After the Irish ‘No’: proceed with optimism

1. How does the future of the EU after the Irish ‘No’ look like?


The first and most obvious characteristic of the Romanian official position regarding the future of the European Union after the Irish ‘No’ is that of a moderate optimism. We are dealing with a type of ‘wishful thinking’ rather than a planned and calculated official view on what the future of Europe will look like after the Irish referendum deadlock.

It is obvious, when we look at the declarations of the Romanian officials in the months after the Irish ‘No’, that the key theme was the downplaying of this result: it is not a defeat but a mere setback; we are confronted with some sort of a road incident, an unpleasant one indeed, but it can be solved and there is no need to change the destination. Thus, the European Union has a future and this future cannot be conceived by the Romanian officials outside the Treaty of Lisbon.

Thus, on the 22 July 2008, during a meeting with his Austrian counterpart, the then Romanian Foreign Minister (and former Romanian permanent representative to the EU), Lazăr Comănescu, emphasised the desire to proceed with further ratifications of the Treaty of Lisbon as everything will be solved as the time passes by: “In this context, we have discussed regarding the evolutions concerning the Treaty of Lisbon and both sides agreed that we should proceed with all the efforts, so that the continuity of the ratification process of this treaty be assured, to come into force as soon as possible. Obviously, taking into consideration the realities, as we very well know what the result of the Ireland referendum was, and that our Irish friends themselves need to identify and advance the most adequate ways to solve this problem. I believe there are reasons for optimism, even if we look only at the past evolutions of the European Union. This is not the first time the European Union was confronted with situations of this type, but, every time, the European Union had proved its ability to keep walking.”[1]

The same idea, namely that of a European Union modelled on the basis of the Treaty of Lisbon, was stated by the former Romanian Prime Minister, Călin Popescu-Tăriceanu. For him, the only way forward was through the French Presidency’s efforts to support the ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon: “We support the efforts of the French Presidency of the European Union in order to find a solution to get out of the current deadlock. Europe should prove to its citizens that the Union is a source of certitudes and not one of dilemmas.”[2]

He seemed to see the European Union simply as an instrument whose role is to help Romania’s development: “For us, the status of member states is not a purpose in itself, but an instrument to serve the fundamental interests of the Romanian society.”[3] Therefore, he and his government fully support the development of the European Union: “We need, therefore, a powerful Union in the exterior, economically competitive and politically respected, capable of manifesting itself in a context in which the economic challenges are doubled by turbulences of the international relations.”[4]

A similar attitude was adopted by the Romanian President, Traian Băsescu. After the European Summer Council he declared that the priority should be the ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon as its non ratification would affect the European Union enlargement and it would generate a series of problems relating to the number of the Commissioners and members of the European Parliament.[5] The issue of the Commissioners became more visible in the following months due to the perceived risk by Romania to lose ‘its’ Commissioner. This elicited a strong reaction on the part of the President: “We do not believe that Romania will be in the situation to lose a Commissioner for a very simple reason: Romania supports that, by the December European Council at the latest, solution to be adopted that does not create discussions inside the European Union before the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon. Therefore, our proposal is for an extension of the Treaty of Nice in all its effects, including the one that every country had a Commissioner in the European Commission”.[6] The solution to the crisis is, and should be, an Irish one. Thus, in the same press statement made after the meeting with the President of the Republic of Ireland on the 23 September 2008, he declared that “[…] Romania respects without any hesitation the decision of the Irish people as expressed in last year’s referendum. In no case, does Romania see any other solution, but to wait for a new decision of the Irish people regarding the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon. We reject any solution of lack of solidarity in the European Union of the 27 […].”[7] The problem of the number of Commissioners featured prominently in the presidential speech: “[…] our point of view is that the number of Commissioners cannot be reduced […].”[8]

If the Romanian officials had a more reserved opinion and emphasised the need to continue the ratification process, the media coverage of the Irish ‘No’ was somehow less favourable. For instance, Dan Alexe, a Romanian journalist, wrote in an article about how everyone lost due to this ‘No’. Ironically, he remarks that the first ones to lose are the Irish themselves, to whom this ‘No’ gives no chance to leave the European Union if they ever want so. If they wanted to leave the Union, the Irish had to first of all approve this document. The treaty defines a legal mechanism through which the member states can leave the EU. In the present conditions, a country does not have any formula for divorce. By rejecting the treaty, Ireland finds itself trapped in the EU as an insect in amber, also preventing the other countries to endow themselves with a simulacrum of constitution.”[9] The idea is that everyone has lost (the member states, the candidate countries, and the Union in itself) and it will take a while in order to recover; that it will be impossible without a more open communication and without a wider transparency: “The final impression is that, once more, the EU showed that it does not know how to communicate and that, even though Europe impregnates the daily life of its citizens, a majority of the population continues not to see its benefits.”[10]

The future of the European Union seems to get darker in the eyes of a Romanian columnist for whom “[…] the European Union starts to realise that it is becoming ungovernable.”[11] Dinu Flămând takes this is a sign that the European Union as a whole should lower its expectations and become more modest. There is, he says, a fine line that nation states are not ready to cross, a line that defines what they consider to be some inalienable attributes. Yet, this acceptance of a lower level of expectations implies some risks as the evolution of the world is not on hold and globalisation continues to work even against Europe. “Probably the European Union will have to be more modest. To accept that there is a limit beyond which the national states are no longer willing to give up their prerogatives. Just that the globalisation is already a steam-roller started on a very steep incline. And united, but also divided, Europe risks to be quickly flattened by this steam-roller. If it does not assume even a revolution of the mentalities.”[12]

