Thursday, March 31, 2011

Romania Electricity Prices to Rise 4.5% From April

Romanian electricity prices will increase 4.5 percent from April 1, Ziarul Financiar reported, citing unidentified people from the Economy Ministry.

The price for 100 kilowatts of electricity will rise by 1.8 lei ($0.6) from the current 40 lei, the Bucharest-based newspaper said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andra Timu in Bucharest at atimu@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James M. Gomez in Prague atjagomez@bloomberg.net

Romanian Central Bank May Leave Benchmark Rate at Record Low

Romania’s central bank will probably leave its benchmark interest rate unchanged at a record low for a seventh meeting as Europe’s highest borrowing costs boost the leu and helps tame inflation.

The Banca Nationala a Romaniei will leave the Monetary Policy Rate at 6.25 percent today, according to all 19 economists in a Bloomberg survey. The central bank will announce its decision after 11 a.m. in Bucharest.

Central banks around the world are struggling to contain inflation as food prices advance and the price of oil rises amid turmoil in the Middle East. Romania increased its value-added tax ratelast year, which prompted the central bank to pause its rate-cutting cycle aimed at boosting the recession-hit economy.

The bank “doesn’t have any justification to cut rates yet” because of accelerating inflation and “it doesn’t mind a bit of currency appreciation right now,” said Raffaella Tenconi, a London-based economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, who sees the benchmark rate unchanged this year. “At this stage, inflation is purely externally driven.”

Policy makers stopped lowering borrowing costs in June after cutting rates four times to combat the worst recession on record and a 5 percentage-point government increase in the VAT to 24 percent that helped boost the inflation rate to 8 percent in December, the highest in more than two years.

The Ceska Narodni Banka kept its two-week repurchase rate at a record low since May, a quarter-point below the ECB’s benchmark. Czech policy makers voted 5-1 on March 24 to leave the rate at 0.75 percent. The Magyar Nemzeti Bank in Budapest kept its two-week deposit rate at 6 percent four days later.
Weak Recovery

“If the external shocks soften, domestic recovery remains weak and the leu appreciates, there is scope for a small loosening” of the central bank’s monetary policy, Tenconi said. Telephone bills, gasoline, rent and many other goods and services in Romania are gauged in euros and charged in lei, meaning a stronger leu has an immediate impact on inflation.

The inflation rate should remain between 7.2 percent and 7.5 percent “until the summer” and then begin to fall toward 4 percent at the end of the year, Governor Mugur Isarescu said on March 9. Consumer prices rose in February, more than economists had forecast, to 7.6 percent because of global fuel and food costs.

Tenconi forecast Romania’s inflation rate advanced to 7.8 percent in March, “remaining pretty high” because of food and non-food prices. The strengthening of the leu, which rose 3.9 percent against the euro so far this year, should help damp inflation, “but only on the margin,” Tenconi said.

The central bank raised its 2011 inflation forecast on Feb. 7 to 3.6 percent from a November forecast of 3.4 percent because of rising global fuel and food prices. The rate will probably drop to 3.2 percent in 2012.

-- With assistance from Barbara Sladkowska in Warsaw. Editors: Alan Crosby, Balazs Penz

To contact the reporter on this story: Irina Savu in Bucharest at isavu@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James M. Gomez at jagomez@bloomberg.net

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Environment often seen as minor subject in Romania: report

(AFP)

BUCHAREST — Protecting the environment is often perceived as a minor subject in Romania and is not considered a priority by the authorities, the Soros Foundation deplored Wednesday in a report.

"The environment is often perceived as a subject of minor importance in Romania though it is one of the major issue of European policies", the report called "Politics and Environmental Rights" underlines.

According to the research carried out by Catalina Radulescu, a lawyer specialising in environmental law, the former communist country adopted several packages of laws in this field when it entered the European Union in 2007.

"However, implementing these laws is very difficult because of the instability in public administration", she stresses.

"Problems arise with central authorities as well as with local authorities," she adds, criticizing the "lack of interest of the administration" in reaching the goals of a sustainable development strategy.

"There are many violations of the environmental legislation in Romania", the head of the national environmental protection agency, Silvian Ionescu, admitted after the presentation of the report.

"But we managed to increase the number of inspections from 40,000 in 2009 to 60,000 in 2010 with only five percent extra personnel", he added.

Ionescu deplored that in 2010 judges preferred to give a simple warning in about half of the cases for which the environmental inspectors had deemed it necessary to impose a fine.

'Whistle' wins Romanian awards

Thesp Ion Besoiu honored at fete
By JOHN NADLER

BUDAPEST -- "If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle," which chronicles the life of an 18 year old in a juvenile prison, has won film, director and first feature film for helmer Florin Serban at Romania's 5th annual GOPO national cinema awards.

"Whistle" received the supporting actress nod for Clara Voda and the Young Hope Award for the film's young protagonist George Pistereanu, who previously was not a professional actor.

"Whistle" received the audience award for the top grossing Romanian-made film, with 55,858 admissions on home turf.

Other nods went to "Medal of Honor," a jarring and sentimental exploration of Romania's post-war history, which won best actor for Victor Rebengiuc and screenplay for Tudor Voican; "Portrait of the Fighter as a Young Man," which won cinematography (Liviu Marghidan) and supporting actor (Bogdan Dumitrache); and "Tuesday, After Christmas," a lean, emotional, and disciplined chronicle of a dying marriage, which won actress for Mirela Oprisor.

The long-awaited "The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu" earned best docu for director Andrei Ujica, and editing (Dana Bunescu); and short film went to director Adrian Sitaru for "The Cage."

"Kino Caravan," an edgy comic look at propaganda in 1960s Romania, was also a big winner, earning best original score, production design, costume, make-up, and a nod from the Romanian Society of Cinematographers.

The awards, broadcast nationally on Romania television and held in a gala at the Palace of Justice, recognized the career achievement of 80-year-old actor Ion Besoiu, a fixture of post-war Romanian cinema; and set designer Zoltan Szabo.

Contact the variety newsroom at news@variety.com

AP: New terminal opens at Bucharest airport

Romania's prime minister has opened a euro60 million (US$84 million) second terminal at the capital's main airport.

Emil Boc on Tuesday welcomed a flight from Brussels with the first passengers to arrive at the new 24-gate new terminal at Bucharest's Henri Coanda airport. Authorities are expecting 6 million passengers at the airport this year, up from 4.5 million in 2010.

Romania hopes the opening of the terminal will help its entry into Europe's visa-free Schengen area.

In December, France and Germany said Romania and Bulgaria's entry should be postponed, criticizing lack of progress in tackling corruption and organized crime.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

'Across the Forest' documentary

A quick word from the filmmakers below:

My friend Justin Blair and I spent 7 months in Transylvania filming a documentary about the supernatural beliefs still prevelent in the rural villages there.  The documentary, entited Across the Forest, details these stories which are dying out because of the encroaching technology and modern values that come with it.  As far as we know, this is the only film of its kind.  We felt it important to shine a light on this part of the world because of the reputation Transylvania has in the west thanks to fiction writers of the last hundred years.  We shot the film in Maramureş and The Banat and edited it in Cluj Napoca where we lived for the production and post-production.   Below are some relavent links.

Matthew Vincent
 
 
 
 
 


-- 
Across the Forest
Bivol International Productions

AP: IMF approves new Romanian loan agreement

A Romanian official says the International Monetary Fund board has approved the country's request for a new loan agreement.

Mihai Tanasescu, Romania's IMF representative said Friday the board has also approved the last evaluation of the existing loan agreement, which ends this spring, the national news agency Agerpres reports.

In 2009, Romania took a two-year euro20 billion ($28 billion) loan from the IMF, the EU and the World Bank, as its economy shrank by 7.1 percent. Romania imposed harsh austerity measures under the agreement.

The new accord will be precautionary, allowing Romania to access euro3.6 billion ($5.1 billion) from the IMF and euro1.4 billion ($2 billion) from the EU only in emergency situations.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Romanian union leader detained for bribery

(AP:BUCHAREST, Romania) Romanian anti-corruption prosecutors say a union leader has been detained for receiving a 40,000 euro ($56,000) bribe.

Prosecutors say Marius Petcu received the bribe on Thursday from a building company, to facilitate contracts. They say the company has paid him 20,000 euros ($28,000) per month since 2009.

Prosecutors say Petcu also received a villa in a mountain resort to compensate for months when he did not get the agreed sums. Petcu denies the allegations.

A court is expected to rule Friday whether Petcu will be arrested for 29 days, pending trial.

Other union leaders are under investigation by an anti-corruption body that checks income and wealth of public figures. Critics say the investigations are politically motivated, because unions have staged anti-government protests.

