Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Why has Romania got such a bad public image?

BBC News Magazine

The Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta has defended his country after a wave of negative reporting about it in the UK and elsewhere in Europe. Why does it have a bad public image?

Of course, it had to be Romania.

You could almost sense the relief for some when, in the midst of the horsemeat scandal, the finger of blame was pointed at abattoirs in an eastern European state.

Now it made sense. Cue stock footage of Gypsy horse and carts and knowing references to organised crime.

Except, of course, there is no evidence that any horsemeat left Romania labelled as anything other than horsemeat.

But slurs about horsemeat are just the latest in a long line of public relations problems to have hit Romania.

Students and young professionals from Romania talk about living and working in the UK - and whether they plan to return home

The country's Prime Minister, Victor Ponta, has this week been forced to launch an all-out charm offensive over fears about a flood of immigrants when the EU opens its labour market to his country, and neighbouring Bulgaria, on 1 January 2014.

Headlines such as "The Mafia bosses who can't wait to flood Britain with beggars", "We want to get into your country before someone locks the door" and "An immigration calamity looms" have incensed Romanians living in the UK.

On Friday, the country's ambassador to London, Ion Jinga, claimed such "alarmist" and "inflammatory" coverage could lead to Romanians being assaulted in the street.

He argues that all the Romanians who want to work in the UK are already there, on work permits or self-employed.

In an article in the Times, the Romanian prime minister strikes a more emollient tone, inviting Britons to come and enjoy a "strong pint" in Bucharest's Old Town or a "quiet holiday" in the sleepy Transylvanian villages beloved by Prince Charles.

Improved job rates in Romania mean that "Britain can rest assured", he writes.

This argument cuts little ice with Migration Watch chairman, former diplomat Sir Andrew Green, who says the presence of a settled Romanian population in the UK is a "pull factor" that will encourage more to make the journey.

The press has seized on a report by Migration Watch claiming 50,000 Romanians a year will travel to the UK when working restrictions are lifted.

Migration Watch's chairman cites events from 2004, when the government grossly under-estimated the number of migrants that would travel from new EU states such as Poland. The government said there would be net immigration of between 5,000 and 13,000 a year. In fact, 2011 Census data showed the Polish population alone had risen in England and Wales from 58,000 in 2001 to 579,000 10 years later.

Romania has been trying to reshape its image for some time. The government has launched a number of advertising and PR campaigns in recent years aimed at improving the country's perception abroad.

In 2011, it launched a global "Why I Love Romania" poster campaign, trumpeting the achievements of famous Romanians such as tennis player Ilie Nastase, gymnast Nadia Comanenci and scientist Nicolae Paulescu, who discovered insulin.

Last year, it launched a campaign to attract more tourists to the Carpathian Mountains, which was much mocked in the Romanian press.
Did stories about horsemeat play up to prejudices about Romania?

And a Romanian ad agency, GMP, has produced tongue-in-cheek ads hitting back at, so far unfounded, claims that the UK is considering a campaign to deter Romanians from coming to the UK.

The proposed Why Don't You Come Over? campaign in Romania features slogans such as "We speak better English than anywhere you've been in France" and "Charles bought a house here in 2005. And Harry has never been photographed naked once."

The campaign slogan is: "We may not like Britain, but you will love Romania."

Ronnie Smith, a British business consultant based in Romania, says the UK "ought to be ashamed" of its coverage of Romania but he does not believe the country's government has the resources, or the will, to respond effectively.

"There is not a rebranding campaign. There should be but there won't be, not to the extent that's needed," he says.

Romania's image problem may even be traceable to the late 19th Century, when travellers returned from Transylvania with tales of a strange, forbidding land, says Dr James Koranyi, a history lecturer at Durham University.

What about Bulgaria?

About 53,000 Bulgarians already live in the UK, with work permits or self-employed.

Bulgaria's ambassador in London, Konstantin Dimitrov, says: "We have identified elements of a negative campaign against Bulgarians and Bulgarian people - both those living in Bulgaria and those residing in the UK.

"We don't see any sociological basis for such exaggerated stories. They are either done for financial reasons or are a deliberate effort to misinform the British people."

"Just as Dracula sucked the blood of the young English women Mina and Lucy, so, too, are Romanians accused of taking British jobs and sucking the welfare state dry," writes Koranyi in an article for Open Democracy.

But most observers believe Romania's recent past, as a Communist dictatorship, looms far larger in the public mind.

For many people in the West, images of children abandoned in Soviet-era orphanages are the first thing they associate with Romania, says Liam Lever, a British journalist who writes for English-language Romanian news site Romania Insider.

Like other members of the growing expatriate British community in Romania, he believes outdated stereotypes are holding the country back.

"When you say you are going to Romania, people look at you with shock and horror, as if you are going to some place where there is no law and order and bandits roaming in the hills.

"The reality is something quite different."

Like its smaller neighbour Bulgaria, Romania remains one of the most corrupt countries in Europe, according to Transparency International, despite EU-inspired efforts to clean up its political system.

It has also been singled out for criticism by Amnesty International for its prejudicial treatment of the Roma community, who make up 10% of the country's population.

There is poverty in Romania but the economy is growing...

Little wonder, say critics, that the Roma have relocated in their thousands to other EU countries, including the UK.

There have been newspaper stories in the UK pointing to Romanian involvement in certain type of crime, with allegations that 92% of cash machine scams are carried out by nationals. Ten Romanian police officers were sent to London last year to help tackle begging and anti-social behaviour

But Romania's image as a violent "mafia state" among some commentators is far wide of the mark, its defenders point out.

Violent crime in Bucharest is among the lowest of any capital city in Europe, according to figures compiled by The UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

The country's economy is also growing faster than the UK and there are plenty of opportunities for entrepreneurs, according to the British business people based there.

Ambassador Jinga has said the 68,000 Romanians already living in the UK are the best advert for his country.

The vast majority are aged under 35 and are in highly skilled or shortage professions. Six thousand are studying at British universities.

Brought up on idealised images of the West, they are bemused, and in some cases, angry at the British media's portrayal of their country.

Unlike Poland, which forged close ties with the UK during World War II, Romania had few links with the UK before the fall of Communism.

"We do have very different cultures," says Carmen Campeanu, a project manager at the Romanian Cultural Centre, in Central London. "We are a Latin country. Statistics show Romanians would prefer to go to Italy or Spain or Portugal or even France."

Stefan Rusud, a 24-year-old management student, says the media storm over immigration has not changed his view of the UK, a country he has always regarded as "a temple of democracy".

Adrian Cherciu, who runs a business importing Romanian food, says he has had to put up with a lot of horsemeat jokes from his British friends in recent weeks.

But he is not worried by "anti-Romanian" press coverage, as it does not fit with his own experience as a British resident and, since 2004, the owner of Romani Online, a website for Romanians in the UK.

