more attractive to foreign investors.

But Tariceanu defended his policies, saying salary and pension hikes he introduced since last year were "sustainable".

"The PNL is committing to continue the path of economic performance which results in the welfare of the individual," he told a meeting of party officials and civil society.

It vowed to lower social security contributions and some value-added taxes, cut the number of taxes paid by individuals and companies as well diminish red tape and administrative costs for companies.

Its aim would to be ensure economic of at least 6-7 percent in coming years, compared with this year's expected rate of some 8-9 percent.

Analysts said the programme echoes the policy agenda of the PNL's main competitors and offers few clues on how the party would ensure Romania steers clear of a trouble if a widely anticipated economic slowdown next year exceeds expectations. "This is another programme that is focusing on social aspects; there are very few details about investment spending and how to stimulate the business environment," said Ionut Dumitru, head of research at Raiffeisen Bank in Bucharest.

"It is normal to talk about tax cuts, wages and salaries in the pre-electoral period, but you should also talk about plans to make public investment spending more efficient."

Friday, September 26, 2008

Romania, IMF say real estate mkt losing steam-paper

BUCHAREST, Sept 26 (Reuters) - Romania's buoyant real estate market may lose steam as financial turbulence boosts borrowing costs and leads to tighter lending conditions, the finance minister and the International Monetary Fund were quoted as saying.

The real estate market, including construction and hefty foreign investment in property, has so far been a key driver of growth in the new European Union state

as buyers flocked to what was seen as one of the most attractive sectors in Europe.

'It is possible to see a contraction in the residential housing area,' Finance Minister Varujan Vosganian was quoted as saying by daily Ziarul

Financiar on Friday. He said did not expect a fall in the price of industrial real estate.

The Ziarul Financiar newspaper also quoted the International Monetary Fund's senior representative in Romania as saying the domestic real estate market would

lose some of its lustre.

'Real estate yields will not be so high any more,' IMF's Juan Jose Fernandez-Ansola said. 'A slowdown in sales and a halt in real estate prices can

be seen already.'

Overall construction grew 33.9 percent in the second quarter of this year, compared with 32.3 percent in the same period in 2007, data showed earlier this month.

The gross domestic product rose 9.3 percent in the second quarter from a year earlier, the fastest rate in the EU.

Democratic Liberals Still Lead in Romania

(Angus Reid Global Monitor) - The Democratic Liberal Party (PD-L) is the strongest political organization ahead of a legislative election in Romania, according to a poll by the National Institute for Public Opinion Studies and Marketing (INSOMAR) released by Realitatea TV. 39 per cent of respondents would vote for PD-L in the November ballot, up one point since July.

The Social Democratic Party (PSD) is second with 25 per cent, followed by the National Liberal Party (PNL) with 20 per cent—up four points since July—the Hungarian Democratic Alliance of Romania (UDMR) and the Party of Great Romania (PRM) both with four per cent, and the New Generation Party (PNG) with three per cent. Support is lower for the Conservative Party (PC) and the Hungarian Civic Party (PCM).

The Alliance for Justice and Truth (DA)—comprising the Democratic Party (PD) and the PNL—won the November 2004 parliamentary election, securing 132 seats in the 332-member Chamber of Deputies. DA candidate Trian Basescu won the presidential run-off in December 2004 with 51.23 per cent of the vote, defeating PSD contender Adrian Nastase. Basescu later appointed fellow alliance member Calin Popescu Tariceanu as prime minister.

In December 2006, several members of the PNL—including former prime minister Theodor Stolojan—assembled as the Liberal-Democrats (PLD) to protest the leadership of Tariceanu. In 2007, the governing alliance underwent major changes as Tariceanu dismissed the PD ministers and the coalition dissolved. Tariceanu assembled a minority administration comprising the PNL and the UDMR.

In January 2008, the PLD and the Democratic Party (PD) merged to form the PD-L. The organization joined the European People’s Party (EPP) and is led by Emil Boc, the elected mayor of Cluj-Napoca, the largest city in Transylvania.

On Sept. 16, Tariceanu announced he would implement a plan to increase state pensions in October instead of November, saying, "Because of a very good economic performance, we can ensure the needed resources for state pension increase from October 1. This is not a social measure; it is the result of rightist policies."

The legislative election is scheduled for Nov. 30.

Polling Data

What party would you support in Romania’s next parliamentary election?

Sept. 2008

Jul. 2008

Democratic Liberal Party (PD-L)

39%

38%

Social Democratic Party (PSD)

25%

26%

National Liberal Party (PNL)

20%

16%

Hungarian Democratic Alliance of Romania (UDMR)

4%

4%

Party of Great Romania (PRM)

4%

3%

New Generation Party (PNG)

3%

3%

Conservative Party (PC)

1%

2%

Hungarian Civic Party (PCM)

1%

1%

National Peasant Christian-Democratic Party (PNT-CD)

--

2%

National Initiative Party (PIN)

--

2%

Source: National Institute for Public Opinion Studies and Marketing (INSOMAR) / Realitatea TV
Methodology: Interviews with 1,488 Romanian adults, conducted from Sept. 12 to Sept. 17, 2008. Margin of error is 2.8 per cent.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Romania PM Picks New Labour Minister

BalkanInsight.com

25 September 2008
Bucharest _ Romania’s Premier Calin Popescu Tariceanu has nominated Mariana Campeanu as successor to former Labour Minister Paul Pacuraru who resigned earlier this week.