Romania's Petrom to close its Arpechim refinery

BUCHAREST, March 25 (Reuters) - Romania's top oil and gas company Petrom (SNPP.BX: Quote), majority owned by Austria's OMV (OMVV.VI:Quote), will close its Arpechim refinery after it failed to find a buyer for it, the company said on Friday.

The company will convert the refinery to crude and fuel storage and said that closing "small, inefficient and landlocked" Arpechim will not affect fuel supply in Romania.

The refinery was operational for only 3 months in 2010.

Petrom plans to pay a gross dividend of 0.0177 lei per share from last year's profit, which could be worth a total of about 1 billion lei ($342.6 million) according to calculations made by daily Ziarul Financiar.

Shareholders are expected to vote on the dividend proposal at a meeting on April 26.

Petrom shares were up 1.92 percent on the day by 0920 GMT, trading at 0.4250 lei, slightly above the bluechip index . (Reporting by Ioana Patran;

The Economist: He won't back down

Ex-communist Europe
Eastern approaches
Corruption allegations in the European Parliament
He won't back down

Mar 24th 2011, 16:22 by R.W-M. | BUCHAREST

THE big story in Romania is the fate of Adrian Severin, a former foreign minister and a member of the European Parliament. Mr Severin is being hounded by the Bucharest press to resign from the European Parliament for allegedly taking bribes from journalists from a British newspaper posing as lobbyists. Two other MEPs involved in the sting have quitthe parliament. Mr Severin has been booed in parliament. But he is refusing to budge.

Mr Severin has served as an MEP since Romania joined the European Union in 2007. Until this week he was the vice-president of the parliament's Socialist group. But on Monday, a day after the scandal broke, Severin was forced out of his position and Martin Schulz, the Socialists' leader, told him to resign from the parliament immediately. In Romania his own political party, the Social Democrats, is threatening him with expulsion if he doesn’t do the decent thing.

But Mr Severin says he has done nothing that was "illegal or against any normal behaviour" and that "we have the right... to work as political consultants, the only requirement being that we not hand out confidential information".

Such stubbornness is typical in Romanian politics, where the media delights in savaging corrupt politicians, but rarely to any end. Resignations on corruption charges are virtually unknown in Romania, and bribery scandals are so common that they rarely make international news. Grigore Cartianu, editor of Romania’s leading daily newspaperAdevarul (“The Truth”), put Romania’s approach to corruption into context in an editorial on 23rd March:

The Severin case shows how important EU membership is. We can’t keep sweeping the dirt under the carpet…imagine what would have happened with such a corruption scandal if Romania hadn’t been a member of the EU. The whole story would have disappeared after one day. The Romanian politicians would have been presumed innocent until proven guilty…Here, for a bribe of 100,000 Euros, and a 12,000 Euro advance, nobody would have resigned. Ever. Those involved in privatisation scams and road building tenders wouldn’t have even got out of bed for that money.

One of the most interesting comments on the Severin affair was made by Vladimir Tismaneanu, a Romanian professor of political science at Maryland University’s Centre for Post Communist Studies, who writes for Contributors, a Romanian blog:

“Financial and moral corruption are inseparable, but to Adrian Severin morality is terra incognita…The lesson of this fall from grace is that no politician is immune from the effect of the law, that ethical standards are universal, and however well protected he may consider himself to be, in the end he will have to pay the price. A bon entendeur, salut…”

Film launched online in Romania due to lack of cinemas

(AFP)

BUCHAREST — Romanian films may be praised around the world, but they can rarely be seen at home due to the lack of cinemas. To fill this gap, prize-winning movie "Periferic" will be released online in April.

The movie, which won key awards in Locarno and Thessaloniki film festivals, will be available against payment from April 1 in high definition quality on the Internet site www.webkino.rosimultaneously with its launch in Romanian cinemas, production company Voodoo Films said Thursday in a press release.

People living in towns and villages without arthouse cinemas will be among the first to have access to the film, it added.

"We decided on this unique experiment because of the paradoxical situation in Romania: though more and more people want to see Romanian movies, they just cannot watch them because there are no cinemas where they live", Dragos Stanca whose company Q2M is a partner in the project said.

Romania counts one of the smallest numbers of cinemas in all of Europe: 74 for 21.5 million inhabitants, or 182 screens. By comparison, France, with three times the residents, has 30 times the number of film screens.

Numerous arthouse cinemas have been shut down by local authorities who transformed them into police stations, concert halls or even shops.

Romanian director Cristian Mungiu, who won the top award at the Cannes film festival in 2007, last year said he was "very disappointed" at the lack of arthouse theatres in his country.

"Periferic", directed by Bogdan Geoge Apetri, tells the story of a young prison inmate played by Ana Ularu, who gets provisional release for 24 hours and plans to leave the country.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Romanian Leu Snaps Five-Day Rally, Drops From Strongest in Year

Romania’s leu, the best-performing currency in the world this year, depreciated from the strongest in almost a year against the euro, snapping a five-day rally.

The leu weakened 0.3 percent to 4.1161 per euro as of 10:41 a.m. in Bucharest after yesterday reaching 4.0994, its strongest intraday level since April 8.

A 1.8 percent rally in the previous five sessions drove up the 14-day relative strength index for the leu-euro pair to 90.5 yesterday, its highest in 5 1/2 years. Readings higher than 70 suggest to technical analysts that a security may retreat.

To contact the reporter on this story: Krystof Chamonikolas in Prague atkchamonikola@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Gavin Serkin at gserkin@bloomberg.net

FT: Romania: ‘The future looks really dark’


By Andrew Jack

Published: March 23 2011


Marioara Micu, the TB manager for Ages district, holds a morning meeting with local officials, visits a sanatorium until mid-afternoon, and then stops off in the regional capital’s hospital to clock in for night duty.

Like dozens of her colleagues in the Romanian government’s National TB Programme, including its director, she remains a full-time clinician, seeing patients and trying to make ends meet on her modest salary.

Yet she also volunteers in a second job, helping manage prevention, diagnosis and treatment of one of the country’s most serious infectious diseases.

“Sometimes, the TB managers look tired and burnt out, but we don’t criticise them,” says Silvia Asandi, head of Romanian Angel Appeal Foundation, a non-governmental organisation involved in tackling the disease. “We understand. They donate their time.”

Lack of money is one frequently cited difficulty of dealing with tuberculosis in Romania.

Accelerated by the 2008 crisis, the result has been: a squeeze on doctors’ and nurses’ salaries as living costs have risen; restrictions on drugs and diagnostics; and scant funding for training or programmes of incentives for patients to take their medicine.

Many doctors have sought ways to supplement their income in the private sector, or emigrated, further weakening medical infrastructure in a country that already has one of the lowest ratios of doctors to citizens in the European Union.

Others have faced important infection risks while treating TB patients.

“Money is very important, but more important are the people,” says Elmira Ibraim, head of the national TB programme. In her office in the Marius Nasta Institute of Pneumology in Bucharest, in between patient consultations, she points to figures showing impressive overall progress.

The disease rose steadily in Romania from the mid 1980s, accelerating after the revolution in 1989 to reach a peak of 31,000 new cases in 2003, reflecting increased migration, unemployment and social problems at a time of transition.

It has since steadily declined, reaching a little over 19,000 last year.

But that still remains the highest absolute number of cases anywhere in the EU, and the largest in the broader European region after Russia and Ukraine.

The overall trend conceals important nuances.

Dr Ibraim shows a map indicating a close correlation between TB and social problems, with the greatest concentrations on the more rural, impoverished eastern and southern borders.

Furthermore, she estimates that more than 700 patients a year are contracting multiple-drug resistant MDR-TB, which is far more costly and complex to treat, requiring drugs over two years. A 10th of these have extremely resistant (XDR) strains, which is still more difficult to tackle.

Samples from fewer than half of patients who do not respond to first line drugs are tested for resistance, suggesting that many cases are not being counted.

The money from international donors through the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria will run out next year, with the last cohort of MDR patients it is supporting set to be recruited by June. There is scant sign of alternative sources of funds.

“TB is a huge public health issue, but I just don’t feel the decision-makers understand or are taking any action,” says Dana Farcasanu, head of the Centre for Health Policies and Services in Bucharest.

“We are talking about free movement of [contagious] people. This is a security issue, but I just don’t see any concern at EU level.”

She also criticises decentralisation introduced into the health system in 2007, which may have theoretical advantages but has further fragmented treatment and undermined community nurses and Roma mediators who were reaching the most affected groups.

Drug procurement has also suffered, with inexperienced local staff handling smaller quantities of TB drugs causing “stock outs” that risk causing further drug resistance in patients.