"There is no prejudice based on your colour, your religion or nationality," he says.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Romania Economy to Grow 1.6% in 2013 as Demand Rebounds, EU Says

Romania’s economy will probably grow 1.6 percent this year and expand 2.5 percent in 2014, driven by domestic demand, after output growth stagnated last year because of a drought, the European Commission said.

The Balkan nation will probably narrow its budget deficit to 2.4 percent of gross domestic product in 2013 from 2.9 percent last year under European accounting standards, the European Union’s executive arm said in a statement today.

“Benefiting from the expected acceleration in economic activity and based on the customary no-policy-change assumption, the deficit is expected to decrease further to 2.2 percent of GDP in 2014,” the commission said.

Romania’s economic rebound is gaining traction as the nation recovers from its worst recession on record, overcoming two years of stringent austerity measures. The country is on track to be among the fastest-growing economies among the EU’s newest members, trailing the Baltic nations of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

The country’s 2013 inflation rate is forecast to average 4.6 percent, Europe’s fastest, before falling to 3.3 percent on average in 2014 as gradual government deregulation boosts energy prices, according to the EU.

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

Friday, February 22, 2013

Agence France-Presse: Romania anti-gay activists stop show

Several dozen Romanian activists halted a show organized by a group defending the rights of homosexuals, triggering a sharp rebuke from the anti-discrimination body Thursday.

Brandishing Romanian flags, the anti-gay protesters booed and sang the national anthem and religious songs as the movie "The Kids Are All Right", telling the story of two moms living together, was about to start, witnesses said.

The policemen present in the hall did not intervene, so the screening was stopped, Irina Nita, head of the Accept rights group, told Mediafax news agency.

"We publicly condemn the homophobic incidents that took place Wednesday at the Romanian Peasant's Museum during the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) Month," the anti-discrimination council said.

Preventing such an event taking place "is a glaring violation of human rights and tarnishes Romania's image abroad," it added.

In November, several people were attacked in Bucharest by hooded young men after attending a show about gays.

Discrimination against homosexuals is still widespread in Romania where homosexuality was only decriminalised in the early 2000s.

An opinion poll conducted in 2011 shows that 73 percent of Romanians would not like to have a homosexual among their relatives and 45 percent among their work colleagues.

The Economist: Flag wars

A visitor to London would not expect to see a car sticker showing the British empire from India to Australia. A tourist in Paris would be equally surprised to see a map of France including Algeria and Tahiti.

Yet a decal of Greater Hungary is a surprisingly common sight on vehicles in Budapest. Before Hungary lost two thirds of its territories at the Treaty of Trianon in 1920, its borders, as part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, reached deep into present-day Romania, Slovakia, Serbia, Ukraine and Croatia.

Almost a century later, the scars of Trianon are still raw, which is why a diplomatic war has erupted between Hungary and Romania. Earlier this month, Titus Corlatean, the Romanian foreign minister, threatened to expel Oszkár Füzes, the Hungarian ambassador to Romania.

Mr Füzes had voiced support for the Székler people, a group of ethnic Hungarians who live in Transylvania, after two Romanian counties banned the display of the Székler flag (pictured above with men in hussar uniform) on public buildings. Zsolt Nemeth, Hungary’s state secretary for foreign affairs, described the ban as an act of “symbolic aggression” and called for local councils in Hungary to show solidarity by flying the Székler flag from town halls. The Hungarian government then raised the Székler flag above Parliament, further enraging Bucharest.

The Széklers have long demanded some kind of autonomy. Hungary says that the Romanian authorities should consider their request and work towards a solution. But the Romanian government flatly rejects the idea. Bucharest fears that autonomy for ethnic Hungarians would soon lead to a declaration of independence and the break-up of the Romanian state.

Romania is home to at least 1.5m ethnic Hungarians. Many in Romania, and other countries home to ethnic Hungarians, are already unhappy that the Hungarian government has granted citizenship to almost 400,000 Hungarians ‘beyond the borders’ as they are known in Hungary. The new Hungarians citizens can vote in the next general election, scheduled for spring 2014, thus intensifying accusations of ‘dual loyalties’.

Hungary rejects such claims, arguing that as the Hungarians beyond the borders are part of the Hungarian nation, they should have a say in its future. Hungary, they say, has no territorial claims on its neighbours. János Martonyi, Hungary’s foreign minister, who was himself born in Transylvania, has called for calm between the two countries, hoping that the “din of battle would subside”.

Yet it seems some nationalistic Hungarians in positions of power still regard the lands lost at Trianon as part of their fiefdom. Last May tension soared between Hungary and Romania after Laszlo Kövér, the firebrand speaker of parliament, spearheaded an attempt to reburythe remains of József Nyirő, a far-right writer, in his hometown in Romania. Nyirő was a former Catholic priest who served as an MP during the Arrow Cross Hungarian Nazi regime at the end of the Second World War and died in exile in Spain in 1953.

Nyirő’s remains were brought back to Budapest. His books are now included in the school curriculum. Hungarian officials said Nyirő’s writings should be separated from his politics, rather as Ezra Pound’s sympathy for fascism does not detract from the quality of his poetry.

The Romanian government did not agree. It denounced him as an anti-Semite and promptlybanned the reburial ceremony.It is now becoming clear that the dispute between Hungary and Romania over the Treaty of Trianon was only deep-frozen during the Communist era. More than twenty years after the change of system, democracy, it seems, has not brought more understanding between Budapest and Bucharest, but only more opportunities for populist gestures and unedifying squabbles.

Hungary and Romania face off over an ethnic dispute

For Bucharest, exchanging accusations with Hungary offers an opportunity to temporarily distract attention from its domestic situation. The country is emerging from the political crisis that engulfed it in 2012 caused by a dispute between Ponta and President Traian Basescu, writes Stratfor.

Stratfor is a Texas-based global intelligence company.

"In recent statements, Romanian Foreign Affairs Minister Titus Corlatean said relations between Romania and Hungary are currently complicated because of "mistakes" made by Budapest regarding ethnic Hungarians living in Romania.

Corlatean was referring to Hungary's decision to raise the flag of the Szekely Land -- the region where a subgroup of ethnic Hungarians live in Romania -- at the parliament in Budapest. This is the most recent incident, but the historical divisions between the two countries date back centuries.

Located between Central and Southeastern Europe, Romania and Hungary have a long shared history. Most of the territories of modern-day Hungary and Romania at one point were under Ottoman and later Habsburg rule.

The Carpathian Mountains are the main geographical feature in the region, and the official border between the two nations has repeatedly moved from one side of the mountains to the other since the Middle Ages.

The most recent significant redefinition of borders took place after World War I with the 1920 Treaty of Trianon, under which Hungary lost two-thirds of its territory to its neighbors, including Transylvania to Romania. As a result, Hungarians became the largest minority group in Romania.

According to the 2011 census, there are about 1.2 million ethnic Hungarians in Romania, making up 6.5% of the total population. Half the Hungarians living in Romania are Szekelys, a Hungarian-speaking subgroup living mostly in what is known as the Szekely Land, an ethno-cultural region in eastern Transylvania.

