Thursday, June 30, 2011

Romania's child brides

Theme: Early marriage: what is the right age to become a woman? sponsored by Plan UK

guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 29 June 2011

The many bars around the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid attract an eclectic mix of people, ranging from tourists to locals, all engaging in ebullient conversations over a glass of sangria. 35 year-old Maria is a different kind of local. Every day she makes her way through the enthusiastic crowds of tourists, armed with a cardboard sign stating her plea and a plastic cup, into which every once in a while a generous figure drops a cent or two. As most Romanian Roma, Maria has been earning a living from the flourishing begging business in Europe.

Although not a child bride herself, the issue of early marriage runs deep in her community and family. "Girls get married at 15, sometimes at 10. My daughter got married at 13 and she now has a little girl. Her in-laws married her off, without us being there. I don't know her husband very well. I only remember him as a little boy but well, his father came and took her so I didn't really have a say. She has a house, a good husband… I never had a house".

Host to the biggest community in Europe, estimated at around 2 million people, Romania is no stranger to the harsh reality of the often romanticised Roma life. The majority live below the poverty line, in inhuman conditions and face poor chances for personal development. For many Roma, early marriage is a relief from economic hardship but culture often precipitates the process. Virginity is an "asset" that families customarily trade for substantial sums of money, so marriage is arranged as early as possible in order to preserve the girl's "desirability". Tradition can be taken to extremes, as exemplified in the highly-publicised case of 5 year-old Marghioala from Ramnicelu, who became engaged to a teenager, 11 years her superior. "That way we can all be sure that no other boy touches the girl", the parents explained to journalists from AFP.

For Marghioala, school will never be a priority. It is rare for any Roma child to attain formal education but according to Maria, whose four children are illiterate, it is particularly difficult for girls. "Girls don't go to school. They don't need to because they are not supposed to work". According to the Roma Inclusion Barometer 2007, commissioned by Open Society Foundation, a staggering 90% of Roma had not reached high-school, while 23% had no education whatsoever. A 2010 report by Project for Roma Inclusion in Services for Early Child Development states that the four times higher than national average infant mortality rate and maternal death are also consequences of early marriage.

Poverty, lack of employment and the cultural inferiority of women in these societies have transformed domestic violence into an every-day reality that girls accept submissively. In a small Roma settlement in the village of Bencecu de Jos "women suffer greatly", as one woman reluctantly admits to Adevarul, a local newspaper. After one too many drinks, men savagely beat their wives and then force them to sleep outside in the freezing cold. They all live in appalling conditions, with no running water or electricity and extreme isolation has given way to incestuous relationships. One such case saw a 14 year-old girl marrying her paternal uncle, but local authorities claim that not even the police know how to handle the situation.

International exposure has been faltering since 2003 when 14 year-old Ana Maria Cioaba, daughter of self-proclaimed Roma king, stormed out of the church only to be dragged back in by her father. Intense scrutiny from UK media and the firm stance of Baroness Emma Nicholson on the issue prompted the otherwise passive Romanian authorities to intervene by demanding the separation of the newlyweds until both reached the legal age for marriage.

British media coverage has also attracted the attention of NGOs, although currently only a handful of charities focus on women development. In Timisoara, Letitia Mark, president of Roma Women Association "For our children", has been developing project FEMROM which aims to educate and integrate women. She admits that when it comes to early marriage, there is a vacuum of information. "Statistics, studies… I don't think there are any. It's a very sensitive topic".

In line with most activists, Letitia believes that change should come from within the Romanian society. "There should be more involvement at an institutional level, especially from Child Protection agencies. Government bodies and religious organizations should also have a bigger role in protecting children. This issue can no longer be dealt with in theory. There is a need for it to become an objective in practice, one that is under constant monitoring of authorities".

Despite the absence of projects tackling early marriage, those that target Roma discrimination seem to abound to no avail. As the Decade Watch for Roma Inclusion 2010 report suggests, most pilot programs are never developed nationally due to "lack of political will". In the foreword, Iulian Stoian of the Roma Civic Alliance of Romania states that "the real problem for the Roma minority is the gangrene of the systemic discrimination they are subject to". The Romanian press in particular, fosters hostile attitudes towards inclusion, especially through its representation of early marriage.

Bridging the gap between the two communities might be a first step in finding a solution, as there is no denying that specific Roma issues are a catalyst for early marriage. In order to achieve complete eradication of such practices, the Romanian society needs radical reform that would eventually benefit minorities as well. Without it, the involvement of international organizations will continue to register limited success. A slow transition is preferred in the interest of both parties.

However, during the dilatory manoeuvring of the government around the numerous projects proposed by the international community, thousands of girls will have to accept what Maria's daughter, Marghioala and the women of Bencecu de Jos have always seen as a duty; "That's our custom. That's what we do. There is no other way".

EC to Extend Financing of Bulgaria-Romania Danube Bridge II

Sofia News Agency

The European Commission will allow a 2-year extension of the construction of the bridge across the Danube set to connect Bulgaria's Vidin and Romania's Calafat.

The so-called Danube Bridge 2, financed by EU's Instrument for Structural Policies for Pre-Accession (ISPA), was set to be completed by October 2010, but has been delayed due to technical difficulties.

Wednesday the Bulgarian Ministry of Transport announced that it is going to receive the official 2-year extension until October 2012 from the European Commissionwithing weeks.

63% of the construction work on the bridge, which will facilitate traffic from Central Europe to Greece through western Romania and Bulgaria, are reported to have been completed.

57% of the infractructure adjoining the bridge are also said to be completed, with a total of EUR 38 M paid for the project.

In April the Spanish FCC company, which has been contracted to build DanubeBridge 2, was given a permit to extract construction materials; the lack of such a permit is named one of the major reasons behind the delay.

New labor code boosts employment in Romania

As many as 527,000 employment contracts have been signed in Romania since a new labor code took effect in May, Prime Minister Emil Boc said Tuesday.

Boc, speaking at a local economic meeting, said the contracts were important for helping Romania to exit its recession.

The new labor code allows more flexible contracts and part-time employment, and imposes heavy fines and even jail for employers hiring people without signing contracts.

The jobless rate in Romania stood at 4.97 percent at the end of May, 0.44 percent down from April. The rate had surged to 8.39 percent in March 2010 -- the peak since the financial crisis.

Source: Xinhua

AP: Romanian anti-corruption agency requests probe into the wealth of an opposition lawmaker

BUCHAREST, Romania - An anti-corruption agency in Romania has requested a probe into the wealth of an opposition lawmaker.

The National Integrity Agency says Wednesday that it noted a difference of €300,000 ($427,000) between the wealth and the income of lawmaker Cristian Rizea in 2009-2010.

The agency monitors public officials' wealth. It says it also noticed suspicious bank transactions worth about €900,000 ($1.28 million).

Rizea on Wednesday rejected the allegations, saying the agency's move is politically motivated to discredit him because he criticized the government. He says he borrowed €300,000 three years ago and returned it a few months ago.

Rizea is being investigated by anti-corruption prosecutors in a separate case involving European Union funds

Romania plans major selloffs under IMF-led aid deal

Wed, Jun 29 2011

BUCHAREST, June 29 (Reuters) - Romania's centrist coalition government has pledged to sell minority stakes in major energy and transport companies by the end of this year and appoint private managers by January under its new IMF-led aid deal.

The country's revised aid letter to the International Monetary Fund, released on Wednesday after a successful review of its 5 billion euros aid package last month, also said the privatisation process will continue in 2012 with more firms.

Most of the selloff plans have been around for years, but successive governments have put privatisation on hold due to labour and political pressure and analysts will watch closely to see if the government makes good on its intentions.

In its outdated, investment-hungry energy sector, the government aims to sell 15 percent stakes in power and gas grid operators Transelectrica ROTEL.BX and Transgaz ROTGN.BX and unlisted gas producer Romgaz.

It also plans to sell 20 percent stakes in flag carrier Tarom and rail freight carrier CFR Marfa, which will be sold entirely at a later date pending market conditions.

For all of these firms, Romania must select legal advisers by mid-July, investment banks for initial public offerings by end-September and complete the sales by the end of the year.

Also, these and other state-owned companies must have private managers appointed by the end of January 2012, a move expected to boost their efficiency. So far, all top company jobs were granted politically.

ARREARS

Romania must also start the process of listing minority stakes in 2012 in its hydro and nuclear power producers, Hidroelectrica and Nuclearelectrica, aiming to complete the sales by the end of March and June, respectively.

The government's IMF letter did not specify how much it estimated it will gain from the selloffs. Earlier this year it estimated energy listings could raise some 2.9 billion lei on the Bucharest bourse.

The government also has until mid-July to come up with concrete plans to lower state-owned companies' arrears, which are a major burden on Romania's fragile economic recovery, and which IMF mission chief Jeffrey Franks has said totalled some 4-5 percent of gross domestic product.