The government has promised to recentralise purchases, but is yet to act.

At Dr Ibraim’s institute, and another in the north of the country, MDR patients have access to good care. At other units, including the Valea Iasului sanatorium with more than 100 beds for first-line treatment, the conditions appear good.

Yet at a time of resource constraints, there will be a growing debate over whether the money used on such specialist centres should instead be reallocated to a “community-based” model, with those with TB discharged rapidly and treated as outpatients.

“The future is really dark,” says Ms Asandi.

“The Global Fund was a real success, but we don’t see any other source of funding. We have days when we are really depressed. We have a problem, we have the solution, but someone needs to give us the money.”

Iberdrola Breaks Ground on World’s Largest Wind-Energy Complex in Romania

Iberdrola Renovables SA (IBR) began building a wind park in Romania, the first of about 50 the Spanish company plans there in a complex that would rank as the world’s largest installation of generators harnessing the wind.

The Valencia, Spain-based company will use turbines made by Gamesa Corporacion Tecnologica SA for the 80-megawatt facility, it said today in a statement.

The unit of Spain’s Iberdrola SA (IBE) said the enlarged project would have a 1,500-megawatt capacity, or more power potential than an average atomic plant, should all 50 plants get built. The project is targeted to end in 2017.

The first 80-megawatt phase, known as Mihai Viteazu, is in the Constanta area of the Dobrogea region and is set to enter service by year-end, Iberdrola Renovables said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Todd White in Madrid at twhite2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reed Landberg at landberg@bloomberg.net

Romania’s Leu Rally is ‘Market Driven,’ Central Banker Cristian Popa Says

The Romanian leu’s rally to its strongest level in almost a year is “market driven and appears to be broadly in line with economic fundamentals,” Deputy Governor Cristian Popa said.

The Banca Nationala a Romaniei reiterates that it “remains preoccupied” with possible excess volatility of the leu exchange rate, “should it occur,” Popa said today in response to questions from Bloomberg on what justifies the current leu appreciation.

The leu through yesterday has been 2011’s best performer against both the dollar and the euro of more than 170 currencies tracked by Bloomberg. It gained as much as 0.5 percent after Popa’s comments and traded at 4.103 against the euro as of 5:37 p.m. in Bucharest today. That brings the rise to 4 percent against the euro and 9.8 percent versus the dollar in 2011.

“The relatively more significant recent strengthening against the dollar” should help “anchor inflation expectations stemming from increases in the world price of oil and fuels,” Popa said.

Popa’s comments show “that the currency move is good for inflation expectations,” which “opened up the prospect for more,” said Peter Attard Montalto, an economist at Nomura Plc inLondon. “Overall, I think the risk here is that markets push them too far too fast given we are now seeing quite a bit of fast money interest.”
‘Mounting’ Risks

The leu may appreciate to 4.05 per euro as the central bank “is much more comfortable about currency strength given mounting inflation risks,” emerging-markets strategists at Societe Generale SA in London wrote in a report today.

Annual inflation quickened to 7.6 percent in February from 7 percent in the previous month, the statistics office in Bucharest reported on March 10.

Recent price growth “should be viewed against the background of a certain tightening of broad monetary conditions where, besides the level of the policy rate and of minimum reserve requirements, exchange-rate evolutions and changes in interbank money market rates also play a role,” Popa said.

The central bank kept its benchmark interest rate unchanged at a record-low 6.25 percent for a sixth meeting on Feb. 3. The next rate-setting meeting is scheduled for March 31.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andra Timu in Bucharest at atimu@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James M. Gomez in Prague atjagomez@bloomberg.net

Romanian Magazine Uses Facebook for 'Crowd-Publishing' Success

It all started over a beer. One evening in April 2009, Cristian Lupşa and four other young journalists were chatting in a pub in Bucharest, Romania about the low quality of the country's print media. They should start their own magazine, someone joked. They could call it Decât o Revistă, which in slightly broken Romanian means "just a magazine." It would only be published once, so it would really be just one magazine. But it would prove that with quality in mind and inspiration flowing from their fingertips, Romanian journalists could produce something of worth without having to make the usual compromises due to commercial or political pressures.

"[We wanted] to make a magazine that would only depend on us and on what we are good at," read the editorial, six months later. The intentionally incorrect grammar in the title attracted some grumpy comments from a couple of readers, myself included. But almost everybody agreed that it was one of the most vibrant, honest and refreshing journalistic products the magazine industry had seen in a long time.

The five journalists printed 1,500 copies, and bore the expenses for the paper and printing costs. But they were not alone. They had managed to attract a host of writers, reporters, photographers and editorial designers who agreed to work for free. My wife, Monica Ulmanu, contributed an infographic to the magazine. A few weeks before publication, the magazine's page on Facebook had gathered more than 1,500 fans.

With scarce resources due to the weak economic climate, and dwindling audiences for the entire print media, journalists have been turning to social media in search for readers. Some simply post links to their work hoping to attract more clicks. Others, such as the founders of Decât o Revistă, or DoR, take things a few steps further.

MORE THAN ONE ISSUE

Following the success of the first publication, Lupşa and his friends decided to continue their project and release a new issue of the magazine every three months. Although they managed to secure some financial support from a few sponsors and advertisers, they could not afford to pay for promotion through the usual channels. Instead, they relied on word of mouth through the Internet.

DoR's fan base on Facebook grew to more than 15,000 one year from the launch, and to more than 20,000 fans today. (The number was more than 31,000, but that surge was partly a result of fake accounts.) Copies sold: around 2,000 per issue. And sales are growing steadily.

"Our Facebook fans are not automatically buyers," Lupşa said. "But [they], too, are our readers -- they are the magazine's community. They are not victims of promotion. They are readers, content creators, people with whom we discuss ideas."

With each new issue, some of those Facebook fans also start buying the magazine.

The initiative is probably not going to make anybody rich, but it's a sustainable model for them. A large and active following on social media provides enough buzz for a small print magazine to survive and even grow. But how did a quarterly magazine born out of enthusiasm, which doesn't print more than 2,500 copies, get 15 times more followers on social media?

"[It's all about] interactivity and creating the feeling that you are wanted," Lupşa said. "That the magazine wants you. That it gives you something special."

DIFFERENT KIND OF CONTENT

In order to be successful on Facebook, publications need to lower the access barrier as much as possible, according to Lupşa. People should be able to interact with anything you put out there, he said.

"We didn't want the page to be a wall with offers," Lupşa said. "Instead, we wanted to have status messages that ask questions, that talk to people."

He and his team also try to avoid bombarding people with information. They usually post one daily update, and try to provide added value, be it through a joke, a video or a contest to win movie tickets.

"DoR on Facebook is not the same as DoR in print," he said.

The heavy stuff in the magazine -- the hard-thought essays and the lengthy pieces involving painstaking reporting, writing and rewriting -- is not for Facebook, according to Lupşa. He said the magazine's page is the place for speedy and short-lived content. It's also a place to find people for the magazine; starting with the first issue, the magazine has published authors the editors have found online.

"We brought someone we met on Twitter to a shooting," he said. "We asked a blogger to bake a cake for us. We published another blogger's personal essay. Someone called this crowd publishing."

THE RISE OF FACEBOOK IN ROMANIA

Other Romanian startups are also using social media to enrich their content.ShoppingNews.ro, a website focused on consumer reporting, takes advantage of blogs, Facebook and Twitter to involve people in the making of the publication. One section of the site, iReport, uses comments from Facebook users about their shopping experiences in shops, hotels, restaurants, cafés, gas stations etc., according to project manager and editor-in-chief Paula Negrea.

"Facebook is not just a place where you provide a link to your newest story," Lupşa said. "It's a place for a different kind of content."

Around 3 million Facebook accounts are now active in Romania, where the social network grew fourfold in 2010 and is still expanding rapidly. Naturally, most newspapers, which face a steep decline in readership, circulation and advertising, see Facebook as a means to regain some of the lost ground.

But most "are not very efficient and their approach is too traditional," said Iulian Comanescu, a media analyst and branding expert who blogs at comanescu.ro.

"Usually Romanian newspapers have a few hundreds or one thousand friends on a single Facebook page," he said.

Individual journalists are sometimes more adept at using Facebook to promote their work and their media outlet. Sanda Nicola, a TV reporter with a personal page and close to 5,000 friends, is a good example, according to Comanescu. He points out that other well-known journalists with an active presence on Facebook -- such as Catalin Tolontan, Oana Dobre, Vlad Petreanu and Victor Ciutacu -- devote most of their social media efforts to their personal blogs.

"However, journalists who are under contract with one publication or another should be very careful about what they say on Facebook and Twitter, because they represent the publication they work for and also benefit from its brand value," Comanescu said.

