Interview with Foreign Minister Mihai Razvan Ungureanu
Foreign Affairs Minister: U.S. bases-a blank check for Romania Bucharest Daily News – December 21, 2005
by Andreea Pocotila
Foreign Affairs Minister Mihai Razvan Ungureanu said in an exclusive interview with Bucharest Daily News that the establishment of U.S. bases on Romanian territory brings credibility and will attract investments. The minister compared the new partnership with the United States and EU accession with warm coats during winter, saying Romania needs both of them and does not have to choose only one.
The minister said that American investors had hesitated to come to Romania due to the slow process of privatization, which did not happen in other countries, such as Poland or Hungary.
Ungureanu considers the government’s laborious efforts are not properly recognized by the mass media and by public opinion mainly because of a great problem of communication inside the government. Thus very few people know that the ministers and their teams work like Benedictine monks, Ungureanu said. He gave the example of the contract closed by Interior Minister Vasile Blaga with EADS, whose political value has not been properly acknowledged.
Another subject Ungureanu drew attention to was the need for the Trans-Dniester conflict to be solved, as it is a source of instability, located less than 200 km from Romania’s border.
What are Romania’s achievements in 2005 in foreign policy which you are most proud of?
We are getting close to the end of the year and I can say that, indeed, there are achievements that make me proud. The quality of the foreign policy is really significant and determines me to continue the projects I have initiated.
A sketch of this year’s successes for Romania’s foreign affairs begins in April, 2005, when Romania signed the Accession Treaty to the European Union in Luxembourg, which was probably the most important moment of our recent history and the most important accomplishment of a choice we made, as a country and as a society, in the last 15 years.
I also have to mention the successful term Romania has had as a member or the Security Council in 2004 and 2005.
It is a remarkable moment as the Security’s Council agenda in October included tough issues, such as Kosovo, Georgia, the Middle East, Iraq and the most important African problems. We have successfully promoted the first resolution of the Security Council proposed by Romania on cooperation between the UN and regional organizations, a resolution we adopted on October 17 this year.
I would say that another really notable achievement of this year was the pragmatic renewal, without inhibitions, of our relations with the Russian Federation, first of all as a result of my visit to Moscow and the visit of Defense Minister Serghei Lavrov to Bucharest. Important steps were also made in our relations with Ukraine, although, for sure, there are still matters that we have to work on, and the same goes for the Russian Federation.
If I have to describe our accomplishments in a few words, I have to say that they placed Romania in a different register of roles, on a regional and international level. We have become a valued partner in the region for states whose opinion and collaboration we value and who now value our opinion and collaboration. That is why I can state that the visibility gained this year by subjects such as relations with the Republic of Moldova, Trans-Dniester, or the extended region of the Black Sea, on the agenda of both the EU and NATO represent, in great measure, discreet but incontestable achievements of Romanian foreign policy.
You recently said a summit of the Black Sea will be organized for debate on the “tough subjects of the region.” What are these subjects? We will tackle subjects that can be called “soft security,” such as a safer and more transparent administration of the border, facilitations of exchanges in the region, as well as the ecological dimension and the decrease of trans-border felonies. The summit’s agenda will also include environmental matters, the improvement and coordination of natural or human provoked crises, as well as the development of the regional infrastructure, which will increase the economic value, insufficiently acknowledged, of the Black Sea region.
How will Romania’s intervention develop in the Trans-Dniester problem, in your opinion? Do you believe that Romania, together with the European Union, Ukraine and the United States might contribute to signing an agreement with Russia for the withdrawal of the Russian troops from Trans-Dniester? We are very interested in how the conflict in Trans-Dniester will be solved, as it is a major source of insecurity located less than 200 km from our eastern border and it is also a factor of regional instability.
Romania is not taking part directly in the negotiations aimed at finding a solution. But we are not a static actor, either. This year we initiated consultations with all those involved in the negotiations and this way we want to reach a common understanding of the principal positions, help avoid misunderstandings and eliminate preconceptions and inhibitions.
At the same time, we are trying to help the development of EU policies on themes relating to the Republic of Moldova, including the Trans-Dniester conflict.
