Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Romania's PM easily defeats no-confidence vote after EU poll win

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania's Social Democrat government easily defeated a no-confidence vote by the Liberal opposition on Monday, as was widely expected, just hours after winning the most votes in an European parliament election at the weekend.

The motion needed 286 votes to topple the government of Prime Minister Victor Ponta, but it got support only from a total of 176 deputies in both houses of parliament.

Ponta's coalition took about 38 percent of votes in Sunday's election. Its former ally, the Liberal Party, which split from the government earlier this year and is now the country's main opposition, trailed in second place with 15 percent.

The Liberals had called for the no-confidence vote earlier in May on the grounds that the government was too soft on corruption. Ponta dismissed the move as a political stunt before the European elections.

The Liberals ended up doing badly in the weekend voting and party leader Crin Antonescu quit earlier on Monday. That is likely to improve Ponta's prospects of winning a presidential election that will be held in November.

Romania PM's alliance tops EU vote

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania's governing alliance of leftist Prime Minister Victor Ponta won 37.3 percent of votes in Sunday's European Parliament election, preliminary data from the central electoral bureau showed on Monday.

Elsewhere in the European Union, Eurosceptic nationalists scored stunning victories in France and Britain as EU critics more than doubled their seats in a continent-wide protest vote against austerity and unemployment.

In Romania, Ponta's alliance was trailed by the Liberal Party, his former allies who split from the ruling alliance earlier this year and got 14.9 percent of the votes on Sunday.

Opposition center-right Democrat Liberals won 12.3 percent. Voter turnout stood at a little over 32 percent.

Romania holds a presidential election in November.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Return of the European bison

Europe's largest beast is to roam the forests of Romania after 200 years. Adam Vaughan witnesses the buzz as a herd of 17 is released in the Carpathian mountains 


The crowd surges forward against the barrier, cameraphones are held aloft, children are hoisted on to shoulders. The celebrities, the first European bison about to set their hooves in this remote Romanian valley in the southern Carpathian mountains for two centuries, wait in the shadows of a huge trailer.

The forest, already home to bears and packs of wolves, is the final destination for 17 of Europe's largest land mammal, some of whom have been travelling hitched to lorries for five days from as far as Sweden. It will be their first time out of captivity.
A herd of bison are gathered from across Europe for release into the wild in Romania. The animals were shot with a tranquiliser gun to immobilise them, then loaded onto a truck to drive to Romania. In all 17 bison were collected from wildlife parks and breeding centres across Europe. Video: Kristjan Jung

The release of the animals into the wild is one of the biggest in Europe since reintroductions began in the 1950s, establishing wild populations in Poland, Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Belarus, Russia, Lithuania, and Kryygzstan. More will be reintroduced each year, with an aim of having 500 in the mountains eventually.

Bison bonasus was driven to extinction in the wild across Europe in 1927 after decades of decline from hunting and habitat loss. But it has become that rare endangered species: a conservation success story.

There are now thousands in the wild, all descended from the 54 individuals in captivity when the last wild one was killed in Poland's Bialowieza forest.

Despite the increase in numbers, the European bison is still rarer than other high profile species, such as the black rhino, even with the reintroductions. There are over 5,000 European bisons, with about 3,200 in the wild.

Frans Schepers, managing director of the Netherlands-based charity behind the release last weekend, Rewildling Europe, said: “It has a big symbolic value, bringing back animals. I’ve done that a lot in Africa, with rhinos and elephants, but in Europe it is very rare. Releasing animals, giving them space, is a sign of hope, it shows that if we choose, we can help wildlife come back.”

The hulking, hairy beasts, some standing nearly two metres tall and and weighing as much as 1,000kg, have not been seen in this part of Romania for generations. “But it has never quite disappeared from our minds and souls,” says Adrian Hagatis, project manager at WWF Romania. A tussle ensues as the animals are let out in their new range at Armenis, Tarcu mountains, Romania. Photograph: Bogdan Cristel/Reuters

One of the founding legends of Moldovia, in Romania’s east, centres around a Romanian nobleman, DragoČ™, killing a bison, an act which some say was once a prerequisite for joining the country’s army. The herbivore is a symbol of national pride, and several nearby places still carry bison-related names.

But for Romania, the second poorest country in the EU after Bulgaria, bringing back bison is not just of cultural importance, it is also an economic imperative.

Anne Juganaru, secretary of state for the environment and climate change, says the country’s challenge will be balancing protecting large tracts of untouched wildnerness – a rarity in Europe, and seen as a potential source of future tourism income – with the need to develop.

“It’s wonderful that we have this treasure of nature. But we have a dilemma: we have to maintain the balance between developing the economy and looking after protected areas. It’s not so easy to have this balance.”

That dilemma was laid bare last year, duringprotests of thousand of people across Romania at plans to build Europe’s largest gold mine in nearby Rosia Montana town. Critics said the mine would destroy four mountain tops and cyanide used in the mining process could leach into water sources. The parliament was forced to shelve a law paving the way for the mine.

And in the region where the bison were released, jobs beyond farming are still in great demand.