This should be easier to do for publications like Decât o Revistă, which pay a lot of attention to Facebook and Twitter, and more complicated for news outlets that don't have a coherent social media strategy. In those cases, journalists might need to take the initiative and force their publications to be more proactive.

Alexandru-Brăduţ Ulmanu is a writer and journalist currently working on a book in Romanian about Facebook and social media, due in May 2011. He is also a print and online journalism trainer, and he blogs about journalism, media and technology at jurnalismonline.ro.

This story was originally published by the European Journalism Centre, an independent non-profit institute dedicated to the highest standards in journalism, primarily through the further training of journalists and media professionals. Follow @ejcnet for Twitter updates, join us on Facebook and on the EJC Online Journalism Community.

Leu Extends World’s Best Rally as Romania Fights Inflation

March 23 (Bloomberg) -- The leu extended the biggest rally among the world’s currencies in 2011 to the strongest in a year after a Romanian policy maker signaled the central bank may allow further gains in an attempt to control inflation.

The currency appreciated as much as 0.7 percent to 4.0994 per euro, its strongest intraday level since April 8, and traded at 4.1044 as of 7:30 p.m. in Bucharest, its fifth day of gains.

The leu’s rally is “market-driven and broadly in line with economic fundamentals” and may “anchor inflation expectations stemming from increases in the world price of oil and fuels,” central bank Deputy Governor Cristian Popa told Bloomberg today. Inflation quickened to 7.6 percent in February from 7 percent a month earlier, the statistics office in Bucharest said March 10.

“Inflation has been a theme across emerging markets for some time” and Popa has given “probably the first sign that the Romanian central bank is joining others in dropping their aversion to appreciation as energy prices rise,” Robert Beange, strategist at RBC Capital Markets in London, wrote in an e-mail.

Policy makers from China to Brazil have been struggling to tame quickening inflation as the global economic recovery and conflict in the Middle East drives up energy prices. Crude oil jumped for a third day today to above $105 a barrel, trading near its highest since 2008.

‘Radical Change’

Romania’s annual price growth topped the 7.4 percent median estimate of analysts polled by Bloomberg. The central bank is concerned about inflation because of surging global food and oil prices, Governor Mugur Isarescu said March 9. The bank last year operated in the currency market to prevent excess liquidity from causing “ample leu moves,” Isarscu said on Jan. 21 interview.

“The central bank is indeed much more comfortable about currency strength given mounting inflation risks” after a “radical change in terms of exchange-rate policy,” Benoit Anne and Guillaume Salomon, emerging-market strategists at Societe Generale SA in London, wrote in a research note earlier today.

The leu may advance to 4.05 per euro, its strongest since January 2009, compared with SocGen’s earlier forecast of 4.1 per euro, according to the report. “There are now clear risks that the leu may appreciate further than we initially thought,” Anne and Salomon wrote.

A 4.3 percent rally against the euro and a 10 percent gain versus the dollar make the leu the best performer so far this year among more than 170 currencies tracked by Bloomberg.

Romania’s currency may extend its gains “for a while, as oil is likely to continue higher,” RBC’s Beange wrote in response to questions from Bloomberg News.

--Editors: Alexander Nicholson, Gavin Serkin

To contact the reporters on this story: Krystof Chamonikolas in Prague at kchamonikola@bloomberg.net; Irina Savu in Bucharest at isavu@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Gavin Serkin at gserkin@bloomberg.net

AP: Romanian official: Nuclear plant is safe

CERNAVODA, Romania – Two Romanian nuclear reactors are safe and could withstand a huge earthquake, the manager of the Cernavoda nuclear plant said Wednesday.

Ionel Bucur said the Italian and Canadian-built plant in eastern Romania is prepared to withstand a Fukushima-type emergency.

In Japan, levels of radiation have spiked, seeping into some vegetables and the water supply since a magnitude-9 quake and killer tsunami crippled the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant nearly two weeks ago.

Managers of the Cernavoda plant, some 150 kilometers (90 miles) east of Bucharest, invited journalists for discussions on plant safety after fears arose following the events in Japan.

Production manager Dan Bigu appeared unnerved by the prospect of a major quake. A 7.2-magnitude tremor killed over 1,500 people, most of them in the capital Bucharest, in 1977.


"There is no vulnerability which would put its safety into question," Bigu said. He explained the plant has 2,500 tons of water to ensure cooling for the reactors, for 15 hours, in the absence of electricity, together with two diesel generators.

The plant was built on the Danube to have direct access to water for cooling and it supplies about 20 percent of Romania's electricity needs. The first reactor began operating in 1997 and the second in 2007.

Since Fukushima, Romanian officials, including president Traian Basescu, have expressed confidence that the nuclear plant is safe even if there is a 7.5-magnitude earthquake.

Bucur said new European Union safety standards are likely to be imposed following Fukushima. He said it was unclear how these standards will influence plans to build two new reactors at Cernavoda.

"I am not worried...because the project is solid." The two new reactors will require an enlarged channel to bring water from the Danube.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Reuters: Romania, Dutch send troops to enforce Libya embargo

BUCHAREST — Romania will contribute 207 troops to NATO efforts to enforce an arms embargo on Libya, as requested by the alliance, President Traian Basescu said on Tuesday.

Ambassadors of the 28 NATO states meeting in Brussels on Tuesday decided to activate a plan for alliance warships and aircraft to implement the U.N.-decreed arms embargo on Libya.

The Dutch government later said it would also contribute about 200 soldiers, including six F-16 jet fighters and one mine hunter ship.

"There was a NATO request for a frigate and two officers from the naval forces' general staff," Romania's Basescu said after a meeting of the country's Supreme Defense Council.

Frigate Regele Ferdinand with 205 troops on board and two officers from the navy's general staff will be ready to leave on its mission within 30 days, he said.

Basescu also said the council decided to supplement the country's troops to Afghanistan with 66 gendarmes to help train riot police.

Dutch Defense Minister Hans Hillen told reporters the Dutch contribution was for three months, after which NATO and the Netherlands would decide if and how to continue the mission. The jet fighters and ship will start operations within a few days.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

European Lawmakers Resign After Accusations of Bribery


By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Two European Parliament lawmakers have resigned and a third has stepped down from his position in his party after a British newspaper reported they had agreed to propose legislation in return for bribes. The Sunday Times reported this weekend that the former Austrian interior minister Ernst Strasser, above, the former Slovenian foreign minister Zoran Thaler, and the former Romanian deputy prime minister Adrian Severin had agreed to put forward amendments in the European Parliament in exchange for money. The newspaper had conducted an investigation in which its reporters posed as lobbyists. Mr. Strasser and Mr. Thaler have resigned from the Parliament, and Mr. Severin quit his position as deputy chairman of his party in Romania. All three dispute the allegations.

Roma documentary premieres at One World fest

(AFP)

BUCHAREST — Romania's Roma community took centre stage at the One World festival in Bucharest with the premiere of a French film about the discrimation one community is facing in the centre of the country.

"Valea Corlatului" (the Corlat Valley), which premiered Sunday at the human rights film festival, provides an insight into daily life of some 600 Roma who settled illegally on the bank of a river separating two Romanian counties.

They soon find themselves rejected by their neighbours and the local authorities.

While villagers complain of a growing number of thefts, attributed to their new Roma neighbours, the prefect of Covasna county blasts their attempt to "infiltrate" into the majority ethnic Hungarian region.

"We joked a lot during the shooting but the authorities' lack of respect for the people's rights was appalling," said Stephane Lucon, the documentary's French director.

"The film talks about geographical and ethnic boundaries and about administrative chaos," Lucon said, blasting the authorities' readiness to, as he put it, "label people wholesale."

"I hope it will help change things and have an impact on people's lives." Though living in dire poverty and deprived of IDs, some of the Roma in this "village without a name" have retained a sense of humour, like one woman who thinks life without electricity is not entirely devoid of charm: "It's like having a candle-light romantic dinner every night. I bet not many people can afford that."

In Lucon's film, the prefects of Covasna and neighbouring Brasov counties eventually arrive at a rather crude solution: bulldoze a hill and shift the course of the Corlat river.

The win-win plan, at a cost of 400,000 euros (568,000 dollars), would help Covasna county "rid itself" of the Roma and earn Brasov county some 20 hectares (49 acres) of land, plus a "bonus of 500 to 800 Roma," as one local official put it.

Romania is home to the biggest Roma minority in Europe. Officially, their number is given as 530,000 but pressure groups put the figure as high as 2.5 million, saying most do not declare themselves, fearing discrimination.

The fourth edition of the One World festival is showcasing 37 documentaries from around the world under the theme: "What a wonderful world."