The measures will include moving non-viable firms into bankruptcy, increasing share capital to provide resources to pay arrears and in some cases using privatization proceeds or debt to equity swaps to extinguish them, the cabinet's letter said. (Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Bernard Orr)

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

NYT: MOVIE REVIEW

MOVIE REVIEW
Aurora (2010)

Cristi Puiu is the dark, mysterious Viorel in “Aurora,” which is set in present-day Romania.
Following in the Shadows Of a Very Shadowy Man

By MANOHLA DARGIS
Published: June 28, 2011

When the central character in “Aurora” begins eyeballing another person — turning his shiver-inducing gaze on a complaining co-worker, on a salesgirl who anxiously laughs out of turn and even on a child who innocently returns his look — he seems like a man possessed. His eyes lock and the whites catch the light, shining without revelation. You may think you’re in Charles Manson-ville. (It’s only Romania.)

For the most part, Viorel, the character played by the film’s director,Cristi Puiu, doesn’t explain or, for that matter, bother to do much talking. Mr. Puiu also directed the 2005 festival favorite “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu,” by turns a deadly serious comedy and comically deadpan drama about a broken-down man in a broken-down society dying alone among a veritable crowd of people. That film felt like a relative talk-a-thon compared with “Aurora,” a quiet, steady burn filled with stretches of unsettlingly reverberant silence cleaved in half by a midpoint eruption of violence. Here there is before, and then there is after.

The movie opens on a man whose name, like so much else in the story, is held back from you for a relatively long time even as he and his world come progressively into focus. For the next hour or so the camera closely tracks the man, Viorel, and brings to mind the nominally objective style of those fly-on-the-wall documentaries in which the camera hovers near subjects without conspicuous commentary, seemingly following rather than predicating (or predicting) the action: Viorel idles in one apartment and then another, smokes, drives a car, smokes some more, buys groceries and steadily, imperceptibly unnerves you. As in such documentaries, Mr. Puiu’s fingerprints are all over “Aurora,” evident in both style and sensibility.

Money counts here for starters, and it’s notable that shortly after the movie begins a woman who appears to be Viorel’s lover discusses the price of a dress with him (a satiny chartreuse number bought by a different man, suggesting that there’s another lover or sugar daddy in the background). A short while afterward, Viorel (a metallurgical engineer) visits a factory where he lurks about, ducks out of the view of one worker and retrieves money from another. After passing the cash over, this man carpingly implies that Viorel doesn’t believe his excuses, an outwardly innocuous comment that leads to a near-comic, uneasy conversation with a shudder of violence. Not long after, Viorel buys a shotgun and a little later fires it.

Like Viorel, a thickly set man who at times moves as if through a heavy fog, the film unwinds deliberately if not slowly, its rhythms those of someone going about the business of an apparently unremarkable life. In some mainstream movies, the rhythms can be so obvious you can keep the beat with your tapping toe as you play along with the three-act structure (calm, crisis, resolution). In “Aurora,” Mr. Puiu thwarts various narrative (and rhythmic) expectations, reversing or avoiding many familiar rules, including psychological explanation for what happens. When some clarification finally arrives, it’s about as illuminating as the shrink’s yammering about why Norman Bates done it in “Psycho,” which is the point.

This is the second film in Mr. Puiu’s projected cycle, “Six Stories From the Outskirts of Bucharest,” a series about love, morality and human relations. (The cycle’s title refers to Eric Rohmer and his “Six Moral Tales.”) He has said he sees “Aurora” as something of a counterpoint to “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans,” the 1927 F. W. Murnau lyrical classic.

“Murnau’s film is about his hopes concerning the relationship between a man and a woman, what that should be,” Mr. Puiu explained in one interview. “This film is about what I think is the relationship between human beings.” He added that he doesn’t “know what real life is like outside Romania, but in Bucharest, where I live, relationships are pretty brutal.”

That may make “Aurora” sound like a dirge rather than a song, when it’s not. Clocking in at an engrossing, immersive three hours, the movie is a mystery about the human soul. It’s brutal in its particulars, with dreary streets, bleak houses, stray and (maddeningly) barking dogs and the grim, hard faces of men and women wearing masks bequeathed to them by Ceausescu. Yet the film is also marked with oddly funny, touching exchanges that waver between the ridiculous and the tragic (a mother chastising her child so harshly that she becomes absurd) and that are more generous about people than Mr. Puiu’s tough talk may suggest. His stare may seem at times pitiless, but there’s compassion in his insistence on looking.

AURORA

Opens on Wednesday in Manhattan.

Written and directed by Cristi Puiu; director of photography, Viorel Sergovici; edited by Ioachim Stroe; produced by Anca Puiu and Bobby Paunescu; released by the Cinema Guild. At the IFC Center, 323 Avenue of the Americas at Third Street, Greenwich Village. In Romanian, with English subtitles. Running time: 3 hours 1 minute. This film is not rated.

WITH: Cristi Puiu (Viorel), Clara Voda (Gina), Valeria Seciu (Pusa), Luminita Gheorghiu (Mioara), Catrinel Dumitrescu (Mrs. Livinski), Gelu Colceag (Mr. Livinski) and Valentin Popescu (Stoian).

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

IMF Says It Approved $683 Million Precautionary Disbursement to Romania



The International Monetary Fund approved a $683 million stand-by payment to Romania after the Balkan nation trimmed spending to keep its budget deficit below the target set under a precautionary loan.

The IMF board of directors agreed to make the funds available as the government met the first-quarter budget-deficit target and approved an increase in natural gas prices for factories as of July, the Washington-based fund said in an e- mailed statement today. Romania doesn’t plan to draw on the disbursement, instead treating it as “precautionary,” according to the statement.

“The authorities are on track to meet their fiscal targets for 2011,’” John Lipsky, acting managing director of the IMF, said in a statement. “Further efforts are now needed to implement deeper and challenging structural reforms in the state-owned enterprise sector in order to secure the economic gains from earlier reforms and enhance opportunities for investment and growth.”

The east European country plans to borrow money from domestic and international markets to fund its budget deficit and attract investors through sales of energy stakes to help spur its recovery after using bailout funds to keep the economy afloat during a two-year recession. The government seeks to sell minority stakes in the country’s largest oil company OMV Petrom SA (SNP), natural gas producer Romgaz SA and its utilities Transgaz SA and Transelectrica SA (TEL) this year and next to finance infrastructure investments.
International Bailout

Romania, which had relied on a 20 billion-euro ($28.6 billion), two-year international bailout until this year, obtained a precautionary agreement with the IMF and the European Union valued at 5 billion euros. The agreement aimed to provide a safety net during Europe’s sovereign-debt crisis, and Romania doesn’t plan to draw money from the new agreement as it has sufficient reserves. Instead, the credit will act to reassure investors, the government has said.

The government narrowed its budget deficit to 5.2 billion lei ($1.75 billion) at the end of March. That met the 6.3 billion lei target set under the new agreement, compared with a shortfall of 8.2 billion lei in the same period of last year, after it cut public wages and froze pensions since July 2010. The government plans to reduce Romania’s deficit to within 3 percent of GDP in 2012.

To contact the reporters on this story: Irina Savu in Bucharest at isavu@bloomberg.net; Timothy R. Homan in Washington at thoman1@bloomberg.net

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

IMF completes first review of Romania loan program

WASHINGTON, June 27 (Reuters) - The International Monetary Fund on Monday approved the first review of Romania's performance under its 24-month precautionary IMF loan accord, saying the country had made a "strong start".

The fund agreed to disburse 481 million euro ($683 million) under the 3.5 billion euro accord signed in March, although noted that the country did not intend to draw down any of the funds.

"All program targets were met underscoring the authorities' commitment to continued reform," the IMF said in a statement.

The IMF said inflationary pressures were stronger than expected due to a rise in global food and fuel prices and noted the authorities had responded by changing monetary policy to a tightening bias.

"Early policy action could be needed to ensure that inflationary expectations and second round effects are well contained," the IMF said.

The fund said Romania was on track to meet its fiscal target for 2011. It urged stepped-up efforts to ensure that the deficit target of 3 percent of gross domestic product was reached by 2012. 
(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton;editing by Sofina Mirza-Reid)

Friday, June 24, 2011

Report faults Romanian legal system for Roma housing discrimination

dw-world.de

A report by Amnesty International finds that the Roma minority in Romania lacks legal protection from forced evictions, and that Roma families are often left in sub-standard housing conditions with no chance for redress.

Romania's legal system has failed to prevent a pattern of forced evictions for Roma, leaving them in sub-standard housing next to garbage dumps and sewage plants, according to a report published by Amnesty International on Thursday.

"The human right to adequate housing is not recognized or adequately protected in Romanian law," Amnesty researcher Barbora Cernusakova told a press conference in Bucharest. "This can affect every citizen, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized ones."