From the Middle Ages through the mid-19th century, the region enjoyed varying degrees of autonomy, until the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867 and several administrative reforms in the 1870s abolished all the autonomous areas in the Kingdom of Hungary, including Szekely Land.

After World War II, the Romanian government created a Hungarian Autonomous Region in the Szekely Land, which existed from 1952 until 1968 when the Communist government reformed the administrative divisions of the country to eliminate any identification of regions by ethnic or cultural divisions.

Following the fall of Communism, Romania's subsequent democratic governments preserved the administrative division of the country, which led to the creation of several initiatives by ethnic Hungarians who wanted to re-establish autonomy.

The political representation of the ethnic Hungarians in the country is fragmented, with three relatively small parties courting the votes of ethnic Hungarians. The largest of the three is the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania, a party that is often represented in parliament and has been part of governing coalitions.

The Democratic Union and other Hungarian groups staged peaceful demonstrations in Romania in 2012, demanding greater political decentralization as a first step toward autonomy.

Ethnic Hungarian minorities in Romania are often used as a political issue by the governments in both Hungary and Romania. Hostility to the Treaty of Trianon is at the foundation of Hungarian nationalism, which calls for the restitution of the territories that were lost after World War I.

Budapest also has used the ethnic minority issue as a lever to assert its influence abroad. In May 2010, the Hungarian Parliament decided to give ethnic Hungarians who live outside the country the right to claim Hungarian nationality as a second citizenship -- which potentially includes the right to vote.

This move caused tensions with Romania and Slovakia, which also acquired formerly Hungarian territory through the Treaty of Trianon and with it, a substantial Hungarian population.

On 3 February, Romanian officials in Covasna and Harghita counties (two of the three counties with a substantial Szekely population) banned the hoisting of the Szekely flag atop office buildings.

In response, Hungary's ambassador to Romania expressed his support for Szekely autonomy on national television. A few days later, Hungarian Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjen encouraged local governments to hang the Szekely flag in solidarity with the Hungarian minorities in Romania.

Romanian officials denounced these actions as interference by Hungarian politicians in domestic Romanian affairs.

Such tensions between Hungary and Romania are not unusual, and typically have not significantly hindered relations between the two countries. Hungary, for example, supported the entry of Romania into the European Union in 2007.

The two countries are also important trading partners. Indeed, some officials have attempted to downplay any strain in ties, with Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta on 18 February denying the existence of problems between Bucharest and Budapest.

However, the dispute over the Szekely Land comes at a unique moment. Both Hungary and Romania are feeling the consequences of the economic crisis in Europe. This is particularly true in the Szekely region, one of the poorest in Romania, making it particularly susceptible to political manipulation, from both Romanian and Hungarian politicians.

In this context, the appeal to nationalism is often a common strategy for governments under financial pressure. Hungary will hold general elections in 2014, and Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government is under pressure from the most nationalist forces in his own party, as well as from the far-right Jobbik party.

The Hungarian government is also hoping to attract the votes of ethnic Hungarians living in Romania, some of who are now legally allowed to vote in Hungarian elections.

For Bucharest, exchanging accusations with Hungary offers an opportunity to temporarily distract attention from its domestic situation. The country is emerging from the political crisis that engulfed it in 2012 caused by a dispute between Ponta and President Traian Basescu.

Romania had three prime ministers in 2012 amid protests over the country's economic situation and mutual animosity between the main political parties, and the situation only began to stabilize after the December elections.

To a large extent, the claims by ethnic minorities in Romania are largely intended to preserve their cultural identity -- the ability to teach their own language in schools or fly their own flags, for example. These issues alone do not represent an immediate threat to the territorial unity of the country.

However, the European crisis has strengthened regionalist sentiments that were previously dormant elsewhere, and Romania fears the quest for more cultural autonomy could escalate rapidly.

In addition, the European crisis is creating a fertile ground for the rise of nationalist parties that criticise the presence of "foreigners," which they consider both immigrants and minority groups in their countries.

It is this confluence of factors that makes the use of nationalist rhetoric in Romania and Hungary increasingly dangerous with the deepening of the economic crisis."

Monday, February 11, 2013

Romania Vows To Probe Horsemeat Claims

Romania says it will investigate whether it was the source of horsemeat in a growing European food scandal.

Romanian agricultural minister, Daniel Constantin, said on February 9 the government will ask the proper Romanian authorities to report on whether the country supplied any horsemeat for export.

"I asked for a report (regarding horsemeat export) and I don't want to comment before the president of the Sanitary-Veterinary Authority presents it to me. I hope to receive it today, and after that I will be able to give you more details. I hope to identify them (exporters) as soon as possible. In the end it is a matter of products control here, before they left for other EU markets."

Constantin said Romanian authorities would punish any violations if the reports are confirmed.

Horsemeat has been detected in some beef food products -- namely lasagne -- sold in France and Britain by the food giant, Findus. The company has begun pulling such products off the shelves of stores in Britain and France.

On February 9, British and French government officials promised to punish those found responsible for selling horsemeat in beef products.

French Consumer Affairs Minister Benoit Hamon said an investigation had found that the horsemeat had originated in Romania, although there were links with French, Dutch and Cypriot firms and a factory in Luxembourg.

British Environment Minister Owen Paterson said there could be more cases of tainted food as British retailers test more processed beef products for traces of horsemeat.

Analysts say the scandal could rock consumer confidence in Europe's giant food industry, with pressure rising for greater checks.

The fresh scandal comes less than a month after supermarket chain Tesco and the fast food outlet Burger King found horsemeat in beef burgers.

Romania’s Idled Mines to Reopen Amid Law Change, Minister Says

By Irina Savu & Andra Timu - Feb 8, 2013 

Romania, holder of coal, gold and uranium reserves, plans to reopen shuttered mines as investor interest grows, Economy Minister Varujan Vosganian said.

The government will draft a law in the next two weeks to allow coal and nonferrous-metal mines to resume operations, Vosganian said today in Bucharest. The legislation is also aimed at speeding up the mine-licensing process, he said.

Romania closed outdated coal and uranium mines after joining the European Union in 2007 because they failed to meet environmental standards. Investors have renewed interest in the nation’s mining industry as resources elsewhere become depleted.

New technologies and private funds may allow mines to reopen, according to Vosganian. “We’ve been noticing an increase in investor interest in the last two or three years,” he said.Gabriel Resources Ltd.’s Rosia Montana gold mine isn’t covered by the draft law and “needs to clarify its environmental criteria,” he said.

The country approved the suspension of 550 mines at the end of 2009, according to data from the Economy Ministry’s website.

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

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Bound to backfire: the British attempt to repel EU citizens

Bound to backfire: the British attempt to repel EU citizens

Tom Gallagher

Not welcome in Britain?

The campaign to deter Romanians from coming to Britain offers rare insight into how bureaucrats see their fellow British citizens, especially those from the lower orders. There is also striking ignorance of the Romanians and what they think will prevent them storming the channel. The advertising clip leaked recently presses home the message that not only the British weather is horrible but so are the British working classes especially when drink has been taken.