Honeywell May Invest $285 Million in Romania, Financiar Reports

Honeywell International Inc. (HON), the world’s largest maker of turbochargers, plans to invest between 100 million euros ($142 million) and 200 million euros in Romania, newspaper Ziarul Financiar said today, citing unidentified people familiar with the matter.

Honeywell wants to apply for state aid from the Romanian government to help co-finance the planned project, Bucharest- based Ziarul Financiar reported after the U.S. company’s Chief Executive Officer David Cote met with Prime Minister Emil Boc in the Romanian capital late yesterday.

To contact the reporter on this story: Irina Savu in Bucharest at isavu@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James M. Gomez in Prague atjagomez@bloomberg.net

Monday, March 21, 2011

EU parliament probes MEP corruption claims

(AFP)

BRUSSELS — The European parliament sought to contain a looming corruption scandal Sunday as three of its deputies faced bribery allegations, one of whom has already resigned.

The parliament quickly opened an investigation after Britain's Sunday Times reported that three MEPs -- Austria's Ernst Strasser, Romania's Adrian Severin and Zoran Thaler of Slovenia -- had accepted offers of up to 100,000 euros ($141,000) per year in exchange for proposing amendments in the EU parliament.

"The parliament has just opened an inquiry into these allegations so the facts can be fully established," parliament spokesman Jaume Duch told AFP.

"The Sunday Times' allegations are severe and the European parliament is taking them seriously," he said, adding that the newspaper's documentation was being sent to parliament for examination.

The fresh scandal made its first victim on Sunday as Strasser, a former Austrian interior minister and European deputy for the conservative People's Party (OeVP), announced his resignation.

Vice Chancellor and OeVP leader Josef Proell had earlier called for his "immediate resignation from all political posts", describing his behaviour as "unacceptable".

"All of Ernst Strasser's justifications so far ring completely hollow given today's revelations from the Sunday Times," Proell added.

Adrian Severin, a former Romanian deputy prime minister, denied on the other hand all accusations against him, adding he had asked the European parliament to consider legal action against the authors of the expose.

"This whole story is an endless outrage," he told the Mediafax agency.

"I want parliament to conduct an internal probe to make it clear I did not commit any fault in this case."

Former Slovenian foreign minister Zoran Thaler, 49, also rejected The Sunday Times's report, saying it was part of attempts to discredit the work of the European parliament.

"As long as I'm convinced I did nothing illegal, I'll remain in my post and try to clear (the allegations)," he told AFP.

Over an eight-month investigation, Sunday Times journalists posing as lobbyists contacted some 60 MEPs to verify rumours that some were prepared "to sell their services" and push through specific amendments in exchange for remuneration, the broadsheet revealed Sunday.

Three deputies took the bait.

According to the newspaper, Severin "emailed the reporters saying: 'Just to let you know that the amendment desired by you has been tabled in due time,' then sent an invoice for 12,000 euros for 'consulting services'."

The Romanian insisted later he had done nothing that was "illegal or against any normal behaviour we have here".

"We have the right... to work as political consultants, the only requirement being that we not hand out confidential information," he said Sunday.

Both Strasser and Thaler have claimed they knew all along that the bribe offer was a sham but that they wanted to see how far it went before bringing the matter to the police.

"From the first moment they made me such an indecent proposal, I knew it was a manipulation intended to compromise and discredit a member of the European Parliament," Thaler told AFP.

"I never took the money they offered and I would never do so," he added to the Sunday Times' claims that he had asked for payments to be sent via a London company so he would not have to disclose them.

Strasser also pushed through compromises on behalf of the pretend lobbyists and did not plan on disclosing the money to parliament, the broadsheet added.

Martin Schulz, chief of the European Socialists, to whom both Thaler and Severin belong, cautioned Sunday that it was crucial to meet both deputies "as soon as possible, to hear what they have to say".

"A (newspaper) article is not a court ruling."

If the allegations turned out to be true however, "I will propose their suspension," he added.

The European parliament has repeatedly come under fire in the past over questionable expenses, leading to tighter controls following an internal audit in 2009.

Friday, March 18, 2011

FT: Romania’s Boc: another narrow escape

by Neil Buckley

Emil Boc has proved himself to be one of central Europe’s great escape artists. The Romanian prime minister on Wednesday night survived a fifth no-confidence vote in parliament in under a year.

With the motion only attracting 212 votes – 24 less than needed to pass – parliament has now approved labour law changes that were the final requirement to meet the terms of its €20bn bailout in 2009 from the International Monetary Fund and European Union.

In reality, the vote never looked likely to pass. Even a union protest against the labour reforms outside the parliament attracted only 8,000 people, rather than the 50,000 the organisers expected.

The labour changes follow last year’s severe austerity package, the passing of a cost-cutting 2011 budget, and new laws on pensions and public sector wages. Romania now plans to obtain a new €5bn precautionary facility from the IMF in April.

Analysts suggested this week’s vote means the current governing coalition of centrists, an ethnic Hungarian party, and independents, could soldier on until parliamentary elections late next year, providing important political stability.

But Romania’s economy may find it more difficult to escape from the vicious recession into which it sank as a result of the global financial crisis. It was one of the few European Union states to suffer two consecutive years of shrinking output.

The economy is forecast to have grown in the first quarter of this year, but some economists think even official forecasts of 1.5 per cent full-year growth look optimistic.

Export-led growth could be complicated by the appreciation of the leu in recent years – though that has helped with repaying foreign-currency debt. Domestic demand, meanwhile, is expected to remain subdued after last year’s painful austerity measures – which included slashing public sector wages by a quarter, state benefits by 15 per cent, and cranking up value added tax from 19 to 24 per cent.

The VAT increase has fuelled inflation which, coupled with worldwide food and fuel price increases, hit 7.6 per cent in February – highest in the EU, and a particular burden for Romania’s depressed consumers. That has probably blown out of the water Romania’s chances of hitting its 3 per cent inflation target for the year. ING last week raised its full-year inflation forecast to 5.7 per cent from 5 per cent.

All this has, not surprisingly, seen the popularity of the governing coalition nosedive. Romanian president Traian Basescu has spoken of the need for an “economic relaunch”, and reportedly discussed with party leaders the possibility of replacing Boc with a “technocrat” economist as prime minister. The government, he said, should find “another governing style”.

Some Romanian media have cited unidentified sources as suggesting the prime minister might resign after the parliamentary vote to pave the way for a new government. If so, Boc’s political escape could yet prove short-lived.

10,000 Romanians protest employment legislation

(AP:BUCHAREST, Romania) About 10,000 Romanians protested against new employment legislation Wednesday outside parliament, where the government later survived a no-confidence vote.

Protesters and unions say the new legislation by Prime Minister Emil Boc _ whose popularity has plummeted since he implemented harsh austerity measures _ will turn them into slaves, allowing employers to fire people more easily and demand they work longer hours.

The government, however, says it will make the market more flexible and increase the number of legally employed workers.

Television engineer Adrian Sobaru, who become a symbol for anti-government protests after he dived from a balcony onto the floor of Romania's parliament in December to protest austerity measures, was among the protesters.

"We need hope for us and for our children. Every person counts," he told the crowd.

Boc's Democratic Liberal Party has suffered in opinion polls since Romania took a euro20 billion ($27.8 million) loan from the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the World Bank in 2009, after the economy contracted by 7.1 percent.

Romanian film festival tackles tough rights issues

(AFP)

BUCHAREST — The One World human rights film festival kicked off in Bucharest on Thursday offering 37 documentaries promising to tackle sometimes prickly issues under the theme "What a wonderful world?!"

Alongside the showings at the six-day festival in the Romanian capital will be debates on its main themes with surprise 2010 Colombian presidential candidate Antanas Mockus, the ecologist ex-mayor of Bogota, a star guest.

The event is sorted into the categories "What would you do for money?", "Homemade violence", "Intolerance today", "(Re)writing history", "Inglorious heroes" and "Desperate cities".

"Desperate cities" presents documentaries on Bogota, Cairo, Kiev and London and Abel Ferrara's opus on Naples, with Mockus lending his mayoral expertise to the accompanying debate.

"This world is wonderful," organisers Czech Monika Stepanova and Romanian director Alexandru Solomon said.

"It would look even better if some documentaries did not open our eyes," they added with a touch of irony before introducing a set of documentaries tackling the world's most challenging issues.

The films include "The perfect Belgian" by Kristof Bilsen, a road movie in a country on the verge of dissolution that will have its world premiere on Saturday.

The British/Cambodian production "Enemies of the people", prized at Sundance festival, will try to understand why two million Cambodians died under Pol Pot's regime.