The report, entitled "Mind the Legal Gap: Roma and the Right to Housing in Romania," cites a number of cases in recent years in which Roma families were forced out of their homes and sent to "temporary" housing units on the margins of society, or left homeless.

In one such case, some 75 Roma were evicted from a building in the center of Miercurea Ciuc, about 260 kilometers (162 miles) north of Bucharest, in June 2004. According to the report, "local authorities resettled them in metal cabins next to the city's sewage plant on the outskirts of the city," where they are still living today.

Lacking legal framework

The root of the problem of inadequate housing for Roma lies in Romanian law, the report says.

While legislation defines physical requirements for housing, it does not refer to location, such as "access to health care services, education, employment and other social services - or proximity to hazardous environments." Where the courts or anti-discrimination bodies should provide Roma with a means of redress, these systems lack the power to hold the government accountable.

Fotis Filippou, a Romania expert with Amnesty International, said another problem was that segregation was not prohibited by law.

"As a result, a lot of these resettlements took place in segregated areas, or with intention by local authorities to segregate Roma on the outskirts of cities," he told Deutsche Welle.

Filippou added that local and national authorities often take no responsibility for the housing problems that Roma face - which may be related to the widespread discrimination against the minority.

"Often housing is not seen as something that authorities have the responsibility to deal with," he said. "It is definitely not seen as a human right... We have often felt that authorities do not feel that there's an obligation to these people."
Europe-wide problem

Roma in Romania constitute one of the largest Roma communities in Europe. Estimates of the population range from 535,000 to two million. Amnesty International cites government statistics as saying that up to 75 percent of Roma live in poverty, compared with 24 percent of the general population.

Data collected by human rights groups show that some 5,000 Roma have been evicted over the last few years, according to the Roma rights group Romani CRISS.

Filippou said the discrimination against Roma is not unique to Romania, but that it occurs across Europe and in various areas of life, not just access to housing.

"This is something that the Romanian government must address," he said. "At the same time, what is necessary is not just a change of mentality, but a change in policy and concrete measures for Roma people to be able to enjoy access to services, and to be able to get out of the cycle of poverty and marginalization."

Author: Andrew Bowen
Editor: Susan Houlton

EU waives immunity of Romanian MEP Severin over corruption scandal

23 JUNE 2011 

BRUSSELS (BNO NEWS) -- The European Parliament on Thursday waived the parliamentary immunity of Romanian MEP Adrian Severin who is involved in a corruption scandal unveiled by a British .

Members of the European Parliament voted to waive Severin's immunity in order to allow an investigation into the corruption scandal which was unveiled by the Sunday Times newspaper last March.

"I welcome the decision of the European Parliament on regards to my parliamentary immunity as it will open an investigation after months of unfounded accusations and lies," told Severin to the state-run Agerpres news agency.

The MEPs remarked that the decision did not represent any opinion on the guilt or otherwise of the Romanian MEP until a final judgment is passed. Severin is accused of passive corruption and/or influence peddling.

On March 21, the Romanian National Anti-Corruption Department began proceedings against Severin over the accusations indicating that he accepted a bribery offer from a fake lobbying company, Taylor Jones Public Affairs, set up by the Sunday Times.

Between December 2010 and March 2011, Severin allegedly accepted an offer for a €100,000 ($142,730) payment and requested payment of an initial installment of €12,000 ($17,120) for services rendered, in exchange for his support in the European Parliament for a draft amendment to a directive on deposit-guarantee schemes.

After the accusations were unveiled, Severin, a former deputy prime minister in Romania, suspended himself from the Social Democratic Party (PSD) and left the party's group in the European Parliament but did not step down from his MEP seat.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

AP: Romania to elect mayors in one round rather than in run-off system

BUCHAREST, Romania - President Traian Basescu has approved a law changing the way mayors are elected in Romania.

Basescu says Wednesday he approved the law in which mayors will be elected in one round in a first-past-the-post system, replacing the current system where there are runoffs in towns where no candidate managed to get more than 50 per cent of the votes.

The law was voted by Parliament on May 31. Supporters of the change say the new law saves money because there is only one round of voting.

However, opposition politicians say it will strengthen the hand of the ruling Democratic Liberal Party and its junior partner, the party representing the interest of Romania's 1.4 million ethnic Hungarians.

Romania's next local elections are scheduled for 2012.

EBRD, IFC Lend $165 Million to EDP Renovaveis Romanian Wind Farm

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and theInternational Finance Corporation will lend 114.8 million euros ($165 million) to wind farms that EDP Renovaveis SA (EDPR) is developing in Romania.

The EBRD and the World Bank’s private-sector lending unit are each lending 57.4 million euros to Cernavoda Power SA, a company majority-owned by EDP Renovaveis, to co-finance the building and operation of the Dobrogea area wind parks, the EBRD said today in a statement. Further terms weren’t disclosed.

The institutions will keep 42.2 million euros for their own accounts and syndicate 15.2 million euros each to a group of commercial banks, the EBRD said. It also said this is the first investment and project financing by the EBRD and IFC in clean energy in Romania, which is seeking to boost renewable energy production to meet European Union goals.

EDP Renovaveis, the renewable energy unit of Portugal’s biggest power company, is developing the 138-megawatt Cernavoda I and II wind farms. The Cernavoda I facility is operating and the second phase is being commissioned. Each phase has a 69- megawatt capacity that together account for a quarter of Romania’s wind generation capacity, according to the EBRD.

To contact the reporter responsible for this story: Sally Bakewell in London atSbakewell1@bloomberg.net

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

President launches attack on ex-king, accuses him of responsiblity for Holocaust in Romania

By Associated Press, 
Thursday, June 23

BUCHAREST, Romania — Romania’s president has launched a stinging attack on the country’s former ruler, King Michael, accusing him of being responsible for the Holocaust in Romania, and calling him “a Russian lackey.”

In an interview on the B1 television channel late Wednesday, Traian Basescu said as Michael was head of state during the pro-fascist regime of dictator Marshal Ion Antonescu — prime minister from 1940 to 1944, during World War II — he should also be considered responsible for the death of some 280,000 Jews and 11,000 Gypsies.

In 1944, when Romania was allied with Hitler’s fascists, Michael staged a coup against Antonescu, and Romania switched sides to the Allies.

Basescu called Michael “a Russian lackey” in the interview, adding that his abdication — forced by Soviet-backed Communists in Dec. 1947 — was “an act of treason.”

In Nov. 1947, with the communists gaining a hold over Romania and the region — which led to the monarchs of eastern Europe moving to Western Europe — Michael surprised the government by returning to Bucharest after attending the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip in Britain.

A month later the Soviet-backed communist government told him if he did not sign his abdication, 1,000 Romanians would be executed. He abdicated on Dec. 31, 1947 and began a life of exile in Britain and Switzerland. His Romanian citizenship was restored in 1997.

Basescu’s comments stunned Romanians, who respect the former monarch, and praise his role in their history. Basescu’s stance echoed that of the communist era when Michael was belittled by the regime, and his role was downplayed.

Relations between Basescu and Michael became strained after the former king’s son-in-law announced he would run for president against Basescu in 2009 elections.

The president is embattled after his plans to reorganize Romanian territory were refused by opposition parties and an ethnic Hungarian party whose support the government needs to survive.

Michael, who will be 90-years old this year, is one of the few surviving World War II leaders and had good relations with the Jewish community when he was king.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Romania power stake may raise 80 mln euros

BUCHAREST, June 22 (Reuters) - The sale of a 15 percent stake in Romania's state-owned power grid operator Transelectrica could raise 80 million euros ($114.8 million) for the government, the head of the company said.

The company aims to sell an additional stake of 12 percent through a capital increase, Transelectrica head Horia Hahaianu told state news agency Agerpres. The sale of both stakes is planned to take place this year.

The government holds 73.7 percent in Transelectrica.

The sale is part of a government plan to raise some 2.9 billion lei ($979.7 million) this year on the Bucharest bourse, according to the terms of agreements with the International Monetary Fund and other lenders. .

Romania also plans to sell a 9.8 percent stake in top oil and gas firm Petrom , controlled by Austria's OMV , and 15 percent in state-owned gas operator Transgaz and in unlisted gas producer Romgaz.

Government plans to sell stakes in energy firms were postponed from 2010 to this year and President Traian Basescu said last month that listings could be delayed again if market conditions are not favourable.

Basescu also said the listings might take place towards the end of the year and the money raised will not be included in the 2011 budget. (Reporting by Ioana Patran; Editing by Louise Heavens) ($1=.6971 EURO) ($1=2.960 Lei)

Romania brings back its baroque past

Bach and Corelli hidden among the lost musical heritage of Transylvania
Mirel Bran
Guardian Weekly, Tuesday 21 June 2011

Kurt Philippi hunches over a table in his cramped office humming and scribbling notes. He looks as if he might have been sitting there for centuries, staring at the baroque scores he is trying to decipher. "I can transcribe some of them in a week or so, but others can take as long as three months," he says. "This work doesn't require a lot of knowledge but it takes a lot of patience to dig out the interesting scores."

