Thursday, April 25, 2013

AFP: Unicef, EU call for further progress on Roma inclusion in Romania

Romania has made progress towards bringing its Roma citizens into mainstream society but more efforts are needed to improve their access to education and jobs, Unicef and EU representatives said Monday in Bucharest.

"Some progress has been made in Romania in recent years, and a national strategy for Roma inclusion was adopted" in 2011, Unicef (The United Nations Children's Fund) representative in Bucharest Sandie Blanchet told an international conference.

"But we are concerned that progress has been too little, too slow," she added, regretting "the high level of inequality" between Roma and non-Roma.

Eight percent of Romanian children live in absolute poverty, compared to 35 percent among Roma children.

Blanchet also underlined that 75 percent of Roma children do not complete the 8th grade.

The present situation of Roma in Romania, 619,000 according to the last census but up to two million according to NGOs, is the "image of the failure of the inclusion politics led for the past decencies", Gelu Duminica, president of the Impreuna (Together) association, stressed.

"The road out of poverty is to get the Roma on the labour market", social affairs Europeancommissioner Laszlo Andor said.

"Social investment in Roma integration can bring high returns", he added, insisting that "developing kindergartens is the best policy Romania can have, the next generation will grow in decent conditions and have better training".

According to him, Bucharest should use more European funds to improve the Romas' situation. Some 33,000 have taken part in social programmes financed by Brussels, far from the objective of 65,000 people to which authorities had committed.

Research conducted in 2012 regarding the living conditions of Roma people reported on some positive trends despite the persistence of important differences on housing, jobs and access to education and health.

It also showed that the migration rate among Roma and non-Roma is, unlike the general perception, identical. Nineteen percent of the families questioned have at least one member that left abroad "to escape poverty" and "find a job".

WSJ: After China, Romania is Biggest Source of Data Theft Says Report

By Anna Leach

After China, the world’s biggest source of global data theft comes from inside the European Union, said a report published Tuesday.

Verizon Communications Inc.’s Data Breach Report 2013 found that more than a quarter of the world’s data thieves operated in Romania.

Some 28% of the hackers behind 47,000 data breaches investigated by Verizon were working from Romania. That was second only to China with 30%. By contrast only 18% of data thieves were acting out of the U.S. said the company.

In a wide-ranging report, Verizon found that the majority of data thieves are not high-tech espionage agents, but rather petty criminals hacking for money and using rudimentary skills.

Three quarters of all data thefts analyzed were financially-motivated and less than 1% used techniques that Verizon classed as high-tech.

The focus on cash not politics meant that private businesses, not government, were the main target, with under 5% of attacks analysed targeting the public sector. Data thieves took all sorts of corporate information, said Verizon’s global investigation manager Dave Ostertag.

“Thieves steal corporate information for a variety of purposes,” he said. “If you steal quarterly earnings statements prior to announcement, that has value to someone. If you have a process that your competitors don’t have — that process makes you more efficient or you have a larger market share because of that process, that has value.”

The theft of intellectual property has become an increasing problem, especially for small business in the technology and science sectors: “Smaller companies used to say ‘we don’t have to worry about a data breach’, that’s not true any more,” said Mr. Ostertag.

“When we look at espionage, it’s not just defense contractors and the government, it’s boutique engineering firms that might specialize in say aerospace, or might specialize in undersea [engineering], with maybe a hundred employees or less. These type of companies are victims too.

“It might be a small firm that’s got a piece of information that might be valuable to a competitor or to a state.”

Even when hacking is state-affiliated — and 19% is according to the report — it may be targeting a private business for commercial purposes rather than state bodies.

Verzion’s Data Breach Report 2013 is based on 47,000 incidents investigated by their security arm Verizon Risk for their clients in 2012. Some 621 breaches were analyzed in more detail. The report also draws in data from Verizon’s 19 partners on the report including the Danish Intelligence Service, Carnegie Mellon University, Deloitte and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Romanian Skeletons Found Buried Holding Hands In Cluj-Napoca

Romanian archeologists excavating a graveyard in Cluj-Napoca have discovered the skeletons of a man and woman buried hand in hand, seemingly bound in a endless embrace of love.

According to the Romanian newspaper Adevarul, the couple was found in the courtyard of a music school, where a team from the Institute of Archaeology and Art History in Cluj-Napoca has been restoring a medieval Dominican convent cemetary.

In an interview with Romanian Insider, excavation leader Adrian Rusu described the team's find of a young couple buried together, "facing each other and holding hands."

"The man appears to have died in an accident, as the sternum was broken by a blow from a blunt object," Rusu explained. The archeologist added that the team had been unable to find a physical explanation for the woman's death, leading them to speculate that she had died of a stroke or heart attack.

"It’s a strange case, a sort of Romeo and Juliet," said Rusu.

Unlike Romeo and Juliet, reports the Daily Mail, the couple is not believed to have committed suicide, as this would have barred them from burial in a religious cemetery. The newspaper adds that double burials of this kind were very rare in medieval times.

According to Adevarul, the star-crossed lovers were believed to have lived between 1450, when the monastery was built, and 1550, when the graveyard was secularized.

Romania finds solution for Bank of Cyprus unit

(Reuters) - Romania and Cyprus authorities have found a solution for the local unit of Bank of Cyprus (BoC), which has been closed for more than two weeks to find a buyer, a central bank official said on Tuesday.

"Thanks to a good cooperation we eventually found a solution. Deposits are protected and will be under Romanian authority," Adrian Vasilescu, an adviser to Governor Mugur Isarescu, told Reuters.

The solution will need two more days "for technical proceedings" before disclosure, Vasilescu said, declining to comment on whether a buyer had been found.

Two of Cyprus's banks operate in Romania: Bank of Cyprus and Marfin, a unit of Popular Bank of Cyprus (BoC), also known as Laiki. Together the two control less than 1.3 percent of assets in the Balkan country's banking system. (Reporting by Radu Marinas; Editing by Sam Cage)

Romania Merges Bourse Supervision With Insurance and Pensions

Romania merged its supervision authorities for the stock exchange, insurance and private pensions markets into a single entity to meet pledges to the International Monetary Fund.

President Traian Basescu signed a law to form the Financial Supervision Authority today in Bucharest, his office said in an e-mailed statement. Dan Radu Rusanu, a lawmaker from the ruling coalition, will probably head the office, while Daniel Daianu, a former finance minister, may serve as vice president, according to Mediafax. Parliament must vote on their appointment.

Romania, the European Union’s second-poorest member, is trying to complete a 5 billion-euro ($6.5 billion) precautionary accord with the IMF and the EU in June, after getting a three- month extension to have more time to complete pledged state- asset sales and pass legislation.