“Local people were reserved at the beginning [about the bison plan], they didn’t believe this could happen,” said Petru Vela, the mayor of Armenis, the nearest village several miles along a bumpy, unpaved road usually reserved for the forestry officials who care for this virtually untouched part of the Carpathian range, the Tarcu mountains. “But as the project went on, they started to believe in it and now they are excited about the jobs.” Two local men have been trained and employed as rangers to monitor poaching, and a visitor centre is planned.
The European bison's initial range covers 15 hectares, but by September the animals would be able to roam freely over a 160-hectare area.

"It’s a source of pride for us, the bison," says Nicolae Vetres, a construction worker from Armenis, who normally fishes for trout in the surrounding countryside. A trio of teenage boys say they are here as an alternative to their usual Saturdays of Facebook and football. One boasts he has seen bison before, recalling a visit to a managed reserve in Hateg, 40 miles away, where one of today's cows, Romanitsa, is coming from.

As the time nears for the release, the crowds build up, among them officials from local and central government, conservationists from across Europe, local priest and other villagers. Numbers swell to 250, and the place starts to resemble a small festival.

But then the first bison lorry gets stuck on the muddy track. Having travelled thousands of miles, in some cases from zoos in Sweden, Germany, Italy and Belgium, it appears they might not be able to make the final 30 metres to the finish line.

The bison is just one of several species including wolves, lynx, beavers and eagles that are making a comeback across Europe due to conservation efforts, according to a report by the Zoological Society of London last year.

Rewilding Europe, and other ecologists say the trend of farmers abandoning relatively unproductive land in Europe, and recession, has also made space for many species to return to the wild. However, a Romanian forestry expert said the "trend was already a history in Romania” as international investors buy up land.

In the Tarcu mountains, the bison will influence both people and the landscape. They are known as a ‘keystone’ or ‘umbrella’ species, capable of altering whole ecosystems through a series of knock-on effects. The wolf is another such keystone species, whose reintroduction in Yellowstone park in the US in 1995 deterred deer in some areas, helped vegetation recover and trees grow higher, stabilise soil erosion, ultimately changing rivers.

As grazers eating a huge amount of grass and herbs each day, the bison will create open spaces, meadows and glades, in the forests, which in turn will bring insects and birds. They will spread seed in their dung and their hooves will break up the soil, allowing vegetation to grow. Griffon vultures may one day be reintroduced here as the area changes, conservationists hope.

Back at the release site, a huge forestry vehicle helps to overcome the mud. The bison are now on the brink of freedom.

The Orthodox priest sings an Easter prayer, blessing the animals as he flicks holy water from a sprig of basil. A local boy and girl, dressed in traditional dress of a feather-filled hat, black waistcoat and a lacey white shirt, cut a ribbon in Romania flag colours of yellow, blue and red, the boy then rushes to grab his digital camera, chewing gum all the while.

The bison, skittish and nervous despite their huge size, walk off the lorries and up the path to their 15 hectare (150 acres) site (in September their range will expand to 160 hectare). Two of them lock their short horns and tussle – a good sign, the conservationists say, as it shows the animals are healthy enough to fight.

Watched by a crowd of supporters a herd of 17 bison from five different countries took their first tentative steps into the forests of the southern Carpathian mountains. Video: Kristjan Jung

The final cow, apparently reluctant to leave her transport, finally comes out with surprising speed. She stops, nibbles the grassy verge, turns, and trots off through the trees.


BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday called on European allies to stand firm in punishing Russia for its role in the unrest in neighboring Ukraine and its annexation of Crimea.

Embarking on a visit to reassure Eastern European nations of America's support for the region, Biden said they all "must remain resolute in imposing greater costs on Russia and imposing those costs together."

"Europe's borders should never again be changed at the point of a gun, which is why we continue to condemn — condemn — Russia's illegal occupation of Crimea," Biden said as he met American and Romanian forces involved in joint military exercises.

The U.S. and the European Union have imposed travel bans and asset freezes on President Vladimir Putin's inner circle over Russia's annexation of the Crimea Peninsula and threatened to target entire sectors of the Russian economy with sanctions if Russia tries to grab more land or attempts to derail Ukraine's presidential election.

"But our strategy is about more than just imposing costs. It's fundamentally about investing in a revitalized NATO that emerges from this crisis and works toward a successful summit in Wales stronger and more united," Biden said.

Since Crimea was annexed, NATO has put AWACS surveillance planes in the skies over Poland and Romania, dispatched warships to the Baltic and Black seas and sent U.S. Army troops to Poland, Romania and the Baltic states.

Romania, a staunch U.S. ally, joined NATO in 2004 and the U.S. has a base in the Romanian Black Sea port of Constanta.

Biden will meet President Traian Basescu and Prime Minister Victor Ponta on Wednesday, when he is expected to discuss the situation in neighboring Moldova, where 1,500 Russian troops are stationed in a separatist region.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Romanian historian who debunked Dracula myth dies

By Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania — He was a Romanian-born historian, professor and philanthropist who intrigued American popular culture by writing a book linking the fictional Count Dracula to the 15th-century Romanian prince Vlad the Impaler.

Radu Florescu died Sunday at age 88 in Mougins, France, from complications connected to pneumonia, his son John Florescu told The Associated Press on Monday.