Regarding the withdrawal of the troops from the area, the solution is the completion of the commitments made by the Russian side ever since the OSCE summit in Istanbul, in 1999.
At the same time, the area has to be demilitarized, which means the current “peace keeping operation” has to replaced by a new formula, adapted to international demands.
Some euro parliamentarians recently said that if they were to vote now on Romania’s accession, they would vote for a delay. How long do you think it will take them before they change their voting intention? So far, the evaluation reports the European Parliament has made about Romania, and the approval on the Accession Treaty have showed it is a real supporter of Romania’s accession to the EU.
At the same time, in a parliament with 732 members, such as the European Parliament, it is understandable that there are some critical voices, especially in a European political context affected by a certain feeling of “enlargement tiredness.” On November 22 we had a meeting and a very open dialogue with members of the EP’s Foreign Affairs Commission and with those of the Romania-EU Mixed Parliamentary Committee, when we had a very detailed and constructive debate on Romania’s process of accession. This way we gained additional proof of the EP’s support.
Moreover, the positive vote on the Moscovici report is also such a proof.
Tell me a few things about the Francophone Year that officially began in September this year. What will it mean for Romania? From all points of view, it is one of the most important events of the calendar of 2006. On one side, from the point of view of image benefit, it will be a successful project, if it is properly administrated. We had a good start; we named a state secretary who has the position of governmental commissioner. His name is Cristian Preda, he is well known in the academic field for his political expertise. His team is formed of diplomats who know what the Francophone community means.
I hope that in September 2006, when the highest point of the Francophone Year will take place, the summit to which 63 state and government leaders have been invited, not only our administrative capacity will be obvious, but also the importance we give to the French culture and language, as a cultural vector and to the multilateral collaboration with states that share our respect for Latinity and for European civilization.
I will not hide from you the fact that we have some worries and fears because, at least from a logistical point of view, organizing the summit and the other activities for this event, we need an optimum use of our resources. We have funds, but we cannot waste them. The number of people we can hire for such a project is rather small. It is a complex event that does not only involve the participation of the Foreign Affairs Ministry. Many other institutions are taking part, such as the Culture Ministry, art unions, national theaters, as well as the Education Ministry, through schools and universities.
What about at a political level, what will this event mean for Romania?
First of all, a sum of bilateral relations in a multilateral context, of direct dialogues with traditional partners. The case of France and Canada, I do not even think we have to mention. Or Bulgaria, which is also a Francophone country. But also with states whose contacts with Bucharest are rare, sporadic or do not exist. Romania is in a continuous search for a specific political and economic identity, an identity that we cannot define other than through these kinds of favorable circumstances.
Often journalists and political analysts speak about the necessity for Romania to choose between the European Union and the United States, saying that it is “torn” between this two coordinates. Do you think such a choice is real?
To think that Romania is torn by options is false. Romania at one time had a difficult choice to make in 1990-1991, when in its attempt to define its interest with courage, it had to choose between East and West. But that moment passed, we do not have to choose between a better West and a worse West. (…) Once the option has been taken, it does not need to have any shades. I said it once and I do not think I was wrong: whoever thinks this way has a psychoanalytical dilemma, which should not be solved by a politician, but a psychoanalyst. Because this kind of question, “Who do you love best, your mother or your father?” involves treatment and a case history. It is not necessary to apply such rules of therapeutic conduit in Romanian foreign affairs. Romania is at the outskirts of the civilized world. We can say this straight. It is on the outskirts of the civilized world when talking about the Europe-center significance that civilization involves. The values we respect are the same as the values respected in Luxembourg. The faults we condemn are the same vices condemned in France, Norway or Ireland. At the Oriental border of this civilization the limit of the European Union and of NATO overlaps. In other words, Romania is included in this setting twice.
So during your visits in the European Union you never encountered criticism due to President Traian Basescu’s obvious preference, or at least an attitude perceived as favorable to the United States? The problem was not addressed this way, but otherwise, “If you imagine your national security warranted by a strong and consistent alliance with Washington, can you tell us that you have the same confidence in the European defense and security dimension?”