“The approval of the financial authority is one of Romania’s pledges to the IMF and needs to be respected,” Rusanu said. “My plan, as head of the institution, is to have a non- banking market, valued at about 15 billion euros, that is compatible with other European markets.”

The government, which hasn’t drawn any money from the bailout so far, plans to start talks on a new accord with the lenders after the current one ends.

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 at jagomez@bloomberg.net

Romanian Film director Mungiu in Cannes Film Festival's jury

BUCHAREST, April 24 (Xinhua) -- Romania's film director Cristian Mungiu was chosen to be part of the jury of the 66th editions of the Cannes Film Festival, the official Agerpres news agency reported according to a Wednesday announcement of the organizers.

The jury, headed by U.S. filmmaker Steven Spielberg, includes big names of the world cinema, such as Australian actress Nicole Kidman, Austrian actor Christoph Waltz and Taiwanese filmmaker Ang Lee, as well as French actor and director Daniel Auteuil, Indian actress Vidya Balan and female directors Lynne Ramsay, from Britain and Naomi Kawase, from Japan.

The new edition of the Cannes Film Festival, organized between May 15 and 26, will open with the screening of "The Great Gatsby" movie, directed by Australian Baz Luhrmann and with a distribution which includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan and Tobey Maguire.

Mungiu, 45, is a filmmaker close to Cannes Festival. His film "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 days" won the Palme d'Or in 2007. He returned last year on the Croisette, where his latest film, "Beyond the hills", earned the Best Screenplay Award, and two actresses in the leading roles, Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur, the Best Actress trophy.

Mungiu worked in earlier years as a teacher and as a journalist, after studying English literature at the University of Iasi in northeastern Romania. He enrolled at the University of Film in Bucharest to study film directing and began his film career after graduating in 1998. He is the first Romanian filmmaker awarded with the coveted Palme d'Or for feature film.

The film "Beyond the hills" was also selected as the Romanian entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar at the 85th Academy Awards, making the January shortlist.

Romanian film industry almost collapsed at the end of the last century, yet the new millennium saw a reemergence of Romanian cinema, with the appearance of such films as "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu" (Cannes 2005 un certain regard winner), and "12:08 East of Bucharest" (Cannes 2006 the Camera d'Or best-first-feature award). In February this year, the Romanian film "Child's Pose" picked up the coveted Golden Bear prize for best film at the 63rd Berlin film festival.

Daimler Plans $390.6 Million Romania Transmission Factory

Daimler AG (DAI), the third-biggest maker of luxury cars, will invest more than 300 million euros ($390.6 million) adding transmission production in Romania after reaching full capacity at its main German plant.

Daimler will begin assembling five-speed automatic transmissions in mid-2013 at a new plant in the town of Sebes, close to an existing parts factory in Cugir, the Stuttgart-based company said in a statement today. The new site will start production of front dual-clutch transmissions in 2014 and add capacity for the next generation of drivetrains in 2016.

The German company, which has been producing parts for engines and transmissions in Romania at a joint venture since 2001, is adding capacity across eastern Europe as the Mercedes- Benz brand expands its line-up of compact cars. Daimler opened an 800-million-euro car factory last year in Kecskemet, Hungary, where it makes the Mercedes B-Class and CLA compacts.

Chief Executive Officer Dieter Zetsche has vowed to regain the top spot in global luxury-vehicle sales by the end of the decade and plans to boost the operating margin at the carmaking unit to 10 percent of sales. First-quarter earnings before interest and taxes at the Mercedes-Benz Cars division, which also includes the Smart city car brand, dropped 63 percent to 460 million euros, resulting in a 3.3 percent margin, the company said today.

Further development of the Sebes plant is subject to backing from the Romanian government, Daimler said. The carmaker isn’t able to expand transmission production at its Stuttgart site because of space limitations, it said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dorothee Tschampa in Frankfurt at dtschampa@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chad Thomas at cthomas16@bloomberg.net

Friday, April 19, 2013

Romania demands more financial guarantees for gold mine

BUCHAREST, April 18 (Reuters) - Romania is pressing for more financial guarantees before it issues a key environmental permit for Europe's biggest open cast gold mine, a move which could further delay a project stuck in limbo for 14 years.

Canada's Gabriel Resources aims to use cyanide to mine for 314 tonnes of gold and 1,600 tonnes of silver among a cluster of villages in the Carpathian mountains known as Rosia Montana.

The plan has drawn fierce opposition for its potential environmental impact.

The environment ministry wants two additional financial guarantees from Gabriel, which operates through its local unit Rosia Montana Gold Corporation (RMGC), in which the Romanian state also holds a 19 percent stake, it said on Thursday.

RMGC proposes four gold quarries over the mine's lifespan, which would destroy four mountaintops and wipe out three out of 16 villages while preserving Rosia Montana's historic centre.

The project has been valued at $7.5 billion based on a 2007 study that used an average price of $900 per ounce of gold. Gold traded on Thursday around $1,390 per ounce.

The ministry did not give the specific amounts it wanted as guarantees, saying they need to be agreed with the firm, but said they referred to handling extraction-related waste and accountability in case of accidents and were in line with European Union legislation.

"It must be stated that environment authorities and the national agency for mineral resources are also focused on setting other types of guarantees," the ministry said in a statement to Reuters.

Civil rights and environmental groups and neighbouring Hungary say the plan would destroy ancient Roman mine galleries and villages and could lead to an ecological disaster.

Leftist Prime Minister Victor Ponta and Environment Minister Rovana Plumb were openly against the project before they came to power, but have since softened their stance and are now saying it needs careful assessment.

As part of its environmental impact assessment, RMGC has estimated mine closure and environment repair costs at $127.6 million, the ministry said.

The ministry said the committee in charge of issuing the environmental permit - the most important hurdle remaining before the mine could start operations - has not yet been created. Ministries were reorganised after a December parliamentary election.

In Rosia Montana, an impoverished community of some 2,800 people where a state-owned gold mine closed in 2006, most people say they support the project which they hope will restore jobs.

At a December referendum on the mine, a majority of those who voted supported the mine but turnout did not reach a required level to make it valid.

Gabriel did not reply immediately to an email from Reuters seeking comment. (Editing by David Cowell)

AFP: Britain assures Bulgaria, Romania on job access

Britain has assured Romania and Bulgaria that work restrictions on their citizens will be lifted as planned in 2014, as the easternEuropean nations battle perceptions the move will cause a wave of immigration.

Bulgaria's presidency said in a statement late Wednesday that President Rossen Plevneliev had received assurances from London that the touchy process would proceed "without any problem."

The statement came after a visit by Plevneliev to London for the funeral of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher, during which he "categorically denied speculation concerning an influx of Bulgarian immigrants to other European Union countries."

Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007, but Britain and other European countries restricted the new members' access to their labour markets until 2014.

The impending move has seen right-wing newspapers whipping up fears that "floods of beggars" will sweep in from two of the EU's poorest countries.

Romania has already responded to the hostile coverage with a tongue-in-cheek campaign urging Britons to "come on over" for a visit.

Immigration has shot up Britain's political agenda ahead of the work restrictions being lifted and London is hardening its stance towards migrants.

Prime Minister David Cameron in late March proposed to limit immigrants' rights to housing, unemployment and health benefits, saying those services were "something migrants earn, not an automatic right."

Romania abandons target date for joining euro

http://www.telegraph.co.uk

Romania has dropped setting a target date for adopting the euro, although officials insisted that joining the single currency remains a fundamental objective for the country, according to reports.

The Romanian news agency Mediafax said the Romanian government would submit to the European Commission for the first time a programme on progress towards adoption of the euro without a target date.

Romania had previously been targeting 2015 to adopt the single European currency, but President Traian Basescu said last month that date was now "unfeasible".

Prime Minister Victor Ponta estimated last month that 2020 would be more realistic.

Mr Ponta insisted that "eurozone entry remains a fundamental objective for Romania but we can't enter poorly prepared, as that would first of all be bad for us and also for the other members of the eurozone", in comments reported by Mediafax.

Romania agreed to eventually adopt the euro under the terms of its 2007 entry into the European Union, but there is no deadline.

The country has reduced its public deficit below the 3pc of national output - one of the entry conditions stipulated by the Maastricht Treaty.

But Romanian authorities have repeatedly missed targets agreed on with the International Monetary Fund and the EU on appointing professional managers and privatising state-owned companies.

Mr Basescu warned last month that unless the competitiveness of the Romanian economy was improved that "joining the eurozone will end as a failure".

Poland has also recently pushed back a decision on setting a date to join the eurozone to after 2015.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Bloomberg News: Romania’s Ponta Avoids No-Confidence Vote Over Restitution Law

Romanian opposition failed to win backing for a no-confidence vote against Prime Minister Victor Ponta’s four-month-old Cabinet over a property-restitution law demanded by the European Court of Human Rights.

The Democrat-Liberals plan to challenge the bill at the Constitutional Court, party head Vasile Blaga said today. The government wants the legislation in force by May 12 to meet a deadline set by the Strasbourg-based rights court and stave off claims the budget can’t fulfill, according to Ponta.

“The fact the opposition didn’t file a no-confidence motion shows they don’t have a better version for the law,” Ponta told reporters in Bucharest. “Their challenge to the court is the most irresponsible political gesture of the last 23 years because the deadline to have the law in force is very tight and we don’t have the resources to start paying the claims.”

To compensate citizens for communist-era property seizures, Romania has set up Fondul Proprietatea SA (FP), which owns shares in the country’s biggest companies, including OMV Petrom SA. (SNP) Still, it continues to face lawsuits in Strasbourg from people who missed out on damage payments. The court agreed to extend by as much as a month an April 12 deadline by which Romania should pass a bill to help resolve the claims.
Budget Effect

The Cabinet, which counts on a two-thirds majority in the 587-seat parliament, is trying to spread the settlement of about 8 billion euros ($10.5 billion) of claims to limit the impact on the budget. It plans to return most of the property in the coming years so the budget won’t be affected before 2017, when seven years of cash payments will start, Minister Delegate for Budget Liviu Voinea said March 14.

To enter into force, the restitution law must also get the backing of President Traian Basescu.

Romania has settled about 5 billion euros of claims since communism fell, according to official data. It’s also returned about 9,000 buildings to claimants and more than 1 million hectares (2.47 million acres) of land, the government has said. The eastern European country plans to keep the budget deficit at less than 3 percent of economic output to meet pledges to the International Monetary Fund and the European Union.

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

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at bpenz@bloomberg.net;

Romania moves toward closure on compensating communism's victims

By Radu Marinas

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania expects to pass legislation this week to compensate all owners of property seized under communism, seeking to draw a line under a haunting past more than 20 years after the overthrow of Nicolae Ceausescu.

Bucharest has lagged behind other former Soviet satellites in central and eastern Europe in addressing its communist past. Some senior officials from that era remain in high office, while hardly any crimes have been prosecuted.

Long-entrenched bureaucracy and corruption still hold back an economy that is the European Union's second poorest and struggling to emerge from a deep recession.

Seizures of property began in 1945, immediately after World War Two when Soviet-backed communists set about eradicating the middle classes by abolishing private ownership. A special nationalization decree was issued in 1950.

"The law we propose aims to bring historical reparation to all those who suffered confiscation since about 70 years ago," Prime Minister Victor Ponta told parliament on Wednesday.

He asked the assembly, where he commands an overwhelming majority, to endorse the plan, a step expected later this week.

Since the 1989 revolution that led to Ceausescu's trial and execution, human rights groups have repeatedly criticized Romania for failing to restore property. An earlier restitution scheme was derailed by inefficiency, red tape and scams.

Despite prior legislation, only 15 percent of all restitution claims have been solved. Under the new bill, Ponta committed to a clear time frame and set aside 8 billion euros ($10.5 billion) to ensure all claims of victims of nationalization are settled by 2017.

The leftist cabinet had been given a May 12 deadline by the European Court for Human Rights, which has about 3,000 lawsuits on property issues filed against Romania, to pass the law.

The government said it was needed because previous legislation was too complicated and 200,000 restitution cases had yet to be solved in the country of 19 million people.

Many dispossessed owners were forced to live in tiny storerooms or bathrooms. The 1950s, under Ceausescu's predecessor Gheorghe Gheorghiu Dej, were the harshest period for land, building and industrial plant owners.

Ceausescu deepened the problem with his plan for "village systematization", under which he wiped out entire rural communities and moved people to towns - a scheme that was stopped when he was overthrown.

Ponta said Romania has so far paid 150 million euros cash in compensation for seized property, about 4 billion euros in shares of Fondul Proprietatea - a fund set up to compensate victims of communism, as well as turning over some 10,000 buildings and 1.3 million hectares of farmland. ($1 = 0.7616 euros)

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Romania pockets $95 million from Transgaz stake sale


17 April 2013 | 12:34 | FOCUS News Agency

Bucharest. Romania has sold a 15-percent stake in the natural gas distributor Transgaz, raising $94.9 million (72 million euros), Energy Minister Constantin Nita said Wednesday, cited by AFP.

The sale was one of Romania's commitments to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Union (EU), which have provided Bucharest with up to 25 billion euros in emergency credit.

"The operation was a success, a good start for the privatisations to come," Nita told a press conference.
Around 70 percent of the stake was bought by foreign investors, at an average price per share of 179 lei ($52.7).