Florescu wrote a dozen books but was most famous for “In Search of Dracula,” which he co-authored with Raymond T. McNally in 1972. In it, he asserted that Irish author Bram Stoker based the Dracula character in his 1897 novel on Vlad the Impaler. Florescu’s work was translated into 15 languages and the pair went on to write five more books on Dracula.

“No American has educated more Americans about Romania — and Dracula — than Professor Florescu. I was lucky to be one of his grateful students,” said Jim Rosapepe, a former U.S. ambassador to Romania.

His son said Florescu was the director of the East European Research Center at Boston College, which he founded, from 1986 to 2008. In recent years, he provided scholarships for gifted Romanian students to study in the Boston area.

When former President Richard Nixon visited Romania in 1969, Florescu directed the U.S. Embassy media liaison, providing information for the White House press corps.

Romania’s royal house sent condolences Monday on behalf of former Romanian King Michael, who was forced to abdicate in 1947 by the Communist-led government.

“Through his work, Professor Florescu built a bridge between Romania and the United States, giving Romanian history ... a drop of universality,” the royal house said in a statement, praising Florescu for dedicating himself to his students.

Former U.S. congressman Patrick Kennedy called him “a needed bridge between the United States and Romania and a wise counsel” to his father, the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, on Balkan affairs.

Born in Bucharest in 1925, Florescu left Romania on the Orient Express when he was 13 just as World War II broke out and traveled to Britain, where his father was acting ambassador. His father, also named Radu Florescu, resigned the post when pro-Hitler leader Marshal Ion Antonescu rose to power in Romania.

The younger Florescu won a scholarship to study at Oxford University, where he was taught by Sir William Deakin, Winston Churchill’s biographer. Florescu later moved to America, ending up in Boston.

Florescu urged Romanians to embrace their new-found freedoms after communism ended in 1989. He received honors from former Romanian Presidents Ion Iliescu and Emil Constantinescu for his contributions to Romanian society.

He is survived by his French wife, Nicole, and their four children. He was to be buried Monday in southern France.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Romanian renegade bids for EP seat


BUCHAREST - A Romanian politician running as an independent in the EU elections could be heading for an EP seat, helped by backing from a powerful media group facing indictment for blackmail.

A Comunist-era actor and theatre executive, Mircea Diaconu was a politician in the National Liberal Party (PNL), rising to become Minister of Culture for a few months in 2012.

However Romania's political wealth and assets watchdog, the National Integrity Agency (ANI), declared that his role as a paid official was incompatible with his job as executive director of a theatre.

A court backed this assessment in 2012, banning him from running for public office for three years.

Diaconu was also under investigation for conflict of interests because he helped his wife land a job in his theatre.

Originally set to run as an MEP for the Liberals (PNL), the party removed him from its MEP list and Diaconu pledged to run as an independent.

He had a deadline of five days to collect 100,000 signatures to ensure his candidacy was legitimate.

As he began his quest for thousands of supporters, the actor cast himself as a lone warrior against evil.

"It is like in an American movie, a single man fighting with a huge, powerful, ruthless, cynical and unjust system," he said.

He collected the quota – and is now polling well as an independent, with between one and four per cent of the vote. He needs 5 percent to secure a seat in the EU assembly.

Diaconu had help to get him this far.

He was endorsed on TV by the Intact Media Group – one of Romania's largest media empires, financed and controlled by Dan Voiculescu, a politician and media mogul who is waging a personal war against anti-corruption prosecutors and ANI.

According to Ionut Codreanu, head of monitoring and research at Active Watch, a media analyst NGO, Diaconu was the "only independent candidate" who enjoyed the media support of Intact's TV station Antena 3 while he collected supporters for his candidacy.

Codreanu adds that a week before the deadline for collecting signatures, Antena 3 broadcast an intensive media campaign featuring its TV stars who "lined up every evening in prime time to make people endorse Diaconu".

They explained to the public that this was a campaign against the abuses of the regime of President Traian Basescu, a long-time foe of the media group's financier.

Dan Voiculescu himself was convicted with five years in prison for corruption – a decision he is appealing.

His media group is also indicted over a blackmail operation against a major Romanian internet company.

Voiculescu is the man behind a minuscule party, the Conservatives (PC), which piggy-backs on governing coalitions in Romania, due to the influence and outreach of his media interests.

Voiculescu has been accused by journalists, foreign investigators and researchers of managing the money of the former Communist secret police, the Securitate, and he was convicted by the supreme court of being a Securitate informer, using the codename ‘Felix’.

EIB provides loan for rural development in Romania


The European Investment Bank (EIB) has signed a loan contract to provide in total EUR 300 million to finance priority projects under the Romanian Rural Development Programme for 2007-2013, particularly afforestation, improvement of forest management and protection and small-scale rural and agricultural infrastructure investments.

On 16 May, Mr Mihai Tanasescu, EIB Vice-President responsible for lending operations in Romania, commented: “The EIB loan will finance the upgrading of the environmental performance of more than 44,000 farms and improvement of the management of some 2,400 forestry holdings. It will also support erosion mitigation works on 60,000 ha as well as anti-flood measures in more than 1,000 communities, thereby reducing the risk of disasters such as the recent flooding in Southern Romania. Finally, it will also help to increase the absorption of EU funds in Romania as the EIB loan is backing the Romanian contribution to EU grant support”.

