Stage review press conference after one year in office

Teodor Baconschi, Minister of Foreign Affairs

Welcome to this promised half-yearly stage review conference. I did a similar exercise after the first six months in office, so this now is an established format. The full relevant information about 2010 can be found in the brochure you have received. I will briefly point out a few major projects and priorities for this year and then I will take questions.

A major subject for me as minister and for the MFA is related to adoption of the Law on postal voting.  I see it as setting right an injustice done to our fellow citizens in the diaspora.

As your know, only 4.7% of Romanians in the diaspora could cast their vote at the latest elections. Therefore this law extends the basis for access to democracy for nearly 3 million of our compatriots. We launched the bill on 28 December and, after a 30-day period of public debate, cross-party support for the bill emerged, which could be noticed at the roundtable organized by the MFA as well. I was not surprised, since I believe no responsible Romanian politician can deny citizens the right to elect their representatives. I will not go into technical detail, as experts are still working on it. We have adopted a schedule for the next moves and we will promote this project, hoping to see it passed in Parliament by the end of the year.

Another very interesting subject, for which I will again ask for your support, is the EU Strategy for the Danube Region. The European Commission adopted this document on 8 December. Let me remind that it is the outcome of a Romanian-Austrian initiative and that it rallies 14 European states (8 EU member states and 6 states that still are outside the Union but have a European vocation) in the service of the common future of a Central-European macroregion in the Danube basin. At the Danube Summit in Bucharest on 8 November last, a political declaration was adopted under the high patronage of the President of Romania, whereby the riparian states undertook to implement the Action Plan related to the strategy. Although this does not involve new funds, but operational programmes already underway, the available resources are significant, about 40 billion Euros for the current accounting period of the Union, until 2013, and I am sure there are initiatives and projects that need such financial resources, down to the smallest villages in the Danube Delta. The Foreign Ministry, but then also the other ministries involved in the programmes – environment, transports or regional development – should intensely publicize these opportunities.

Romania will be in charge of 3 areas: river transportation (with Austria); tourism and culture (with Bulgaria); environmental risk management (with Hungary). Now which are the benefits from implementing this strategy? Greater modernization in point of competitiveness and attractiveness of towns and villages on the Romanian bank of the Danube; a beneficial impact on the standard of living, based on job creation and development of business projects; new environmental standards, and this is very important since there are projects to build water purification stations in all major settlements on the Danube; better year-round navigability all along the river; the prospect of completing the Danube-Bucharest canal, and two new bridges between Romania and Bulgaria; generalization of broadband internet connections in the rural environment; a high-speed rail line between Budapest – Bucharest – Constanta; and an interesting research dimension in the field, helping to build self-awareness of this European macroregion,  i.e. an international Institute for the Danube Delta and the Black Sea. I will also mention the development of a system to monitor the ecosystems that unfortunately were harmed by ecological mishaps in the last decade. In point of political steps, we expect the Strategy to be adopted at the European Council of 24 June.

Also in the field of European affairs, last year we worked actively for an adequate representation of Romania in the European External Action Service: lobbying, letters, meetings, candidates. For several months we lived with the frustration of not seeing any spectacular result. But it did happen, when a Romanian diplomat, a Sinologist and ambassador to Beijing, was selected for a top management position – the Service has 10 such positions – as director general for Asia. Yet we have not stopped lobbying for the Romanian candidates.  I believe other representatives of the Romanian diplomacy will soon be selected at working levels.

I am certainly concerned about having an active, transparent and mobilized diplomatic service. In the ensuing period, given that in the last decade we have managed to have an advantageous international status, we should become generators of European solutions and at the same time strengthen our relations with traditional partners in the Middle East, Latin America and Asia. In all these fields we need a project-based approach, not country profiles falling into disuse on computer hard drives, we need pilot projects, integrated projects. For instance, in early March, after more than one year of preparations, we will host an economic forum in Bucharest, between Romania and the Gulf states, which are politically grouped in a council and have another such regional hub in London. We hope Romania can turn into a Central European hub for these major investors.