Romania now plans to sell a stake in Nuclearelectrica, the company that operates a nuclear power plant in Cernavoda, in May, followed in September by stakes in the gas producer Romgaz, the Oltenia energy plant and possibly in the electricity company Hidroelectrica.

Deadlines for these sales have been repeatedly renegotiated with the IMF since Romanian authorities failed to keep to the initial timetable.

The IMF insists that the sale of big, loss-making transport and energy companies will spur Romania's economic growth, which is expected to reach 1.5 percent in 2013, up from 0.7 percent last year.
Romania concluded a 20-billion-euro bailout deal with the IMF and the EU in 2009 in exchange for strict austerity measures.

In 2011, the country signed a new agreement for a credit line of 5.0 billion euros, to be drawn only in case of emergency.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

25 reasons why I love living in Romania, in no particular order

Monday, 15 April 2013
Paul Wood

http://pvewood.blogspot.ro

Romanians. Clearly the people are the main reason for liking any country, though the countryside and the crumbling inner city of Bucharest come close behind.

Everything about Romanians seems to be paradoxical. Romanians are very human and see everything in human, not in abstract terms, but when they write about ideas they always start from abstract and sometime cloudy first principles. They are the very warm, the most generous and kind of people, but very cruel. Someone told me when I came here that ‘Romanians have no gratitude and no mercy’ and that is certainly true of many, though by no means all. They are very mystical yet have their feet on the ground and are often very materialistic.

They are very romantic but very unromantic. They try very hard to be cynical. They are very suspicious and live in an atmosphere of fear. Romanians are very much friendlier than the English but much more formal. Respect is terribly important – because power is terribly important. This is the Middle East, dreaming that it is France.
Romanians love visiting their countryside – all but a few pretentious ones – love eating Romanian food in restaurants – same caveat – and love hiking and camping, all of which was how it was in England in the 1950s. They tend to be conventional and conformist but my friends are not. You can be eccentric in Romania and bohemian but it takes more courage than in England, where eccentrics are not tolerated but admired.

In Romania under Communism television only broadcast for two hours a day meant until the Revolution the Romanians were spared a huge amount of idiocy and had time instead for reading, conversation, drinking wine, and the national sport, seducing one another. I suppose that was how it was in Victorian England too, except with less wine. Romanians who were twenty or so in 1989 are usually much better read than the English. Those who are not well read nevertheless have a surprisingly large amount of information about their medieval history and take pride in it. Only a minority of people in England, I was shocked to discover recently, know who were Hengist and Horsa, the first Englishmen recorded by history and our Burebistas. Even a highly intelligent history graduate from Cambridge did not. In any case, the English have been taught to think that history is simply the chronicle of oppression. The Romanians who were continuously oppressed by their rulers and foreigners take pride in their kings.

Romania has so far escaped the worldwide cultural revolution – not Mao’s one, but the one that happened in the capitalist world starting in the 1960s and which is showing no signs of abating. One of the great charms of Romania is that the 1960s did not happen in here. The EU will change that, but not quite yet. There was never what in the 1960s was called the generation gap. Adulthood as perpetual adolescence, unlike in Anglo-Saxon countries, is not an idea which has reached here. People become adults when they start work, just like in England until the 1950s. But if feminism and political correctness have not arrived, two even more important legacies of the 1960s in the West, consumerism and celebrity culture, are here and Romania has a tabloid press like everywhere else. It has idiotic television too and rock music though old fashioned 1930s Romanian music is still hugely popular among young and old.
Romania is not at all cool, is utterly uncool, thank God, and yet in its own un-self-conscious way the broken streets and beautiful women of Bucharest are as cool as it gets. And if Bucharest may not be cool it is very glamorous in a tropical, Latin American way. I do not like nightclubs (you must never use that word with Romanians because they think it means something improper) but the fashionable nightclubs have a chic of their own.
Romanians are genteel. A notorious American womaniser said, in the late 1990s, that dating Romanian women was like dating gorgeous 24 year old versions of your mother’s friends. Romanian women and men are still like that.
Romanians expect the worst but always contrive to be shocked that things are even worse than they imagined. People tut-tut about scandals and are easily scandalised, even though Bucharest in many ways is Babylon. Is anyone in England ever scandalised anymore?

Romania felt about 1952 here when I arrived. Now it feels about 1964.

Romanians esteem brains and learning – in England it is more admirable to be good at games or was before the Palaeolithic Age, when I lived there. Here class is about grammar and educational qualifications, rather than about accent or clothes (Romanian rich men dress appallingly, though their wives are learning) or money. They also know that physical good looks are very very important and discuss other people’s appearances with penetration and complete absence of charity. They are more profound than the English, who think it is superficial to talk about other people’s looks.

Romanian taxi drivers. They form the chorus in the Greek drama (it’s a comedy, not a tragedy) of my life here. Like in every country, the people who really know how to run things are too busy driving cabs or cutting hair. Taxi drivers become very dull when they talk about the political class in general (we know they are thieves and bandits) but they have much to say that is very interesting about God, how things were in the old days, love and death. Taxi drivers and barbers know everything. So do illiterates, but that is another story.

The parties. Romanians GIVE GREAT ONES.

The lack of diversity, although things become more pluralistic. Despite the terrible damage that Communism did to this country, which it maimed, there is still a tremendous sense of cohesion and common values. People are assumed to be Orthodox, unless proven otherwise. Catholics are considered odd but are regarded as slightly grand – but Adventists, Baptists and adherents to other sects are not considered true Romanians at all. I like this very much. I only wish this cohesiveness went with a sense of public spirit, but this seems to be absent in all the Orthodox as well as all the post-Communist countries.
I believe the wine is wonderful. So Claudia Pendred says and she is an expert, but I usually drink plonk. I do however love the only grape which is unique to this part of the world, Feteasca Neagra. They do very good roses too.

Bucharest, the European Havana, is still probably the most interesting capital city in many ways in Europe. Living in Bucharest is like living in a film noir full of gangsters, corrupt officials, femmes fatales, old men in hats. The town has so very much energy. It is a twenty-one year old – London and Paris are in their fifties. Most of all the broken run-down streets of Bucharest. Until about seven years ago the slummy Old Town in Bucharest, where I live, which is now a sea of wine-bars and restaurants. But let us enjoy the new rather than regret the past: the old town makes people happy and there are three or four good restaurants there (Sindbad, St George, Lacrimi si Sfinti and Charme since you ask). The new old town annoys me but it has a buzz and is a lot of fun. If only it had not descended from the sky almost overnight, but I rejoice that it came, like many things in Romania, much later than you would have expected. A lot better than the sanitised, well-behaved old towns of other capital cities. It certainly beats Covent Garden. And I have it on my doorstep which is convenient.