Marian Campeanu is the current head of National House of Pensions, the government body which administers pensions and social insurance in Romania.

The nomination has to be accepted by the country's president, Traian Basescu.

Paul Pacuraru resigned on Tuesday after being accused by state prosecutors of taking bribes in order to help a company close to one of his family members.

He denies the charges.

Currently there are other two investigations underway against former ministers, who are allegedly involved in corruption cases.

According to Transparency International's corruption perception index, despite some progress made since 2004, Romania remains among the most corrupt countries in the European Union.

Romania cbank halts tightening after 7 hikes

By Radu Marinas and Marius Zaharia
BUCHAREST, Sept 25 (Reuters) - Romania's central bank kept its benchmark interest rate at 10.25 percent on Thursday, halting its tightening cycle after seven consecutive hikes and signalling optimism that inflation has peaked.

But analysts cautioned that another rate hike could not be ruled out if fiscal policy was loosened ahead of the Nov. 30 parliamentary election in Romania.

"This means the central bank believes inflation could fall substantially during next quarters," said Nicolaie Alexandru-Chidesciuc from ING Bank in Bucharest.

"Depending on any significant budget deficit deterioration, the central bank could decide to hike at the final meeting this year in October."

The bank will issue a detailed statement around 1200 GMT.

Inflation, ramped up by soaring global food and energy costs as well as rampant domestic consumption, led the central bank to raise borrowing costs from 7 percent last October to counter domestic demand and safeguard its medium-term inflation targets.

Inflation is still expected to overshoot this year's goal of 2.8-4.8 percent with annual price growth seen roughly around 6 percent in December.

But analysts expect it to have peaked after it hit a three-year high of 9 percent in July, largely because of tight monetary conditions, a fall in oil prices and a strong harvest.

FISCAL UNCERTAINTY

One key area of uncertainty is the government's fiscal policy, which many economists say is too loose and could threaten the country's goal of joining the euro in 2014.

The government is under pressure to hike public spending, particularly on welfare and salaries, to boost its popularity ahead of the ballot. So far, public opinion surveys show the ruling Liberal Party of Prime Minister Calin Tariceanu is likely to come in third in the vote, with less than 20 percent.

"There is still a risk of a final rate hike, which could be seen as a message to politicians not to increase spending too much ahead of the general elections," Anders Svendsen from Nordea Markets in Copenhagen said in a research note.

On Wednesday, the government reviewed preliminary budget plans for 2009, including a fiscal gap of 2 percent of gross domestic product, down from a 2008 goal of 2.3 percent.

Some analysts still say the 2008 fiscal shortfall could top the EU's 3 percent ceiling because of extra public spending. But others argue the government may avoid triggering another hike.

"If they (central bank) didn't move now when they had all the data they need about government's fiscal and income plans for the rest of the year, they will not move in October," said Ciprian Dascalu from Millennium Bank in Bucharest.

The leu currency ticked down against the euro after the decision but quickly regained ground to show little reaction to the widely expected decision.

Sofia refuse causes worry in Romania

sofiaecho.com
19:36 Wed 24 Sep 2008 - Nick Iliev

Romania fears that dumping the Sofia refuse in Silistra would affect the underground water flow and pollute the waterbed in and around the Danube River in the immediate proximity around Silistra and the town of Calarasi on the Romanian side. With this, Sofia's refuse crisis threatens to transcend national borders, Dnevnik daily said on September 24.

Silistra mayor Ivo Andonov, quoted by Bulgarian news agency BTA, has reassured his Romanian neighbours that there was no threat of leakage, because the dump site near Silistra does not have any direct or indirect contact, nor would it affect the underground water flow, which local geologists have said does not pass anywhere near the site.

Bulgarian authorities have invited Romanian media and officials to investigate the facilities for themselves and be reassured that the site bears no threat whatsoever, and it bears no immediate proximity to any underground water channels that flow into the Danube River, BTA said.

Andonov went on to say that the waste was being recycled using modern treatment facilities, built using funds from the European Union's Ispa pre-accession aid programme, and that the residue from the refuse was being dealth with by a cleansing and collection station.

Silistra agreed to take on 180 000 tons of Sofia waste, which will cost the Sofia city hall 4.2 million leva to destroy. Silistra plans to invest 1.5 million leva in the purchase of new technology for tactical operations as its expected the manpower and capacity of the Silistra dump from hereafter to be engaged to 90 per cent with the arrival of refuse from Sofia. Additionally, the local crews will receive 100 000 leva as pre-payment for starting the operation.

Other Bulgairan municipalities have agreed to accept Sofia refuse, making it unlikely for Silistra to be burdened with more waste in the future, Andonov was quoted as saying. Silistra will accept 1000 tonnes of refuse daily, as this is the dump sites current maximum capacity.