"One World Romania reminds us of the existence of other crises, more serious than the decrease of the GDP by half a point," said former Czech president Vaclav Havel, one of the festival's patrons.

"It talks about humanitarian crises, moral crises and the crises of human responsibilities," he said.

The One World Film festival runs until March 21.

Luxembourg backs Romania, Bulgaria Schengen hopes

15 March 2011
AFP

(BUCHAREST) - Luxembourg supports the efforts of Romania and Bulgaria to join the visa-free Schengen area in the coming months, Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said Tuesday in Bucharest.

"Luxembourg will do everything so that Bulgaria and Romania become members of the Schengen system in the coming months", Asselborn said in a joint press statement with Romanian counterpart Teodor Baconschi.

"Romania proves everyday that it knows how to manage the system, de facto you are already connected to Schengen," he said, adding that "in Europe it would be better to sometimes put national politics behind European politics."

"We will strongly support you so that in a few months this would be a bad memory and that you would become members of the Schengen area," Asselborn said, stressing that "there are no favoured or disadvantaged countries, we are all on the same line" in the EU.

Bucharest and Sofia were initially hoping to be admitted in March to the visa-free Schengen area, which took its name from a town in Luxembourg.

But several countries including France and Germany have voiced their opposition, saying Romania and Bulgaria first need to make progress in the fight against corruption and organised crime.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Abandoning a Broken Model of Journalism

There are many in Romania who ‘profoundly dislike independent journalists, and especially nosey ones.’
By Stefan Candea

It's hard to do honest investigative journalism in Romania. To understand this, one need only look at the country's media landscape and know how its societal institutions function. After the collapse of Communism in 1989, a new elite emerged from the huge pool of former agents and informants of Securitate, the Communist secret service. Members of this heavily protected elite became judges and members of Parliament, prosecutors and business leaders, media owners and senior journalists.

The elite's most valued asset is its control over information. It is not coincidental that most of the public still doesn't know the names of many of the 15,000 agents and 400,000 informants from the time when President Nicolae Ceausescu ruled this country with an iron fist. And the elite—most of all older journalists and politicians—profoundly dislike independent journalists, and especially nosey ones.

While I was writing these words, I kept being pulled back to an evening last November when I attended the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) awards ceremony in New York City. On this night journalists gathered to celebrate the courage, persistence and determination of those who report the news despite being arrested, kidnapped, shot at, and sometimes killed.(In 2010, 44 journalists were killed while doing their jobs, according to CPJ.) In my mind's eye, I replayed clip after clip of video I had seen there about reporters who took great risks to expose corruption and abuses of power or tell the world about those who are victims of terrible oppression. Their efforts reminded me of why such journalists deserve our trust, respect and recognition.

At the same time, I flashed back to Romania. Now I was wondering why any sane person would invest trust and respect in most of the journalists who work there. Their main product is propaganda and their primary talent is withholding the truth.

Here is a situation (one of many I know about) that exemplifies what "investigative journalism" looks like in Romania today: About a year ago, two well-known "senior" journalists were caught on tape trying to blackmail the head of the country's National Agency for Integrity, which is the governmental agency charged with investigating the wealth of public officials. One of the journalists did not ask for money; he can be heard explaining that he's in a "different league" of journalists so $70,000 means nothing to him. But during the taped conversation he threatened to publish compromising information about that state clerk and mentioned withholding that information if, in return, he would be given compromising information about the president and his political entourage. After his words were leaked to the media, the journalist said that this was not blackmail; it was investigative journalism at work.

Indeed, the so-called investigative journalism in Romania was for years a cover for blackmail, advertisement racketeering, and disinformation campaigns. Some journalists or media outlets still use this kind of approach to "sources" as a way of making good money. Not surprisingly, the owners of some of these media outlets are organized crime groups.

The Industry as Enemy

During the early years of Romania's transition from Communism to democracy, media owners were either well-connected business entrepreneurs or former journalists who had worked within the Communist propaganda machine. They transferred their competencies and the rules from their previous professions into these new ones. Of course, those skills had nothing to do with quality journalism or its foundational ethics. But when these reporters became financially successful (profiting through their unethical practices), they unfortunately became the models for generations of young journalists to follow.

When I set out to do investigative stories as a journalist, my work focused on organized crime. This put me into all kinds of threatening—and potentially compromising—situations: There were bribery attempts and surveillance, and other media attacked my stories and me. Lawsuits and court trials were used to try to weaken my resolve, and I received death threats. I could live with all of this. For me, what was most disturbing was the corruption and censorship I found in my newsroom, where the editors and management came from this aforementioned generation of older journalists. I would find colleagues stealing and selling photos I had obtained during a stakeout; others tried to leak articles to the target of my investigation before the print button was hit.

Then there were the bosses themselves—those who owned the media. I started doing investigative journalism 12 years ago in the newsroom of a leading national daily paper in Bucharest. The paper was co-owned by a well-known German media group. That fact didn't help me in my daily work; what mattered was that the co-owner was an old school Romanian journalist. He was involved in publishing the paper, writing daily editorials, deciding on the editorial content, and signing advertising contracts. And because of him being in the center of these conflicting positions the investigative stories I did were sometimes not published. Or they were published in a censored form. Or, in the worst cases, they produced under-the-table benefits for this owner.

When such episodes became too frequent—and too absurd—several of my colleagues and I left the paper. Now our dilemma became where we would go to publish our stories. Nearly every Romanian newspaper owner had this same background and perspective. In fact, they were organized in a cartel nicely named the Romanian Press Club. And in every newsroom, censorship (and reporters' self-censorship) was widespread—and it was aimed squarely at the work of investigative reporters.

So common was this expectation that we came to anticipate the first question we would be asked whenever we talked with targets of our investigation: "Who is paying you (or your boss) to attack me?" The next words we would hear was a promise from them that our newspaper would not publish our story. That is when the pressure points would be tapped, and the most effective ones involved politicians and their partners in business.

Building From Scratch

Looking back at my early years, all of what I learned working in a newsroom was how not to do journalism. Some of the genuine investigative skills that I acquired came from international workshops, seminars and conferences I attended. Of greatest value has been hands-on training from working with Western colleagues. But no skills or approach could be directly imported to my work in Romania; I had to adjust them to the reality in my region.

In a newsroom in the United States or Western Europe, reporters have access to a wide range of information, some of it in the form of databases, and they also have some confidence that those who hold government jobs are doing what they are said to be doing. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests usually do work eventually. Contrast this with reporters in Romania who must build databases from scratch by extracting information from a range of documents, and those can be quite difficult to get. Assumptions about what the data might yield must be formulated and tested by the reporter since it is rare that anyone else has conducted a similar investigation on this matter. In the best-case scenario, an official investigation starts after we publish.

Such circumstances explain why we sometimes have to start our investigations using undercover techniques and continue them with traditional reporting techniques. In a country subsumed for five decades under the deep secrecy of Communism, attempts to use our nation's laws are nightmarish. Reporters usually have to go to court to enforce a freedom of information request—and the legal process can take up to five years. Finding competent government workers who are not corrupt is the rare exception so investigative reporting cannot start there. All of this makes our efforts relevant only after years of finding the necessary software, building particular databases, and looking for additional resources. And we are not necessarily able to build our network of sources while this is happening.

As we struggle to obtain information and find a way to publish it, the form that the story will take is the last thing we can worry about. But how to package investigative articles is very important so we keep a watchful eye on the foreign news media and see how they experiment with multimedia publishing.

That's also the reason why we immediately brought onboard a group of independent photojournalists. We welcomed them to take part on major projects, such as undercover research in the separatist republic of Trans-Dniester and an investigation in 2004 into enslavement and other crimes against children.

A Broken Mainstream Media

During the past two decades, millions of dollars in foreign media assistance have poured into Romania but without much noticeable positive effect on the quality of its journalism. What one must conclude is that we have a broken media industry, and the economic pressures bearing down on media have become even more burdensome. This means that investigative journalism must find ways to develop outside the mainstream of this industry.

During the past five years, owners like my former boss, who had been a journalist, have sold their shares in the business. Local oligarchs—rich businesspeople who are involved in politics and whose primary business interests are not in media—now own and control media. Usually their business interests are also the target of criminal investigations. The reason that they invest in money-losing media corporations is to gain leverage to negotiate with politicians to keep themselves out of jail. They run their media companies as they would a military operation, and like their predecessors, they, too, profoundly dislike independent and nosey journalists.

Here and there it is possible to find good journalists who are isolated in a newsroom. Gather them together and their numbers might add up to enough to build a competent, strong and honest newsroom. But then who would pay for that?