In Romania, everything is difficult but after a while you get used to it or you go mad. Every day is completely different from the one before. These two points are less true than they were five or ten years ago, however.

Romanians believe in God. Also horoscopes, magic, fortune tellers. Most people tend to take the existence of God for granted, like the sun rising each morning and setting each evening. I love Romanian folk religion and the sense that the other world is close to hand. England would have been a somewhat like this before the Reformation. As an English friend of mine, Nick Brind, said to me:

You know you have been in Romania too long when you can tell someone's star sign from their birthday and throw yourself into an animated discussion about it.

I am not there yet.

The jokes. Romanians have a wonderful sense of humour, rather similar to the English sense of humour: very ironic, very black.

The parties. Oh, I said that before.

The second hand booksellers. Second hand booksellers are, of course, the cream of every nation.

The wartime egalitarianism – people who sleep rough sit watching open air film shows without exciting the disdain that their counterparts would do in Western Europe

So-called 'popular music' from before the war (still played very widely) and 'Manele' – a kind of gypsy pop music which everyone claims to hate but which sells very well - and indigenous Romanian pop music. I also like Nightlosers. I love Ozana Barabancea, an opera singer turned jazz singer, who sings like Marilyn Monroe would have sung had she been a first class jazz singer. When she was blonde, Ozana even looked a little like Monroe.

The old-fashioned terraces where one can get a bottle of wine and a Bulgarian salad for a song. These are being replaced by pretentious, more expensive places unfortunately.

Not the food particularly, although it is all right. This is the one area where Romania’s neighbours the Bulgarians and the Hungarians beat them. But tocanita with mamaliga is a very fine dish and, even though I do not much love fish, salau tastes very good. Two of the best dishes here are called Russian salad and Bulgarian salad but I am not sure they are truly Romanian. Anyhow, there is a lot of pork. If you like pork very much you may well like Romanian food. The poet Mircea Dinescu's restaurant, Lacrimi si Sfinti, in the old town in Bucharest, has reinvented Romanian cuisine rather excitingly.

The churches and monasteries, especially, but not only, the painted monasteries in the Bucovina and the fortified churches of Transylvania. Bucharest is full of wonderful obscure churches.

Lack of violent crime, but this is not nearly as true as it was. Crime rates are very low in Romania, except for white collar crimes, where the rates are very high.

The serendipity.

I’ve told everyone to come to Romania but I am very glad that nobody follows my advice. I remember in my first week living in Romania in 1998, an Englishman living here said to me:

You know what’s the best thing about living in Romania?’

‘No?’

‘It’s thinking about your friends back in England that are feeling sorry for you.’

And that was true then. Now, instead of inspiring horror when you mention the place in England, it inspires indifference. It’s just an East European country that competes in the Eurovision Song Contest. A few people say it sounds fascinating. Most people simply say it sounds obscure. Most Americans probably do not know where it is.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Incorruptible to the end

http://www.presseurop.eu

Rather than accept an honorary position, the former head of the anti-corruption office quit and is now denouncing politicians' meddling in the appointment of Romania’s judges – a practice that is slowing the country's entry into the Schengen area.

12 April 2013 REVISTA 22 
BUCHAREST

Dan Tăpălagă

The departure of Daniel Morar on April 5 from the post of First Deputy of Prosecutor General of the High Court of Cassation and Justice has annoyed a lot of people. What has annoyed them is not the departure itself – which has delighted more than a few – but the way he did it: by publicly denouncing the political agreement between right-of-centre President Traian Băsescu and left-of-centre Prime Minister Victor Ponta on the appointment of chief prosecutors [to the High Court and to the National Anti-Corruption Directorate – the DNA]. Most expected that he would stay silent and swallow the Ponta-Băsescu deal, especially after the president appointed him as a Constitutional Court judge.

But Morar, former head of the DNA, feels indebted to no one and remains free to do his job to the end. “Băsescu’s man”, as his detractors once called him, began his career by challenging the president [ who was at the time, minister of transport] over the "The Fleet File" scandal [concerning alleged corruption in the privatisation of the Romanian merchant fleet in the 1990s] and finished it by taking up antagonistic positions towards politicians on left and right. He left the system after nearly eight years of investigations, proving, right till the last moment, that he is what people have always described him as: a thoroughbred attorney.

I knew Daniel Morar before he took over the reins of the DNA. The minister of justice, Monica Macovei, had called me in 2005 to ask me to come and meet someone she was thinking of proposing as the head of the national anti-corruption prosecution service, not yet called DNA at the time. I accepted.
Appearance belies forcefulness

I remember only that he spoke little but very emphatically, with a strong Cluj accent [a town in the northwest of the country], and that his face had a sickly pallor. I no longer remember the details, but I do remember what I told Macovei when she asked me what I thought of him. Only half in jest, I said: “He looks like he would be just about capable of arresting you if he caught you trying to break the law.” This seemingly frail native of Transylvania, going on 40 at the time, always had a serious expression. A strange forcefulness emanated from him, and he had an abrupt turn of phrase. His gaze was piercing, his conversation abrupt and to the point.

The American ambassador in Bucharest, Mark Gitenstein, later publicly expressed his admiration for him, once he had become the head of the DNA. During a visit by the Attorney-General of the State of Delaware, Beau Biden (the son of the US vice president), the ambassador, a former lawyer, recounted that the representatives of the State Department had only praise for this attorney. Gitenstein in turn called him the “the definition of an attorney”. I think that's the best description. Morar embodies the austerity of the prosecutor who is completely devoted to his work.

Sentencing former Prime Minister Adrian Năstase to a prison sentence early in 2012 – the prime minister under whom major inquiries were unimaginable and foolhardy prosecutors were dismissed – has broken the myth of impunity, deep-rooted in the Romanian political imagination, and generated a wave of panic. Under Morar, the DNA probed into all the strata of Romanian society infected by corruption: government, parliament, local administration, justice, police, customs, sport. In many cases, the tentacles of corruption were ripped out, as they were in the Customs office.

Romania has produced very few shining characters capable of changing minds and systems and of preserving their credibility and integrity intact. Daniel Morar ranks among them. Will the politicians in power, whoever they will be, repeat the “error” of leaving to chance the leadership of such opposition and allow free men to exercise that office, as they did with Morar? Very unlikely: too many businessmen, high-flying politicians and other influential figures have seen that, without networks of corruption, without confidants planted in key positions within the justice system, there was nothing to guarantee them impunity. For them, the presence of men like Morar at the head of the anti-corruption prosecutors dragged them back down among the little people.
Backsliding long overlooked

Western diplomats, in Washington and London, have quickly arrived at the conclusion that the process of appointing new chief prosecutors [by a political agreement] must be supported without equivocation, to close the vacancy that has already remained unfilled for a whole year. But to believe that the name of the person who leads an institution in Romania is unimportant is a great mistake. This typically western reasoning works in democracies that are already well-rooted. Romania, though, lacks a verification and control mechanism that could bring equilibrium to the system and assure that those who head the institutions are free to work without interference. If the heads of key institutions are capable people, with a reformist will, things move along nicely. If not, the old status quo is back. “Have you Romanians not been able to come up with anything more serious after 23 years of democracy?” Alas, the answer is no.