The delegation from Romania has not confirmed whether it will arrive to investigate the site or not, but they were expected to dispatch experts and meet their Bulgarian counterparts in order to diffuse the emerging predicament and allow for the Bulgarian side to proceed with the refuse storage.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

PM inaugurates Nokia factory in Transylvania

Wednesday September 24

Romanian PM inaugurates Nokia factory in Transylvania; says it helps economic growthBUCHAREST, Romania (AP) -- Romania's Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu Wednesday inaugurated a factory in northwest Romania that produces parts for Nokia Corp. mobile phones, saying the investment was boosting Romania's economy.

The factory has created 1,600 jobs in a small Transylvanian town, and is part of Nokia's program to shift production to low-cost locations in Europe.

However, to open the factory in the town of Jucu, Nokia closed a factory in Bochum, Germany, which prompted angry protests from employees there.

Tariceanu said the 60 million euros investment ($88 million) "doesn't just guarantee jobs but brings a valuable high-level technology which helps economic development."

The factory began operations in Februray and produces mobile phones and mobile phone parts for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Tariceanu said Romania had attracted 8 billion euros ($11.78 billion) of foreign investment this year, 30 percent more than 2007. Investment from car makers Renault and Ford, and the Nokia plant make up the lion share of new foreign business.

The factory will have a total of 3,500 employees at the end of 2009.

Romania fails to make of EU funds, president says

Wednesday September 24


Romania failing to make use of EU funds for modernizing roads, railways

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) -- Romania's president says the country is failing to make use of EU funds for modernizing its roads and railways.

President Traian Basescu says Romania could have accessed 5.5 billion euros ($8.1 billion) for infrastructure projects, but has not.

Basescu also said Wednesday a lack of investment in infrastructure is hampering economic and social development in the country, which joined the EU in 2007.

Romania's roads are often in poor condition and trains are notoriously slow. There are only two major highways in the country and it takes five hours to reach the Black Sea coast from the capital, a journey just 220 kilometers (140 miles) long.

Romanian president says euro entry target at risk

By Radu Marinas

BUCHAREST, Sept 24 (Reuters) - Romania's President Traian Basescu hammered his centrist government on Wednesday for putting the country's euro entry plans and economy at risk with spending plans ahead of November elections.

Speaking in parliament two months before the Nov. 30 polls, Basescu said the country could fail to join the single currency in 2014 due to loose fiscal policy and poor absorption of European Union funds.

"We have serious reasons for concern regarding the euro adoption calendar, taking into account how the mix of budgetary policies has been carried out in 2007 and 2008," Basescu told parliament in a speech on domestic policy.

The president is closely-linked to the opposition Democrat-Liberal Party, but his concerns echo those of analysts and foreign observers who say Prime Minister Calin Tariceanu's cabinet is not taking advantage of strong growth to safeguard the economy against shocks from global markets.

Many say Romania must tighten its purse strings to ease overheating that has led to a vast external deficit and threatens to unravel long-term gains in the former communist economy.
They have criticised Tariceanu for diverting too much public cash to welfare projects and failing to spend enough state and European Union funds on making Romania's ramshackle infrastructure more attractive to foreign investors.

Basescu blamed administrative failings and a slowdown in reforms in the last few years, after the centrists made substantial progress on restructuring the economy at the start of their mandate four years ago.

"I notice the severity of the situation ... Romania has yet to submit a single major transport-related project to the European Commission. This means we have not been able to attract a single euro from the available funds," he said.

The leu currency eased on the back of Basescu's comments, to trade at 3.6700 per euro, near a recent three-month low, at 1130 GMT .

SPENDING DILEMMAS

The government has countered such criticism by saying infrastructure projects take time, and argues Romania's fast economic growth -- the fastest in the EU at 9.3 percent in the second quarter -- must also fund anti-poverty efforts.

It faces pressure to up spending on pensions and state salaries ahead of the election, which opinion polls show it is likely to lose, even though economists warn such cash will only increase rampant domestic consumption and overheating risks.

The finance ministry has repeatedly confirmed it plans to be ready for the euro by 2014.
The centrists plan a public budget deficit of 2.3 percent of gross domestic product this year, and Finance Minister Varujan Vosganian announced plans earlier on Wednesday to lower the deficit to 2 percent in 2009.

However, some analysts say the shortfall could top the EU's 3-percent ceiling because of extra public spending.

Many economists also say the next government will struggle to meet the spending promises of the current cabinet if the economy slows down next year, as expected, due to the central bank's anti-inflationary policies and global woes.

"He (Basescu) says what the central bank and analysts have repeatedly stressed," said Raiffeisen analyst Ionut Dumitru. "The goal of adopting euro in 2014 is at risk unless a more restrictive mix of budgetary policies is enforced."

"Partly, his speech has some electoral stamp on it but the economic side of it is very well documented and fair." (Reporting by Radu Marinas; Writing by Justyna Pawlak; Editing by Patrick Graham)

Met teams up with Romania in fight against child trafficking

Ken Hyder and Rob Singhe
thisislondon.co.uk

Scotland Yard is teaming up with Romanian police in a £1 million operation to smash child trafficking into Britain.

The team, financed by the European Commission, will be based in Westminster - the scene of intense criminal activity involving children exploited by Roma gipsy gangs.