Well, the average Romanian male enjoys a drink or three and can get quite boisterous in the tavern, so no shock horror there. If the bureaucrats had been efficient they would have homed in on women below the age of 35 who have become one of the chief mainstays of the British drink trade and who often provide most of the bizarre open air 'entertainment' in town centres at weekends. By contrast, young Romanian women continue to be brought up to show a wary attitude to drink. It still doesn't prevent them being delightful companions who can relax without any artificial stimulants. They are (in my experience) also more hard-working and reliable than the average Romanian male.

It would take a lot to deter these plucky women but if it was pointed out to them that British streets after a certain hour of the evening are not always safe for women, it might do the trick. Back home, a woman will not think twice about walking up the equivalent of Leith Walk after midnight fully expecting no harm to befall her. For bureaucrats living in Dunblane or an outer London suburb, both facts are likely to come as quite a surprise.

Anyone who has travelled in the Balkans and caught sight of the often strikingly beautiful women and virile men will know that Britain is often a source of confusion to visitors from that part of Europe. Not to put too fine a point on it, the unforgiving Balkan verdict is that too often British women are rather manly while their menfolk often seem effeminate, that is when they can be told apart. Of course drawing attention to such matters violates the canons of political correctness and is not on for any bureaucrat who wishes to rise as far as the brilliant Sir Jeremy Heywood.

These days, the wise liberal elite has scant time for the bundles of superstitions that lie at the base of British Christianity. Surprisingly, they did not ram home the message to the Romanians that religion has had its day here and that moral instruction in schools will soon be offered through reading the secular homilies of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchins.

By contrast, religion is big in Romania after the ravages of communism; well over 90% are believers in God and sitting on a tram, winding through the streets of Bucharest on a Saturday evening, I soon ceased to notice as the teenagers en route to the disco blessed themselves as some of the city's numerous churches were passed.

Romanians are probably the least racist folk in Eastern Europe which is perhaps not saying a great deal. In communist times they got used to the numerous Third World students whom the dictator Ceausescu allowed in because he coveted their foreign exchange. Romania is one of the few countries in the region without a skinhead movement. Its people are bigoted in certain ways but colour is not usually a big issue for them. However, two groups are not well-esteemed: Muslims, because of the country's lengthy experience of Ottoman control; and, in particular, gypsies because of their anarchic cheekiness and often disorderly approach to life's everyday matters.

A lot of Romanians will not be thrilled if they find themselves in a country where the natives are expected to adjust themselves to the customs of high-profile minorities. Romanians, proudly patriotic though many are, usually wish to improve themselves when they settle down in a new land. They will be amazed if officials tell them that in order to feel at home they can slaughter the traditional Christmas pig in front of Braehead shopping centre or drive their wooden carts along the M8.

This clumsy attempt to deter fellow citizens of the EU from pursuing the British dream is bound to backfire. That world citizen Tony Blair actually turned up in the Romanian parliament in May 1999 and promised them that the gates of Europe would be flung open for them if they would help NATO in its confrontation with the Serbian ruler Milosevic over his ill-treatment of his Albanian subjects in Kosovo.

Not only did they comply, but they made huge economic sacrifices to prepare Romania for full membership of the EU in 2007. Britain was their chief sponsor and the 20 million Romanians were regularly told that their living standards would start to approach the EU norms if they swallowed the harsh medicine. Instead, it will take centuries for this to occur. They privatised their industry, abandoned their price subsidies and allowed massive economic dumping by powerful EU states only to find that they cannot make ends meet at home with derisory salaries. Their sleazy political elite allied to the British Liberals and Labour have been the only real local beneficiaries of membership.

Britain owes the Romanians and unless it wants to walk away from the EU, it cannot stop these people coming, however great their numbers. My ancestors were part of a similar wave 175 years ago during the Irish famine and, if truth be told, it would have been better if many of them had continued to America given the problems that persist down to the present such as over the lack of toleration for Catholic schools. It may be just as hard for the gypsy portion of the Romanian diaspora to settle down as past problems in Glasgow's Govanhill indicate.

Perceptive Romanians will realise that this is really no country for them at least in the long-term – unless, that is, Britain experiences a revolution, hopefully less bloody than the one Romania witnessed in 1989. The negative images of ordinary British folk in the publicity material devised by the civil service shows that the liberal gentry here despise their own people just as much as Ceausescu did his. Romanians should indeed pick Australia or Canada over Britain where the ordinary citizen still has more room to breathe than is the case here.

Tom Gallagher has been visiting Romania for almost a quarter of a century and has written three books about the country

Manners Please! Romania Is a Country Worth Staying Friends With

Tessa Dunlop
Historian, Writer, Broadcaster
Posted: 05/02/2013

Cabinet Minister Baroness Warsi made a half-hearted attempt on BBC Question Time (31 January) to refute the rumour that our government plans to actively discourage Bulgarian and Romanian immigrants from coming to the UK when restrictions are relaxed next year. But it was too late, the horse had already bolted.

Last week the idea crossed the continent in all its arrogant glory and Romanians duly responded with a dollop of humour. 'Half our women look like Kate. The other half, like her sister.' Under the slogan 'We may not like Britain, but you will love Romania. Why don't you come over?' the website gandul invited readers to contribute to a viral poster campaign enticing Brits to sample the delights of Romania. 'We have Dracula, you have David Cameron.' 'Charles bought a house here in 2005. And Harry has never been photographed naked once.' What else could they do? Romanians are used to coming bottom of the European pile. I know, I'm married to one. He lives in Britain, and is often told he 'sounds English' - lucky chap. For those back in Romania, life isn't as straightforward. Common obstacles include a 25% pay cut across the public sector, the lowest wages in the EU, endemic corruption and a shoddy infrastructure. Britain's xenophobic outpouring this week, driven by scaremonger headlines and Tory angst, is just the latest knock for a country that is desperately trying to find its feet.
Romanians are poor, but they are also well educated. It is a toxic mix. Believe it or not most don't want to leave their family, their friends, their culture, they do so because they are frustrated with the lack of opportunities in their homeland. Since the Revolution in 1989 its estimated three million workers have already left Romania. Britain was not their first port of call; more popular destinations include Italy, Germany, France and Spain (before the crash). In the last 20 years young educated Romanians have proved much more adaptable than their nation's sick, struggling economy. That this ex-communist country has already haemorrhaged huge numbers of people - so many, a Romanian politician wanted to pay them to come home - is 'good news' for anxious Brits. There might not be enough willing Romanians left for the predicted flood next year. But, anti-British campaign or not, there will be a trickle.
The idea that we can keep Romanians out by waggling our economic woes at a country where the average salary is scarcely 300 euros per month, (doctors are lucky if they get more than 400 euros) is deeply patronising. Our rain and recession can't argue with basic economics. Romania is broke, limping along on an IMF bailout; Britain is one of the richest countries in the world. Romania is lumbered with no democratic heritage, a mafia style political system and a closed-off communist past; Britain meanwhile boasts the 'Mother of all Parliaments' (and an unelected queen). Young Romanians look to the West not only for a way out but also for experience. How else does a fledgling democracy learn? Isn't that one of the great visions behind the EU?
Surely even Europhobic little Britain wouldn't want to alienate the second largest country in South East Europe? After all there is nothing we like more than hopping about on the military stage and Romania is a good point from which to keep an eye on the unpredictable Balkans (and has proved a willing assistant in Afghanistan and Iraq). It is also the last bastion before that vast, vague and unsettling space left behind by the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Not to mention the country's considerable economic potential. Romania boasts the sixth highest density of certified information technology specialists in a world, (Britain doesn't come close), and their plentiful primary resources make them closer to energy self-sufficiency than any European country other than Russia. They are friends worth keeping I would suggest. Indeed, with a bit of EU help Romania might even reclaim its one-time title as the grain basin of Europe. I know Britain's politicians revel in short-termism (the shimmering horizon rarely stretches more than five years into the distance) but surely it is in our interests to stay in with this tenacious, educated people and their extensive rich landmass? Jokes aside, they are quite keen to be friends with us. They speak good English. And I can confirm, their women (the thinnest in Europe), have a certain royal quality.
Tessa Dunlop's memoir To Romania with Love is published by Quartet Books.

