Romanian-German relations – will the Iohannis equation change the trend? (II)

From Ceausescu to Schengen

 

During the communist rule Bucharest had close relations with Eastern Germany, both countries being part of the socialist block. Relations with Western Germany were not at all bad, at least from the economic point of view, dozens of Romanian-German joint ventures were registered in Romania. On the other hand one has to consider the fact that hundreds of thousands of ethnic Germans were living in the country at the time.

During the ‘80s, Romania’s international isolation became obvious and this unfortunate development was reflected also in the bilateral relations with Western Germany. The state lacked hard currency (the communist regime was trying to pay the entire foreign debt and all resources were directed to exports) Ceausescu brought a ‘practical’ touch to the issue of ethnic Germans leaving the country (also valid for Jews’ departures) asking amounts of money ‘per capita’ for each individual.

In spite of this policy, lots of Germans left Romania. After the fall of the communist regime, during the ‘90s, ethnic Germans continued their exodus to their country of origin, the number of residents being reduced to just several thousands.

At the moment, German pragmatism is focused on economic relations and on the democratic issues the Bucharest government is facing.

As a consequence, German investments in Romania amount to more than 4 billion euros. German investors targeted industry (59.4 pc), professional services (16 per cent), wholesale (11.3 pc), retail (5.8 pc), constructions (4 pc), tourism and transportation (1.7 pc). Among the most important German investors in Romania there are Draxlmaier, INA Schaeffler, ThyssenKrupp, Leoni Wiring Systems (employing some 8,000 people in four cities – Arad, Bistrita, Mioveni and Pitesti), Continental, KG Wintershall, E.ON AG, Allianz, Praktiker, RWE (RRR-Remmert Recycling).

Economic relations are developing, but one cannot say the same thing when it comes to diplomatic relations and the general view on the rule of law.

When joining the European Union in 2007 (together with Bulgaria) Brussels had set in place the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) to oversee the justice field and the fight against corruption. Although CVM was initially supposed to work for only three years, due to the problems faced by the two countries the CVM was indefinitely extended. The European Commission issued reports on yearly basis (or even more often) but the reports revealed deficiencies irrespective of the political party in power. The political tensions registered in 2012 made European countries (among them Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, France) more attentive and more intransigent to the democratic developments in Romania and Bulgaria. Bucharest’s efforts to join the Schengen space were silenced. The Justice and Home Affairs Council on 7-8th March 2013 put an end to this target, at least for the moment. Germany announced before the council that it would veto any attempt to vote on Romania’s and Bulgaria’s Schengen accession, so that the vote was cut off from the agenda. The issue of Schengen accession failed further on to reach the agenda of EU leaders.

 

German politicians and Romania

 

German Christian-Democrats were very critical on Romania when speaking about democracy and Schengen accession. It is obvious Romania has weaknesses to be addressed practically and politically. The vehement discourse of the aforementioned politicians however suggests the subject is to be used as a theme in the electoral campaign for general elections this fall.

The level of the bilateral relations reveals tensions may not affect long-term relations between Bucharest and Berlin, but also shows a totally different situation than 10 years ago. In 2004 Romania wasn’t even an EU member. But in August that year the former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was paying a visit to Romania, upon the invitation from his counterpart Adrian Nastase. On that occasion, Schroeder paid a visit to his father’s grave at Ceanu Mare in Transylvania. (Fritz Schroeder died on 4th October 1944 during the fighting in WWII. Gerhard Schroeder never met his father). Romania in 2004 wasn’t less corrupt, was facing huge economic and political difficulties as well as democratic ones. There was however a different approach from Berlin, as Romania hadn’t joined the EU at the time and the western countries were still optimistic about the matter. Nowadays most of them see Romania’s and Bulgaria’s accession to the EU as premature, both countries being regarded as unfit for the standards of the Union. Both the acceding countries as well as the older members have accumulated frustrations regarding adopting internal EU norms and the pace which is much slower than anticipated. Furthermore, the international economic crisis has amplified the financing and economic challenges and made things even worse.

In the autumn of 2012 the German ambassador to Bucharest, Andreas von Mettenheim was saying, on the occasion of celebrating 20 years since the signing of the friendship treaty, that Germany supports Romania’s accession to the Schengen space, in line with the agreed calendar. A few weeks ago the standing was radically different when speaking about corruption and democratic development: “we are not calling on Romania to become a paradise, but the domestic corruption has an impact on the borders the country should protect as a Schengen member.” The German envoy added Romania should see the glass half full.

At the beginning of April 2013, two German conservative MEPs accused the Romanian government of hindering Bulgaria’s accession to Schengen, in contradiction with the official stand in Berlin that the two countries have taken insufficient steps against corruption and in support of the justice system.

MEP Manfred Weber, EPP vice-president, praised Bulgaria for getting ready for Schengen. He said Bulgaria failed to join the Schengen space because the Romanian government faced constitutional problems during the latest three years. Romania and Bulgaria “always come as a package, the reason why Schengen enlargement didn’t take place lies with Romania, not with Bulgaria,” Weber said in Brussels.

The statement came shortly after another German MEP Markus Ferber had said he sees no progress in Romania and Bulgaria, that Schengen is not just a technical issue and the two countries are not observing even the minimal criteria to join the space. Ferber added the situation in both countries is getting worse.

The former German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said Bulgaria and Romania do not meet the Schengen criteria.

It remains to be seen what perception the German politicians have after the recent and intensive fight against corruption in Romania, with important politicians and businessmen placed behind bars. Does this count for Schengen?

 

(to be continued)

BulgariacorruptionGermanyiohannisMarkus FerberSchengenWeber
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