The project will generate employment in Romania’s rural areas, increase the use of renewable energy resources such as biogas and biomass and reduce surface and groundwater pollution from animal husbandry. It will also support the upgrading of the forest road access network needed for the implementation of sustainable forest management plans, particularly fire-fighting, and contribute to the sustainable and long-term use and protection of forest resources.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development of Romania is the promoter of this project while public and private entities receiving support from the Romanian Rural Development Programme, including SMEs, will be the final beneficiaries of the EIB loan.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Dracula’s castle is now for sale in Romania

May 14 at 12:34 pm

The Transylvanian castle erroneously reputed to be the abode of that terrifying abomination Dracula is now technically "for sale." Bran Castle, an atmospheric pile perched atop a crag, is set to be sold off by its Habsburg owners. The Romanian government has reportedly lodged an $80 million bid.

The fortress dates to the 13th century and has been occupied by various bands of warriors and knights over the years. Images of Bran Castle supposedly reached Bram Stoker, the 19th-century Irish author of "Dracula," who drew inspiration for his famous work from travelogues and sketches by British diplomats and adventurers in what was then Wallachia (modern-day Romania). He envisioned the scene surrounding the vampire's lair like so:

"The castle is on the very edge of a terrific precipice. A stone falling from the window would fall a thousand feet without touching anything! As far as the eye can reach is a sea of green tree tops, with occasionally a deep rift where there is a chasm. Here and there are silver threads where the rivers wind in deep gorges through the forests."

Bran Castle fits the bill and has since become a popular tourist destination for those seeking their Dracula thrills. The structure was in the possession of the Romanian Habsburg royal line, but it was appropriated by the state with the advent of Communism. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, the Habsburgs' descendants were ceded back the fortress and set about restoring it — making it the desired attraction it now is.

There is a fascinating industry of "vampire hunters" in Romania and neighboring Bulgaria, with documentary film crews and trekkers searching out the grave sites of obscure medieval counts and pirates who died unnatural deaths. But the historical beast who gave rise to the Dracula legend had nothing to do with Bran Castle — and, while his legacy is drenched with blood, he probably did not drink it.

Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia, was born in 1431 at a rather violent moment: The Ottoman Empire was emerging as a great European power, and an array of lesser states fell under its shadow. Vlad, like many other minor potentates of the time, including theAlbanian national hero Skanderbeg, had mixed dealings with the Ottomans, first learning from them and then warring with them. And his campaigns became known for their monstrousness.

Here's a matter-of-fact letter he apparently wrote to an ally in 1462: "I have killed peasants, men and women, old and young.... We killed 23,884 Turks, without counting those whom we burned in homes or the Turks whose heads were cut by our soldiers." Ruling over restive lands, Vlad butchered his way toward some semblance of order. As many as 80,000 people died under his seven-year reign — he ravaged cities, massacred local farmers and even, in one gruesome scene, had the hats on the heads of unsuspecting Ottoman envoys nailed to their skulls.

Vlad was notoriously fond of impaling his enemies (as many as 20,000 people could have been executed in this fashion), and he earned the sobriquet Tepes, or Vlad the Impaler. He died in fitting style, killed in an Ottoman ambush and summarily beheaded. According to some accounts, he had acquired the habit of signing his name Vlad Dracul — or son of the dragon — and tales of his short, brutal, bloodthirsty life acquired a folkish horror in the centuries that followed, leading to Stoker's creation.

Bran Castle may not be the site of any of Vlad's murders, but his legend looms still. That's probably best for the future owners of the site, who'll need a steady footfall of visitors to recoup the enormous sum needed to acquire it.

Ishaan Tharoor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. He previously was a Senior Editor at TIME, based first in Hong Kong and later in New York. Follow him on Twitterand Facebook. You can subscribe to our newsletter here.

S&P Upgrades Romania to Investment Grade After Six Years

By Andra Timu
May 16, 2014

Standard & Poor’s upgraded Romania to investment grade for the first time since 2008 as the economy grows and the government maintains fiscal rigor.

The Black Sea country’s long-term sovereign bond rating was raised to BBB-, the lowest investment grade and placing it on par with Russia, Brazil and Spain, from BB+, S&P said today in a statement.

Romania has struggled to shed its junk rating over the past 5 1/2 years, embarking on one of the European Union’s toughest austerity programs in 2010 by cutting state wages 25 percent and raising value-added tax by 5 percentage points. The government narrowed the budget gap to an estimated 2.2 percent of gross domestic product this year, from 7.2 percent in 2009.

“The upgrade reflects Romania’s rapid progress in improving its external balances,” S&P said in a statement. “We believe Romania will maintain steady GDP growth, averaging 3 percent over 2014-2017.”

The cost of insuring Romania’s debt against non-payment for five years with credit-default swaps was little changed at 145 basis points yesterday, down from 184 at the start of the year.

Bond markets often disregard rating and outlook changes. France’s 10-year yield, which was 3.08 percent when S&P removed its top rating in January 2012, tumbled to a record 1.66 percent last year.

From the start of this year, Fitch, Moody’s, S&P and DBRS Inc. had to release announcement schedules for ratings decisions under EU rules introduced in the wake of the region’s debt crisis. Assessors will be restricted to three judgments per year on sovereign borrowers that haven’t asked or paid for a grade, and will need to review ratings at least every six months.