Several thousand of these recently discovered manuscripts are held at the National Archives in Sibiu, a pretty town in Transylvania, centralRomania. Philippi, a music consultant to the Evangelical church and conductor of the Sibiu Bach choir, has set himself the task of saving this trove of baroque music. "After the end of the Communist dictatorship, a large part of Romania's German-speaking community emigrated to Germany and whole villages were deserted," he explains. "We decided to gather up all we could find among our church records. I had no idea of the treasures hidden here." His work has discovered a little known adaptation of the Pergolesi Stabat Mater, a Bach cantata arranged by the composer for the Lutheran church of Transylvania, works by Johann Sartorius, Knall, Corelli and a host of local composers.

The music has already been performed by the Ausonia ensemble, which features French, Belgian and Romanian musicians led by the Belgian harpsichordist Frédérick Haas. In May, Ausonia appeared in Bucharest and Cluj, Transylvania's main town, introducing Romanians to a forgotten part of their heritage.

"This is a prosperous region with lots of splendid churches," Haas enthuses. "When you go inside, even in small villages, you find magnificent organs, which means music, and where there's music there are bound to be scores to fuel our dreams. Some of the works on our programme have not been performed for 200 or 300 years," he adds.

Now there are only 1,400 Saxons in Sibiu. Philippi and his wife Ursula, an organist, are trying to resurrect the music that was once the pride of the region. "The scores we have discovered provide an understanding of the musical practice of that period," she says. "The music was written by schoolmasters in small villages. They composed and played this very refined music by candlelight. They were not doing anything revolutionary, but the scores we have found show that they were just as good as the learned music being played in western Europe. I feel like we've discovered a treasure trove."

Surrounded by manuscripts, Philippi continues his work transcribing notes from the distant past. "You see those boxes on the shelves," he says, pointing to walls covered in manuscripts. "In this office alone there must be about 1,000."

The task is laborious as each instrument has its own part and there was no overall score. If notes are missing, he must consult composers to fill the gaps. "Now is a good time to realise that a nation can reconnect with its history through music," Philippi says. "We're obviously not going to change the world with these scores, but when you see what beautiful music they were making in the villages 300 years ago, it gives you the strength to carry on." And carry on he will.

This article originally appeared in Le Monde

AP: Romanian opposition parties disagree with president's plans to divide Romania into 8 regions

BUCHAREST, Romania - Romania's two opposition parties tell President Traian Basescu that they disagree with his plans to divide Romania into eight regions, rather than 41 counties and the capital.

Crin Antonescu, who heads the Liberal Party, told Basescu at a Tuesday meeting that his plan to reorganize Romania was politically motivated because it would concentrate more territory in the hands of the governing party ahead of local and general elections.

Basescu accused the Liberals and opposition Social Democrats of opposing reforms.

Last week, an ethnic Hungarian Party in the coalition government said it will urge ethnic Hungarians to protest if a region based on ethnic lines is not recognized. Basescu does not agree with the party's demands.

Staff of popular Romanian satirical magazine quit

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — The editor-in-chief of a popular Romanian satirical magazine says he will quit to form a new publication after the weekly was sold to a pro-government investor.

Doru Bucsu wrote Tuesday that he and his team will start a rival publication as he does not trust Dan Adamescu, who bought the publication Catavencu for €880,0000 ($1.255 million) last week.

Adamescu's other newspaper Romania Libera "kisses the underwear" of the ruling Democratic Liberal Party and "shamelessly falsifies its sales figures," Bucsu wrote.

Bucsu, himself, had tried and failed to buy Catavencu.

Catavencu, which appears on Wednesdays, was launched after the 1989 anti-communist revolt. It mocks politicians and other public figures in witty articles and photo-shopped montages.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

FT: Romania: feeling the heat

June 20, 2011
by Stefan Wagstyl

The latest delay in reaching a deal on the crisis in Greece is beginning to hit confidence in nearby countries in south east Europe.

Even though the region’s markets have generally held up well in recent months, Romania’s leu has come under pressure in the last few days and fell by as much as 1 per cent against the euro on Monday. It later traded at 4.258, down 0.61 per cent, as traders across Europe watched anxiously for news from Athens.

The leu is now at its lowest since Janaury and the cost of insuring Romania’s bonds against default is at its highest for three months at 258 basis points. This is a long way short of crisis levels but is nonetheless a reflection of the nervous mood in the markets.

Eurozone ministers on Monday postponed a decision on a €12bn loan for Greece putting pressure on the Greek parliament to pass a key austerity package. The move hit the euro, which fell nearly 1 per cent against the US dollar, before recovering to trade barely changed at $1.432.

Stocks fell in Europe, including in central and eastern Europe, where shares as measured by the MSCI CEE index fell 1.2 per cent. Romanian equities dropped 0.3 per cent.

There are particular conerns in banking where Greek lenders control about 17 percent of assets. BNP Paribas SA said in a note on Monday that the leu was suffering “from contagion fears” because of the sizeablel presence of Greek capital in banking.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Romania, EIB in Talks to Secure Funds for Nabucco, EIB Says

The Romanian government has started initial talks with the European Investment Bank to get funds for state-owned natural gas grid operator Transgaz SA to help build the Nabucco Pipeline.

“It’s too early to discuss details of the possible financing aid, but I can say we have started discussions with the government about this, ’’ Millena Messori, head of the EIB office in Bucharest, said in an interview today.

Raiffeisen Bank International AG (RBI) said on June 8 that Transgaz will have to contribute as much as 50 million lei ($16.9 million) to Nabucco this year to cover operating and pipeline expenses and another 30 million lei next year. Nabucco is intended to transport natural gas through Europe from the Caspian region.

The Nabucco venture decided in May to postpone the start of construction until 2013.

The pipeline, a joint venture of Transgaz, Germany’s RWE AG (RWE), Vienna-based OMV AG (OMV), Budapest-based Mol Nyrt., Bulgargaz EAD and Ankara-based Boru Hatlari ile Petrol Tasima AS, is designed to carry gas more than 3,900 kilometers (2,400 miles) from Turkey to Austria to reduce European dependence on Russia.

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

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

Romania to sell Petrom stake by end-July

BUCHAREST, June 17 (Reuters) - Romania plans to sell a 9.8 percent stake in its top oil and gas company Petrom , majority owned by Austria's OMV , by the end of July, Economy Minister Ion Ariton said on Friday.

The sale is part of a government plan to raise some 2.9 billion lei ($971 million) this year on the Bucharest bourse, according to the terms of agreements with the International Monetary Fund and other lenders. .

"We're in an advanced stage and probably towards the end of July the transaction will be made," Ariton was quoted as saying by state news agency Agerpres.

"The price will be approved by the government after consultants finish their evaluation."

Romania owns a 21 percent stake in Petrom. Fondul Proprietatea , an investment fund set up to compensate Romanians whose assets were seized under communism, owns another 20 percent.

The group advising on the secondary public offering of shares is made up of Renaissance Capital Limited, EFG Eurobank Securities, BT Securities and Romcapital SA.

Officials have previously said the sale was expected to fetch more than 500 million euros ($718 million).

Other planned sales include 15 percent stakes in state-owned power and gas utilities Transelectrica and Transgaz and in unlisted gas producer Romgaz. ($1=2.988 Lei) ($1 = 0.696 Euros) (Reporting by Radu Marinas; Editing by Erica Billingham)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Ethnic Hungarians threaten to quit Romanian government over refusal to create Hungarian region

By Associated Press
June 15

BUCHAREST, Romania — An ethnic Hungarian party is threatening to topple the Romanian government by withdrawing from the coalition if a plan to reconstitute the country into regions isn’t revised.

A dispute over how Romania should be divided has flared up over the past week, after President Traian Basescu failed to back proposals to create a new region incorporating a mainly Hungarian area in central Romania.

Last Friday, Basescu said he wanted to divide Romania into eight regions rather than 41 counties and the capital, to give the regions more administrative autonomy from Bucharest.

Ethnic Hungarians want a region, called Szeklerland, cut along ethnic lines in central Romania, uniting three counties where they are in the majority — a desire that Basescu failed to satisfy.

Critics have warned that the creation of a Hungarian-dominated enclave in the heart of Romania could lead to demands for territorial autonomy in a part of the world that is already home to several separatist movements from Moldova to Bosnia.

Basescu’s plan prompted the Union of Democratic Hungarians in Romania, the party that represents Romania’s 1.4 million ethnic Hungarians — in a total population of 22 million — to threaten to quit the government unless Szeklerland is included in the plan.

“It must be clear that there will be no support from us on such a project,” said party leader Kelemen Hunor, who is also Romania’s culture minister. “If (the project) goes forward without our support, it means we’ll have a problem in Parliament, there will not be a majority.”

