Vladimir Mitev was a guest on the Bulgarian TV Europe in a conversation about the newly formed Romanian government of General Nicolae Ciuca, about the Romanian recovery and resilience plan, about the Bulgarian-Romanian economic and human relations
This text is a transcription of the interview for the Business Diary programme, which was broadcast live on 30 November 2021 on TV Europe (Bulgaria). The video was provided to the blog “The Bridge of Friendship” by TV Europe.
Dimitar Vuchev: We are in the second part of “Business Diary”. Now we’re going to do an inclusion directly on Skype. With us is Vladimir Mitev, a fellow journalist. Hello! I hope you are listening to us.
Vladimir Mitev: Hello, I hear you well!
Thank you for accepting our invitation! We’re going to take a look at a topic that is perhaps not so much on the agenda, compared to all the other topics here in Bulgaria. However, it is important because of Romania’s proximity to Bulgaria and because of the situation in the country. There is already a new government there, which, of course, is attracting attention from Bulgaria and from Europe. What is actually happening politically in Romania? How did this new cabinet come about?
First of all, let us try to put things into context a little bit. For the last 4-5 years there has been a division in politics in Romania. There is talk, roughly speaking, of new parties and old parties, of new-type parties and old-type parties. We have seen this conversation emerging in Bulgaria recently, with all the conventions of these divisions. The new parties are more linked to the corporate sector. The old parties are linked to the so-called oligarchic model of capitalism.
Now what is happening concretely. There was a governmental and political crisis in Romania from September until very recently – until November. Previously, a coalition was in power which included, on the one hand, the Save Romania Union and the Plus Party. This is the classic type of new party with an anti-corruption agenda. On the other hand, the other major party in the government was the National Liberal Party, which is a member of the European People’s Party. The majority was completed by the small Hungarian minority party.
There was a dispute between the two main parties. Usually, disputes are about money, but, of course, they are dressed up in some values. The ruling dominant party, the National Liberal Party, wanted to vote for a multi-billion state programme, in effect a fund to encourage various projects on local level in Romania. This was interpreted by the anti-corruption party as an attempt to gain political influence. That is, there was a view that this money would buy certain political influence on the ground. It became a dispute. The coalition fell apart.
What has now happened in November is that a new understanding has been reached, which is somewhat surprising. You know that for a long time in Romanian politics there was a stigma on the Social Democratic Party. But now, in the new conditions following the September crisis, the Social Democratic Party has formed a government with the National Liberal Party and the Hungarian Party. This happened at a time when parliamentary elections were being held in our country…
…we can say quite similar processes. We can define them…
…Well, they are both similar and actually mirror each other in a sense. You know in the mirror left becomes right and vice versa. If we simplify and vulgarise things, of course, direct parallels are not the most accurate, but their GERB (the member of the European People’s Party), their BSP (the member of the Party of European Socialists) and their DPS (the party of the minority) have now formed a government. Our viewers must have noticed that there is an attempt in our country to somehow limit and corner these old parties in the political process. This raises interesting thoughts.
So there was an interest in our politics in Romania because our elections were won by Harvard graduates. But, of course, to be so precise, the reason why these parties turned their backs on the rhetoric they had before, they were opposed to each other, there was a stigma on the so-called left in Romania… anyway, economic interest probably prevailed. That is, the explanation for the current governing formula in Romania has to do with the recovery and resilience plan.
This is a topic that is also on the agenda in Bulgaria, of course. What is happening with this plan in Romania, in its Romanian version?
First of all, it was also not one of the first in the European Union to be completed and to pass approval. It was presented by the previous Prime Minister, Florin Cîţu, in September 2021. It received approval a little later. In the end, I see a couple of interesting highlights about it. One is that Romania will invest twenty-one per cent of these funds in digitalisation. For example, it is envisaged that the entire public administration will be linked into one information system. On the other hand, forty-some percent, I think 41%, of the funds are earmarked for the environment, for afforestation. A recycling rate of 55% of the waste that is disposed of must be achieved. This includes funds for green revenue, of course. When plan was presented by Florin Cîţu, it was said that when the recovery and resilience plan is over Romania will be a middle European country.
The hopes are as high as in Bulgaria. In fact, this is perhaps the commonality between the two countries in the context of this plan, as it is also perceived here as a lifeline for the economy in the coming years. This plan could send the country to a different level.
