“Romania: a village cut off from the rest of the world by heavy snowfall, where all that matters is the petty quarrel between the mayor and the local council”

Interview with Ioan-Mircea Paşcu, MEP, Vice-President of the European Parliament

Q: During her recent visit to Malta, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that the European leaders may commit to a “Union of different speeds” when they make a major declaration on its future at the summit in Rome next month, which will mark the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome.  How do you evaluate this high-profile statement, are there reasons for concern related to it?

A: The statement is of utmost importance: it means that the “center” will distance itself from the “periphery”; the former will deepen integration among its members, while the latter will slowly transition towards a “made-for-East Union” Union (I refer here to the advertisements of French commodities sold to the Oriental world in the 19th century, bearing the inscription “made for Orient”). Let me compare this possible evolution to the harsh decision made by the Apollo 13 mission crew – in order to survive, they regrouped in the landing capsule and left the rest of the spaceship to explode. The greatest political risk associated with this core – periphery divide is that of using the peripheral states as an exchange currency in the negotiation between the core and third parties, especially Russia. This is happening in a context in which US and Russia are making moves towards rapprochement, which relegates Russia’s traditional partners in Western Europe to secondary positions. As a result, these Western partners feel constrained to make concessions in order to maintain their negotiation power.

Q: Angela Merkel’s statement prompted strong reactions from the center-left politicians in the European Parliament; for example, Gianni Pittella, the Socialists & Democrats chief in the European Parliament, said that the German Chancellor seemed “to have reinvented the wheel”; the Italian politician admitted that we already live in a two-speed Europe, with Schengen and the eurozone as perfect examples. Since Romania is a not a member either of Schengen, or of the eurozone, how alarmed should we be by the proliferation of this concept of “Europe of various speeds”, by the fact that it gained access to the mainstream of the European ideas?

A: Angela Merkel was not the first high-profile European politician to talk about a two-speed Europe. A couple of years back, François Hollande – a socialist – used to talk about the exact same things, so…The fact that Romania and Bulgaria have an incomplete membership status in the EU (as proved by their denied access to Schengen and Cooperation and Verification Mechanism put in place) might – and I emphasize, might – have to do with the suspicion that that we did not get Moscow’s approval for EU accession, that we were meant to remain in Russia’s sphere of influence. What should concern us is whether Romanian membership of NATO is compatible or not with Russia’s increasing droit de regard. I publicly raised this issue in the European Parliament; I am still waiting for an answer.

Q: The reaction of the center-left politicians in the European Parliament to Angela Merkel’s statement had to do with the North-South divide inside the European Union. They underlined that they would reject any idea to set up a sort of “luxury club” of the Northern European countries against the less well-off countries from Southern Europe”. Do you think that a similar divide exists between the Eastern and Western parts of the EU?

A: The East-West divide inside the European Union precedes the North-South one. The former emerged right after the 2004 Eastward enlargement, whereas the latter was generated by the euro crisis and deepened by the austerity measures imposed to the European South. Today, these dividing lines coexist and reinforce the various tensions between member states.

Q: The head of Poland’s “Law and Justice” ruling party, Jarosław Kaczyński, reacted immediately to the German chancellor’s statement telling Polish media that a “two-speed Europe” would lead to the “breakdown, and in fact the liquidation, of the European Union in its current sense”. Do you agree with the Polish leader’ statement? What would be the consequences of a multi-speed Europe for Central and Eastern Europe?

A: I share Kaczyński’s concern. At the same time, let me point out that, as far as I can see, Poland will be allowed into the core of this two-speed Europe and will leave the peripheral status behind. This is the direct consequence of Poland’s demographic and military potential, which is double that of Romania.  But it is equally the result of the performance of the Polish government, of the actions of Mr. Kaczyński himself. Unlike Romania, Poland has defended its interests in the European Union, has fought for these interests to be known and respected. Today, Poland is accepted into the inner circle of the EU. Unlike Poland, the Romanian state, driven by the personal interests of the person who ruled Romania in the aftermath of EU accession, has done nothing to defend its interests. The guidelines received from home by the Romanian officials involved in EU affairs have always been to “support the consensus”, meaning to keep quiet and endorse unilaterally the interests of the Union’s big players.

Q: If we accept the premise that EU is already a “Union of different speeds”, with Schengen and the eurozone as perfect examples, what is Romania’s position, at what speed does Romania move?

A: We are most likely laggards of European integration and we do not make any effort to improve our position, to enter the “inner circle” and leave the periphery behind. Domestic politics catches all our imagination and attention, as if this is the only area that matters. We very much resemble a village cut off from the rest of the world by heavy snowfall, where all that matters is the petty quarrel between the mayor and the local council. The rest of the world – being obliterated by the heavy snow – simply does not exist. Or, if you prefer, we are like ostriches burying their heads in the sand and feeling safe as a result.

Q: How will Romania position itself on this “Union of different speeds” issue during the Rome anniversary summit in March? How should it position itself? How much will Romania’s stand on the issue – whatever it may be – weigh in this European debate?

A: I do not know which position Romania will adopt during the Rome anniversary summit. I wish we resisted the idea of “a two-speed Europe”, an idea which would mean the end of the EU as we know it. At the same time, I wish that Romania undertook all the necessary efforts to get access to the Union’s core and to avoid what looks almost like an imminent and permanent plunge into Europe’s periphery. I fear that it is already too late because we have squandered, with criminal carelessness, I would say, the time that we had at our disposal. Let us be reminded that Poland had exactly the same amount of time to spend; and it has spent well in order to accede to Europe’s top tier; whilst we still struggle to revert downgrading to a lower league. I fear that we don’t even care too much to revert this.

The interview was carried out by Alina Bârgăoanu, who also provided for its English translation.

For Romanian readers, please find the Romanian version here

About the Author

Alina Bârgăoanu

Alina Bârgăoanu, profesor universitar Jean Monnet la SNSPA, decan al Facultăţii de Comunicare şi Relaţii Publice; Președinte al Consiliului de Administrație al Institutului European din România; cele mai recente lucrări: „Why Europe? Narratives and Counter-Narratives of European Integration” (2017, Peter Lang), „United by or Against Euroscepticism. An Assessment of Public Attitudes Towards the EU in the Context of the Crisis (2015, Cambridge Scholars); bursier Fulbright (2001- 2002).