NYT: Symbol of a Struggle

MIERCUREA CIUC, Romania — A city of 38,000 on a plateau in eastern Transylvania, Miercurea Ciuc is famous for three things: its status as one of Romania’s coldest places; its brewery, where the country’s Ciuc beer is produced; and its ice hockey team, which has won the last six Romanian league championships.

But the name on the front of the team’s blue-and-white hockey jerseys is not Miercurea Ciuc. It is Szekelyfold, the Hungarian word for the Szekely Land, a former province of the Kingdom of Hungary. Printed on the ice at the Vakar Lajos rink is the Hungarian name of the team: Hoki Sport Club Csikszereda. The fans at the team’s home games chant the Szekely Land anthem in Hungarian.

The Szekely Land, named for a warrior tribe that dates to the Middle Ages, is a Hungarian-dominated area of Romania, covering three counties in the center of the country. The roughly 1.2 million Hungarians represent Romania’s largest ethnic minority, about 6 percent of the country’s population. The fall of the Austro-Hungarian empire after World War I marooned millions of Hungarians in what is now Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine and Serbia. The Szekely found themselves cut off and subject to a policy of assimilation, including heavy restrictions on the use of their language, under the former communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu.

But for the past two decades, the region’s ethnic Hungarians have been campaigning for greater autonomy, with Hoki Sport Club Csikszereda in the vanguard. Romania may be a soccer country, but in Csikszereda, ice hockey is the only game in town.

The hockey club functions much like the storied Spanish soccer club Barcelona, which kept alive the flame of Catalan nationalism under the repressive rule of General Franco.

“I can say that this sports club, this ice hockey team, represents the Szekely,” said Papp Elod, the club’s former president, who is now a local politician. “We like to say that ice hockey represents our history as all our ancestors were warriors, and ice hockey needs warriors. There are very few Romanians who play for our club.”

Standing rinkside, Timo Lahtinen, the team’s 65-year-old Finnish coach, said, “Everyone in this town plays hockey and talks about hockey, this is the hockey center of Romania.”

Lahtinen paused, then corrected himself, “Actually, Hungary.”

The success of Csikszereda had caused a problem within Romanian ice hockey. The Romanian national team is almost entirely made up of ethnic Hungarians who play for Csikszereda.

“The whole national team is only my players, and everyone speaks Hungarian,” Lahtinen said.

This anomaly reached a critical point during a 2011 game between Romania and Hungary in Miercurea Ciuc. After the game, almost all of Romania’s players joined with their opponents to sing the Hungarian anthem.

“Some of the paparazzi caught it, and it was a big scandal,” said Attila Goga, Csikszereda’s captain, who has played for the Romanian national team for a decade but holds dual Romanian-Hungarian citizenship. “It’s a little bit strange, but I can see that, too. They don’t understand our situation here.”

There was only one anthem Goga was going to sing.

“Everyone here is Hungarian,” he said. “I feel Hungarian. From a little child I spoke Hungarian. We learn Romanian, too, but Hungarian is my mother language.”

The fall of communism gave some Hungarian minorities the chance to push for greater cultural and political freedoms after years of repression. A move by the Hungarian government in 2010 to grant joint citizenship to its former subjects across Eastern and Central Europe has emboldened old allegiances.

Laszlo Tokes, a former vice president of the European Parliament and one of Romania’s most prominent Hungarian politicians, is campaigning for full Hungarian autonomy within Romania, centered on the Szekley Land, with sports playing an important part.

“Our culture was oppressed,” Tokes said. “So it happened in sport. In Csikszereda that is why it is so important, the role of Hungarian sport life. Hockey sport because it is the people of Hungarian identity. Sport sometimes takes this function and role in a minority.”

Tokes, now a bishop, was a hero of the 1989 revolution that overthrew Ceausescu. When Romania’s secret police attempted to arrest him, his congregation resisted, sparking nationwide protest that brought down the regime.

Tokes called Romanians “very good friends,” but said they did not accept his people as Hungarian.

“Sometimes we are called Romanians speaking Hungarian,” he said. “That is not true. We are full Hungarians in the original sense of the word.”

He added: “Even if we lived on the moon, we would be Hungarian. Even if we are living in Transylvania, Romania, we consider ourselves Hungarians.”

Hoki Sport Club Csikszereda has attracted local businessmen and politicians promoting the Szekely Land. Although its home rink was built in the 1970s, it is well maintained, with a hotel next door to accommodate traveling teams. Inside, the walls are covered with advertisements from local businesses in Hungarian; Ciuc beer is featured prominently. A trophy cabinet heaves with the club’s many honors.

But in Bucharest, the Romanian capital, ice hockey has seen better days. The city’s main rink was partly flooded. On a recent day, a young girl practiced figure skating routines around patches of water pooled on the surface. Stray dogs stalked the perimeter. One stray managed to entangle itself in the hockey nets, until it chewed through the ropes to break free.

“Miercurea Ciuc has a local political and social interest,” said Marius Gliga, the technical director of the Romanian Ice Hockey Federation. “It is a small town. If they want to be seen by the rest of the cities, they have to show something. And they choose sport. The political men in the area use this team to promote themselves.”

Before the revolution, Bucharest was the power center of Romanian ice hockey. Romania’s golden age was in the 1970s and ’80s, when it qualified for the 1976 and 1980 Olympics. Back then, Steaua Bucharest, the team of the army, was the dominant squad.

“They used to take from the best players and allowed them to practice rather than have military service, which was good for the players,” said Gliga, who played center for Steaua his entire career. “They had two years of practice, which was very good for them at 18 to 20. That was good for the national team.”