Yes. But let me make a link to the point from your first question about the change of government. After all, there are different political and economic interests in society. It is important that the economy perhaps as a whole will absorb these funds. But, in fact, some economic groups and sectors will receive most of these funds and others will receive less. And it is through this prism that the current coalition should be seen.
I think it is based on the pragmatic interest of both parties. They, of course, promise that they will govern together for at least seven years. They have ambitions relating, for example, to regional and administrative reforms. Until recently, there was talk in this country that Bulgaria could have a coalition agreement of a large number of pages. The current Romanian coalition agreement is somewhere around 300 pages. The agreement that established the previous government was about 270 pages, if I am not mistaken.
Of course, it has to be taken into account that there is an element of copy-paste in these agreements, to be honest. I even took the liberty, in preparing for this interview, of looking at what is written about Romania’s foreign policy towards Bulgaria in the current coalition agreement. I can assure you that a year ago, when the programme for the management of the Cîţu cabinet was shaped, it said the same thing as it says now about the intentions of the Ciuca government with regards to Bulgaria.
In fact, at the beginning of this conversation, it was not by chance that I started with introductory words in which I mentioned that somehow the subject of Romania is not mentioned much in Bulgaria. I would be happy to ask you why that is, given that, in terms of the border, it is our closest partner, as we have the longest border with Romania. It is in the European Union, and so are we. Romania is a serious market: a country three times the size in terms of population. Why is there not so much talk in Bulgaria on this subject? Why is it that perhaps the economic ties between the two countries are not as solid as we might expect.
That is a very big question. I am not even sure that we have the time at the moment to expand on it. Why are the two countries not so interested, at least at media level, in getting to know each other?
If I have to answer very briefly: you have to take into account the fact that in Bulgaria the media is exclusively based in Sofia. Sofia is like a country. Everything is there. I think that takes away the incentive for a number of colleagues to leave this world in which Sofia is the centre and go somewhere a little bit beyond. But, of course, the problem is much more complex. You can look at it historically, you can look at it culturally. Maybe on a purely human level the nations are now slowly opening up to each other, but it takes time.
But on economic relations, I’m not sure you can say that they are not good. In fact, Romania is Bulgaria’s second economic partner after Germany in terms of trade. In the first eight months of this year, the trade turnover was somewhere around 3,9 billion euro and increased by around 30% compared to last year. This should be borne in mind.
Clearly, at business level, our entrepreneurs realise that Romania has potential and has a lot to offer. We have Bulgarian-Romanian and Romanian-Bulgarian chambers of commerce that are facilitating these business relations. However, it should be borne in mind that the circumstances of the corona crisis are such that crossing the border in lean periods is more difficult. I can say that, from September until literally today, you could only enter Bulgaria from Romania without quarantine with a combination of a vaccination certificate and a PCR, which of course limits the relationship. In fact, a new ministerial order comes into force tomorrow which now allows either one or the other to be valid. But these restrictions in the last two years of the Corona crisis I guess also have their impact on the level of relations between Bulgarians and Romanians.
We are coming to the end, but I would still like to ask you something else. It is no coincidence that we are inviting you on this topic, because you are working through the journalistic, through the blogger reading, helping the two countries to get to know each other, as you yourself mentioned. How could this happen even more actively? How could communication between the two countries become even deeper? And, of course, on the Bulgarian side, you mentioned that there are certain reasons why the interest in Romania is much more limited than expected. But obviously there are similar reasons in Romania itself. How can this be overcome?
I think that communication is needed. I have witnessed and experienced, literally on my own back and skin, the existence of scepticism on both sides towards people who are developing some kind of relationship between them. Perhaps it is easier for us historically to communicate with other peoples. You know, in World War I we were on different sides of the barricade. There are different reasons, but it’s important, perhaps, that we don’t go towards our neighbours with some hegemonic attitude. As Bulgarians, we have a history, a historical baggage, which both makes us feel that the Balkans are our territory and makes it difficult for us to engage neighbours. Wherever we go among our neighbours in the region, this baggage accompanies us and perhaps makes relations a little more complicated…
Well, thank you!
…We see ourselves in them, we see Bulgarians in them.
Thank you very much. I would be happy to talk to you again. Vladimir Mitev, a fellow journalist, talks a little bit more about Bulgarian-Romanian relations. They still have room for improvement and strengthening. So much for this part of Business Day and today’s show. Stay tuned to Europe TV news.
Photo: The Romanian president Klaus Iohannis nominates general Nicolae Ciuca for the function of prime minister (source: screenshot, YouTube)
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