With prosecutors that are poor or weak, the western Europeans will soon learn where the error lies. Similarly, the backsliding of Budapest was treated indulgently for so long that it can no longer be remedied. Hungary overstepped democracy’s red line long ago.

In the meantime the European Commission has announced that it has not changed its judgment on the shortcomings of Bucharest in matters of corruption, expressed in the last report of the Mechanism for Cooperation and Verification [regarding accession to the Schengen area], regarding the need for a transparent selection procedure for new chief prosecutors.

5 free things to see in Bucharest, from Revolution Square to gardens and old historic center

BUCHAREST, Romania — It was founded by a shepherd, according to local legend, and was later nicknamed the Paris of the East. But Bucharest’s idyllic roots and elegant reputation eventually gave way to a series of 20th century calamities: war, invasions, earthquakes and communism.

Today the Romanian capital is home to 2 million people, with a cityscape that ranges from rundown grandeur to communist monstrosities and sleek modernism. Old villas, some dilapidated, from the pre-communist aristocracy, sit next to multi-rise office blocks and modern new villas — many of which are empty due to recent economic troubles. But while Bucharest is messy, overcrowded and shabby in parts, it also hums with a cozy, vibrant and seductive Byzantine charm. Here are some places, all of them free, that help tell the city’s stories.

REVOLUTION SQUARE

If you want the drama of history, there is no better place to start than Revolution Square, where the final showdown between the communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and the people took place. Ceausescu gave his last speech here in the final hours of his 25-year rule and was booed and jeered for the first time. Afraid of the angry crowds and his own army, which had begun to desert him, he fled the square from the roof of a Communist Party building by helicopter, the last time he ever saw Bucharest. On Christmas Day, 1989, he and his wife Elena were summarily executed in the nearby city of Targoviste after a 55-minute trial. Revolution Square saw some of the fiercest fighting as Ceausescu loyalists fired on unarmed demonstrators, and the building that housed the dreaded Securitate Communist secret police has been preserved.

Prior to World War II, Romania was a monarchy. The royal palace (now the national art museum), where officials announced that Romania had switched sides from the Nazis to the Allies in 1944, is also in the square, as is the Athenee Palace, a legendary hotel that inspired a book about spies, diplomats, journalists during World War II, and the Cina restaurant, a top place for the latest gossip during World War II. For more cultural pursuits, there is the Atheneum, a neoclassical concert hall built in the late 19th century with a grand columned entryway and domed roof, considered one of the city’s most beautiful buildings.

BELLU CEMETERY

Bellu is the city’s grandest and probably most overcrowded cemetery in a country where funerals and burials can be elaborate and very public affairs. The cemetery is also considered one of Europe’s most valuable, because its immense collection of sculptures constitutes a vast outdoor museum. Every Romanian academic, writer, scientist and musician of note is buried here. The cemetery is just south of the Heroes’ Cemetery, the final resting place for the 564 people who died in the 1989 revolution. Also buried here are national poet Mihai Eminescu, national playwright Ion Luca Caragiale, and the inventor and airplane builder Aurel Vlaicu.

CISMIGIU GARDENS

Bucharesters traditionally seek refuge in the city’s parks during the scorching summer months. Cismigiu is one of the city’s oldest gardens and a traditional meeting place for students, lovers and chess players. It boasts an artificial lake, a skating rink in winter, winding paths, a panoply of trees and shrubs and a memorial commemorating French soldiers killed in the city during World War I. It also appears in short stories written by Caragiale.

CHURCHES

Bucharest enjoys a rich multi-faith tradition, revived since 1989, with synagogues, mosques, and Romanian Orthodox churches in every neighborhood. There are also other Christian churches such as the Armenian Church, the Lutheran Church and the red-bricked Anglican Church of the Resurrection, which turns 100 this year. Especially worth visiting are the Roman Catholic St. Joseph’s Cathedral, possibly the city’s grandest church, the 18th-century Stavropoleos Monastery, which has the largest collection of Byzantine music books in Romania, and the Russian Church, with seven gold domes, funded by Russia’s last czar, Emperor Nicholas II.

THE OLD CITY

Once a rundown area, the old city or Centru Vechi, which is basically all that remains of pre-WWII Bucharest, has in recent years become a vibrant quarter for entertainment and tourists, boasting antique shops, theaters, boutique hotels, restaurants, and bars, some of which stay open around the clock in the summer. You can see the neoclassical National Bank of Romania, Hanul lui Manuc, built in 1808, which is both a hotel and traditional Romanian restaurant, and the Caru cu Bere, surely Bucharest’s most famous and popular restaurant, with a spectacular interior that’s virtually identical to when it was built in 1875.

A final note: Getting around Bucharest is not free, but it’s cheap. One good thing Ceausescu did was build the subway, which transports passengers cheaply and efficiently around the capital. Taxis are plentiful and cheap, starting at 1.39 lei (40 cents ) a kilometer (0.6 miles).

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Dacia says strikes may push production to Morocco

BUCHAREST, April 10

(Reuters) - Romanian carmaker Dacia, owned by France's Renault, threatened on Wednesday to shift production to cheaper sites in Morocco if a pay conflict escalates.

Workers at Dacia's Mioveni assembly line downed tools for two days last month in pursuit of a 40 percent pay increase, which the company has responded to with a 9 percent offer.

"If this protest will not end up reasonably and in a mutually beneficial manner and if employees will continue with unrealistic demands, there's a greater probability to transfer an important part of production to Morocco," Automobile Dacia Vice-President Constantin Stroe told Reuters.

Last month's strike caused a 20 million euro ($26.1 million) loss to the carmaker, which is Romania's largest exporter, accounting for roughly 3 percent of gross domestic product.

Dacia exports 90 percent of its output and sold about 360,000 cars worldwide last year, up 4.8 percent from 2011.

The average monthly pretax wage at Dacia was 3,965 lei ($1,200) last year compared with a national average of 2,100 lei.

"The advantage of the plants in Morocco is that an employee earns only 54 percent of a Romanian employee's salary," Stroe said.

