"If there had been no offer for Romania to join the EU, we would look like another Belarus now."
Alina Mungiu-Pippidi (ESI portrait, 2010)
Romania is, after Bulgaria, the poorest country in the EU. Romania was one of the laggards in the 5th EU enlargement round. It is still subject to an EU "Mechanism for cooperation and verification", a tool established to continuously monitor progress in the areas of judicial reform, corruption and organised crime in Romania and Bulgaria after they joined the EU. Some member states, in particular the Netherlands and Germany, have argued that Romania (along with Bulgaria) is not ready to join the Schengen area, although both countries have met the technical criteria. In 2011 the Dutch Minister for Immigration, Integration and Asylum Affairs, Gerd Leers, said:
"It is also a matter of trust and confidence that our collective external borders will be safe and secure. At the moment, it is clear that there are still significant shortcomings in the field of anticorruption and the fight against organized crime."
Responding to the argument that the two countries were technically ready, Leers said:
"You can have a door locked and fitted with the latest systems, but if the guard is not trustworthy, it's no use."
In 2013, German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich threatened a German veto, because of "persisting vulnerabilities in some areas, in particular related to the functioning of the justice system".
Today it is conventional wisdom in EU policy-making circles, among analysts, journalists and politicians that Romania's accession to the EU on 1 January 2007 came too early. As Hugo Brady of the Centre for European Reform wrote in 2009:
"The premature accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the Union in 2007 damaged the credibility of EU enlargement, due to persistent problems with corruption and organised crime in these countries. Now that they are full EU members, reform of public administration and the judiciary has slowed."
Five years later, in January 2014, Markus Ferber, head of the CSU group in the European parliament, stated that "the accession of these countries came too early. Romania and Bulgaria were not ready to join."
Over the last years, ESI has conducted intensive field research in Timisoara in the Western part of Romania, close to the country's borders with Hungary and Serbia. The documentary film Timisoara.com, produced in 2008 based on ESI research, points to a number of persistent challenges in Romania. And yet, it also showed dramatic change: a city attracting a lot of foreign investment, many examples of domestic entrepreneurship and an unemployment rate below 2 per cent.
In late 2013 ESI returned to Timisoara to see how the city had been affected by the recent European economic crisis. What we found was surprising. Timisoara had first seen the collapse of its construction sector. This was followed by the bankruptcy of numerous smaller and medium-sized enterprises. And yet, most factories in Timisoara were quickly back to full production. The unemployment rate is back below 2 per cent. The city had weathered the crisis astonishingly well. Why is that? And what does it tell us about the depth of structural change in this important region of Romania? … Read more in our recent essay, produced with support of ERSTE Foundation, Timisoara 2.0.
22 May 2014
Timisoara 2.0 (2014)
ESI documentary: Timisoara.com (2008)