That could lead to the collapse of the government since the two opposition parties, the Liberals and Social Democrats, are bitterly opposed to Basescu, who has been president since 2004, and his Prime Minister Emil Boc.

Another Hungarian leader Sandor Tamas, told online newspaper Gandul.info that Hungarian churches and others were preparing for “civic disobedience” if the region is not recognized.

“If this cannot be solved politically, we will be forced to turn to civic disobedience....More precisely, this means we will stage a peaceful protest.... And if that does not solve it, we’ll see,” he added.

Romania’s Hungarian community mainly live in Transylvania region in central and west Romania and enjoy broad minority rights. Since 2001, they have been allowed to use their native tongue in local administration in areas where they are more than 20 percent of the local population.

Since six people died in 1990 during ethnic clashes in the year after the revolution, relations between the two groups have been smooth especially since both Romania and Hungary are now members of the European Union and NATO.

However, an economic downturn, a weak government in Bucharest which needs the support of the ethnic Hungarian party to survive, and upcoming elections have led to friction between Romanian and ethnic Hungarian politicians. Romanian opposition parties say the government has made too many concessions to the Hungarians, while the ethnic Hungarians want more concessions.

____

Alina Wolfe Murray in Bucharest, Romania, contributed to this report.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Romanian FM Says Relations With Moldova Much Improved

http://www.rferl.org
June 11, 2011


BUCHAREST -- Romanian Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi says the European Union no longer suspects Bucharest of promoting a "hidden agenda" in regard to Moldova, RFE/RL's Moldovan Service reports.

Baconschi, whose country has been accused by Moldova's former communist government of plotting to annex it, told RFE/RL in an interview that relations between Bucharest and Chisinau are back to "normal" after almost two years of pro-European reforms pursued by Moldova's center-right government.

He said the EU is again asking for Romania's expertise on Moldovan issues, suggesting that Bucharest was marginalized by Brussels in the past over the communist government in Chisinau's complaints.

Baconschi said that while his country does not have the ambition of taking direct part in the 5+2 negotiations aimed at resolving the dispute over Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region, Romania opposes a resolution that would result in the federalization of Moldova.

The negotiations -- which include Russia, Ukraine, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the United States, and the EU -- are due to resume on June 21 in Moscow after a five-year break.

The federalization solution for Transdniester, known as the "Kozak memorandum," was first proposed by Russia in 2003 but was not adopted. It offered the separatist authorities in Transdniester the option to declare independence if Moldova ever chooses to rejoin Romania.

Most of Moldova was part of Romania until World War II, when it was occupied by the Red Army and made a Soviet republic.

Baconschi said he has no official information about whether federalization will be a part of any future 5+2 talks. But he added that federalization itself would not guarantee the territorial integrity and suzerainty of Moldova, which Bucharest strongly supports.

Transdniester, where some 60 percent of the region's 530,000 people are either ethnic Russian or Ukrainian, declared independence in 1990 and fought a brief war against Moldovan troops in 1992




Mihai Carciog, founder of Romanian post-communist newspapers, TV stations dies

By The Associated Press
BUCHAREST, Romania — Mihai Carciog, one of the founders of Romania's post-communist free press, who successfully launched newspapers and television stations, has died. He was 70.

Friends say Carciog died in Vienna on Sunday, where he lived. For the past decade, he had battled pancreatic problems.

Carciog, was widely respected and popular with journalists and politicians alike because of his noninterference in editorial matters, discreet manner and lack of political ambitions.

He founded weeklies Expres and Expres Magazin in 1990, Romania's most successful daily Evenimentul Zilei in 1992 and private television stations Tele7 abc and Neptun TV.

In 1998, he sold Evenimentul Zilei to German media group Gruner + Jahr, the first Romanian media transaction to a foreign company.

FT: Eastern Europe pushes back euro adoption

By Neil Buckley, East Europe Editor

Published: June 12 2011

Ask Traian Basescu, Romania’s president, when the country plans to join the euro, and his answer is adamant. The target date is still 2015.

Scratch the surface, though, and the target seems to function mainly as a useful fiscal straitjacket in case Romania’s coalition government, facing elections next year, is tempted to throw money around.

Mr Basescu makes clear that even if it can meet the fiscal criteria for membership by mid-decade, Romania will look hard at whether it is fit to join.

“It’s relatively easy to reach the budget deficit and inflation objectives,” he told the Financial Times. “But at that moment you have to look at how competitive your economy is.”

Beyond Romania, most central and eastern European states are quietly pushing back their likely entry dates.

Poland, having abandoned a previous target date of 2012, has recently been pushing back expectations of a mid-decade target towards the decade’s end, leaving itself maximum wiggle-room.

Jacek Rostowski, finance minister, said last month that the country might not join before 2019.

Viktor Orban, Hungarian prime minister, has said it is “not conceivable” to join before 2020. The Czech Republic is increasingly smug in its long-standing caution on the euro.

“When a 100 per cent unified European market still does not exist ... when the weaker euro states must subsidise the richer ones, and when it is not clear how it will turn out for the euro, it is truly not an appropriate time to join,” Petr Necas, the Czech premier, told the FT.

Even Lithuania and Latvia, leading euro-enthusiasts, are sounding more cautious about when they will be ready to join.

The result is that the next wave of new euro entrants, previously expected by mid-decade, could come several years later.

No country is talking about not going in at all – even if Václav Klaus, the Czech president, suggested last autumn that its government should negotiate an opt-out.

All 12 states that joined the European Union since 2004 are legally obliged to join, although they must meet the entry criteria first, giving some flexibility on the timetable.

Three – Slovakia, Slovenia and, since January 2011, Estonia – are already in.

But the spread of the eurozone crisis from Greece to Ireland and Portugal has over the past year highlighted the pitfalls of membership, and the need for deep reforms of the bloc’s governance.

Eastern European states have also observed the examples of countries that remained outside.

Two that kept control of exchange rates – Poland and the Czech Republic – were among the least badly hit by the financial crisis, and the fastest to pull out.

Poland preserved competitiveness in 2008-2009 as the zloty’s real exchange rate fell 20 per cent. In contrast, Latvia, which had pegged its currency to the euro, had to undergo a painful “internal devaluation”, lowering real wages and prices – just as Greece and Ireland are having to do now.

Marek Belka, Poland’s central bank governor, told a conference last month that the experiences of weaker eurozone members, and new EU members that tethered currencies to the euro, had dented Warsaw’s assumptions on the merits of membership.

Cheap and abundant capital inflows unleashed by fixed exchange rates had not produced more competitive, modern economies, as had been hoped, but had mostly gone into construction bubbles.

Even countries with “sophisticated” fiscal policies, such as the low-debt Baltic states, proved unable to prevent excessive inflows from destabilising them.

Mojmir Hampl, vice governor of the Czech National Bank, told an Erste Bank debate that euro membership had in many cases not stimulated reforms, but made it possible to “borrow like a thrifty German and spend like a profligate Greek”.

“Nobody knows how the eurozone will look in the future. It’s hard to set the date of the wedding if you don’t know what the bride might look like,” Mr Hampl said.

Additional reporting by Jan Cienski

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Romania's 5-Year Bond Draws Strong Demand From U.K., U.S.

LONDON -(Dow Jones)- Romania's five-year, EUR1.5 billion bond issued Thursday (yesterday)drew strong demand from both U.K. and Ireland and U.S., as investors sought out emerging European euro debt away from Europe's periphery.

The bond attracted more than EUR3 billion of orders and sold at 99.794% of face value, to yield 5.298%, pricing at the tight end of initial guidance, despite a choppy day in European markets as developments in Greece's debt crises continued to unfold.

Erste Group and Societe Generale SA were bookrunners on the deal, which is the first of two planned syndicated bonds from Romania in 2011.

The bond priced the same day two other European sovereigns, Latvia and Iceland, also got deals away.

All three were rocked by the financial crisis and forced to request international aid.

"There were two dollar deals yesterday [Thursday], so this Euro deal might have stood out for that reason but also it appealed to investors wanting to buy emerging European euro debt away from the usual suspect Euro periphery countries like Portugal and Greece," said a Societe Generale syndicate banker who worked on the deal.

U.K. and Irish investors snapped up 30% of the bond, while U.S. investors bought 40%, data from the lead managers showed.

German and Austrian investors bought 8%, as did buyers in central and Eastern Europe, while Benelux investors bought 5%.

Greek bank units in Romania well capitalised-cbank

By Luiza Ilie

BUCHAREST, June 10 (Reuters) - The Romanian subsidiaries of Greek banks are well capitalised and funding from mother banks accounts for only a little over a third of their liabilities, central bank Deputy Governor Cristian Popa said on Friday.

The units also have enough state debt on their portfolios to secure refinancing from the central bank or the interbank market to compensate for any potential downsizing in capital from their mother banks in the short term, Popa said.