Trade unions are set to unveil further action plans on Thursday. ($1 = 0.7658 euros) ($1 = 3.3677 Romanian lei) (Reporting by Ioana Patran; Editing by Radu Marinas and David Holmes)

Friday, April 5, 2013

Thousands protest Chevron's shale gas plans in Romania

(Reuters) - Thousands of Romanians across the country protested on Thursday against Chevron's (CVX.N) plans to explore for shale gas, demanding the country's leftist government withdraw concessions and ban drilling of the U.S. company's first test wells.

About 500 rallied in the town of Barlad on the eastern border with Moldova where Chevron (CVX.N) has a nearby 1.6 million acre concession, some wearing gas masks, many chanting "Chevron go home."

Chevron has exploration rights for three blocks of 670,000 acres near the Black Sea, and has also bought the concession close to Barlad for an undisclosed amount.

Hydraulic fracturing or fracking to extract shale gas involves injecting water and chemicals at high pressure into underground rock formations.

Experts say that if it is done according to best practice it is environmentally safe, but the technology still evokes public concern.

Many countries in central and southeastern Europe see shale gas as a way to wean themselves off Russian supplies, though Romania only imports about a quarter of what it uses due to conventional reserves.

Analysts say that Romania's shale gas deposits, added to its conventional reserves, could make the Balkan nation self-reliant in gas use -- a proposition many of the protesters say is not worth the risk.

"Shale ... will only wreak havoc here," said 63-year-old pensioner Elena Arsenie.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates Romania and neighboring Bulgaria and Hungary could have 538 billion cubic meters of shale gas between them, slightly more than Europe's annual consumption and enough to cover Romania's for almost 40 years.

In the United States, fracking has revolutionized the energy sector, bringing a drop in domestic power and gas prices. Environmental risks and denser population groupings have made Europeans more cautious.

Over the past weeks, Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta has softened his views on shale gas since a parliamentary election in December, which earned his ruling leftist alliance an overwhelming two-thirds majority in parliament.

But analysts say if public opposition heightens further, authorities might need to reconsider their stance on shale for fear of alienating millions of voters and thus prevent the company from setting up one of its biggest operations as the country is gearing up for a presidential election in 2014.

Chevron said in a statement on Thursday that it would only produce gas from shale using what it called were safe and proven technologies.

"Chevron respects that individuals have the right to voice their opinions ... We recognize the importance of informing the public about the technologies employed in the prospecting phase, technologies which are commonly used in the conventional oil and gas industry," Chevron spokeswoman Sally Jones said.

She said Chevron will only carry out prospecting activities this year.

Romania is another emerging central European state along with Poland where officials see vast potential shale reserves as a key plank in ensuring future energy security.

But investors in Poland have grown concerned about protracted work on a tax and regulation regime announced in October as well as a steep cut in initial estimates for potential shale reserves.

(Writing by Radu Marinas; editing by Michael Kahn and Keiron Henderson)

FT: UK and Romania in migrant benefits talks

By Helen Warrell, Public Policy Correspondent


The UK is in talks with Romania about a campaign to make clear that EU nationals entering Britain do not have an automatic entitlement to welfare and benefits.

David Lidington, Europe minister, confirmed that there was a joint exercise, begun this month when he visited Victor Ponta, Romanian prime minister, in Bucharest.

It is part of attempts by coalition ministers to protect UK public services from a feared influx of Romanians and Bulgarians when labour controls on these countries are lifted at the end of this year.

“The last thing [Mr Ponta] wanted was for his citizens to have a reputation for being dependent on welfare payments,” the Europe minister said.

He added that the Romanian premier was keen to work with British ministers to banish any perception that those entering the UK were “entitled” to use the welfare system.

Mr Lidington’s comments came as the Foreign Office published an independent report into the probable effect of migration from the “EU2” countries when the transitional restrictions end.

Conservative backbenchers have raised fears that the UK faces an influx of Romanians and Bulgarians, just as the accession of eight eastern European countries to the EU resulted in a flood of migrants to Britain in the mid-2000s.

However the research, carried out by the National Institute of Social and Economic Research, plays down the prospect of a rush to the UK, pointing out that the main destination for EU2 migrants so far has been Spain, Italy and, to a lesser, extent Germany.

The authors suggested that this trend would probably continue in 2014, despite the recession in Spain and Italy, because of established migrant communities in these countries.



The NIESR report also highlighted that EU2 migrants already in Britain arrived while they were young and without children, and with a higher skill profile than other EU migrants, therefore reducing the impact on public services.

But while researchers suggested that anxiety about the stresses on welfare, health and housing had been overblown, they admitted that Romanians and Bulgarians could increase the existing strain on primary school places – which is particularly intense in London.

“Migration from countries where access to formal education is later than in the UK has also placed additional demands on schools to fill gaps in early numeracy and literacy,” the report said.

“This particular demand may arise in relation to migration from Bulgaria and Romania because compulsory schooling in both countries begins at age seven.”

Mr Lidington said research justified the government’s decision not to try to estimate the size of the Romanian and Bulgarian influx, given the myriad factors at play.

“From my point of view it’s an independent report and sums up very clearly why it’s not sensible to start making detailed forecasts of numbers,” the minister said.

“But it does suggest a number of reasons not to wind ourselves into a panic.”

Keith Vaz, a Labour MP who chairs the Commons’ home affairs committee, criticised the government’s reticence in providing a forecast. He said the committee would undertake its own inquiry to gauge a realistic prediction of the number of arrivals.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Romania's PM nominates chief prosecutors, may irk EU

Apr 3, 2013

By Luiza Ilie

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania's prime minister handpicked six new chief and deputy prosecutors on Wednesday, defying European Union calls for more transparency in a country where it is concerned about respect for the rule of law.

Prime Minister Victor Ponta, whose leftist alliance alarmed the EU last year by attempting to impeach President Traian Basescu, their main political rival, announced the nominations which he said would ensure "political and judicial stability".

The EU, which Romania joined in 2007, has put its justice system under special monitoring and had asked Bucharest to pick chief prosecutors through a transparent process of applications and interviews, to ensure they were not political appointments.

Ponta, who is also interim justice minister, went back and forth on the nominations. On Tuesday, after meeting the country's Supreme Council of Magistrates (CSM), he said nominations would come only after a transparent and lengthy process.

But on Wednesday he nominated candidates for the general prosecutor's office, the anti-corruption department and the organised crime unit. They must still be confirmed by the president.

"That the prime minister changed his mind again reflects his contempt for the magistrates council and a lack of political coherence," said Laura Stefan, a legal specialist at the Expert Forum thinktank.

"The European Commission has clearly required transparency."

Under Romanian law, the president appoints chief prosecutors who have been proposed by the justice minister and received non-binding approval from the CSM, a procedure many analysts consider to be politicised.

Adrian Basaraba, a political science professor at the University of Timisoara, said Ponta's nominations appeared aimed at easing tensions between and within political parties, but were unlikely to achieve that end.

