Two weeks ago, the Hungarian MEP István Szent-Iványi spoke to café babel about the fact that Romania and Bulgaria will soon be joining the EU. This week, Gheorghe Tinca, Romanian ambassador to the Czech Republic and ex-Minister of Defence (the first from a non-military background to hold the post), explains why he is enthusiastically awaiting the Romania’s entry.
Romania is due to join the EU on January 1 2007 but the EU is practically silent on the subject. Why is this and how does this enlargement differ from the one in 2004?
I do not believe that Europe is keeping quiet. Certainly, the situation is not the same as it was in 2004, when ten countries were allowed to join. The EU is facing the entry of Romania and Bulgaria with more composure, because they originally wanted to negotiate entry with twelve countries. Bulgaria and Romania had to overcome a few difficulties and fulfil more criteria than the other ten countries. This is the reason that these two countries are joining the EU two years after the rest of them. On October 25, the Commission published its latest progress report. Apart from pointing out the need to resolve a few remaining problems, it acknowledges the progress of both candidates and confirms that January 1 is the definite date of entry.
In 2004, people from the new member states became more sceptical as the entry date drew nearer. How do Romanian people perceive the situation and what are their expectations?
Eurosceptics are everywhere, but there are clearly less of them in Romania than elsewhere. Romanians have felt for a long time that they, as a nation, belong to Europe and they have always seen Western countries as examples of how to gain freedom and prosperity. Now, as we are nearing entry into the European Union, Romanians feel that decades of hopes will now be fulfilled. The Czechs were sceptical about entering the EU because they believed that the many advantages that they had would disappear and that the Czech Republic would have to fulfil new obligations. Now, more than one year after joining, the Czechs realise that they did not lose their advantages and that their situation has improved. We Romanians, and probably the Bulgarians too, find the Czech experience very interesting and see no reason for scepticism.
Many Europeans do not know much about Bulgaria and Romania, and think that they are very similar. Where does the biggest difference between them lie and could this difference lead to problems within the EU?
Many Europeans are also unaware of the differences between the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia. They have problems identifying them on a map and get their capital cities confused. Likewise, they may recognise the names of products that come from these countries, but know little about their culture. In spite of this, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia have all become members of the EU and will, as far as I can foresee, become very active in the future. Ignorance is not to be applauded, but in this case it is irrelevant. Many Americans cannot name all 51 states, which in no way prevents them from living in a strong and united country.
What, in your opinion, is there that is unique to Bulgaria and Romania, and how could this enrich the EU?
It is difficult to find something really unique [to individual countries] in Europe. We Europeans share the same values, the same civilisation and many cultural traditions. Certainly there are dividing lines between North and South, or East and West. But we are all Europeans. I say this in full awareness of the fact that our Romanian ancestors, almost a century after Christ was born, fought for the Roman Empire, and this they did in the same territory in which we live today. If Romanian people have a distinctive characteristic, it is their survival instinct. It helps us, along with our religion, with our language, to treat negative qualities as positive. Throughout the course of the century many people, particularly Slavs, have visited our land. Some decided to stay and we welcomed them and in exchange many of our people took the decision to move to Slovenia. But we remain the same. If our survival depends upon the future of Europe, we must contribute towards the experience.