These local oligarchs lack any dimension of ethics, discourage competition, and don't adhere to a meritocracy. Why should they adhere to any standards of journalism? After all, their only need is to hire people to produce propaganda and send out the continuing onslaught of infotainment, business and political manipulation, live press conferences as breaking news, and copy-and-paste journalism. A lot of these so-called journalists use their media work as a trampoline propelling them into governmental positions, including foreign diplomacy, or into jobs with a political party or corporation. Their dream is to become part of the establishment.

In recent times, direct political pressure on the news media diminished as Romania climbed its way into the European Union. What is worrying now are the frequent attempts by members of Parliament to sneak in ridiculous pieces of legislation that would put a leash on journalists. Among the recent draft laws were these proposals:

Force TV stations to broadcast 50 percent positive news and 50 percent negative news

Put the print media under the jurisdiction of the National Audiovisual Council

Censor the comments for all news websites.

The only reason such laws have not passed is that we have strong nongovernmental organizations that act as legislative watchdogs. However, the recent national defense strategy identifies the media as being "a vulnerability" for "national security." These days, as soon as politicians assume power, they, too, start to profoundly dislike independent and nosey journalists.

But independent and nosey journalists aren't going away—and finding support for their investigative work in Romania is why a decade ago I co-founded theRomanian Center for Investigative Journalism. It stands as a testament to the dedication of a few—and hopefully the inspiration for many—to not give in to the pressures bearing down on journalists who dare to tell the stories that a democratic people deserve to hear.

Stefan Candea, a 2011 Nieman Fellow, is a freelance journalist and co-founder of the Romanian Center for Investigative Journalism in Bucharest, Romania. He teaches investigative journalism at Bucharest University, and he is a member of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and a correspondent forReporters sans Frontieres in Romania.

Transgaz Asks Romania to Sell More Shares for Investment Plans

Transgaz SA, Romania’s state-owned utility, asked the government to allow the sale of more shares than planned on the stock exchange, to help finance upgrade investments.

The natural-gas grid operator asked for approval for a sale of as much as 14 percent, worth about 110 million euros ($153 million) on top of the 15 percent stake the government already plans to offer on the stock exchange, Elisabeta Ghidiu, a company spokeswoman, said in an interview in Bucharest today. Transgaz hopes to sell at least a 7 percent stake, valued at 60 million euros, which would allow the state to retain a majority in the utility, Ghidiu said.

“We sent the primary-offer proposal to the economy ministry because we need money to fund our investments,” she said. “I don’t expect them to agree with all of it, we want them to approve the idea and then start working on it together.”

Romania plans to sell minority holdings of its utilities and the largest oil company, OMV Petrom SA (SNP), to meet international bailout conditions and cover infrastructure investments. Transgaz is seeking funds to upgrade its outdated gas pipes and for strategic development plans, including connecting its power grid with other countries, Ghidiu said.

Transgaz plans to invest 183 million lei ($61 million) in 2011 for strategic development and 547 million lei in 2012, of which 400 million lei are earmarked for the Nabucco pipeline to bring Caspian gas to Europe, in which the Romanian company is a shareholder, Ghidiu said.
Sale Plans

The Balkan nation plans to select a manager for the sale of stakes in Transgaz and power-grid operator Transelectrica SA (TEL) by August this year and complete the offerings by the end of the year, Victor Cazana, the Economy Ministry official in charge of the sales, told reporters in Bucharest today.

“I know the state wants to sell the 15 percent stake by the end of the year, but it usually takes five or six months to select the sale managers, so I’m not sure that the year end target can be met,” Ghidiu said.

Transgaz rose 2.3 percent to 266 lei as of 2:46 p.m. in Bucharest trading, valuing the utility at 3.1 billion lei.

To contact the reporter on this story: Irina Savu in Bucharest at isavu@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James M. Gomez at jagomez@bloomberg.net

Romania Gets Six Bids to Manage Petrom Sale, Ministry Says

The Romanian Economy Ministry received offers from six bidding groups for managing the sale of a 9.8 percent stake in OMV Petrom SA (SNP), the Economy Ministry said today in an e-mailed statement in Bucharest.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS), JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM), Morgan Stanley (MS), UBS AG (UBSN), Nomura Holdings Inc. (8604) and Renaissance Capital have formed groups with Romanian brokerages and banks as they seek to win the tender to manage the Petrom stake sale, the ministry said.

Romania, which values the stake in the country’s largest oil company at 500 million euros ($698 million), plans to sell the shares by the end of June, to raise money for investment, Economy Ministry official Victor Cazana said today in Bucharest. The Balkan nation also plans to sell stakes in utilities Transelectrica SA (TEL) and Transgaz SA by the end of this year and will select managers to handle the sales after completing the Petrom transaction, Cazana said.

Romania will probably pick a manager for the Petrom sale in two weeks, after assessing the bids, Cazana said.

Petrom’s shares rose 1.8 percent to 0.39 lei in Bucharest trading today, valuing the oil company at 22.1 billion lei ($7.4 billion).

To contact the reporters on this story: Andra Timu in Bucharest at atimu@bloomberg.net; Irina Savu in Bucharest at isavu@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James M. Gomez in Prague atjagomez@bloomberg.net

Romania Meets Bailout Terms as Boc Defeats No-Confidence Motion

Romania has passed the last piece of legislation needed to meet the terms of its international bailout as Prime Minister Emil Boc defeated a no-confidence motion tied to changes to the labor law.

Boc, whose governing coalition has a majority in the 470- seated Parliament, defeated the first attempt by the opposition to oust him in 2011 and the fifth since the beginning of last year by 24 votes, Roberta Anastase, the president of the chamber of deputies, said yesterday. The outcome automatically approves the labor law, which introduces contracts for temporary workers and increases sanctions for illegal employment.

“The current changes to the labor law protect the ones who work honestly and will help create hundreds of new jobs,” Boc told lawmakers before the vote. “In the second half of the year, we’ll be able to reduce social-security contributions to encourage the companies to hire more people.”

Romania, whose economy went through the worst recession on record over the past two years, passed the 2011 budget, a revised pension law and a law setting this year’s wages to curb public spending, narrow the deficit and satisfy the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, which provided a 20 billion-euro ($28 billion) bailout loan in 2009.
New Loan

The labor law amendments were the last legislative changes required by creditors under the current agreement. The Balkan nation plans to obtain a new 5 billion-euro precautionary loan from the lenders in April.

Opposition parties plan to challenge the legislation in the Constitutional Court, Crin Antonescu, the leader of the Liberal Party, told reporters after the vote.

The ruling coalition, facing elections next year, has lost public support over the measures taken to keep the bailout funds flowing. President Traian Basescu on Feb. 15 said that Boc’s Cabinet needs “another governing style” to “boost the economy, not just get it out of the crisis.”

Media including news service Mediafax, newspaper Gandul and private television stations Realitatea TV and Antena3, have cited unidentified people as saying that Boc may resign after the vote to pave the way for a new government backed by the same ruling coalition.

“I think the prime minister will be changed before the internal elections of the DemocraticLiberal Party in May,” said Adrian Moraru, an analyst at the Institute for Public Policies in Bucharest, in a phone interview. “I think he will probably resign, that’s the simple way, as the President wants to refresh the government after taking all the hard measures.”

About 8,000 people protested in front of the Parliament building yesterday, demanding Boc’s resignation, according to riot police data.

“What we started today doesn’t end here,” Bogdan Hossu, leader of Cartel Alfa, an umbrella group for unions that includes more than 1 million state employees, said at today’s protest. “We started gathering signatures to organize a general strike of all the public sector.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Andra Timu in Bucharest at atimu@bloomberg.net; Irina Savu in Bucharest at isavu@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James M. Gomez in Prague atjagomez@bloomberg.net

FT: Winds of fortune blow through Romania

By Chris Bryant in Fantanele, Romania

Published: March 16 2011


A chill breeze whistles through the tiny village of Fantanele in south-east Romania. But far from begrudging the winter gusts, its residents are grateful.

The reason is evident on the horizon, where scores of towering turbines turn in the wind – part of the first stage of a 600 megawatt wind park, the largest land-based project in Europe.

In wealthier parts of Europe, wind turbines are often an unwelcome blight. But the people of Fantanele will fight to have them built.

In addition to producing 2.5MW of clean electricity, each of the 120 turbines installed so far at Fantanele by CEZ, a Czech energy group, generates an annual windfall of €3,000 ($4,175) for the owner of the soil on which it stands. For local people, many of whom subsist on an income of little more than €100 a month, these are winds of fortune.

Fantanele is at the vanguard of a wind energy boom sweeping Romania that could deliver substantial benefits for a recession-hit economy that was forced to seek a €20bn bail-out by the International Monetary Fund in 2009.