"The nominations are a political compromise that try to mollify everybody," he said.

"But on the one hand they raise tensions in his alliance and on the other they won't necessarily improve the judiciary."

Ponta's nominee to head the anti-corruption unit - former general prosecutor Laura Codruta Kovesi who was praised by Brussels - was criticised by a faction of his Social Liberal Union (USL), which said Ponta had struck a deal with their opponent Basescu.

"For the first time since the USL was created, the prime minister ... made a decision without consulting us and with which we fundamentally disagree," said Senate speaker Crin Antonescu, who co-leads the USL with Ponta. He said the alliance would stick together despite concerns about the decision.

Romania Pushes to Shed Junk Stigma on Budget Rigor Praise

Romania’s call for a credit-rating upgrade has the support of investors and analysts fromLondon to Los Angeles as the country strives to shake off its junk status at Standard & Poor’s after almost five years.

Fiscal progress and International Monetary Fund backstops warrant a higher rating, according to Templeton Emerging Markets Group’s Mark Mobius, Nomura Holdings Inc. and TCW Group Inc. Romania, which S&P has kept one level below investment grade since 2008, deserves a better credit score after narrowing the budget gap to European Union limits, Economy Minister Varujan Vosganian said yesterday.

“I definitely think it’s time for them to upgrade,” Blaise Antin, who helps manage about $10.5 billion of emerging- market debt at TCW, said from Los Angeles. “I’ve liked this credit for a while and I think it’s on an improving trend.”

Romania embarked on one of the EU’s toughest austerity plans in 2010 with a 25 percent cut in state wages and a 5 percentage-point increase in the value-added tax. The government, which arranged two loans from the International Monetary Fund and the EU, trimmed the budget gap to 2.5 percent of economic output last year from 7.2 percent in 2009.
Market Rewards

As Romania’s fiscal health has improved, its credit risk has diminished. The cost to insure government debt against non- payment for five years with credit-default swaps dropped to 190 basis points on Jan. 28, the lowest since 2008. The swaps traded at 237 basis points today.

Borrowing costs have also plunged, falling to record lows after some leu-denominated debt was included in the JPMorgan Chase & Co and Barclays Plc local-currency government bond index in March. The leu has rallied 0.6 percent against the euro this year, the best performance in eastern Europe, data compiled by Bloomberg show. It traded at 4.4228 per euro by 10:51 a.m. in Bucharest today.

The EU’s second-poorest member is rated Baa3 by Moody’s Investors Service and BBB- by Fitch Ratings, the companies’ lowest investment grades. Moody’s has a negative outlook on the grade, while Fitch’s is stable. S&P rates Romania BB+ with a stable outlook. S&P’s press office wasn’t immediately available to comment when contacted by Bloomberg News yesterday.

Ratings changes aren’t always followed by investors. French bonds and U.S. Treasuries both made gains after the countries were stripped of their AAA credit ratings, in a signal that downgrades may have little bearing on borrowing costs.
‘Should Upgrade’

Almost half the time, government bond yields fall when an action suggests they should climb, or they increase even as a change signals a decline, according to 38 years of data compiled by Bloomberg.

After ending two years of economic contraction in 2010, Romania averted a recession in the fourth quarter as gross domestic product rose a seasonally adjusted 0.4 percent from the previous three months, according to revised data released today. The nation’s economic stability and stronger public finances warrant a more positive credit assessment, according to Economy Minister Vosganian.

“The rating agencies should upgrade Romania’s sovereign rating,” he told a conference in Bucharest.

To further boost confidence in the country, the government is negotiating a precautionary loan agreement with the IMF to replace its existing 5 billion-euro ($6.4 billion) package, which expires in June and hasn’t been drawn down.
‘Straight Jacket’

An IMF safety net would be positive for Romania’s credit rating, according to Matteo Napolitano, an analyst at Fitch, which is scheduled to review the country’s grade by the end of June. A backstop “and the straight jacket that the accord will provide” would make an upgrade possible,’’ Peter Attard Montalto, an economist at Nomura in London, said by e-mail.

“The main barriers against an upgrade are a weak economy, a fragile banking system and continued political uncertainties,” Neil Shearing, an economist at Capital Economics Ltd., said by e-mail from London.

A political struggle between Prime Minister Victor Ponta and President Traian Basescu last summer, which prompted European leaders such as German chancellor Angela Merkel to voice concerns over democracy, sent the leu to a record low. Ponta’s coalition won a two-thirds parliamentary majority in Dec. 9 elections, while Basescu was reinstated after a 52-day suspension and a failed impeachment referendum.

Romania’s economy is set to grow 1.6 percent this year, while the budget deficit will probably shrink to 2.4 percent of GDP, according to the European Commission. The government is also selling state assets, including a minority stake in natural gas grid operator Transgaz SA. (TGN)

“There is a good possibility of a ratings upgrade if the promised reforms by the government come through,” said Mobius, who manages $50 billion in emerging-market assets.

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

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at bpenz@bloomberg.net James M. Gomez at jagomez@bloomberg.net

Romania Seeks at Least $88 Million From Transgaz Share Sale

Romania wants to raise at least 302 million lei ($88 million) through the sale of a minority stake in natural-gas utility Transgaz SA (TGN) to meet its international bailout terms.

The government plans to sell 1.76 million shares, or 15 percent of the company, at a price between 171 lei and 230 lei, according to a statement published on the Bucharest Stock Exchange’s website today. The sale will start tomorrow and run until April 16.

“The Transgaz sale is the first step in our state-asset sale plan and will be followed by larger transactions such as the sale of a minority stake in natural-gas company Romgaz SA,” Gabriel Dumitrascu, the Economy Ministry official in charge of state-asset sales said in Bucharest today. “This is aimed to show that there is political will for the privatization process.”

Romania is selling the Transgaz stake, as well as starting the sale of its majority holding in unprofitable rail freight company CFR Marfa SA to keep its budget deficit within agreed limits to complete its second loan agreement with the International Monetary Fund by the end of June.
Loan Extension

The eastern European country received a three-month extension of its 5 billion-euro ($6.4 billion) precautionary loan until the end of June to complete more reforms. It wants to negotiate a new accord immediately after completing the current one, Prime Minister Victor Ponta said Jan. 25.

Institutional investors will be able to buy 85 percent of the offering, while two other tranches will be reserved for retail investors, according to the statement. Transgaz shares, which were suspended on the bourse today, last traded at 213.5 lei per share on April 2.

Raiffeisen Capital & Investment, Wood & Co. and local brokerage BT Securities SA are managing the sale.

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

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at bpenz@bloomberg.net; James M. Gomez at jagomez@bloomberg.net