But the abolition of national service, the supremacy of soccer in Bucharest and the influx of money into Csikszereda from businessmen and politicians eager to further the Szekely Land’s cause switched the balance of power.

Now Steaua is a shadow of its former self, and Bucharest provided little more than the office for the federation and the officials for most matches, including the Romanian Cup final in late December between Csikszereda and Corona Brasov, a team that also hails from Transylvania but whose fans chant in Romanian.

Csikszereda went ahead, 2-0, by the end of the second period, and it appeared that another piece of silverware was about to be added to its trophy cabinet.

The Szekely flag was flying when the third period began, but it did not herald the coronation the home supporters had expected. Brasov stormed back, scoring three times in five minutes. When Csikszereda had a player sent to the penalty box with two minutes left, the match was effectively over. Brasov was crowned champion, the players celebrating wildly in front of their traveling fans.

This time the Csikszereda fans chanted in Romanian, the language of the officials who had crammed into two cars and driven five hours from Bucharest to get there.

“Thieves!” they shouted at the referees.

“Peasants!” they chanted.

“We’re Hungarian and the referees are always Romanian, so we always feel that Romanian referees aren’t fair when it comes to matches,” said Szikszai Laszlo, a 22-year-old fan of Csikszereda.

As the Brasov team members passed the cup among themselves on the ice, Lahtinen stood on the sideline wondering how his team had lost the match. He said one of his players was suspended just a few minutes before the start of the match.

“We were by far the best team and then I guess we got tired as they had more players,” he said.

Csikszereda had lost the final, but the fans had still had the chance to see the club play for a seventh league championship in a row. The rink, and the team, remain a symbol of something bigger than ice hockey.

“In the period of communism, local newspapers couldn’t write Csikszereda; you had to write Miercurea Ciuc,” Laszlo said. “Back then this place was a sanctuary. It was the only place where you could speak Hungarian freely. You can still feel that today to a certain level.”

Alina Totti contributed reporting from Bucharest, Romania.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Financial Times: Romania and Lithuania back fracking

By Neil Buckley, East Europe Editor
Romania and Lithuania have followed Ukraine in giving high-level backing to shale gas exploration, in a sign the political tide may be turning as central and eastern Europe looks to break free from reliance on Russian energy.

Romania last week reversed a de facto freeze on “fracking”, the controversial technology used to exploit shale gas, after Victor Ponta, the prime minister, bolstered by a December election victory, said he supported shale exploration. It issued planning certificates to Chevron of the US to explore for shale gas in eastern Romania.
On Monday, Dalia Grybauskaite, Lithuania’s president, gave support to planned shale exploration, also by Chevron, despite opposition from some parliamentarians and environmentalists.

The developments came days after Ukraine signed a breakthrough deal with Royal Dutch Shell to explore for unconventional gas in the former Soviet republic – potentially the largest such investment in Europe to date.

Development of domestic gas resources could threaten the energy dominance Gazprom, the Russian gas monopoly, exerts over eastern Europe – which earns billions of dollars for the Russian budget. Analysts caution, however, that the projects are early-stage, with any production years away.

Central and eastern Europe are thought to hold some of the continent’s most promising shale reserves,prompting enthusiasm in recent years that the region could repeat North America’s shale gas “revolution” of the past decade.

Momentum was then lost after several countries followed France in imposing moratoria on fracking, often amid local protests. ExxonMobil of the US last yearpulled out of shale exploration in Poland, one of the biggest shale gas enthusiasts, after disappointing results from test wells.

But recent developments suggest the lure of lower energy prices and escaping Russia’s grip may be emboldening political leaders to try to win the environmental arguments.

“Romania’s decision has the potential to turn the tide and give European leaders the confidence to speak up in favour of shale gas,” said Kash Burchett, of IHS Energy, a consultancy. “Recession in Europe is prompting treasuries in different states to revisit the decision to impose moratoria, especially as the shale gas industry in North America is driving an industrial renaissance.”

Chevron, which has made a strategic push into shale gas in central Europe, won a tender to explore three shale gas blocks in Romania last spring. But work was suspended after environmental protests, and Mr Ponta’s party, then in opposition, proposed a fracking moratorium.

Though Romania’s upper house did not support the moratorium, the issue remained in limbo until December’s election. This month, however, Mr Ponta backed moving ahead with shale.

“Exploration, yes. Once it is confirmed that gas resources are or are not there (about five years) we will make a final decision to exploit shale gas, in compliance with all European and international environmental standards,” he told Romania’s Hotnews agency.

Mr Ponta warned Romania risked losing competitiveness against Poland – pressing on with shale exploration despite Exxon’s departure – and could not ignore the possibility of cheaper energy.

Lithuania, like Ukraine, gets all its natural gas from Russia, and complains it pays a higher price than many west European customers – which helped spark a potentially far-reaching European Commission antitrust probe into Gazprom last September.

It became even more reliant on gas after closing its Ignalina nuclear reactor in 2009. Some geologists estimate Lithuanian shale gas reserves could be enough to meet its needs for 60 years.

Ms Grabauskaite was quoted after meeting senior Chevron officials on Monday as saying Lithuania “must explore the depths of its land”.

Gilbert Ankenbauer, Chevron’s country manager for Lithuania, said both the president and prime minister had “acknowledged the importance of conducting exploration activities, so that Lithuania is able to understand more about its hydrocarbon potential”.

“However, they also stressed the importance of protecting the environment and working closely with local communities,” he added.

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Romania to Become Net Exporter of Gas by 2020, Sterling Says

By Elizabeth Konstantinova - Feb 5, 2013 

Romania may become a net exporter of natural gas by 2020, with major discoveries possible this year amid forecasts that put the country’s total Black Sea reserves at 600 billion cubic meters.

“This is the most active year for exploration and drilling yet in the Romanian Black Sea,” Marc Beacom, general manager of the Romanian unit of Sterling Resources (SLG) Ltd. of Canada, said in an interview in the Bulgarian capital Sofia today. “I assume with all the drilling that will take place in 2013 we will see major discoveries.”

As much as $30 billion will be needed to develop the 600 billion cubic meters of reserves for their lifespan, Beacom said, citing a study by Purvin & Gertz Inc. Operating expenditures for production may reach $25 billion and tax and royalties to the government $45 billion, he said

“It’s basically a guess and until we start drilling wells and proving it, we won’t know what it’s going to be, it’s very early days,” Beacon said.

Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM) and OMV Petrom SA (SNP) said a year ago that they discovered what may be their biggest gas find in the Black Sea after exploring the Neptun block, located 170 kilometers (106 miles) off the Romanian coast at about 1,000 meters depth.
Reducing Interest

Sterling agreed in October to sell to Exxon and Petrom a strip of its Midia block that is next to the two companies’ Neptun block. The strip amounts to 11 percent of Sterling’s Midia and Pelican concession.

“We hope to complete the deal soon,” Beacom said. “They need to go through the steps of getting government approval.”