Romania's leu EURRON= hit its lowest since March 17 earlier this week and some dealers had cited increasing pressure because Greek bank subsidiaries were striving to pull in hard currency.

Greek lending in central and eastern Europe is concentrated mainly in Romania and Bulgaria, both struggling to recover from sharp economic contractions and most exposed to any scaling back in funding as Greece's banks shore up their own finances.

"For Greek banks subsidiaries, these funding lines (from mother banks) are 35 percent, so some 4.1-4.2 billion euros," Popa told reporters on the sidelines of a financial seminar.

He said a recent leu currency softening against the euro was part of a regional move and not related to Greek banks' units operating in Romania. Some of the Greek banks with units in Romania are: Alpha Bank (ACBr.AT), National Bank (NBG) (NBGr.AT) and EFG Eurobank (EFGr.AT).

"We do not see significant withdrawals of deposits or capital from Greek bank subsidiaries," Popa said.

Almost 70 percent of credit lines were stable, with a maturity of over a year, Popa said. Funding lines from mother banks for the entire banking system accounted for 5.7 percent of liabilities, "a modest figure".

The leu was trading 0.2 percent higher on the day at 4.15 per euro by 1045 GMT, erasing some losses earlier in the week.



GREEK EXPOSURE

Banks with Greek capital make up about 30 percent of assets in the Bulgarian banking system and 17 percent of Romania's.

"As long as subsidiaries in Romania generate about a quarter of profits at group level I think it is pretty clear mother banks want to support their subsidiaries," Popa said.

Greek subsidiaries had a solvency ratio of 15.7 percent at the end of March, Popa said, above that of the overall banking system. He did not rule out the possibility of selloffs of subsidiaries further down the line.

"We think that these are good banks that if there ever is a shareholder transfer will be very interesting for potential shareholders," Popa said. "For now we have no indication that these banks might be sold."

Annual inflation ROCPI=ECI accelerated to 8.4 percent in May, but was below market expectations, and Popa said it may well quicken further in June. [ID:nLDE7590BR]

The central bank targets inflation at 2-4 percent this year and next, and its latest end-2010 forecast for price growth is 5.1 percent. It expects inflation to peak in June at below 9 percent, before falling gradually.

"I have reservations in saying that inflation has peaked in May," Popa said. "The figure is slightly better than expected. There's a possibility inflation will rise marginally by June."

(Editing by Ron Askew)

Romania Maintains Goal of 2011 Entry Into EU Visa-Free Zone

Romania still hopes to achieve its goal of joining the Schengen zone, which allows passport-free travel, this year, President Traian Basescu said.

The European Union Justice and Home Affairs Ministers Council said yesterday it will reconsider the bids of Romania and Bulgaria in September, if it sees an improvement from both Black Sea countries in the battle to overcome crime and corruption. The decision came a day after the European Parliament recommended the two countries’ applications.

“We are maintaining our goal to enter the Schengen area in 2011 and we’re waiting for a decision from the Council of Justice and Home Affairs in September on the entry timetable,” Basescu said in a speech today in Bucharest.

Bulgaria and Romania, which joined the EU in 2007, aspire to join eight other former communist countries that are already Schengen members. Their bids coincide with discussions in Franceand Denmark to reintroduce passport checks at their borders on concern about an influx of North African migrants through Italy.

Countries looking to join in the Schengen system, named for the Luxembourg village where the treaty allowing border-free travel was signed in 1985, need the unanimous endorsement of existing members, based on an assessment by the commission.

The European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, voted 487 to 77 in favor of the Bulgarian and Romanian applications before passing the recommendation on to the ministerial council. The assembly urged Bulgaria “to take additional measures,” including a special action plan with Greece and Turkey, to cope with a possible surge in migration pressure.

“Romania officially rejects the introduction of new entry conditions,” Basescu said today.

The two former Soviet-bloc countries spent 1.16 billion euros ($1.68 billion) to beef up their border police and equip them with patrol boats, helicopters, scanners and night-vision cameras to ensure the security of borders with Turkey, Serbia, Moldova and Ukraine and a stretch of the Black Sea coast.

To contact the reporter 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

Anger in Romania, Bulgaria at EU border decision

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romanians and Bulgarians were disappointed and angry Friday after an EU decision that keeps them out of Europe's borderless travel zone even though they met the technical requirements.

The move by EU interior ministers came amid increasing fears of illegal immigration and crime across the continent and put further pressure on the Schengen system of unfettered travel across 26 European nations.

French Interior Minister Claude Gueant said EU nations were concerned that "corruption may thrive in these (two) countries and thus can weaken the protection of the borders."

Romanian political commentator Stelian Tanase called the decision "the greatest foreign policy failure of the government in Bucharest in the last 20 years."

"Officials in Bucharest were telling us that we would get in, but it was just talk and no action," he told The Associated Press.

Romanian Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi summoned Dutch Ambassador Tanya van Gool after Thursday's decision because of the Dutch EU ambassador's comments that Romania's justice system was still unsatisfactory.

In Bulgaria, the English-language weekly Sofia Echo called the saga "an embarrassment for Sofia."

Bulgaria and Romania were given a cold shoulder by the EU ministers only one day after the EU parliament voted to let them in the Schengen system.

The Netherlands blocked the move by holding off on any decision, since there still was doubt whether Bulgaria and Romania were strong enough to assure effective control of the external border of the Schengen zone.

Romania launched a crackdown on customs officials and border police this year who are accused of turning a blind eye to cigarette smuggling, arresting about 180 people.

However, critics said the effort was too little, too late.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov said Friday he hoped "Dutch authorities will be open and honest and appreciate Bulgaria's and Romania's efforts to join Schengen."

Some Romanians said the decision was inevitable.

"We have no right to sulk because they rejected us," said Magdalena Miclaus, 42, who sells agricultural products. "With such incompetent leaders and such lazy citizens, that's what we deserve."

Friday, June 10, 2011

Romania and Bulgaria face Schengen entry delays

(Reuters) - Romania and Bulgaria face new delays in their aspirations to join the European Union's borderless travel zone after EU governments asked on Thursday for more evidence of their anti-corruption efforts.

EU interior ministers said at a meeting in Luxembourg both newcomers had met technical requirements for having their borders with older members brought down.

But they agreed to wait until at least September before deciding whether to admit Romania and Bulgaria into the Schengen zone, named after a village in Luxembourg where a deal to cut border checks in Europe was signed in 1985.

"We hope that in September we can take this (Romania's and Bulgaria's Schengen accession) to another stage," Hungary's interior minister Sandor Pinter, who chaired the discussions, told a news conference.

Reluctance among EU governments to expand the borderless zone comes at a time when hostility towards immigrants in Europe is fanning a debate over the limits of unrestricted travel.

France and Italy have asked in recent months to change the bloc's rules to allow for temporary restoration of internal borders, citing concerns over an influx of illegal immigrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea to flee violence in North Africa and the Middle East.

Some EU governments say corruption in Romania and Bulgaria also poses a security risk and want to see a European Commission report on improving their justice systems, due around mid-year, before deciding on admitting them.

"Some member states, for example Germany, have made it very clear that they would not support Schengen expansion if the report is negative," one EU diplomat said.

Romania and Bulgaria have struggled to convince their EU partners that judicial reforms are bearing fruit since they joined the bloc in 2007. Monitoring reports by the EU executive have regularly contained strong criticism of the countries, which had hoped to join Schengen in March 2011.

"It is too early to take a decision now, and it may take some time before we are in a position to do so," Dutch minister for asylum and immigration, Gerd Leers, said in Luxembourg.

"The Schengen system is based on mutual trust. We are asking new countries to effectively guard our collective borders."

The two countries, both on the Black Sea, lie on important routes for human trafficking and trading in illegal drugs and arms. They say they are doing what they can to combat abuse.

"I would be calmer if the Mediterranean border of Schengen was guarded so well as Bulgaria and Romania guard their Black Sea border," said a Bulgarian member of the European Parliament from the ruling centre-right GERB party, Andrei Kovachev.

Romania's 'oil mafia' a national threat



BUCHAREST, Romania, June 9 (UPI) -- An editorial in a leading Romanian journal has called the "oil mafia" a threat to national security.

Romania Libera said Thursday the "mafia" is a threat because dominates the country's energy market.

Romania joined the European Union in 2007 and Brussels has repeatedly expressed concerns about of corruption in the country.

Resignations on corruption charges are virtually unknown in Romania, and bribery scandals are so common that they rarely make international news. Romania Libera claims shady deals of the "petrol gray" market "discreetly span the entire country."

The implications of the corruption charges extend beyond Romania, as in August 2007 the Kazakhstan's KazmunyGas acquired 75 percent of Rompetrol's shares, Romania's largest corporation and the largest gas and oil producer in Eastern Europe, from its owner Dinu Patriciu for approximately $ 2.7 billion.

