EU accession: Does Baroness Nicholson know what she is doing?

Ziarul BURSA #English Section / 23 martie 2004

I can't claim to be very interested in conspiracy theories: Robert MacNamara, retired US Secretary for Defense, in the Oscar winning documentary "the Fog of War' says wistfully he only wishes the world were so well organised ; in fact it is a much more dangerous place. Thus I slide carefully past the editor's theories about Baroness Nicholson aired in this paper last week. I am more likely to believe she is propelled by knee jerk reactions, and sudden calls to arms, then by calculated, practical considerations, to judge by the phraseology she has frequently employed in dealing with the Romanian Government and especially during last week's debacle over her report to the EU. She is also much criticised for shouting a great deal about the orphans and not fulfilling promises to do some-thing concrete about the problem.

However, it is possible for Romanians to be delighted beyond measure that the Baroness, Jonathan Scheele and Michael Guest are all speaking with one voice. Moreover, unlike back in the mid 1990's when the World Bank, the IMF and just about any other foreign NGO involved in the transition process (with the honourable exception of the Know How Fund) was happy just to be told what they wanted to hear, and never once looked under the rug, these people are taking a tougher stance and are at last telling it how it is: that corruption is cracking apart the system (and is indeed the root cause of the appalling exploitation of children) [note to translator:please add brackets ]

It is also possible that EU taxpayers would be delighted beyond measure not to have to pay the bill for Romanian entry, but one could wish for even further countless pleasures to be showered over us as a result of an admission by the Romanian government that they themselves do not really want to join the EU and have never really wanted to and, to judge by the (in reality) 14% turnout at the referendum in January, neither does the Romanian population. However, it is clear that, in spite of this, the deal has already been struck, driven by business interests, principally EU, in an exercise in lip smacking over the potential of a Romanian market of 23 million people and some early approaching EU funded infrastructure projects of considerable size.. It remains to be seen if the Romanians can, or wish to, keep their side of the bargain.

Back in the early 1990's, those close to President Iliescu understood his objective to be to join NATO, but not the EU. It is possible that objective has remained unchanged in the last decade and adopted by the Ruling Party - why else has no one bothered to make any serious commitment to meeting EU objectives, and indeed why invent Hilda Puwak? From the metallic quality of her activities working for Minister Cosea, it must have been clear that EU accession was not a serious proposition for the Government.

Mr. Iliescu has always been ready to exploit the nationalist/ sovereignty issue: Romanians of all types nurture a deep reluctance to give up sovereignty - a fervent nationalism was carefully cultivated during the Ceaucescu era in the education process, in place of religious, spiritual and cultural development of which Romanians were so deprived. Indeed such nationalism was Ceaucescu's ticket to sainthood for some and today it is still possible for foreigners to distract many a communist educated intellectual from many a serious issue with a discourse on this subject, especially Romania's Dacian origins.

But business is business and it is possible to observe how many of the new rich can quick-ly get past such sentiments and go global and in that context we can admire the new thinking in the Party as personified in the close relationship formed between Mr. Nastase and Mr. Berlusconi.

However, many cannot see how the Puterea could consider for a minute giving up the current style of government, to have its privacy invaded, to become accountable to outsiders, by whom I/they do not just mean foreigners. For the time being of course, it is fun doing the negotiations, playing along to see how much money they can extract from EU accession funds, in return for their apparent cooperation, and seeing the EU officials for the suckers they are. And it can be assumed that, if the price is right, the Puterea will accept the blandishments of business men and allow the EU to buy them up lock, stock and barrel. Of course there is an underlying assumption that any attempt to unravel the history of Bancorex and other corruption scandals can be easily blocked indefinitely by mutual agreement. You have only to look at Greece.

But then along comes the Baroness and calls a spade a spade, to the alarm of the Government, and I am truly torn between admiration for her brave stance (for of course we all of us know she is right), and alarm at her rather peculiar remarks, which have a fresh, unpremeditated quality, so unlike what one has come to expect from the EU at any level, or what might be deemed appropriate from anyone on an official visit to another country. She tells the Prime Minister of a sovereign country, standing on sovereign territory, that his surprisingly upbeat reaction to her damning report is "improper.' (this word was not reported exactly in the Romanian press). Did it not occur to her that for someone who grew up in the Communist era, extreme politeness, to the point of absurdity, is a form of courtesy paid to someone deemed to have been very rude. (There can surely be no other explanation for Mr. Nastase's extraordinary remarks). In fact it is Baroness Nicholson who risks being accused of making "improper' remarks, not least when she tells Mr. Nastase to cut the "spin' as she has had enough of it from Blair.- is it really appropriate for an EU official to show such contempt for her own prime minister, publicly?

It is received opinion among Romanians that Lady Nicholson has entered into a personal fight here with the Romanian prime minister, that she somehow entertains a grand moral disgust for him and his coterie. That is very dangerous in negotiations, if in fact she is actually meant to be part of them , and it invites a parallel with Blair moralising on Saddam Hussein. It also recalls the night in Prague when the two premiers, Klaus and Meciar, met to agree the future of Czechoslovakia: the whole country waited until 3.00am when the announcement came of the split. Next morning I came face to face with the wife of a cabinet minister, in tears.'How can they do this, how can they do this?' she wailed - how could two men destroy a country out of personal rivalry, and the extreme arrogance which characterised both of them?

It is to be hoped that it will not be said in future that the extreme incompatibility between Lady Nicholson and Mr. Nastase was the main cause of Romania failing to join the EU, although the on dit among the expatriates and the business community is that the deal has already been struck for 2007, and the rest is posturing and land grabbing. [new paragraph]

This is the optimistic approach which assumes the Government really understands what it is signing up to and can deliver in time. (The realists say 2110 and the pessimists 2112). This might be the real cause of Baronness Nicholson's rage: that she sees vested interests steam-rolling over her mission and discovers she is the chorus on a badly lit stage and not a centrally placed Cassandra after all. That has such a familiar ring about it, that it is almost a certainty. The other possibility is that the EU has become so worried about the Government's failure to grasp the reality of the situation that they have instructed Baroness Nicholson to frighten the Prime Minister by publicly shaming him. In that case she has no idea (and no experience) of what she has to deal with. Which is a pity, as, if she could manage to employ some gravitas in her dealings with the Government, and to deal with some central issues, such as the curtailing of press freedom and the mis management of the national budget, there might be some progress. If she carries on just hurling insults, the only people to get hurt, as usual, are the Romanian people.

Vivien Ashton, Former Know How Fund adviser to FPP V Muntenia and the Bursa de Valori

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