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

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at bpenz@bloomberg.net Garfield Reynolds, Jonathan Annells

Romania expects growth of tourists from China: official


BUCHAREST, May 15 -- Romania may register, in the following period, a growing numberof tourists from China and the Republic of Moldova, President of the National Authority forTourism, Razvan Filipescu, told a local Travel Forum Thursday.

"We pay special attention to incoming tourism, since it may become the heart of theeconomy," said the official, specifying that the authorities "struggle to promote Romaniantourism abroad with all the funds available, including TV campaigns in collaboration withinternational broadcasters."

"We will support Romania's participation in over 40 international tourism fairs," Filipescuadded.

According to him, the authority also has discussions with tour operators on their concerns,including reducing VAT on tourism services, law of holiday vouchers and other measures toboost domestic tourism.

Filipescu told the forum that current statistics show a positive development of the tourismindustry in Romania.

"The figures show a positive trend of tourism, an increase of 9.8 percent in the first quarterof 2014, compared to the same period of 2013. There was an increase in the number oftourists from Israel, Poland, Serbia, the United States and Canada," he explained.

Visa difficulties and inadequate transport infrastructure are among the main obstacleswhich affect the rapid growth of Chinese tourists in Romania, a local travel company officialtold Xinhua reporter.

According to the National Statistics Institute, the arrivals of foreign tourists to Romania,registered at the customs, amounted to some 8 million in 2013, slightly up compared to theprevious year. Most of the foreigners came from European countries, namely 93.9 percent.

Arrivals in tourist accommodation units in Romania amounted to 7.9 million in 2013, up 3.5percent year-on-year, showed the same source.

The arrivals of Romanian tourists represented 78.3 percent of the total, while foreigntourists' arrivals were 21.7 percent.

Romania, situated in the north of the Balkan Peninsula on the western shores of the BlackSea, enjoys great natural beauty and diversity and a rich cultural heritage, enchantingvisitors with its scenic mountain landscapes and unspoiled countryside areas.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Holocaust Center to Open in Romanian Town of Elie Wiesel

A special event marking the opening of the first public Holocaust education center in Romania will take place Sunday, May 18 in the town of Sighet. The “Holocaust Cellar” will become a new feature of the Holocaust museum in the pre-war home of Nobel Prize-winning author Elie Wiesel, in the courtyard of the old Jewish Ghetto of Sighet in Maramures County. The cellar will serve as a learning center dedicated to the 13,000 local Holocaust victims.

The opening is sponsored jointly by the Government of Romania, the City of Sighet, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, the Romanian Jewish Federation and Limmud FSU. This is the first in a series of events that will mark 70 years since the expulsion of the last Jews of northern Transylvania to Auschwitz. Among the events will be a concert memorializing Holocaust victims on Saturday night May 17, after Shabbat.

“I am honored and deeply moved that my cherished home in Sighet has become a place Romanians and others can learn about the crimes of the Holocaust, and how the Jewish community was wiped out,” said Professor Elie Wiesel. “The opening of the Holocaust Cellar supports my life’s efforts to ensure that humanity never forgets the evil that took place there and throughout Europe.”

In 1944, two days after Passover, the Jews of Maramures County, in northern Transylvania, were rounded up and forced into 13 ghettos. Eventually, 131,639 Jews from Marmures County were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, and most were exterminated. Between 280,000 and 380,000 Romanian and Ukrainian Jews were murdered or died during the Holocaust in Romania and the territories under its control. An additional 135,000 Romanian Jews living under Hungarian control in Northern Transylvania also perished in the Holocaust, as did some 5,000 Romanian Jews in other countries.

“The story of the Jews who lived in North Transylvania has not been widely told until now, and we’re proud to help begin this next chapter,” said Chaim Chesler, chairman of the Memory Committee of the Claims Conference. “The education center commemorates the terrible fate that befell the Jews of this area, and ensures their story will not be forgotten.”

Among participants at the event will be Viktor Opaschi, the Romanian Minister of Religious Affairs; Irina Cajal, Deputy Minister of Education; Ben Helfgott, Vice President of the Claims Conference and leader in the UK Holocaust survivor community; Romanian parliament members; Chief Rabbi of Romania Rafael Sheffer; Cantor Yosef Adler; the Mayor of Sighet, Ovidiu Nemesh; Harry Marcus, head of the Sighet Jewish community and other leaders of the Romanian Jewish Federation; prominent journalists from Israel, the United States and Romania; the and members of Limmud FSU.

About The Claims Conference:

The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference) represents world Jewry in negotiating for compensation and restitution for victims of Nazi persecution and their heirs. The Claims Conference administers compensation funds, recovers unclaimed Jewish property, and allocates funds to institutions that provide social welfare services to Holocaust survivors and preserve the memory and lessons of the Shoah. For more information: www.claimscon.org.

AFP: Fewer Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants in Britain this year

The number of Romanians and Bulgarians employed in Britain has dropped since the start of the year despite the lifting of entry restrictions, official figures showed Wednesday.

Politicians and many newspapers had expressed fears of a wave of immigrants from the two poorest countries in the European Union once the restrictions ended on January 1.