Our invariable answer is, “Yes.” Otherwise, we would not strongly want to become members of the European Union, taking into consideration that this ‘club’ has its own strict rules.
I repeat: foreign policy does not have such national problems. On the contrary, it is very pragmatic. How do we feel better? With more shields. You have to imagine politics as a winter. The temperature is cold, is very low. Outside it is very cold. When you have more warm coats on you, you feel better. We cannot go outside naked and then yell out loud that we feel good in our innocent nudity. It is false. This is not how things happen in politics. You have to put on coats and these coats are represented by our strategic partnerships.
The contract with the United States for the bases on Romanian territory was signed this month. When exactly will these bases be established in Romania?
It is a bilateral political agreement which will settle the framework and principles of the presence and activities on Romanian territory of U.S. military forces. The American facilities will have small dimensions, a flexible structure and increased mobility.
After signing and ratifying the agreement, it will be completed with a series of technical arrangements. When this process is over, we will be able to talk about when the military facilities will become operational.
Tell me, please, how do you comment on Russia’s negative reaction to the establishment of U.S. bases in Romania? I will give you a very precise and, hopefully, clear answer: our relations with the Russian Federation are not maintained through the mass-media.
However, can you please comment on its reaction? Our relations with the Russian Federation are not maintained through the mass-media.
Nevertheless, the Russian Defense Minister Serghei Ivanov expressed his negative reaction through the mass-media…
That’s his business, not ours.
Nothing has been said so far about the money, the investments, the Americans will make in the bases on Romanian territory. What can you tell us about this aspect?
Always such things involve infrastructure, small investments. If you are thinking about investments in pipes, in electric cables, sheds, you should be sure that such investments will exist. They are not going to stay in the open air. Those who will immediately benefit will be the local communities around these bases. We had such examples, in Mihail Kogalniceanu and Babadag, where the schools were renovated, the streets were repaired, and trees were planted along the streets. It is something natural to create a minimal infrastructure for such situations.
Many Romanians expect a better life from the Americans’ arrival. What do you think the Americans will bring us? Much more credibility. Politically, it is an amount of credibility which very few other foreign policy gestures can bring. Secondly, it is an exact photograph of our bilateral relations with the United States. Something like this can only be done in a country that you are very confident in, in whose democratic system you believe, whose democratic strength you have bet on, in whose values you believe. It is an enormous investment of trust. It is like saying, “Yes, it is worth going into this house because you will be properly treated and the people respect the rules, the ally is loyal, he does not wait for you to turn your back to mind his own business.” It is a blank check for Romania.
And if we look at our pockets, we will shortly see results. Of course, shortly does not mean tomorrow. Some of the niche investments will improve.
And I have to tell you something else. American investors hesitated quite a lot about coming to Romania. They did not hesitate in Hungary’s or in Poland’s case. We and the Czech Republic are in the same situation, as such investments were made rather late in the Czech Republic, after 1996-1997, when the privatization process was speeded up. In Romania, the privatization process started very late. (…) Romania has been targeted more by European investors than by U.S. investors.
Doesn’t this good relationship with the United States envisage bigger risks, also?
The risks existed anyway. Let’s not lie to ourselves by saying the risk is a decimeter higher or lower, in comparison with the risk we took in 1991-1992 when we took this path. And if we talk about risks, imagine what it was like in 1999, when the risk meant taking a firm decision of loyal partnership in NATO. We should not use the risks as a measuring unit, but the benefits. To measure things in risks means not recognizing the daylight just because there is a cloud covering the sun.
“The government has a great problem of communication”
Although you are a member of the Liberal Party, your name never appears in scandals or in commentary on differences inside the party or the coalition. How do you manage to do this?
First of all, because I am aware of my position in the government. And what I defend as a Foreign Affairs Minister is the sum of national interests. Under these conditions, to play an internal role before finding consensus on foreign policy themes is not appropriate.
Secondly, there is a perfect consensus on our foreign policy objectives in the party and inside the coalition. My conduct is faithful to these principles.
