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:

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.