In fact, the total of 140,000 citizens from Romania and Bulgaria employed in Britain between January and March represented a decline of 4,000 when compared with the 144,000 in work in the last three months of 2013.

Keith Vaz, a lawmaker who chairs the Home Affairs Select Committee in parliament, said the figures were "unsurprising".

"The Committee viewed for itself how the supposed flood of immigration from Romania and Bulgaria was little more than a trickle. It would appear now that many may have actually left the UK."

He added: "By not understanding the likely levels of immigration we risk increasing the poisonous rhetoric and prejudice which leads to the destruction of all rational debate. We must not have an immigration arms race."

Vaz was one of a handful of MPs who went to Luton airport near London on January 1 to greet new arrivals from Romania.

When just a trickle appeared at the arrivals gate, the scrum of news photographers -- and Vaz himself -- pounced on the bemused Victor Spirescu, a 30-year-old who within days had found work washing cars.

Romanian candidates exploit EU election for presidential race


BUCHAREST - Romania’s European election campaign is dominated by the faces of candidates bidding to become President in November’s elections for a new head of state.

With incumbent President Traian Basescu forced to step down in November after two five-year mandates, it remains unclear who will succeed him as ruler of the EU's seventh largest country.

Positioned across the boulevards of cities and towns, along the country roads of villages and throughout social media, are portraits of the contenders likely to stand in the Autumn poll, pushing the candidates for the European Parliament into the background.

These include Social Democratic (PSD) Prime Minister Victor Ponta, National Liberal Party (PNL) leader Crin Antonescu and ex-tourism minister Elena Udrea from a new party, Popular Movement (PMP).

None of these seasoned Romanian politicians are fighting for a European seat.

While Ponta and Antonescu are likely to stand for their parties for President, President Basescu has thrown his support behind Udrea, if she chooses to run.

Recently, Udrea posted pictures of herself, Basescu and the PMP’s young and female members cavorting at the seaside on her Facebook page, wearing T-shirts inviting the electorate to vote for her party.

Prime Minister Ponta declared this was in violation of the constitution, which forbids a President to be involved in the election campaign.

He filed a complaint to the Constitutional Court which, if upheld, means parliament has grounds to suspend Basescu from his role.

His attempt to strike a political blow further indicates that the battle for Europe has become a rehearsal for the fight over Romania’s top job.

Meanwhile, polls in Romania show a union led by the Social Democrats (PSD) winning 40 percent of the votes.

The Liberals (PNL) and right-of-centre Democratic Liberals (PDL) are polling between 11 and 20 percent, and the PMP look set to double their voter share from around five to 10 percent.

Apathy is set to be the biggest winner, however, as no more than 30 percent of Romanians intend to vote next Sunday (25 May).

Romania’s Economic Growth Slows in 1st Quarter, Misses Estimates

By Andra Timu
May 15, 2014

Romania’s economic growth slowed in the first quarter from the fastest pace since 2008 as the impact of a bumper harvest faded, tempering rising industrial output and consumption.

Gross domestic product increased 3.8 percent from a year earlier, compared with 5.4 percent in the fourth quarter of last year, according to a preliminary estimate today, the Bucharest-based National Statistics Institute said in an e-mail. The median forecast of 11 economists surveyed by Bloomberg was for a 3.9 percent expansion. GDP rose a seasonally adjusted 0.1 percent from the previous three months.

“Things are getting better, but the central and eastern European economies are hardly booming,” Lars Christensen, chief emerging-market analyst at Danske Bank A/S (DANSKE) in Copenhagen, said in a May 8 note. For Romania “we forecast average GDP growth this year of over 3 percent. We are mostly optimistic on domestic demand as the worst seems to be behind us.”

The European Union’s second-poorest member is counting mostly on car exports from Renault SA (RNO) and Ford Motor Co. to boost growth that will help increase living standards and help the government meet its goal of joining the euro area in 2019. The International Monetary Fund estimates this year’s expansion at 2.2 percent.

The leu traded little changed at 4.4391 against the euro at 9:15 a.m. in Bucharest, after weakening 0.2 percent yesterday, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Industrial production increased a seasonally adjusted 11.6 percent from a year earlier in March, while retail sales advanced 11.9 percent the same month, the fastest since 2008.
A detailed breakdown of third-quarter GDP will be released June 4, according to a calendar on the institute’s website.

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

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

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Reuters: Russian deputy PM sends bomber tweet after Romania airspace ban

Romania has asked Moscow for an explanation after Russia's deputy prime minister, Dmitry Rogozin, reacting to being barred from its airspace, tweeted he would return in a TU-160 strategic bomber.

Rogozin, one of the senior Russian officials sanctioned by the European Union and United States after Moscow moved to annex Crimea, was turned away when his plane tried to fly to Moscow from Moldova's breakaway Transdniestria region.

According to his tweets in English, Rogozin, who oversees Russia's powerful arms industry, was also blocked by Ukrainian interceptor jets as he tried to fly home from the Russian-speaking region of Moldova bordering Ukraine.

"Upon US request, Romania has closed its airspace for my plane," he tweeted. "Ukraine doesn't allow me to pass through again. Next time I'll fly on board TU-160." The supersonic Soviet-era TU-160 is Russia's largest strategic bomber.