Sterling has no plans to sell any other blocks. The company is looking for partners to take a stake in the remaining blocks, and “has put out offers to companies to negotiate,” he said.

“We have prospective companies,” Beacom said, declining to identify them. “We want to reduce our interest in the remaining blocks. We’re too small a company and we just have too big an exposure.”

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

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Economist: A shortage of cancer drugs

Romanian politics
A shortage of cancer drugs
Jan 28th 2013, by L.C. | BUCHAREST

THOUSANDS of cancer patients in Romania struggle everyday to find the drugs their life depends on. The country has been facing a severe cancer-drug shortage over the last two years as more than 20 types of medicine, especially the cheap ones, are very difficult or impossible to obtain.

Last week the government revealed its budget for 2013, which didn’t include any particular provision to solve the cancer-drug shortage. Faced with strong public pressure, Victor Ponta, the prime minister, said two days after the budget announcement that the treasury will lend €800,000 ($1,078,000) to Unifarm, the state company in charge of acquiring and distributing drugs to medical institutions around the country. This fund would help Unifarm purchase from the external market the drugs that are currently missing from the hospitals as foreign companies ask for an advance payment, which usually must be made in less than 30 days. The distribution was blocked because in many cases the national health insurance house (coordinated by the ministry of health) delayed the payments for more than 200 days.

Offering money to Unifarm will not solve the problem. Thanks to bureaucracy and diverging regulations the health-care system in Romania is chaotic. “The problem is not the money; most of the cancer drugs missing are very cheap. The problem is those who are in charge of providing these drugs,” says an oncologist in Bucharest who asked to remain anonymous. Unifarm is not the only agency purchasing the drugs. There are plenty of other private distributors that win the auctions because they offer very small prices. After a few months, they are incapable of providing the drugs any longer so they block the distribution. “Who are the people behind these small companies? Some appear to be registered in an apartment. Are they even legal? If they are incapable of providing cheap medication on the market, why isn’t anyone punishing them?” asks the oncologist. At the Oncology Institute in Bucharest some of the cancer drugs, such as Bleomycin or Cisplatin, are missing because the company that had to provide them didn’t respect the contract.

While doctors and hospitals managers are overwhelmed with this situation, cancer patients are struggling to purchase the drugs on their own though they are entitled to free medication according to the law. Some Romanians who are frequently traveling to Western Europe buy these drugs and send them home to their sick friends or relatives. There is even a websitecalled “Missing Drugs” where patients can fill in a form with the drugs they need and volunteers in Europe try to find the medicines and send it to them.

“I have been desperately looking for Bleomycin in every single deposit and pharmacy in Bucharest, but I couldn’t find it”, says Marius, who was diagnosed with testicular cancer last summer. “If you go into a hospital and ask for a cytostatic, they say there isn’t any left but if you give a bribe to the right person, the cytostatic appears out of the blue. This is why some people die and some don’t in Romania. It’s all about the money.”

“Romania is facing a major cytostatic crisis”, says Cezar Irimia, who runs the Romanian federation of cancer patients association. “What is worse is that some of the patients are so desperate that they buy the drugs from the corner of the street or order them from some dubious websites. For them, death comes via the internet! ”

The shortage was aggravated by parallel exports estimated to be as high as 20% for some medicines. Several drugs are registered in Romania (which has the lowest prices for drugs in the EU) and re-sold to Western countries such as Germany, where prices are significantly higher.

Part of the problem can only be solved in Brussels. Eugen Nicolăescu, Romania’s health minister, told our correspondent “there is a difference between the situation in which the state ensures therapies and treatments for cancer patients and what is going on at a European level, which is related to the purchase of some drugs that are not attractive anymore for producers and distributors.”

The financial crisis has put pharmaceutical companies under moral pressure to maintain drug production in order to avoid a health crisis even if it is not lucrative. Even so, some drug companies abandoned production of widely used cheap chemotherapy drugs because it is not profitable enough. In a letter addressed last year to the European heads of states, Andrew Witty, the chief of Europe’s drug industry, said a more vigorous innovation policy is needed.

The situation got worse in Romania compared to other EU countries because the country’s health-care system is underfunded, highly corrupt and its drug regulation is inadequate. The state never established a back-up plan for a drug crisis in order to avoid depending entirely on pharmaceutical companies.

Romania’s Borrowing Costs Fall at 11th Consecutive Debt Auction

By Irina Savu & Andra Timu - Feb 4, 2013 

Romania’s borrowing costs fell at the 11th consecutive government auction today as the nation’s inclusion in emerging-market bond indexes from March boosted investors’s appetite for the country’s debt.

The Finance Ministry raised 500 million lei ($156 million) in one-year bills and 737 million lei in three-year bonds today, the central bank said on its website today. Yields declined to 5.51 percent for the 2014 securities and to 5.69 percent for the three-year notes. That compares with an average yield of 5.85 percent for T-bills and 5.95 percent for similar maturity bonds sold on Jan. 14.

Romania’s local bonds and currency have rallied over the last two months after general elections held on Dec. 9 ushered in greater political stability and JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Barclays Plc said some of the country’s securities are eligible for entry in their emerging-market government debt indexes.

“The next month and a half are going to bring a firmly positive story for leu assets, whether local bonds or the currency,” analysts at Societe Generale SA, including Guillaume Salomon, wrote in a note before the sale.

The leu appreciated as much as 0.3 percent before trading little changed at 4.3719 per euro by 4:20 p.m. in Bucharest. It gained 3 percent in December and January. Yields on euro- denominated bonds due 2019 rose eight basis points, or 0.08 percentage point, at 4.211 percent.

“We expect the leu to gain vigor on local bond inflows,” Bucharest-based analysts at BRD-Groupe Societe Generale SA (BRD) wrote in a note to clients today.

The inclusion in the JPMorgan index would be phased over a three-month period ending May 1, the bank said on Jan. 15. The weighting on completion is estimated at 0.54 percent of the GBI- EM Global Diversified Index.

Romania’s October 2015, January 2016 and July 2017 bonds currently meet the criteria for index inclusion as they demonstrate the highest degree of liquidity, according to JPMorgan. Its entry is “subject to final determination,” JPMorgan 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

Romania to Leave Main Rate at Record Low Amid Inflation Spike

By Irina Savu - Feb 5, 2013 

Romania will probably leave its main interest rate at a record low for the seventh meeting amid a spike in inflation as the economy stagnates.

The Banca Nationala a Romaniei will keep borrowing costs unchanged at 5.25 percent today, according to all 19 economists surveyed by Bloomberg. A decision will be announced after 11 a.m. in Bucharest and will be followed by a press briefing by Governor Mugur Isarescu.

Romanian monetary-policy makers halted a rate-cutting cycle in May, bucking an easing trend in the region needed to spur economic growth, as a government plan to deregulate energy prices and drought-driven food prices quickened inflation. The economy probably stagnated in 2012 and expansion will be slower than forecast this year, the International Monetary Fund said.

