Sergiu Mișcoiu: Bulgarian-Romanian relations are unjustly weak

A view at the sentiments of two Southern European nations towards one another and at various ideas for generation of dynamics in their ties

The second part of the interview with the professor of European Studies at the University of Cluj-Napoca deals with the reasons for the lack of dynamics and trust in the Bulgarian-Romanian relations and the ways to overcome the obstacles. The bilateral trade between the two countries is quite good, but it is generated mostly by multinational corporations trading with one another or with their local partners. The two countries are impeded by the fact they are outside the Schengen area. A mini-Schengen for them is a solution, which Mișcoiu is very fond of, but it is not the time for it, as the two countries lack the necessary trust between their institutions. Cultural centers between them and many small scale cultural projects could create dynamics and mutual knowledge between their people. Perhaps it is the people, who could act as a bridge of friendship in the bilateral relations.

One of the poor regions of Romania is its southern part, which borders Bulgaria. And I would like to ask a few questions about the relations with Bulgarians, because it’s a little bit counterintuitive or surprising what exists. These are two countries in NATO, in the EU, and there are a number of historical links between the people. But at the same time, they seem possibly distant, unaware, not knowing when one another is not associating very much with one another. And maybe also at the level of states there is certain competition. And to the extent that they make something together, they also seem to be positioning generally differently on various important foreign policy issues. So how much the relation with Bulgarians can help Romania develop its poor regions of the South? To what extent is there potential for something in the Bulgarian Romanian relations, in your view?

It’s a very interesting question. And you’re right, it’s very puzzling for lots of observers when they see the quite low level of interrelationships between Romania and Bulgaria. I think we have to reason in terms of historical and cultural arguments. And if we take the Romanian side of the relations and the way Romania perceives these different neighbors, it is very interesting. So the relation with the Tsarist Empire and then with Ukraine, was more or less historically considered distant in the area of the remains of the Eastern Empire and the USSR. Also with regard to Moldova there was a brotherhood. A Big Brother-like relation was conceived by Romania after the 1990s. In relation with Hungary there was continuous competition and sometimes this led to even disputes over, of course, Transylvania and the minority issues. And the sole more friendly neighbor up to the wars in former Yugoslavia was Yugoslavia and of course Serbia out of Yugoslavia. This left a very marginal place for the relations with Bulgaria.

Historically, I think that there was a culture of, I wouldn’t say despising, maybe it’s a too strong word, but rather looking down to Bulgaria. Generally, Romania had the more powerful neighbors, strong nation states, and especially former great kingdoms and empires. And of course there was a complex of inferiority in relation to them. As far as Bulgaria is concerned. Romania developed strangely some sort of complex of superiority and this also impregnates the competition within the EU between Romania and Bulgaria, unfortunately to avoid the last place in the EU in terms of macroeconomic indicators, in terms of level of living, of wages and standards and so on. So I would rather say that unfortunately this cultural strange heritage is not interesting. But knowing that those neighbors in the South are not really like we are maybe on an inferior level of development did not help at all to develop the relations and to create a common destiny. And this is, of course, not only a pity, but also bizarre, because Romania and Bulgaria are nations who had a common past. If we think historically to the long-lasting Bulgarian-Romanian coexistence in one state in the medieval period and moreover the they are both now and have been both now in the European Union partners in the European Union’s partners in NATO. And so relations could and should be much more intense. And it’s a pity because also the frontier cooperation, the regional cooperation and the frontier levels between the two countries is quite low, while the European Union itself now offers numerous possibilities of financing important projects for building euro regions, for building trans frontier cooperation. And that’s something that the two governments should really consider in the future, especially nowadays with the new geopolitical threats over us.

Okay. You mentioned that the EU provides opportunities for development of cross-border relations. In this regard, what could be the role of the Danube strategy or what could be the potential for development of common infrastructure in terms of bridges and other connections, such as energy connections, etc., between the two countries?