Police estimate that each child can earn the gangs up to £100,000 a year, and the trade in children is worth £1 billion a year in total.

It is estimated that at any one time about 1,000 trafficked children are taking part in Fagin-style criminal schemes on British streets. They are forced to beg, steal handbags and mobile phones, and pick pockets.

Some of the Roma gangs are also behind fake-ATM thefts in which millions of pounds are stolen by hijacking customers' card details.

The team of Met and Romanian officers and analysts will be aided by the UK Border Agency and the UK Human Trafficking Centre.

Since the country joined the EU in January last year, Romanian-linked crime in Britain has gone up by more than 700 per cent. Police raided 15 houses in Slough this year after an eight-month investigation codenamed Operation Caddy.

Of the 211 people occupying them, 33 were aged 10 to 17, and 74 were under 10. One month after the raids, pick-pocketing in Westminster had plummeted 160 per cent.

The children were rescued and some were handed back to their families while others were taken into care.

Westminster Superintendent Bernie Gravett stressed: "Of course it's not all Romanians who are here who are causing this problem. It's Roma exploiting Roma.

"The aim is to bring people to justice for human trafficking and exploitation of vulnerable members of the Roma community.

"We will be seeking to disrupt organised crime networks in any way, prosecuting key individuals here and in Romania. We will be tracing, seizing and confiscating criminal gains."

The project will also devise ways of rehabilitating and protecting children exploited by gangs.

Children being used for crime are taught a variety of techniques to steal credit cards, cash and phones. "Hugger muggers" specialise in singing and dancing to distract, before hugging their target and removing items from pockets. "Table surfers" enter pubs and restaurants and remove belongings left sitting on furniture.

Babies are also used to distract attention from would-be victims.

Police in Westminster first identified the problem in 2004. The gangs were well organised - children said they were under 10 to avoid prosecution. One girl, later proved to be 14, had been detained over 400 times.

Romania includes Enel, E.ON in state power tender

BUCHAREST, Sept 24 (Reuters) - Romania has picked four companies including Enel and E.ON to build power production units for state-controlled energy producer Termoelectrica, Finance and Economy Minister Varujan Vosganian said on Wednesday.

'A consortium made of Enel and E.ON (nyse: EON - news - people ) will develop an 800 MW coal power plant at Braila unit in an investment effort of up to 1 billion euros,' Vosganian told a news conference.

Enel had said Termoelectrica will contribute existing assets for the Braila plan, while both E.ON and Enel will furnish capital for investment. The consortium will have a majority stake in the joint venture.

The efficiency rate at the proposed plant is expected to be as high as almost 46 percent. The plant will be prepared for carbon capture and storage technology, Enel had said.

Vosganian also said the government picked Electrabel, owned by France's Suez and Czech CEZ to develop Termoeletrica's Borzesti and Galati units, respectively.

Electrabel is seeking to build a 400 MW unit in Borzesti on an estimated investment worth 300-400 million euros, while CEZ will build a similar unit in Galati.

The minister said authorities are still assessing offers from investors seeking to build another unit in Doicesti.

Romania fails to make of EU funds, president says

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

BUCHAREST, Romania: Romania's president says the country is failing to make use of EU funds for modernizing its roads and railways.

President Traian Basescu says Romania could have accessed Euro 5.5 billion (US$8.1 billion) for infrastructure projects, but has not.

Basescu also said Wednesday a lack of investment in infrastructure is hampering economic and social development in the country, which joined the EU in 2007.

Romania's roads are often in poor condition and trains are notoriously slow. There are only two major highways in the country and it takes five hours to reach the Black Sea coast from the capital, a journey just 220 kilometers (140 miles) long.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Bulgaria and Romania perceived as EU's most corrupt countries

EUobserver

VALENTINA POP

Today @ 17:50 CET

Bulgarians and Romanians perceive their own countries as the most corrupt among EU member states, with Italy, France and Great Britain also experiencing a significant drop in public confidence in the fight against corruption, a survey released Tuesday (23 September) by Transparency International shows.

Bulgaria and Romania won a ranking of 3.6 and 3.8 respectively from their citizens on a scale from 0 to 10, where 0 is the most corrupt and 10 the least.

Political corruption, a dysfunctional judiciary and misuse of EU funds are the biggest problems in both countries, with Bulgaria also bearing a strong links between organised crime and political corruption, the analysis reads.

The survey, carried out in 180 countries around the world, measures the perceived level of public-sector corruption by drawing on different expert and business surveys.

While Romania has maintained almost the same standing compared to last year's survey, with a small increase of 0.1 points, Bulgaria has experienced a significant drop of 0.6.

"Corruption is still considered a serious problem in Romania. A lot has to be done in this country and they can't be very happy about the result. But the country that really has to worry about the perception of its corruption is Bulgaria," Jana Mittermaier, head of the Transparency International Brussels office told the EUobserver, noticing that the study was already roughly over when the European Commission decided in July to freeze the payment of some €500 million to Bulgaria due to fraud and irregularities.

After joining the EU in 2007, both Romania and Bulgaria remained under the watchful eye of the European Commission's 'co-operation and verification mechanism', which continues to monitor judicial reforms and the fight against corruption and organised crime.