“People were sceptical at the start because of the disturbance during building and worries that their crops would be damaged,” says Gheorghe Popescu, Fantanele’s mayor. “But now they are very pleased, and many come and ask if they will make the wind park bigger so a turbine will also fall on their land.”

European energy companies, among them Spain’s Iberdrola , EDP Renováveis of Portugal and Austria’s OMV/Petrom, are rushing to develop wind projects in Romania, attracted by the favourable winds, large areas of unpopulated land and a generous system of government incentives.

“[Romania] is one of the last places in Europe where you can find all these attractive conditions together,” said Dana Duica, executive director of the Romanian Wind Energy Association.

Romania, which joined the European Union in 2007, initially lagged behind other members in developing wind energy. But from a base of only 14MW in 2009, it last year added 450MW of turbine capacity and will build an estimated 700MW in 2011.

However, an incident in the nearby village of Cogealac has underscored the intense competition for prime wind sites, as well as the determination of competing local, regional and national interests to gain a slice of the riches.

Last summer security staff guarding the construction site for the next phase of CEZ’s wind farm fired rubber bullets when protesters, some carrying clubs, tried to invade it. Cogealac’s mayor, who organised the protest, said CEZ did not have permission to build. It emerged he had instead issued building permits to a project owned by Iberdrola, the Spanish utility. CEZ, meanwhile, had obtained its permits from the county council.

After unsavoury headlines, CEZ and Iberdrola calmed the tension, signing a pact that should eventually allow both companies to begin construction. “It doesn’t make sense for two large companies to fight about locations in any village in Romania,” says Ondrej Safar, CEZ project chief. “The area is big enough for both companies.”

The government estimates Romania’s wind-generated potential at as much as 14,000MW – the most in south-east Europe. But the electricity grid can accommodate only 4,000MW of new capacity, so much will depend on upgrading the network.

Only then will more villages such as Fantanele enjoy the windfall.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Romania Transelectrica wants bigger stake sale

BUCHAREST, March 16 (Reuters) - State-owned Romanian power grid operator Transelectrica (TSEL.BX: Quote) wants the government to eventually sell more shares to increase the market free float, its head was quoted as saying by state news agency Agerpres.

The government plans to sell a 15 percent stake later this year and Transelectrica is proposing it sell another 10 to 12 percent after that, Stelian Gal was quoted as saying.

"We have proposed listing an additional package of 10 to 12 percent on the bourse, after the planned listing of the 15 percent package," Gal said.

A plan to sell more shares in Transelectrica needs government approval.

Romania plans to sell minority stakes in top oil company Petrom (SNPP.BX: Quote), controlled by Austria's OMV (OMVV.VI: Quote), power and gas utilities Transelectrica and Transgaz (TGNM.BX: Quote) and gas producer Romgaz, which is not listed.

The government aims to raise some 2.9 billion lei ($970.2 million) this year and next on the Bucharest bourse, as agreed with the International Monetary Fund in exchange for aid. [ID:nLDE70I1YJ]

Romania currently holds 73.7 percent of Translectrica and a further 13.5 percent is owned by Fondul Proprietatea (FP.BX: Quote), an investment fund set up to compensate people whose assets were seized under communist rule. ($1=2.989 lei) (Reporting by Ioana Patran; Editing by Greg Mahlich)

Schengen row puts Romania corruption back in focus

Tue, Mar 15 2011

By Sam Cage

GALATI, Romania (Reuters) - The shakedowns at the Albita border checkpoint were by all accounts organized, routine and highly lucrative and sanctioned by the boss.

Each guard at the Romanian crossing with Moldova took up to 1,000 lei ($332) per shift, against an average monthly wage of just 1,426 lei, for turning a blind eye to cigarette smuggling or incorrect documents, anti-graft prosecutors said.

"The acts of corruption were not individually committed, but on the basis of a previous understanding between all participants," the prosecutors' office said after charging 40 Albita border guards last month.

"The amounts of money were regularly collected by the foremen and distributed at the end of the duty shift, an activity known and tolerated by the chief ..."

As Romania continues to be rebuffed in its efforts to join the European Union's passport-free Schengen zone, the problem of corruption has risen higher on the country's list of priorities.

But the fact remains that four years after joining the bloc, Romania has yet to convict a top official or minister, and in December France and Germany objected to its joining Schengen.

TOP LEVEL CORRUPTION

Graft, red tape and unwieldy judicial systems in Romania and neighbor Bulgaria are a major turn-off for investors worried about contracts and property rules. Bribing poorly-paid doctors or clerks to expedite services is a common practice.

Bulgaria and Romania are still the group's two poorest members and along with Greece rank as the worst three in terms of corruption.

"Romania was let in (to the EU) on the promise we would change from systemic corruption and Schengen is the last lever -- when this is gone, nothing else will be left," said Alina Mungiu-Pippidi of think tank Romanian Academic Society (SAR).

"You need customs officers to resist, you need to balance better the cost-benefit analysis. We pay them 200 euros ($279) per month, less than what one person gives them as bribe.

Romania has yet to enforce new criminal and civil proceeding codes to smooth prosecution and speed up court decisions.

Graft is the main reason Romania has used less than 10 percent of 20 billion euros in EU funds for improving outdated infrastructure, health and education systems, which require transparent and feasible plans and spending, analysts said.

Legislation has to be improved to cover insider dealings as well as simple bribery and new political challengers are needed as all main current parties have proved unwilling to address the situation, SAR said.

"Prosecutors have political will, but parties and the government do not," Mungiu-Pippidi said.

DISAPPOINTMENT

Romania insists it has met requirements for joining Schengen and say investigations of border officials, including sacking the customs chief show it is serious about rooting out graft.

"It does start to give a signal and should be welcomed wholeheartedly with the proviso that the media follows up and ensures that they go after those higher up as well," said Guy Burrow, partner at consultancy Candole in Bucharest.

"The spat is for the respective Franco-German domestic audiences, which is not to say there is not much more work to be done on the justice systems in Romania and Bulgaria."

On the Moldova border at Galati, south of Albita, officials how off recently installed infra-red and motion sensors and video surveillance, but prefer not to discuss graft.

"All our personnel were very closely verified on every occasion, every month, so we could enter Schengen," said Laurentiu Sandu, commander of a border patrol ship on the Danube. "We are a little bit disappointed because it was postponed, but the equipment is here."

At nearby Giurgiulesti crossing, guards search a trickle of cars and trucks for smuggled cigarettes and alcohol, which are considerably cheaper in Moldova, and illegal immigrants.

"From our point of view I can say we are ready to deal with Schengen requirements," said border post chief George Olaru.

Romanian Premier Seen Surviving Parliamentary No-Confidence Vote

Romanian Premier Emil Boc will probably survive the opposition’s latest attempt to oust him in a no-confidence vote as the government pushes through labor laws to meet the terms of its international bailout loan.

Boc’s coalition, which holds a majority in the 470-seat Parliament, will help him stay in power in today’s vote by refraining from casting ballots. Such an outcome would automatically approve a labor bill that introduces contracts for temporary workers and increases sanctions for black market labor.

“Mathematically speaking, the no-confidence has very low chances of passing especially if the members of the ruling coalition don’t vote,” said Cristian Parvulescu, a political analyst at the Bucharest-based group Asociatia Pro Democratia.

Romania, whose economy went through the worst recession on record over the past two years, passed the 2011 budget, a revised pension law and a law setting 2011 wages to curb public spending, narrow the budget deficit and satisfy the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, from which it secured a 20 billion-euro bailout ($28 billion) in 2009 to stay afloat.

Boc asked lawmakers to pass the labor law in three days without debates, in a fast-track process. This enabled the opposition, which failed in four similar votes last year over public wage cuts and tax increases, to file the no-confidence motion.
Fast Track

The government wants fast-track approval of changes to the labor law to make the legislation more flexible. The law, agreed with the IMF and the World Bank, would also insure higher social protection for employees.

The ruling coalition, facing elections next year, has lost public support over the measures taken to qualify for the bailout and President Traian Basescu said on Feb. 15 that Boc’s Cabinet needs “another governing style” to “boost the economy, not just get it out of the crisis.”

Media including news service Mediafax, newspaper Gandul and private television stations Realitatea TV and Antena3, have cited unidentified people as saying that Boc may resign to pave the way for a new government backed by the same ruling coalition.

“The internal struggle in the ruling party is really intense and all the eyes are focused on that right now, after the president launched the debate about replacing Boc,” Parvulescu said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Irina Savu in Bucharest at isavu@bloomberg.net; Andra Timu in Bucharest at atimu@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James M. Gomez at jagomez@bloomberg.net