Despite such concerns, about two dozen international energy groups are fighting for the right to drill for oil and gas offshore of Romania's Black Sea coastline following auctions organized by Romania's National Agency for Mineral Resources. Bidders include ExxonMobil and Chevron, France's Total, Russia's LukOil Overseas, Spain's Repsol Exploracion, the Uniuted Kingdom's Melrose Resources, Kazakhstan's Rompetrol, Austria's OMV-owned Petrom, Romania's Romgaz and Hungary's MoL.

Read more: http://www.upi.com/Business_News/Security-Industry/2011/06/09/Romanias-oil-mafia-a-national-threat/UPI-39541307643222/#ixzz1Os7NUDJu

Thursday, June 9, 2011

European Parliament Approves Bulgarian, Romanian Schengen Bid

The European Parliament said Romania and Bulgaria have met the conditions to join the Schengen area and enjoy borderless travel in most of the European Union.

The Strasbourg-based assembly voted for the two Black Sea countries admission with 487 to 77 votes with 29 abstentions, the Parliament said in a statement today. Its decision will be passed on to EU justice and home affairs ministers meeting tomorrow in Luxembourg.

The two EU newcomers aspire to join eight other former communist countries that becameSchengen members in 2007, as the world’s biggest trading bloc expands its influence. Their bid coincides with discussions in France and Denmark to reintroduce passport checks at their borders on concerns about an influx of North African migrants through Italy.

“Illegal migration makes Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece one of the EU’s most sensitive external border areas,” the statement said.

Countries hoping to join in the Schengen system, named for the Luxembourg village where the border-free plans were hatched in 1985, need the unanimous endorsement of those already in, based on an assessment by the European Commission, the EU’s Brussels-based executive arm.

The Parliament urged Bulgaria “to take additional measures, including a special action plan” to be implemented, when it joins Schengen, together with Greece and Turkey to cope with a possible surge in migration pressure, the statement said.
Corruption, Crime

Some countries such as the Netherlands, France and Germany have said the two countries must “ensure the rule of law” and do more to overcome corruption and organized crime before joining Schengen. Meeting the technical criteria was not enough, Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Knapen said in Sofia on May 12.

“Bulgaria and Romania have met all the conditions to gain Schengen rights,” the Bulgarian government said in a statement today. “We have introduced the best practices investing enormous amount of energy and significant financial resources. Any delays in taking the respective decision would diverge from the established rules and create a precedent in regard to previous enlargements.”

EU’s Commission will in July issue its regular monitoring report assessing Bulgaria’s andRomania’s efforts at fighting crime and corruption, which will enable the countries opposing their entry to make a decision.

“We’re waiting for a positive signal from tomorrow’s discussions of the Justice and Home Affairs Council and for a more specific timetable for our Schengen entry this year,” Romanian Interior Minister Traian Igas said in an e-mail today.

The two former Soviet bloc countries spent about 1.16 billion euros ($1.69 billion) to beef up their border police and equip them with patrol boats, helicopters, scanners and night- vision cameras to ensure security of borders with Turkey, Serbia, Moldova and Ukraine and a joint stretch of the Black Sea coast.

To contact the reporter on this story: Elizabeth Konstantinova in Sofia atekonstantino@bloomberg.net

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

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Romanian Junk Rating Affirmed at S&P on Growth Outlook, Debt

Romania had its credit rating maintained by Standard & Poor’s at BB+, one level below investment grade, with a stable outlook, due to the country’s economic growth potential and moderate government debt.

The Balkan nation’s government is likely to continue trimming its budget deficit while a precautionary loan accord with the International Monetary Fund and the European Union will minimize fiscal-slippage risks ahead of a general election in 2012, S&P credit analyst Marko Mrsnik said in a statement today.

“If the government maintains the momentum of its current structural reforms, building a sustained track record of fiscal prudence and maintaining stability in the financial sector, we could raise the ratings,” S&P said in the statement.

Romania, which has taken two international loans from the IMF and the EU since 2009, will probably see an economic expansion this year, after its output shrank for two years, helped by western European demand for the country’s manufacturing products, including Dacia SA cars. The country is getting ready to tap international markets this week for the first time in more than a year to raise funds for its budget deficit, as it stops drawing money from international creditors.
Leu Gains

Romania’s leu, the third-best performer this year among more than 20 emerging-market currencies tracked by Bloomberg, fell 0.4 percent to 4.1720 per euro as of 1:15 p.m., while the Bucharest Stock Exchange’s benchmark BET index dropped 0.4 percent to 5540,32.

The Balkan nation took a 5 billion-euro ($7.3 billion) precautionary loan from the IMF this year to reassure investors it will maintain fiscal discipline ahead of elections next year and narrow itsbudget deficit to below 3 percent of gross domestic product in 2012.

“The 2011 deficit appears broadly attainable with continued adjustments in social welfare spending and public sector rationalization,” the S&P statement said. “Strengthening economic growth from 2012, if combined with spending prudence, should help to further reduce the deficit. However, we do not expect the government to fully meet its target without supplementary measures, which it may be reluctant to undertake in an election year.”

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 Economy Grew 1.7% in First Quarter as Recovery Continues

Romania’s economy expanded more than initially reported in the first quarter on surging exports boosted by demand from western Europe.

Gross domestic product rose 1.7 percent, the first annual growth in two years, compared with a 0.6 percent decline in the fourth quarter, theNational Statistics Institute in Bucharest said today in an e-mailed statement. The figure was revised from a preliminary estimate of 1.6 percent on May 13. GDP advanced 0.7 percent from the previous three months, the second quarterly expansion in a row, revised the 0.6 percent flash estimate.

Romania, which has taken two international loans from the International Monetary Fund and the European Union since 2009, will probably see economic output grow 1.5 percent in 2011, helped by western European demand for the country’s manufacturing products, including Dacia SA cars, according to government and IMF forecasts.

“Industry was the sector that posted the biggest growth rate of 10.1 percent in the quarter, while an improvement of net exports had a positive effect on GDP,” the institute said in the statement. “Internal demand dropped an annual 0.5 percent in the first quarter because of a 3 percent decline in total final consumption and lower government spending.”

The Balkan nation took a 5 billion-euro ($7.3 billion) precautionary loan from the IMF this year as it seeks to reassure investors it will maintain fiscal discipline ahead of elections in 2012. The government has raised taxes and cut public wages and benefits to narrow the budget deficit to within IMF-agreed targets.

Romanian industrial output growth slowed for the second time in six months in April because of low domestic demand, posting an annual increase of 6.3 percent after 7.4 percent in March, the statistics institute said in a separate e-mailed statement today. Output fell 0.2 percent on the month.

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 Signs Three Road-Building Contracts Worth $627 Million

Romania signed three contracts valued at 428 million euros ($627 million) with construction companies to build and design highways financed mainly by the European Union, Transport Minister Anca Boagiu said.

The ministry awarded a contract worth about 167 million euros to Austria’s Strabag SE (STR), while a group led by Italy’s Astaldi SpA (AST) won a contract of 147 million euros, according to an e-mailed statement today. Two private companies from Romania and Italy got the third contract worth 114 million euros.

“So far, we have organized auctions to award projects of 3 billion euros from the 5.7 billion euros the EU is giving us until 2013 to build roads and highways,” Boagiu said in the statement. “We plan to sign construction contracts for the remaining projects by the end of the year.”

The Balkan nation that joined the EU in 2007 has been using the EU money and other resources to upgrade its transportation system. The government plans to sell minority stakes in its utilitiesTranselectrica SA (TEL) and Transgaz SA and in the largest oil company OMV Petrom SA to gain funds for financing infrastructure investments.

Last month, Romania awarded five contracts valued at 693 million euros to Austria’s Alpine Bau GmbH, Italy’s Impregilo SpA and to three groups led by Romanian companies Spedition UMB and Romstrade.

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

Basescu: Romanian privatisation will kick start economy

June 7, 2011  by Neil Buckley
ft.com

Romania will launch a new round of privatisations in the coming weeks, offering minority stakes in half a dozen mostly state-controlled energy companies, says Traian Basescu, the country’s president.

The Romanian president told beyondbrics in an interview the new privatisations could become an “engine of growth”. After suffering one of the longest recessions in the European Union, Romania is searching for ways to kick start the economy.

The programme will include selling a 10 per cent stake from the government’s remaining 40 per cent holding in Petrom (SNP:BUH), the oil producer that is Romania’s biggest company, already controlled by Austria’s OMV (OMV:VIE).

It will also include 15 per cent stakes in state-controlled Transelectrica (TEL:BUH), the national power grid; Romgaz, the largest natural gas producer; and Transgaz (TGN:BUH), the gas distributor. And it will sell 10 per cent each of Nuclearelectrica, a nuclear generator, and hydropower company Hidroelectrica.