"I think [Bulgaria and Romania's] scores speak for themselves and we will take this into account when we prepare the next co-operation and verification report, as we did in 2007 and in July this year," commission spokesperson Mark Gray said in a press conference on Tuesday.

Poisonous political climate

Both Romania and Bulgaria have a "poisonous political climate" that prevents them from effectively fighting corruption, and pushes individuals to focus on the struggle for power instead of on rooting out the problem, German Christian Democrat MEP Ingeborg Graessle told the EUobserver.

She spoke of a "vicious circle" present in these countries, where corruption mixes with a dysfunctional judiciary and administration is then topped with a dysfunctional political system.

Mrs Graessle is a member of the European Parliament's budgetary control committee, which is about to send a fact finding mission to Bulgaria on 28 September in order to check the situation following the fund freeze.

A similar mission to Romania is not yet scheduled however, even though the EU also decided to suspend payment to the country of agricultural funds amounting to some €80 million following an audit completed in June this year, she added.

For the German MEP, Bulgaria seems to be more aware of its problem than Romania, where a number of politicians seem to be "in denial" about the matter, Mrs Graessle argues.

An initiative of hers asking the European Commission to report every three months to the EP budgetary control committee on the way pre-accession funds are being spent in the two countries was blocked within the EPP-ED group by her Romanian colleagues, a worrying sign that political unity for tight control of EU funds is waning, she said.

Fading trust in Western countries

Although Scandinavian countries continue to lead in the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index - with Denmark and Sweden holding the pole position on 9.3, some Western states such as Italy, France, Great Britain, Portugal and Finland have seen a significant increase in public concern regarding corruption.

"This is really new, we've never had something like this until now. We believe oversight and accountability mechanisms need to improve in order to prevent wealthy countries to backslide," Mrs Mittermaier, head of TI's Brussels office told the EUobserver.

Italy has seen a drop in public confidence in the fight against corruption from 5.2 in 2007 to 4.8 this year, mainly caused by the political interference with the High Commissioner against Corruption and by the fraud and corruption cases in its public health system, she explained.

In France, several cases of high-level public officials connected to corrupt activities surfaced over the past two years, including those of former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin and the indictment of former French President Jacques Chirac, resulting in a drop from 7.3 in 2007 to 6.9 in 2008.

Meanwhile, in Great Britain, the decision taken in December 2006 to discontinue a criminal investigation of BAE Systems in relation to its contracts with Saudi Araiba raised acute concerns about the country's anti-corruption efforts, leading to a drop in confidence of 0.7 to 7.7 this year.

"Standards in the anti-corruption efforts are falling all across Europe. It's about time the EU intensified the efforts in this area," Drago Kos, head of the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO), told the EUobserver.

Mr Kos criticised the decision of several member states to abolish or "restructure" anti-corruption bodies, warning that this measure will only lead to an increased politicisation of the fight against corruption.

"Abolition of anti-corruption institutions will call for the traditional institutions - police, prosecutors - to take up this job. But police and prosecutors are traditionally under the auspices of the ruling government," he argued.

GRECO was established in 1999 by the Council of Europe to monitor states' compliance with the organisation's anti-corruption standards.

The US ranks 18th in this year's survey, on 7.3, while Russia ranks 147th with 2.1.

The most corrupt country in the world is Somalia, with a ranking of just one.

Romanian Minister Accused Of Corruption Vows To Clear Name

BUCHAREST (AFP)--Romania's suspended labor minister, Paul Pacuraru, Tuesday rejected corruption accusations against him as "political" and vowed to clear his name to "resume work as quickly as possible."

"My suspension is unfair and obviously political," he told a news conference.

Pacuraru is suspected of pressuring mining companies to ensure that his son's firm won tenders to organize training courses.

On Aug. 26, senators voted to allow the anti-corruption directorate, or DNA, to continue investigations into Pacuraru's affairs. President Traian Basescu suspended him three weeks later.

According to the Mediafax agency, the central office of the National Liberal Party, to which Pacuraru belongs, was due to meet later Tuesday to agree on a replacement.

Romania holds parliamentary elections Nov. 30.

The country, which joined the European Union Jan. 1, 2007, was criticized in a July report by the E.U. Commission for not doing enough to stamp out high-level corruption.

In all, eight current and former ministers are presently being investigated, notably on corruption charges.

McAleese discusses Lisbon Treaty in Romania

RTE News

The President of Romania says he expects EU leaders to agree to continue with every member state having one commissioner until the Lisbon Treaty is ratified.

Under current EU treaties, the size of the Commission is supposed to be cut once there are 27 member states, leading many Irish and European politicians to claim that at least one state will lose a Commissioner from next June.

The implications of Ireland's No vote in the Lisbon Treaty referendum was the main item of discussed today between President Mary McAleese and her Romanian counterpart President Traian Basescu.

As the newest members of the EU, Romania and Bulgaria are very concerned about any possibility of losing their places in the new European Commission, which will be appointed next summer.

President Basescu said he will propose to the December EU summit that all countries will continue to keep their commissioners 'until the introduction of the Lisbon treaty'.

