1. The Eastern Neighbours and Russia
Romanian mainstream public opinion is dominated by a historically-rooted mistrust towards Russia. The current crises in Ukraine have only confirmed such a perception, and Romania supported a tough line within the EU vis-à-vis Russia. However, this negative perception is not matched by a plan or any strategic thinking on how future relations with Russia should be designed. Moreover, most Romanian opinion makers would be sceptical or even suspicious about such a plan, as it would be seen as appeasement. The economic, cultural, and peer-to-peer links between Romania and Russia are minimal; the country is virtually energy independent and thus the necessity of such a rapprochement does not figure on the agenda.
The Romanian political establishment was unenthusiastic towards the Eastern Partnership (EaP) from the very beginning. This was partially due to the personal frustration of the former President Traian Băsescu for not being among the policy setters when it came to the EU‘s eastern policy. The Romanian Minister of Foreign Affairs and the diplomatic establishment saw EaP as a competition to the Romanian-backed Black Sea Synergy. Another argument against EaP was that it did not include a membership perspective for the 6 participant countries – Romania has positioned itself as a supporter of the integration for the Republic of Moldova, and the EaP was seen as a policy without the proper end for this country.
However, before the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius, when EaP was perceived as a success, Romania came on board and Băsescu even tried to take credit for this policy. After Vilnius the tone became critical again. The bilateral relation between Romania and Ukraine was historically burdened by small scale topics (debts from the USSR period, the maritime border) and Romania (Băsescu in particular) failed to see Ukraine as something other than a state subservient to Russia. Amazingly, the Maidan movement and the new power in Kiev did not change this perception. A new line of policy analysts advocates for a change in perspective towards Ukraine and to abandon the misperception between Bucharest and Kiev – but this opinion is not yet dominant in the policy making area.
To conclude, the EaP was always about the Republic of Moldova for Romania, which makes the Romanian internal debate a distinctive one compared with the rest of the EU (where EaP is much more about Ukraine). Băsescu took the opportunity to criticize the EaP for provoking Russia while not granting the membership perspective for Moldova. The new President, Klaus Iohannis, paid a visit to Kiev after entering into office and promised to relaunch the bilateral relation, but a truly new policy vision remains to be seen.
Romania manages to foster both a deeply anti-Russian attitude and mistrust towards Ukraine; the two perspectives are not seen as mutually exclusive.
Riga was seen as non-event in Romania. Compared with Vilnius, the media coverage was poor and the few columnists who wrote about it mostly criticized the perceived weakness and lack of focus of EaP and the EU on this topic. Following the Crimea annexation and the Donbas crises, this summit was seen as a test for the EU which lost the opportunity to show a bolder reaction to Russia. The mainstream position in Romania is more anti-Russian than the average in the EU so the Romanian analysts and journalists tend to have high expectations from the EU, which are later disappointed. Riga summit was analysed within this pattern of high-expectations-disappointment.
Romania is a staunchly pro-American member of NATO and the crises in Ukraine came to enforce the idea that the US Army is the only real guarantee Romania has against Russia. The increase of American troops in Romania was hailed in the media.
The movement of several hundred US soldiers in Romania for a military exercise led to spontaneous displays of welcome (to the surprise of soldiers themselves). Many Romanians wrote on Facebook that this was a bit too late, because our grandfathers waited for the Americans 70 years ago to help them against the Soviets. Some left wing groups protested against this, but they were considered marginal.
From this perspective, the EU was seen as weak when it comes to hard power. But the idea of an EU army was criticized in the media, being seen as an anti-US move. Romania strongly prefers an increase of European contribution to NATO, seen as the only force capable of containing Russia.
2. EU Enlargement
Romania was and remains a supporter of EU enlargement in the East, with a particular focus on Moldova. In fact, the entirety of Romania‘s policy for the East is centred around Moldova, a fact which is criticized by some Romanian analysts. From this perspective, the Ukraine crises did not change much but rather added a sense of urgency and regret that the EU did not use the previous window of opportunity to make more steps towards enlargement.
Romania is in support of the EU enlargement in the Balkans. The Turkish candidacy is formally supported but it is not an issue on the public agenda. A recent scandal surrounding the project to build in Bucharest one of the largest mosques in Europe (financed by Turkey) brought some unexpected anti-Islamist rhetoric and increased tensions in relations with Istanbul. Nevertheless, the Turkish candidacy as such is not debated.
Romania is among the 5 EU members not recognizing Kosovo’s independence. Former President Băsescu made this a personal issue. US and EU officials put this issue on the agenda in their meetings with their Romanian counterparts, which led Prime Minister Victor Ponta to talk about a change in Romania‘s position. However, an official decision was never made. Although not recognizing Kosovo, Romania did not block any of the EU–Kosovo dealings.
Not unlike the situation with Russia – Ukraine (having cold relations both with Moscow and Kiev), Romania managed to have cold relations with both Belgrade and Pristina. While it considers Serbia a friend (this being the formal argument for not recognizing Kosovo), Romania did not manage to assure rights for the Romanian minority in Serbia in their bilateral relations. Consequently it threatened to block the EU membership perspective for Serbia. This went against the traditional policy to support the enlargement in the Balkans.
This EU-28 Watch is part of the a project called ‘Eastern Neighbours and Russia: Close links with EU citizens’ (ENURC) in collaboration with TEPSA (Trans European Policy Studies Association). The project focuses on developing EU citizens’ understanding of the topic of the Eastern Neighbourhood and Russia and aims at encouraging their interest and involvement in this policy which has an impact on their daily lives.
The EU-28 Watch project is mapping out the discourses on these issues in European policies all over Europe. Research institutes from all 28 member states are invited to give overviews on the discourses in their respective countries.
This survey was conducted on the basis of a questionnaire that has been elaborated in March 2015. Most of the reports were delivered in June 2015. This issue and all previous issues are available on the recently relaunched EU-28 Watch website: www.eu-28watch.org.
The EU-28 Watch No. 11 receives significant funding from the Otto Wolff-Foundation, Cologne, in the framework of the ‘Dialog Europa der Otto Wolff-Stiftung’, and financial support from the European Commission. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained therein.