“We will sell important percentages on the market in the largest state-owned companies, before the end of the year” said Basescu. “The money obtained through these tenders will go into a development fund, it is not destined for consumption.”

Romania imposed brutal austerity measures after letting spending get out of hand in the boom years and having to turn to the IMF and EU for a €20bn bailout. It slashed public sector pay last year by a quarter and benefits by 15 per cent, and hiked value added tax by 5 percentage points.

With that kind of shock to domestic demand, some analysts warned growth would be slow to return.

But Basescu insists that after Romania finally emerged from recession in the first quarter – beating expectations with year-on-year growth of 1.6 per cent – the full-year outlook is better than previously thought.

“Our growth for this year was initially evaluated at 1.5 per cent,” he said, “but our objective is a minimum of 2 per cent growth.”

One reason for his optimism was that the outlook for the agricultural harvest was “unexpectedly good” – though fruit and vegetable farmers have been hit by the German E. coli scare.

Another factor was that Romania was finally improving its chronically slow absorption of €32bn of EU funds available to it after it joined the 27-nation bloc in 2007.

It had absorbed only 2.6 per cent of the available cohesion funds – to support infrastructure projects – at the end of 2010, but this had already improved to more than 10 per cent. It had also absorbed more than 20 per cent of agricultural funds.

“Large-scale infrastructure work will start from now, motorways, railways, modernisation – bids were just finalised,” the president said. Improving Romania’s backward transport network is seen as vital to avoid losing out to better-developed neighbours such as Hungary or Poland in the fight for a slice of an investment pie that is much diminished since the pre-crisis years.

Romania was complementing the EU-funded programme with a €4bn scheme, financed by commercial banks, to improve rural infrastructure, Basescu added.

The president admitted foreign investment had fallen in the first quarter from a year earlier, but suggested it had bottomed out and would now pick up.

With an almost missionary zeal, however, Basescu insists there is no alternative for countries that overextended themselves to putting their fiscal house in order.

“Of course I recommend to everybody to adjust their costs in order to achieve fiscal consolidation,” he said. Europe’s famed social model had to be driven by a dynamic and competitive market economy, not the other way round.

But what about the fact that he and Romania’s centre-right coalition have seen their popularity plunge as a result of the austerity measures?

“Sometimes politicians have to pay the cost if people don’t like the measures,” he said. “The problem for politicians is they can simply lose elections. But if a nation loses its momentum, it is extremely costly.”

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

EU's anti-corruption drive hits Bulgaria, Romania

Published: 07 June 2011
Published on EurActiv (http://www.euractiv.com)

The European Commission yesterday (6 June) unveiled its first ever proposal to address corruption at EU level. Meanwhile, pressure is growing on Bulgaria and Romania to tackle corruption and mafia crime as preconditions of their accession to the EU's Schengen borderless area.
Background

Corruption is estimated to cost the EU economy €120 billion per year. That is one percent of EU GDP and represents only a little less than the annual budget of the European Union.

According to the European Commission, corruption harms all member states and the EU as a whole, lowering investment levels, hampering the fair operation of the internal market and reducing public finances. Different forms of corruption are listed: political corruption, corrupt activities committed by and with organised criminal groups, private-to-private corruption or petty corruption.

According to specialists, the fight against corruption at EU level may in future help to reduce the risk of crises such as those seen in Greece and Portugal.


Cecilia Malmström, the EU's commissioner for home affairs, unveiled a set of measures to address more vigorously the serious harm that corruption brings to European societies – economically, socially and politically.

"While there are quite sophisticated legal frameworks at international and European level, we have seen that implementation among EU member states is very uneven. It is clear to me that there is not enough determination amongst politicians and decision-makers to fight this crime," Malmström said.

The commissioner announced the establishment of an EU anti-corruption reporting mechanism, capable of identifying "failures and vulnerabilities across the 27 EU member states".

"This EU Anti-Corruption Report will identify trends and weaknesses that need to be addressed […] It will be issued by the Commission every two years, starting in 2013, and be based on inputs from a variety of sources, including the existing monitoring mechanisms (by the Council of Europe, the OECD and the United Nations)," she said.

Distant objectives?

But while the 2013 objective may appear distant, the political mood may produce results sooner. Pressure is already growing for Bulgaria and Romania's accession to the EU's border-free Schengen area to be delayed, until the countries have brought to an end their perceived model of a criminal transition to a market economy.

When Bulgaria and Romania joined on 1 January 2007, shortcomings remained regarding judicial reform and the fight against corruption – and in the case of Bulgaria, the fight against organised crime. These shortcomings carried the risk that Bulgaria and Romania would not be able to correctly apply Community law and Bulgarians would not be able to fully enjoy their rights as EU citizens.

The EU established a monitoring mechanism to accompany the initial period of Bulgaria and Romania's accession, a first in the bloc's history. However, four-and-a-half years later, little improvement has been made and a decision to keep the monitoring mechanism in place for another year was adopted.

Last December, France and Germany were the first to ask for Bulgaria and Romania's Schengen accession to be linked to their ability to get rid of the monitoring mechanism. Technically, both Romania and Bulgaria have satisfied the criteria for Schengen accession.

Romania in particular reacted angrily, claiming that older EU members were being unfair. Legally speaking, the two issues are indeed unrelated.

The EU's justice and home affairs ministers are meeting on 9 and 10 June in Luxembourg to discuss the Schengen bids of Romania and Bulgaria. Reportedly, Paris and Berlin now have the support of several other older EU members, including Finland, the Netherlands and Denmark, for postponing their accession.

Unnamed diplomats were quoted by the international press as saying that it would be "a matter of years rather than months" before Romania and Bulgaria could join Schengen.

A diplomat told EurActiv that the biggest concern was that information in the confidential databases of Schengen could become available to the Bulgarian mafia.

A recent wiretap scandal illustrates the fact that Bulgaria has proven unable to secure confidential information. In addition, recently published WikiLeaks cables from the US Embassy in Sofia described Boyko Borissov, the country's prime minister, as a person with links to the country's deep underground.

The European Parliament will assess today whether Bulgaria and Romania are ready to join the Schengen passport-free zone. The Parliament's civil liberties committee says they are, but also stresses that MEPs must be kept informed of additional measures to be taken in the Bulgaria-Turkey-Greece area to deal with any surge in migration pressure.
Positions

Reacting to the announcement by Commissioner Malmström, Sarah Ludford MEP (UK), spokesperson for the liberal ALDE group in the European Parliament, said that corruption had long been "the elephant in the room," with much awareness of its presence but too little discussion of what to do about it.

Ludford said the European Parliament was going to debate Bulgaria and Romania's entry to the Schengen border-free area today (7 June).

"The [Parliament] is set to approve their accession because they meet current criteria, but is examining in parallel a strengthened Schengen assessment mechanism which would encompass corruption, organised crime and judicial independence," she said.

"The accession to the EU of countries with a weaker tradition of law enforcement means the EU must bolster its defences. It is no longer credible to exclude mafia-type crime from analysis of fitness to join the EU and Schengen," Ludford concluded.

Transparency International (TI), the global coalition against corruption, welcomed the adoption of the new European Union-wide anti-corruption package announced by the European Commission. It considered it to be a first step in responding to the issue of corruption in the EU.

It is hoped that the new reporting tool may help reduce the risk of crises such as in Greece and Portugal in future. It may also assist in the assessment of a country's public finances for international aid packages, as currently undertaken by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank, TI said.

However, in the long run, there is an urgent need for a more comprehensive anti-corruption strategy encompassing all EU policies, the group stated.

British MEP Timothy Kirkhope, spokesperson for the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, said he accepted that Bulgaria and Romania might have met the technical standards for entry into the zone, but he would raise concerns as to whether the standards used to measure readiness were now outdated.

He said he would argue that stronger standards to ensure there was no danger of corruption on Europe's borders were needed.
Next Steps
9-10 June: Justice and Home Affairs Council in Luxembourg to discuss stricter Schengen rules and Bulgaria and Romania’s accession to the border-free area.

Links
European Union
Commission: Commission fights corruption: a stronger commitment for greater results
Commission: Commission steps up efforts to forge a comprehensive anti-corruption policy at EU level
Parliament: Report on the draft Council decision on the full application of the provisions of the Schengen acquis in the Republic of Bulgaria and RomaniaNGOs and Think-Tanks
Transparency International: Transparency International welcomes new European Commission anti-corruption packagePress articles
HotNews, Romania: Dutch Ambassador to the EU: I do not believe Romania has a rule of law
FT: EU ready to set date for Croatia to join bloc
Dnevnik, the EurActiv partner in Bulgaria: Борисов - в огледалото на американските посланици
Dnevnik, the EurActiv partner in Bulgaria: Борисов в Wikileaks: На българския премиер трябва да му се казва какво да прави
Dnevnik, the EurActiv partner in Bulgaria: Премиерът за докладите в Wikileaks: За никого не са написали нещо хубаво (допълнена)