I think that both the Danube strategy and other major projects are still on the political declarative level and they are not substantive enough. There is an important opportunity nowadays to put together human resources in order to establish realistic mini-strategies of development of different infrastructures across the Danube, and also to co-create hubs for development. And if we take into consideration the Giurgiu-Rousse area there, there is a huge potential also for the transport of the Danube, but also for lots of investments in creating a hub for the Northern Balkans there in order to spray over in different small and medium enterprises in fields such as agriculture, new technologies and and so on. So I believe that unfortunately, even in these areas where the EU leaves a certain margin of manoeuvre to the states, especially if they cooperate with each other within the European Union, our two countries were not able to produce meaningful results.

It’s been often given as an example that the Bulgarian-Romanian turnover in trade is very high, somewhere around €6.5-7 billion per year. And there is a catch here that it is mostly generated by foreign companies, by corporations which trade with one another in the two countries. So there is an issue apparently related with the autochthonous or own dynamics in the Bulgarian-Romanian relations. Apparently the partners of the two countries are maybe more interested in the development of relations for strategic or for economic reasons. But how could their own dynamics of Bulgarians and Romanians in these relations grow? If there is an issue related to trust or attitude or indifference or attitude of despise between them do you think that it is again the people who could be some kind of bridge of friendship or some kind of enforcers, developers, engines of these relations? And what conditions or what project or initiatives should be created, if that is possible, so that the people can develop these ties in the conditions when the state elites maybe will continue to differ on many issues.

I think that the frontier on the Danube is still seen much more than necessary as being a thick frontier. And of course, if both Romania and Bulgaria would be in Schengen, then the frontier would naturally disappear or quasi-disappear. And of course, as we know from the experience of many other countries, let’s take the Austrian-Hungarian frontier or Austrian-Hungarian-Croatian frontier and so on. This is a very important determining factor, pushing for more cooperation. Of course, you’re very right that autochthonous capitals do not really exist in the two countries. If you take a huge sector such as oil industry, banking systems or retail services, I think that both in Romania and Bulgaria, there is almost no autochthonous capital and all the companies are owned by German, French, Austrian and other such mother companies. This, of course, limits the margin of manoeuvre of the state to channel these forms of cooperation and to push for more cooperation between Romania and Bulgaria. But as you said, also rightfully, there is a high level of intracompany trade between the two countries, which shows that the cooperation is nevertheless real to some extent. So all in all, I believe that the transformation of this thick frontier into a thinner one, which could be, of course, done within Schengen, but the states could prepare and push much more for that in the future. I mean, the Romanian and Bulgarian state is the condition of possibility to have a different perception of each other and to see each other as potential partners for development.

In the case that the countries are not admitted to Schengen once again in the autumn to what extent could the idea of their own mini Schengen space be viable? I mean, Bulgaria and Romania to eliminate the border control and somehow through this elimination proof that they can manage their own border, Schengen border and also generate more economic dynamics between them.

Yeah. I’m really very favorable to this initiative. I also spoke on other occasions about this. I think that these grassroots initiatives are encouraged by the EU itself. So you can get even some important EU funding in order to erase your frontiers, so to say. But for the moment, I think that the level of common trust of the two governments in each other is not very high. If we take into consideration the perception the two countries have of each other, the way politicians of the two states regard or disregard the other decision makers from the other state respectively, I think for the moment the conditions are not really ready. But of course there is a strong need to promote such initiatives. And I also believe that if the mini-Schengen space between Romania and Bulgaria becomes a reality to some point, things will not stop there. So the effect will be much more important, as far as the initiatives for development will be and it will be some sort of a model for the other states also.

To what extent could some cultural initiatives between the two countries be useful in the building of trust, such as, for example, opening of cultural centers in the two capitals. Or maybe some media or NGO projects that promote mutual knowledge, understanding, etc.

Such projects are very important. Of course, they create the ground for more cooperation, but they will not be enough. I think that even on this level there are quite a few initiatives, not too many of them that put together the NGO activists from the two countries, for instance. Or I did not witness any fever of creating cultural centers in Romanian, in Bulgaria and the other way around. And for the moment, I think that both countries and maybe even to some extent it’s more the fault of Romania than Bulgaria are oriented towards the West and not towards the partner country in the region. And this, of course, prevents cooperation and leaves it at the level of some ceremonial events, some rare, maybe visible, but still very rare common initiatives on the ground of civil society or culture.

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