How are these differences inside the coalition seen outside, from what you saw during your visits abroad? Nobody gives them an exaggerated dimension. We have greater internal sensibility than our external partners when talking about political marriages or about complicated dynamics of the opposition parties.
We have a very sensitive skin. But outside something completely different matters.
The way the government works. The way the Parliament works. How quickly we can adopt the expected measures by half way through next year.
But many times these internal differences delay or slow down objectives and progress in applying reforms.
It might, if we did not have a responsible government. And you should be convinced that, and I am not saying this for propaganda purposes, at the government’s level, there is absolutely no disturbing factor. There can be differences and contradictions on some matters, but the relationship between the Democratic Party and the Liberal Party takes place only on a political level, and its effects are not visible in the government. More than other government members, I have to interact with all of them, the European Integration Minister, the Justice Minister or the Interior Minister, for example. And I can tell you that there is no political pebble that can block the government’s activity.
In a recent interview Marko Bela said the government’s activity is much better than the image it has in the media and in public opinion. Do you agree with his point of view?
To a great extent, I agree with him. I admit it is a secret source of frustrations. The government is working well, it does not have gaps, but it has a great problem of communication. It is a government mostly formed by professionals; I am not saying technocrats, but professionals. They are people with good intentions, whose honesty is well known. It is a government that has not been attacked by any corruption scandal; it is not involved in any internal problem.
Besides Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu in the Patriciu case.
We cannot say that there was corruption involved in this case.
But we can say it was a scandal.
I am talking about cases where judicial decisions were taken. From this point of view, the government is literally unstained. I do not remember ever having such an amount of transparency in former governments. The efforts are admirable, but are not known. It is work carried out in trenches, there is nothing explosive about it. I do not know if it can be considered news the fact that Interior Minister Vasile Blaga, for example, managed to sign, after harsh negotiations, a new contract with EADS. Who understands the political value of this strictly commercial action? It is difficult, you need attention for this, and you need to find the precious stone in a pile of uninteresting things. We have a government that works efficiently. Otherwise, and I am telling you this without any kind of triumphalist attitude, because I am not praising the government I belong to, the EU report in October would have found us guilty. But in nine months we managed to clean the Augean stables. It is incredible, believe me, I am telling you this with all responsibility. What has been done in the justice system is admirable. What it has been done in internal affairs is admirable. What has been done in foreign affairs is unusual. What has been done in other sectors, agriculture, environment, even transport, are matters which very few people observe. Not to mention all the work carried out. In the Health Ministry, where Eugen Nicolaescu is minister, attempts are now being made to improve the situation. There are reform steps which have begun to be visible. It does not mean the work ends with us. We cannot work miracles. What we have done so far is beyond many people’s imagination. And many times we have been told this in Brussels.
What is the solution for the communication problem you talked about earlier?
I do not know. What we should not do is go out and praise ourselves. We will probably continue working in a Benedictine style, like monks. We will see who saves our skin in the end. History will recognize us.
What do you wish for Romania in 2006? I wish for a good result in mid 2006, a positive answer, in accordance with our expectations for 2007. I wish for a positive EU monitoring report, but, after the monitoring report, I wish for a kind European Parliament, that will recognize our progress and say, “Yes, the investment in this country is worth it.”
I wish for a quiet year from the point of view of foreign affairs because our activity this year, beyond what may seem only frenzy, meant repositioning Romania on a map of interesting points. And you saw that all the important visits took place in one year and this is unusual, for the president to go to Washington, to Moscow, to London and so on in only three months. And the same with the prime minister, who made Bucharest, at one point, the gravitational center for Eastern leaders, as the Russian Foreign Affairs Minister came here, as well as the Ukrainian and Georgian Foreign Affairs Ministers and so on. Plus the visit of Condoleezza Rice at the end of the year. But this is not enough. I hope for this year to be quiet in the areas around us. The region has a destabilizing potential that few people can feel. Kosovo is a problem and we have to get involved. We have to draw attention to the danger all the time. Trans-Dniester is a problem. These matters give us some concerns and, after talking about the European Union, I also have to tell you about these areas, where I hope next year will be a quiet one, with battles fought exclusively with the weapons of diplomacy and with a political tact.