He said Romania rejects any solution to the Lisbon issue that does not imply solidarity among the 27 member states.

But President Basescu said he could see no solution other than waiting for a new decision of the Irish people on the Lisbon Treaty.

Romania Minister Suspended amid Graft Probe

BalkanInsight.com

23 September 2008
Bucharest _ Romania's President Traian Basescu has suspended acting Labour Minister, giving the green light for a probe over his alleged involvement in corruption.

State prosecutors charge that minister Paul Pacurar took bribes in order to help a company close to one of his family members.

In late August, Romania's Senate decided to strip Pacuraru and a former Economy Minister of their immunity from prosecution and to try them on corruption charges.

According to Romanian law, a member of parliament can be prosecuted only with the approval of the legislature, while investigations of senior public officials and former ministers must be approved by the president.

Currently there are other two investigations underway against former ministers, who are allegedly involved in corruption cases.

According to Transparency International's corruption perception index, despite some progress made since 2004, Romania remains the most corrupt country in the European Union.

In July, the EU criticised newcomer Romania over its corruption record but stopped short of imposing funding sanctions against Bucharest.

IPI/SEEMO Condemns Violent Attacks on Sports Journalists in Romania

23 September 2008
PRESS RELEASE

The Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), a network of editors, media executives and leading journalists from South East Europe and an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), condemns the recent violent attacks on sports journalists in Romania.

According to information before SEEMO, sports editor Ionel Lutan, working for the newspaper Monitorul de Prahova, was physically and verbally attacked by Stefan Chitu, president of the football club CSM FC Ploiesti and a member of the executive board of the Romanian Football Federation (FRF), on 2 August 2008.

Journalists were again attacked on 6 September 2008, the day of the World Cup qualifying game between Romania and Lithuania in Cluj, Romania. Players of the Romanian national team threw stones at several media representatives and verbally abused them. The incident happened after the FRF allegedly incited football players to act aggressively against the media.

SEEMO Secretary General Oliver Vujovic stated that in the last few years "sports journalists have frequently been victims of violent attacks in South East Europe. The recent attacks in Romania are a worrying reminder that this problem needs to be addressed urgently, so that media representatives are able to report on sports events in a peaceful and non-violent environment."

President's visit highlights links with Romania

GENEVIEVE CARBERY MARY CAROLAN in Bucharest and

THE BENEFITS of building business links with Romania were highlighted by President Mary McAleese as she arrived in Bucharest yesterday on her first state visit to the country.

In a speech delivered at a trade dinner hosted by Enterprise Ireland last night, Mrs McAleese said "the long years when our relationships were relatively undeveloped have given way to a shared partnership in the European Union and a shared future that we are already building together".

The visit has been marred somewhat by protests over Romania's human rights record.

John Mulligan of the human rights group Focus on Romania said the President's visit appeared to lend Irish support to Romania's "appalling'' human rights record, particularly its treatment of people with disabilities.

Since Romania had joined the EU, its proposed reform of the disability sector had "ground to a halt'', he said.

Romania was claiming to have the best laws in that regard but was failing to implement them, he added.

However, the Romanian ambassador to Ireland yesterday described the claims as "hugely exaggerated'' and insisted Romania's human rights record had greatly improved.

Ambassador Silvia Stancu Davidoiu told RTÉ's News at One: "Things are improving, Romania is not the state that it used to be in the 1990s with a lot of institutional problems."

While it could be there were some abandoned children, she did not believe there were thousands of them, the ambassador added.

Romania has "a very good law in the field of protection of children and I think it's up to the high standards in the EU," Ms Stancu Davidoiu said.

Irish exports to Romania have grown annually by a third over the last five years and were valued at more than €170 million last year.

The President said she hoped her visit would "help to forge deep and robust bonds of friendship" between the two countries.

Both now have "the peace and prosperity and mutual respectful partnerships that our parents and grandparents thought impossible but prayed and worked for nonetheless," she said.

Mrs McAleese noted the "robust economic growth levels" and inward investment maintained by Romania. While Romania's GDP was less than €6,000 per person last year, its economy grew at the same rate at the Irish economy while its unemployment rate was less than 4 per cent.

Ireland was a "far cry from the poor country which joined the EU 30 years ago", Mrs McAleese said.

Romania joined the EU in January 2007. The transition of Romania was reflected in the "changing profile of business between us " from a place to outsource production to a place of demand for products and services, the President said.

Mrs McAleese mentioned ESB International (ESBI) which has signed a €6.6 million engineering contract with the Romanian branch of one of Europe's biggest oil firms, OMV-Petrom.

Minister for Social and Family Affairs Mary Hanafin has joined the President and Dr Martin McAleese on the three-day visit along with the Ambassador of Ireland to Romania John Morahan as well as an Irish cultural delegation of musicians and dancers.

Later today Mrs McAleese is due to meet Romania's president Traian Basecu and prime minister Calin Popesu Tariceanu.

© 2008 The Irish Times

Monday, September 22, 2008

Romania reorganises regulator

22 September 2008

Government dissolves telecoms watchdog in bid to block the reappointment of its recently-sacked president.

