Sergiu Mișcoiu: Romania relies on the EU for economic answer to the war in Ukraine

An interview with the Romanian political analyst about the specifics of Romanian foreign policy orientation in the times of war in Ukraine, about the contingency plans that Romania relies on in order to protect its industry and about the role the National Plan for Recovery and Resilience play in all that

Sergiu Mișcoiu is a professor of Political Science and European Studies at the University Babeș-Bolyai in Cluj-Napoca. He gave to Cross-border Talks’ Vladimir Mitev a four-parts interview, in whose first part he spoke about the Romanian reliance on an united West – the USA and Western Union acting in ensemble, which makes it unique in Central and Southeastern Europe. Romania relies on EU contingency plans and policies and that might be limiting its space for maneuver in economic sense in the current crisis. But in Mișcoiu’s view the benefits of EU membership are far greater than the disadvantages. 

Mr. Mișcoiu, we are making an interview about a number of important issues that deal with Romanian foreign policy and the geopolitical context. And first of all, let us start with the war in Ukraine, which creates a number of dilemmas. So what is the Romanian foreign policy logic with regards to this war? How does the state prepare for the different possible outcomes of when the war ends? Is Romania more interested in having a strong security and defense answer, or is it also appreciating a lot the economic dynamics which usually leads to opening towards the east, given that traditionally Western European countries have had economic ties with Russia. And also, is Romania more interested to be the country at the front oran avanpost of the West? Or does it also have some current, which is interested in strategic ambiguity, a current which allows for certain, maybe greater complexity in engaging the East?

Thank you a lot for these very interesting questions and for inviting me here to start with. I think we have to put the things in a rather historical cultural logic. After 1989, Romania passed through a period of hesitations, I would say, up to the mid 1990s, remaining to some extent into what we may call the gray zone, or at least hesitating between a very pro-Western attitude and a moderate neutral attitude in relation with the former USSR and especially with the with Russia. But since the mid-nineties and especially since the beginning of the two thousandths, Romania has developed into one of the most pro-European and pro-Atlanticist states in the region.

We have also another state that looks like this, which is Poland. But Poland is to some extent less pro-European than Romania, and I would qualify Romania as being at the same time, pro-NATO and pro-EU, which does Romania unique in the region. And this comes, of course, with the price. The price is the quasi-loss of the foreign policy self-determination. The capacity of playing a role that is independent from the one that is ascribed by the partners in the Western countries is quite limited. And I think that after a series of agitations, especially around the 2000, Romania played this card as being the unique solution solution, as it was seen back then in order to get rid of the legacy of the communist past, and especially in order of getting out of this zone that was perceived as being an obstacle for the development of Romania.

So more or less what I would like to argue here is that we’ve got now a pro-Western narrative that replaced the pro-Eastern and the nationalist narrative in the past. And at the same time, this led to a loss of the capacity of Romania to determine its own way. And, of course, this came as a volunteer decision of most political decision makers. And it was and still is to the extent appreciated by the public opinion. This has, of course, also geostrategic consequences. And turning to the second part of your question regarding what happened after the beginning the war in Ukraine. And of course, Romania considered itself as being vulnerable on its eastern frontier, sharing a wide frontier with Ukraine and also being partially responsible for the tutelage and the European integration of states such as Moldova. And because of these of these arguments, Romania played and still plays once again the security card, which of course, prevents Romania of playing other cards. But it was a choice that Romania made in that Romania will secure its frontier, will coordinate 100% with the Western allies and in this way will drop any pretension of any play of claim, of playing a role of mediator, negotiator in the region. And from this point of view, of course, it is a very different situation If we compare it with the situation of Hungary, for instance, and also if we compare with the situation of of Turkey, a much more independent and based on its own agenda as an international player, although a member of of NATO.

Romania is a great level, relatively great level of industrialization with the help of foreign investment and state encouragement for it. So how is the war in Ukraine affecting Romania with regards to its economy and the energy issue and the infrastructure issues? Apparently some delay or crisis in the eurozone is expected. There is inflation and a number of challenges which probably put to test the Romanian industry. So what are the contingency plans? What is the answer? What is the space for manoeuvre which Romania has in order to protect and maybe even develop further, if possible, its industry?

You know, one of the good things with Romania is that its dependence on the Russian gas is much more limited than the one of the other other countries in the region. But this being said, as you rightfully put it, Romania has still an important and quite modernising industrial sector, and it was plainly hit even in the first month of the war. Of course, all the imports from Russia in this field have been severely restricted, but because of the situation, Ukraine was no longer able to sell different components, different raw materials. The Romanian economy was was effected on this industrial side.

Well, the contingency plan includes rather part of the European strategy of contingency plans, which means that there is a need to reduce as much as possible the dependence on the raw materials on the sub components and different, for instance, metals for some subcomponents in industry from from the East and find other sources. Up to this moment, Romania was not very successful in doing so, as far as I know. It tried to diversify, turning towards some countries in Africa and Latin America, in Southeast Asia. But of course, these changes take time.

And once again, of course, the advantage is belonging to the European Union is that you get the subsidies, the help and of course all the resources mobilised in situations of crisis from the EU. But on the other hand, you are also very much stuck as far as your own strategies are concerned. You can no longer dispose of your own decision making processes in several sectors without the authorisation of the European Commission. And this, of course limits the margin of manoeuvre, the autonomy of the Romanian government in building contingency plans. Maybe those contingency plans could have been more adaptive if the European constraints were not there. But once again, this was the volunteered decision of Romania and up to this moment I think that on the long term, the pluses of belonging to the European Union are far more important than the minuses.

Talking about the EU. Romania benefits from the National Plan for Recovery and Resilience. But how effective is this plan? Can some kind of judgment be made at this moment? Are there any problems with accessing the funds or realising the projects? Especially with regards to infrastructure. Romania, had an ambitious plan for developing of infrastructure in its current government. What is happening in this regard?

Well, infrastructure is one of the most delicate problems in Romania because it took a very long time to develop a pertinent strategy in building infrastructure. Romania was far behind its neighbours in the quality of infrastructures. And this was a very bad point for the European integration of Romania in for instance, the networks of railways in the network of highways, as it could have been one of the most successful transit countries, given its surface and its geographical position. Romania tried and still tries to mobilise European funds in order to build infrastructure. The problem was very delicate when the resilience and recovery plan of the EU, the post-COVID one, was discussed at the European level as most of the demands that Romania made in order to get subsidies for infrastructure were not in line with the priorities, which were much more concentrating back then on green energy, on the resilience to climate change, digitalisation and, and so on. And this is and still was and still is a problem for the Romanian government. How to I wouldn’t say disguise, but rather to make up things in such a way that an important amount of European funds that were missed during especially 27, 2013 multiannual budget of the EU could be now to some extent recovered mobilised in order to attain the objectives. And the objectives are unfortunately quite basic. Lots of regions in Romania have very poor infrastructures and massive investment in these infrastructures is very obviously necessary in order to bring them to light.

Photo: The flags of the EU and Romania (source: PIxabay, CC0)

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