European Institute of Romania Newsletter - September 2013
The need for better communication in the field of European affairs has been discussed more and more often in the public space. In your opinion, how could European institutions improve mechanisms of communication with citizens? What steps should be taken for a better understanding of the European construction by the population of the Member States?
Numerous studies on the European Union equally emphasise the central role played by unelected officials in the EU decision-making process, as well as the need to “Europeanize" public communication. The political parties at the level of the entire European Union are only in an incipient phase, which is why any referendum or any other type of elections organised at European level will always be seen from a national perspective. Moreover, it is difficult to achieve the mobilisation of transnational European actors at European level. There are a few proposed solutions. Firstly, the EU must offer citizens a positive and comprehensible image concerning its activities; in other words, it must be transparent, comprehensive and accessible. Secondly, the EU needs to develop a communication strategy able to bring it closer to citizens’ daily life. This implies the dissemination of information beyond the borders of the European capital. Thirdly, the European Union must re-establish balance at national level, by decentralising communication and creating partnerships with national entities.
In this context, Romanians are known to generally display a great dose of trust in Community institutions. However, this trust is associated by certain analysts with a de facto ignorance of the European system. In your opinion, are Romanians correctly informed about the operating mechanism of the European Union? What would be your suggestions concerning a campaign for raising awareness among the Romanian citizens on European projects?
According to the recent barometer, 62% of Romanians declare themselves optimistic about the future of the European Union, a percentage ranking sixth among European states. But the serious issue is that 71% of Romanians do not believe their voice is listened to in the EU. Nevertheless, they must understand they have access to certain “tools” they can use to take action – for example, European citizens are politically represented by euro-deputies. The EU has a complex decision-making system which is difficult to understand and there is a lack of interest for this construction from the part of national education systems. Somebody has recently suggested to me that it might not be a bad idea to think about introducing in the curriculum a subject on the European culture and civilisation. But it should have a very practical content; it should not be tedious and full of statistical data. Coherent courses should be taught on the significance of European citizenship, the rights and obligations of European citizens, the opportunities we, as Romanians, have in the European area. And the Europeanization and internationalisation exercise must be continued at the level of higher education. Foreign teachers must become a common practice in absolutely all universities and Master programs should be taught in international languages as much as possible, so that the Romanian youth can get used to the globalisation.
A new round of elections to the European Parliament will be held in 2014. Taking into account the experience of the previous elections (in 2009), what could be done to increase voter turnout and the involvement of Romanian citizens in the European debate?
The topic of turnout in “European elections” is a kind of barometer of "EU’s popularity in the country in question", with wide implications on a very complex topic – the legitimacy of European institutions. We need powerful European leaders (politically, but especially morally) in order to build up credibility and coherence. The visibility of "human faces" is important. Due to the complexity of the European mechanism, ordinary people do not manage to really identify themselves with the great European ideologies and slogans. I remember the opening of candidacy for European Parliament elections in 2009, when most activists barely managed to adjust themselves to a 2-3 month action, preliminary to 7 June 2009. MEPs represent the citizens’ voice. Their role must not be limited to serving in certain parliamentary commissions and to showing up on TV over the weekends explaining to the citizens the activity of the European Parliament. The Member of the European Parliament is the bond between the Government and the Parliament of Romania, facilitating a better understanding of Community initiatives. They communicate permanently with the business sector and organised civil society in order to really take citizens’ pulse. We have got a balanced team of Romanian MEPs, but we also need a new inspiration from time to time, from people who are connected to the reality of Brussels, as well as to the one in Romania. This "double hat", as well as the necessary complementarity between political will and technical expertise, maximises the influence in Brussels, since we have so many people able to talk both Romanian and “the Brussels jargon”.
In a Europe continuously focusing on the concept of solidarity, what would be the best solutions to create a critical mass of Romanians conveying a unitary voice at Community level?
Connecting over 20 million inhabitants to the European Union is a very complex task, difficult to achieve. Neither a certain person, nor a certain political party, nor even State institutions must be blamed for failing to perfectly achieve this goal. Although it is paradoxical, “the macro procedure” for national-European relations is mostly a technical algorithm requiring multiple expertises in certain specific sectors (legislation, social and business sectors, etc.). Political will is important, but it must be backed by a strong technical component. Undeniably, Romania faces problems related to allocated human resources and financing this system of “fine-tuning Romania to the European Union". In order to connect our country to the EU, we need around 5 000 Romanians in Brussels and 25 000 persons in Romania who really get involved in the Community mechanism. Currently, only about 2 500 people are estimated to be in Brussels and a maximum of 10 000 in Bucharest (especially in the public sector).
2019 will bring the EU’s rotating presidency to Romania. Although it seems to be a remote date, preparations for assuming and sustaining this role must begin. What would be, in your opinion, the goals Romania would bring to the forefront of the European agenda?
In order to adjust to the European working methods, we should already begin preparations so that we can accomplish our tasks by 2019. We have 6 years left to show our partners and to prove to ourselves that we are good when it comes to ideas, projects and management of the helm of the Community club. Since 2007, we have managed to promote certain topics on the EU agenda which are dear to our hearts – such as the Black Sea and the Danube – we shifted from a less important portfolio of European commissioner (multilingualism) to a major one (agriculture). There are still many things to be done. We have to be ambitious and compare ourselves to countries that joined the EU in 2004, such as Poland. It is important that we continue our journey to the Euro zone, certainly by taking into account the steps and the rhythm imposed by our economy. At the same time, it is important to have a geopolitical mindset, thinking from the standpoint of an ambitious partner and not one on the periphery of the Union. Romania needs a new blend of stimuli for internal capital, a greater openness to foreign investments and, at the forefront of the EU interest, a higher absorption of European funds. In this context, regionalisation is a solution; it is not the only one, but it is worth a close look and a check invested in Romania’s future.
Last but not least, we would be grateful if you briefly shared to our readers "how is Romania seen from Brussels today”?
As some experts have recently stated, Romania currently seems to be only physically in the European Union, since economically and socially we are far from the European reality. We notice Poland has strengthened its sixth position in the ranking of EU political powers and now everybody is talking about “top 6 EU countries” (together with Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy and Spain). Unfortunately, Romania’s problem is that it does not make itself heard enough in the European debates. We will manage to integrate as an EU country only if we are present. Romania must give up its stance of “humility” and “empty chair” in certain sectoral policies. It is very important to identify the great topics debated in Brussels. It is necessary to calibrate our country and to advance in the project of EU integration. But, in order to do this, we need specialists, sectoral experts, within ministries and the local administration, who can make-up a complete team playing both in Brussels and in Cluj or Bucharest.
Interview by Oana Mocanu and
Dan LUCA / Brussels