The Romanian government has dissolved the country's national telecoms regulator, the ANRCTI, and set up in its place a new watchdog called the National Authority for Communications (ANC).

The ANC will also take on the operations of the country's Institute for Research and Development for Information Technology (ICI).

"The new institution shall take over the budget, patrimony, number of positions and personnel of the former [ANRCTI], as well as the ICI's specialised personnel," commented the ANC, in a statement.

The ANC also confirmed that the recently-appointed ANRCTI president Dorin-Liviu Nistoran will head up the new watchdog, which it said will oversee electronic communications, postal services and information technology.

However, local media reports have called into question Nistoran's neutrality, given that at the time of his appointment he was a shareholder in two Romanian telecom firms, Televoice and Netcom, according to Bucharest-based magazine The Diplomat.

The report also noted that outgoing ANRCTI president Dan Georgescu was sacked by Romanian prime minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu two weeks before a crucial decision on a new nationwide mobile licence.

Furthermore, Romania's Curierul National reported on its Website last week that Georgescu had won a suspension of the government's decision to have him removed.

The move to reorganise the telecoms regulator has blocked his attempt to be reappointed.

Returning Romania Workers Promised Money

BalkanInsight.com

22 September 2008
Bucharest _ Mircea Geoana, leader of Romania’s opposition Social Democratic Party, says every emigrant who returns home will receive €20,000 from the state budget.

"If the PSD (Social Democratic Party) win the general elections this fall, I promise you that every Romanian who returns back home will receive this money as a first installment, as well as facilities for starting a business", Geoana told a group of Romanian emigrants in Italy.

Some 2 million Romanians left the country during the difficult years following the fall of communism. The authorities are now encouraging them to come back arguing that Romania’s booming economy means their return would be worthwhile.

Last year, Romania has reported the highest growth in Gross Domestic Product in Europe, while the government has made efforts to increase living standards.

Romania is to hold parliamentary elections at the end of November. Read more:
http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/main/news/12670/?tpid=151

It will be the first time Romanians will vote directly for a representative in Parliament, rather than their preferred political party.

Preliminary opinion polls show that the ruling centrists could be put out of power following the elections, while the centrist Democratic Party and the main opposition Social Democratic Party aim each for at least 30 percent of seats.

EurActiv: MEP: Bulgaria-Romania ties blossom after EU accession

Published: Monday 22 September 2008

Relations between Bulgaria and Romania have flourished since they joined the Union in January 2007, Romanian Socialist MEP Victor Bostinaru told EurActiv in an interview, calling for regional cooperation to be extended to the whole Black Sea area.

Victor Bostinaru, who is an historian by training, sits in Parliament's Committee on Regional Development and the Delegation for relations with the countries of South-Eastern Europe.

As a MEP you have been promoting regional cooperation. What's new in this field, especially since Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU in January 2007?

To better describe relations, I will start with a negative example. A high profile objective has always been building a new bridge over the Danube [Vidin-Calafat will be the second bridge over more than 300km separating Bulgaria and Romania, the first one at Ruse-Giurgiu having been built in 1954]. This bridge could have been completed a long time ago, and I should congratulate the Bulgarian side for their commitment to this extremely important project, but not the commitment of the Romanian side in the past, especially when Mr. Traian Basescu [now the President of Romania, then Minister of Transport] was opposing the project. But things change and I don't want to be pessimistic.

The most important and relevant projects are in the transborder infrastructure and environment issues. And let me add that Romania and Bulgaria's projects also involve Serbia. I think this is very important in view of Serbia's EU accession perspectives, which we strongly support.

Another major project is the 'Union for the Black Sea'. This project, initiated by the Socialist Group, will be officially presented in Sofia on 17 October, in the presence of a high level delegation of the Socialist Group. Again, it's a regional cooperation project which does not involve just EU members, but it concerns an area which is becoming more and more vital for Europe, bringing EU members and non-EU members such as Turkey as a candidate country, Ukraine and Moldova as countries who wish to join the Union and a country which will probably never express the wish to join the EU – Russia. It's an area where major pipelines will be built and where the need to achieve stability and security is a very high priority, especially in the light of the recent Georgia crisis.

But this is not the first initiative for the Black Sea region. The EU has a role to play in the recently-launched Black Sea Synergy initiative, while another forum, called Black Sea Economic Cooperation, was established in the early nineties. Don't you think the region needs concrete projects more than political declarations?

Indeed, there is often a lack of consistency between the political will and the concrete achievements. Back to the second bridge [at Vidin-Calafat], Bulgaria and Romania should join forces not only to build one new bridge, but several. Two bridges to take the entire truck traffic between Asia and Europe is almost nothing. And we should also do more to eliminate the fee for crossing the Guiurgui-Ruse bridge. This is another project where the two Socialist delegations are cooperating, somehow against the will of the Romanian Government.

Sorry for blaming my government, but here, I would like to stress that together with Adrian Severin [MEP from Romania, PES], we have discussed the issue with our socialist friends in Sofia, we have sent a letter to Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev asking him to eliminate the Bulgarian fee – it's eight euros tax to be paid on the Bulgarian side and another 8.50 euros on the Romanian side – and now the ministers of transport of the two countries are meeting over the issue, with a good chance that the fee will be eliminated.