On Saturday the Romanian foreign ministry asked Moscow to clarify whether Rogozin's comments represented "the Russian Federation's official position towards Romania as an EU and Nato member".

It said it "believes the threat of using a Russian strategic bomber plane by a Russian deputy prime minister is a very grave statement under the current regional context."

It added that "the Russian Federation has broken Ukraine's territorial sovereignty ... while pro-Russian separatists are violating public order in the neighbouring state."

The statement said Romania was abiding by the sanctions imposed by the European Union against Russia. Rogozin, an avid user of social media, posted on his Facebook page the Romanian message to him citing the relevant European Council decisions.

Travel bans are among the limited sanctions western states have imposed on some Russian and pro-Moscow Ukrainian political and business leaders, including Rogozin.

Rogozin was on a visit to Russian-speaking Transdniestria, a long narrow strip of Moldova bordering Ukraine that broke away from the rest of the Romanian-speaking country in 1990 as the Soviet Union was beginning to collapse.

Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries and Romania's eastern neighbour, is seeking closer ties with the EU, which last month said Moldovans would no longer need visas to travel to most of the bloc.

In another tweet sent one hour before he was turned away, Rogozin said: "this morning I met with the Command of the Joint Staff of Russian Forces in Transdniestria."

In other tweets, Rogozin said he attended celebrations on Friday in Tiraspol, capital of Transdniestria, to mark the anniversary of the 1945 Soviet victory over Nazi Germany.


WASHINGTON (AP) — Vice President Joe Biden will discuss the Ukraine crisis next week while visiting Romania and Cyprus, the White House announced Monday.

Biden will be in Europe from May 20 until May 23. In Bucharest, Biden was scheduled to meet with Romanian President Traian Basescu and with U.S. and Romanian troops conducting a joint military exercise. Biden also plans to give a speech to Romanian civil and youth leaders.

The trip is intended to reinforce America's commitment to NATO allies amid concerns about Russia's intervention in Ukraine.

In Cyprus, Biden will meet with both Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot political leaders and emphasize U.S. support for the island's unification as, described by the White House, a "bizonal, bicommunal federation with political equality."

Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by Cypriot supporters of union with Greece. Turkish Cypriots declared an independent state in 1983, but only Turkey recognizes it.

While in Europe, Biden also plans to discuss a pending trans-Atlantic trade deal.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Fivefold Pay Surge Since 2006 Reveals Romania Tech Boom

By Andra Timu and Irina Savu May 8, 2014

George Mihaiu has boosted his salary fivefold since 2006 and he’s still getting two job offers a day.

Mihaiu, 31, rode a wave of software investment streaming into Romania to increase his after-tax pay to about 2,000 euros ($2,790) a month, five times the country’s average. In the past 10 years, at least 50 technology companies, including International Business Machines Corp., Microsoft Corp., Oracle Corp. and Intel Corp., have set up offices in Romania, making it one of Europe’s biggest technology-worker hubs.

With more than 64,000 certified IT specialists, Romania is the European Union leader in technology worker-density per capita and sixth in the world, according to Gartner Inc., a research company in Stamford, Connecticut. Romania’s strengths are its multilingual, educated labor force and its low costs for IT services, Gartner said in a Nov. 6 report.

“Many companies are completely moving their development here,” said Mihaiu, a software developer who chose to work for a smaller company that produces software for U.S. firms because of schedule flexibility. “I personally want to have a balance.” Some friends in Romania earn 4,000 euros a month working 14 to 15 hours a day, he said.Photographer:

The rise in technology jobs in the EU’s second-poorest member isn’t just on the legal side. The country is struggling to contain a rising number of cybercrime networks with the help of the U.S. Secret Service, which has a special office in Bucharest.
Converting Hackers

Romania accounted for about 1 percent of the world’s cyber-attack traffic during the fourth quarter of 2013, putting it in ninth place in the world after China, the U.S, Canada and Indonesia, accordingto a report by Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Akamai Technologies Inc., which helps speed Internet-data delivery. A global study coordinated by Verizon Communications Inc. placed Romania second after China in terms of cyber-attacks and data breaches in 2012.

President Traian Basescu said he was trying to “convince the hackers to come to the good side” when he asked the European Union Council in December 2013 to make Bucharest the location for a planned European agency to fight cybercrime. No decision has yet been made.

Three Romanian hackers were sentenced last year to between 21 months to 15 years in U.S. federal prison after pleading guilty to hacking-related charges, admitting they hit more than 800 U.S. stores, about 250 of which were Subway sandwich shops.

With an education system oriented toward mathematics and foreign languages from primary school through university, Romania is looking to take advantage of an accelerating Europe-wide technology labor shortage.

The continent is facing 500,000 vacancies by 2015, up from the current 300,000, according to Danny Gooris, senior regional manager in Brussels at Oracle Academy, an Oracle unit that provides computer-science curricula and software to schools.
Factory Ruins

That may offer an exit strategy for the country, where the rusting ruins of factories still dot the landscape as reminders of the forced industrialization during communism, which ended 24 years ago. In cities including Bucharest, Cluj-Napoca and Iasi, steel-and-glass towers have risen in the past decade to house the programmers.