“With an eye to the feeble projected recovery in 2013, the central bank will continue its balancing act when faced with a heavy load of supply-side inflationary pressures stemming from administered price hikes,” Roxana Hulea, an economist at BRD- Groupe Societe Generale SA in Bucharest, said. There may be no change until the third quarter “to fight off potential second- round inflationary effects from the increases in regulated prices,” she said.

The leu was the world’s best-performing currency in January, rising 1.5 percent against the euro. It traded at 4.3179 late yesterday, down 0.06 percent from the previous close.
Easing Trend

Most central banks in the region are cutting rates to foster economic growth. Hungary cut its main interest rate for a sixth month on Jan. 29 to 5.5 percent, while Poland’s central bank cut its benchmark seven-day reference rate on Jan. 9 to 4 percent to spur a slowing economy.

Romania lowered rates 1 percentage point before pausing on May 2 after a government collapse and as economic growth slowed, adopting a wait-and-see stance, which the IMF deemed “appropriate,” according to Mission Chief Erik de Vrijer. Gross domestic product will expand 1.5 percent this year compared with zero growth last year, he said.

While the central bank left rates on hold for the past nine months, it has resorted to weekly liquidity operations to manage the currency under its managed-floating regime. The bank has set up a liquidity limit to commercial banks since October, which it has loosened over the past month, according to data published on its website.

‘Below Potential’

“With economic growth projected to run below potential over the medium-term, the National Bank has only limited space to employ the interest rate channel and is bound to continue deploying liquidity management measures,” BRD’s Hulea said.

Inflation quickened more than forecast in December to 4.95 percent, exceeding the central bank’s 2012 target, on rising food and electricity prices. The bank, which had targeted inflation of between 2 to 4 percent at the end of 2012, will also approve its quarterly inflation report today, which will be presented at a news conference in the coming days.

“We also expect the monetary authorities in Romania to keep policy on hold and to indicate that it may miss this year’s ambitious inflation target of 2.5 percent plus or minus 1 percentage point due to changes in administered prices,” Pasquale Diana, a London-based economist at Morgan Stanley, said in a report before the rate announcement.

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

Monday, February 4, 2013

Romania’s hackles raised over rain of adverts

By Helen Warrell and Elizabeth Rigby

Romania’s ambassador to Britain has mocked reports of a negative UK advertisement campaign to discourage prospective migrants from eastern Europe, suggesting it is not England’s weather but its sluggish economy which will deter new settlers.

Ministers are said to be considering adverts warning of Britain’s rainy climate in an effort to stem immigration from Romania and Bulgaria, both of which gain full working rights as EU members next year. But Ion Jinga, Romanian ambassador in London, played down fears of a “tsunami” of incomers, claiming that his homeland was at “the beginning of an economic boom”.

“If the British economy had last year probably zero economic growth, we have experienced 2.5 per cent growth in 2011 and last year 1.7 per cent growth,” the ambassador said, predicting similar expansion again this year. “So our economy is recovering faster than other European economies.”

Dr Jinga’s comments come as the UK government is battling increasing pressure from Conservative backbenchers to find ways to deter Romanians and Bulgarians from moving to Britain – with some issuing fiery warnings about the potential social impact of another wave of migration from eastern Europe.

“It doesn’t mean stopping everyone with a funny name or who doesn’t come from England, but we should make value judgments,” Stewart Jackson, a Tory MP and former ministerial aide, told the FT. “We want Polish graduates who can run a factory’s production line. We don’t want Bulgarian gangs who are into people trafficking and narcotics and sex crimes.”

The MP has appealed directly to Theresa May, home secretary, to introduce new rules preventing EU citizens from accessing social assistance during the first three months of residence and making it harder for new entrants to access benefits.

Mrs May’s ability to act is limited by EU laws on freedom of movement. But the last government’s mistakes have left Britons wary, and ministers must be seen to be tough; Labour’s failure to impose transitional controls after the accession of eight new member states in 2004 led to an influx of nearly 1m Poles and other eastern Europeans over seven years. New data published this week showed that Polish is now the second most common language in Britain.

Concerned by the increasingly febrile climate, Romanian and Bulgarian members of the European Parliament wrote on Friday to José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, to complain that their citizens’ rights as EU members were under threat.

“We believe that a wave of hostile statements since the beginning of the year aims to stigmatise these citizens as second-class Europeans who pose a threat to the social systems just because they want to exercise their basic rights to free movement and work,” the MEPs wrote.

Their frustration is understandable, especially because conditions are completely different to those preceding the Polish migration. In 2004, Britain was one of only three countries which chose not to introduce transitional controls on new EU member states. This time around, the UK is one of the last to lift its labour restrictions for Romanians and Bulgarians.

Neither are the Tories’ warnings about “benefit tourists” borne out by evidence. The Department for Work and Pensions’ statistics show that just 7 per cent of migrants are on benefits, compared with 17 per cent of UK nationals.

Dr Jinga argues that, in fact, the departure of hard-working Romanian professionals in the early years of its EU membership has created problems back home. “Romanians didn’t come here to ask for social support but to work, and to work in areas where you have shortages where British are not interested to work,” he said. “We experience shortages in our medical system now because our doctors left for Britain, for France. We’re not happy with the situation.”

UK efforts to deter immigrants have been widely reported in Romania, prompting the country’s Gandul newspaper to launch its own spoof campaign luring Britons to Bucharest with promises of cheap beer and better food. “We may not like Britain, but you will love Romania,” the paper said. “Why don’t you come over?”

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Romania reverses course on shale gas

Published 01 February 2013

In a widely expected U-turn, Romanian authorities yesterday (31 January) gave the American energy giant Chevron the certificates it needed to start exploring for shale gas in the eastern part of the country.

The Romanian authorities reversed their decision from last April to suspend Chevron from gas exploration activities.

The decision takes place nine months after protests in southeast Romania, in particular in the town of Vama Veche, where shale gas exploration is due to take place.

The country’s senate overwhelming rejected a motion to ban shale gas exploration. Prime Minister Victor Ponta, who took office in May, had proposed the legislation when his party was in opposition.

After its re-election in December, the Ponta government's return to shale gas exploration comes hardly as a surprise. On 25 January, Ponta said he supported shale gas, according to the Romanian agency Hotnews.

“Exploration, yes. After confirmation of the existence or non-existence of shale gas, which would take appreciatively five years, we will take the decision which presumes yes, we will exploit shale gas, while respecting all European and world standards for environmental protection,” Ponta said.

Chevron obtained zoning certificates in eastern Romania enabling it to explore for shale gas, despite controversy about the effect of the aggressive extraction process - called fracking - on the environment, according to local authorities quoted by Agence France-Presse yesterday.

The next step for Chevron is to obtain a construction permit before it can start exploratory drilling, the head of Vaslui County council, Dumitru Buzatu, said.

The EU has so far declined to comment on individual decisions by member countries to ban or to develop shale gas. According to a recent study published by the European Commission, there is no need for specific EU legislation on shale gas, at least for the time being.