Specialists comparing Bulgaria and Romania to Western countries with regard to the Danube noticed that the two countries make little use of the river as the cheapest and cleanest transport route.

I completely share this view. Now is the time for the two countries to come up with joint projects, and I'm sure the European Commission will support them. Bulgaria and Romania should develop an automatic reaction to develop joint projects for the Danube, for example environment-related. This could have a huge impact for safeguarding the unique ecosystem of the Danube delta.

What has changed between Romania and Bulgaria since the accession?

Before the accession the level of contact and of cooperation was very modest. Both countries kept the focus on Brussels, neglecting their neighbours. This was highly counterproductive for our bilateral relations. Since we joined the EU, the European behaviour of cooperation between neighbours becomes more and more our behaviour too. And the change is almost unbelievable.

Tens of thousands of Romanians started going on holidays in Bulgaria, for very good reasons: the service is good, the prices are lower, and also because the tourist industry in Bulgaria is more advanced. Also road and traffic conditions are better in Bulgaria. I also go on holidays in Bulgaria and my experience is excellent. From Bucharest to Ruse, then Shumen, I reach Zlatni Pyassatsi [at the Black Sea] in less than four hours. Also many Bulgarian businessmen are becoming active in Romania where they take advantage of a larger market. And many people travel for cross-border shopping, for example many Romanians go to the hypermarkets in Ruse, because prices are lower and quality is good. But also Bucharest is the biggest airport for the northern part of Bulgaria. More and more Bulgarians are flying to Europe from Bucharest. Also Romanians go to the Romanian Black Sea through Bulgarian territory, because it's more convenient, the roads are better.

People are starting to learn the language of the neighbours, and my Bulgarian is getting better. On a personal level, I am discussing with a Bulgarian friend, Professor Vladimir Dossev, how to develop regional projects between our universities, in Varna and Constanta. Not only would the students be trained to contribute to regional projects, but also these universities could develop as a training hub for the entire region.

Back to the Black Sea regional projects, experience shows that Russia is reluctant to take full part in them, or fears that the EU and NATO would claim the Black Sea from them through such projects. How would you expect this to change considering the worse climate following the Georgia crisis?

The project we will be launching in Sofia is open to Russia. We can shape it together and then it would take into account the sensitivities of the different actors. If problems of energy and security are adequately addressed, this project may even contribute to lowering the current tensions.

In any case, the project is not about NATO, it's not about spheres of influence. On the contrary, it's about fostering cooperation while lowering tensions and risks and I think Russia will find its interest in the project. Because if Europe is addicted to Russian gas and oil, Russia is also addicted to the European markets. The cheapest way for Russia to export its oil and gas is to do it in Europe. That's why we are optimistic about having Russia aboard.

How concerned are you that Russia will unfreeze the Transnistria conflict based on recent developments in Georgia?

There are similarities, but also differences in the two cases. The Transnistrian dossier does not concern only Romania, it's on the table of the EU. My feeling is that if Romania and Moldova work together with the EU to enhance the European commitment toward Moldova, and to have the EU onboard for negotiating the Transnistrian dossier, we might reach an acceptable deal and avoid the scenario you alluded to.

But I'm disappointed with the Romanian government's handling of the Moldova dossier, which is a defeat for Romanian foreign policy, considering Romania is an EU member. Romania should help Moldova's European project in a more consistent way. The case of Moldova is easier for Europe compared to other countries. And now, after the Georgian crisis, I feel a greater interest from the EU with regard to Moldova. We should think strategically.

Also strategically, if the EU wants to do more for Ukraine and Moldova, wouldn't an initiative for visa-free travel greatly help these countries and bring them together with the Union?

It's feasible, and Europe also needs such initiatives for the sake of its labour market. Also the Western countries should be aware that the current trend of Romanian and Bulgarian workers going west will stop. Therefore such an initiative is timely under many aspects.

Romania has important insight into Russia as a country situated close by which bordered the USSR in the past. Do Western countries take advantage of this expertise? Do Romanian opinions carry weight in European decision-making?

The answer is no. One reason is that in Western capitals perceptions about Russia are almost theoretical, and the post-war memories are highly different. But even in Romania, there are no clear views on Russia. I don't completely share the vision of the current Romanian Government on Russia.

Do you think it has been too hawkish?

We should face realities. Romania needs to improve its own relations with Russia, as do many other EU members which recently joined the Union, and also Bulgaria, with a sense of modesty. We should be wise enough not to provoke Russia, not make inconsiderate statements about Russia, because Russia is important as a major trading partner. Let me mention also that in our case the deficit is extremely high. Russia is a vital, strategic partner for Europe not only in energy-related matters, but in terms of peace. Europe should be more pragmatic. It should design a common European energy policy with Russia.

The Lisbon Treaty in fact provides for such a shift, but do you think that you, the politicians, explained this to the Europeans?

Not enough, not enough in my country and certainly not enough in Ireland. And in the absence of the Lisbon Treaty Russia is taking advantage of the situation and this is why we are experiencing these tensions. Those campaigning against the treaty in Ireland should be aware of the consequences, but I don't think they are.