In Oracle’s offices in northern Bucharest, the software maker’s biggest operations and development center in Europe, Romanian employees speak 27 languages, said Sorin Mindrutescu, chief executive officer of the unit.

“It’s their innovative spirit that makes Romanians great at this job,” he said from his office in a modern building. “A Romanian immediately thinks of new ways to work around a brick wall when the only textbook solution would be to smash his head against it to break it.”
Multiple Benefits

Romania also is attracting technology entrepreneurs seeking to use the country as a hub for European expansion. Among them is William Sterns, 36, who raised $185,000 from his family and friends in New York to set up a business in Bucharest to develop mobile-coupon and mobile-payment systems.

“Part of why we wanted to do it in Romania is because it’s very cheap to get a business off the ground,” Sterns, a professional photographer and the president of Mobuy Solutions, said in Bucharest. “The costs are much less than in other parts of Western Europe and the IT talent is plentiful.”

Sterns’s company now employs 12 people and partners with the local units of Vodafone Group Plc, Adidas AG and MOL Hungarian Oil and Gas Plc to sell his applications. He expects to reach profitability in about eight months, he said.

The country’s outlook for job growth for this quarter outpaces peers in the region including Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia, according to an index from Milwaukee-based staffing firm Manpowergroup Inc. Romania’s jobless rate of 7.2 percent is the eighth-lowest among the EU’S 29 members and its economy was the bloc’s fastest-growing in the fourth quarter of last year, at 5.4 percent from a year earlier.

Biggest Companies

Software developers in Romania earn more than their counterparts in Poland but less than those in the Czech Republic and Russia, according to figures from Seattle-based Payscale Inc., which provides online employee compensation data.

About 12,000 Romanians work for the biggest 25 technology companies in the country and Oracle is the largest employer, according to Finance Ministry data.

Companies settling in Romania also can benefit from government aid -- about 77 million euros has gone to nine technology companies, including Microsoft and IBM, in the past two years to match private investment. More than 3,600 jobs are being created as a result, the government says.

Deutsche Bank AG alone plans to hire 500 software engineers by 2016 in its new technology center in Bucharest, according to Mihai Andrei Ionescu, the bank’s local office manager.

Another driver for the technology sector is the tax exemption for programmers, who don’t pay the 16 percent flat tax on their income that workers in other industries do.
Moldova Opportunities

“If that incentive was eliminated, my company would definitely move to Moldova or Albania,” said Cristi Lupu, a 33-year-old senior developer from Brasov whose company specializes in building and maintaining websites.

Many Romanian programmers still leave the country for better-paying jobs in Western Europe or the U.S. Paul Atzberg, a 31-year game developer, is moving to Barcelona. He chose it over another offer from the U.K. because of the location.

“I’ve been programming since high school and I’m very specialized in what I do so I’m not going to Spain to steal anyone’s job,” said Atzberg. He was referring to the Romanians who moved to Spain to work, mostly in agriculture or construction, after Romania joined the EU in 2007.

Continued emigration of the skilled workforce, along with rising costs, may reduce Romania’s attractiveness, Gartner analysts Ian Marriott and Gianluca Tramacere said in the report.

For people such as Mihaiu, with a family to keep them in the country, the rising number of job offers and bumper salaries make Romania an attractive home.

“I was driven to programing by circumstance, not by a special calling,” said Mihaiu, who asked to have his employers’ name withheld because of all his job offers. “I wasn’t too much of an athlete, I wasn’t attracted by economics or law and my eyesight wasn’t good enough to make me a pilot. So, I chose computer science and it paid off.”

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

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at bpenz@bloomberg.net Anne Swardson

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Romanian Navy conducts Black Sea drills

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romania's Defense Ministry says some 1,600 sailors are taking part in navy training exercises in the Black Sea amid tensions in neighboring Ukraine.

The ministry said in a statement that Romania's "Vector 2014" exercises are part of a regular and long-planned naval drill. It began Monday and is to run through Friday in Romanian and international waters of the Black Sea.

The exercises come amid heightened tensions in Ukraine after Russia annexed Crimea and unrest has spread to Ukraine's port city of Odessa.

Romania, a staunch U.S. ally and NATO member, is some 300 kilometers (190 miles) from Odessa.

The U.S. Navy destroyer USS Donald Cook left the Black Sea last month after two weeks of joint military maneuvers and the U.S. frigate USS Taylor is still in the region.

Romania says its bank buffers should soften Russia/Ukraine spillovers

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - The Romanian banking system's comfortable solvency and liquidity buffers should help alleviate any problems arising from the exposure of Austrian and French banks to Russia and Ukraine, Central Bank Governor Mugur Isarescu said on Monday.

In a presentation, Isarescu said none of the Russian-owned companies in Romania were deemed of "systemic importance," and that there were "negligible exposures of Romanian banks to Russian or Ukrainian entities".

Romania, which neighbors Ukraine to the north, sends only 4.7 percent of its exports to Russia or Ukraine, so even a 10 percent fall in the value of exports to these countries, assuming it was not offset elsewhere, would shave only 0.16 percentage points off Romania's GDP.

"Even a total shutdown in gas imports may be weathered without tangible disruptions, at least until November-December," Isarescu said.