Another point where the Romanian official position regarding the future of the European Union and the Treaty of Lisbon differed sharply from that of the civil society was that regarding the number of Commissioners. Why should we stick our ground and demand that the principle ‘one member state, one Commissioner’ be the corner stone of any future advancement? In a press article, Cristian Ghinea proposes an alternative view: “There is an alternative strategy that could bring us more real influence at the EU level.”[13] So what would that strategy be? In essence, he proposes to give up the prestige granted by having our own Commissioner and to choose the real influence. Why have a Commissioner with a merely decorative function and not have some Deputy Commissioner with real power that can bring us more power at the EU level? “Before rejecting the Treaty of Lisbon there was the idea that the countries that will lose their Commissioner to receive some functions of Deputy Commissioner at some real important portfolios. In another words, we could negotiate to give up a Commissioner for multilingualism (1 percent of the EU budget) for a deputy Commissioner at the agriculture (40 percent of the budget). We could put the condition that in the future formula the new representatives could maintain their participation in the Commissioners college, where the collective decisions are taken.”[14]

However, despite all these opinions, the December 2008 European Council appears to be favourable to Romania and the future of the European Union. The Romanian official lobby for maintaining the current situation of ‘one member state, one Commissioner’ was accommodated, since the European Council decided that: “On the composition of the Commission, the European Council recalls that the Treaties currently in force require that the number of Commissioners be reduced in 2009. The European Council agrees that provided the Treaty of Lisbon enters into force, a decision will be taken, in accordance with the necessary legal procedures, to the effect that the Commission shall continue to include one national of each Member State.”[15] Furthermore, it offered a series of guarantees to Ireland, if the Irish government succeeds in ratifying the Treaty of Lisbon “by the end of the term of the current Commission.”[16]

The decision was warmly welcomed by the Romanian officials who saw in it a success of the French Presidency and a reason of hope for the future. There is yet lack of debates in Romania regarding the future elections for the European Parliament that are to be held on the 9 June 2009. The political parties are now recovering from a very costly and long political campaign for the domestic parliamentary elections and have not yet decided what their strategy or who their candidates will be. There is also a lack of debates and official statements regarding the appointment of the High Representative.

As for the position of Commissioner, up to now, there is no official statement but only rumors. A possible strong candidate is the former Foreign Affairs Minister, Lazăr Comănescu, which is seen by the Romanian media as the most likely candidate and so far the strongest in terms of his political expertise: “Asked on the occasion of a press conference whether he would accept the position of Commissioner, Lazăr Comănescu avoided a direct answer and told with a smile that he could not pronounce himself on something that does not exist. “The current Commission has another year of existence. There are discussions regarding how the future Commission shall be constituted, how many members it will have, if it will be constituted based on the Treaty of Nice or not. I hope that by that time the Treaty of Lisbon will be in force”[17] the former minister declared. “Also, there has to be a clarification on how the future portfolios of the Commission will be arranged”[18], underlined the then head of the Romanian diplomacy. “ […] I am among those who, taking into account the specificity of our country, are in favor of offering Romania the portfolio of agriculture and rural development, of energy or of infrastructure. These are absolute priorities for us”[19].

Among the latest Romanian official remarks regarding the future of the European Union, we can cite the current governing programme for 2009-2012 of the Romanian governing coalition from December 2008, which stipulates as a Romanian priority, that “the vertical institutional development constitutes the guarantee of the stability and of the efficient functioning of the European Community; in that context, Romania supports the ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon by all the member states, until the date of the elections for the European Parliament of the year 2009”[20].

2. Transatlantic relations renewed after President Bush: top priorities


A strategic partnership – to be continued on European premises

In light of Romania’s strategic partnership with the United States, a partnership achieved during the eight year tenure of George W. Bush that meant a strong Romanian military commitment in the combat areas in both Iraq and Afghanistan and materialised in the US support for Romania’s bid to become a NATO member. Romania’s orientation in terms of foreign policy was generally regarded as pro-American. In the pre-EU accession period, this meant that Romania’s position was contrary to that of some of the most prominent EU member states – as it happened for example over the divisive issue of Iraq. After becoming an EU member state, Romania generally backed the points of a common Euro-Atlantic agenda. The notable exception was the issue of Kosovo, when Romania went against the US view and that of the majority of the EU member states, citing the need to abide by the rule of respect of a state’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and opposing Kosovo’s independence.

The first priority in the quest for redefining the transatlantic relations is perceived in Brussels as consisting of the need to discover in the new US administration a philosophy of partnership and a perspective inclined towards multilateralism. Although never officially and explicitly stated, the Romanian perspective as regards to the need for a multilateralist America may be inferred from two of the major provisions in the new government programme, namely the two government objectives which refer to “the strengthening of Romania’s role in the EU as an active and influent member” and “the advancement of the strategic partnership with the US”.[21] In this context, Romania wants both a continuation of the US engagement in the Black Sea area and a stronger EU presence in this region, and this can only be achieved in a multilateral framework of cooperation in which a unilateralist, ‘go it alone’ America, would only bring about more European frustration.

While still at the drawing board of the transatlantic relationship, a second priority relates to the security dimension, more specifically the role and preeminence of NATO in the present Euro-Atlantic security structure. The events during the summer of 2008 in Georgia questioned the nature of the collective security benefits the Alliance could provide for states which belong to the so-called Russian ‘near abroad’. They also questioned the EU conflict response capacity on the background of the French EU-Presidency’s attempts at ushering in the end of NATO preeminence over Europe in matters of security.

Romania remains committed to supporting NATO enlargement, an engagement reiterated by the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lazăr Comănescu, in December 2008 at the NATO reunion in Brussels, and “all the decisions of the NATO Summit in Bucharest regarding the perspective of Ukraine and Georgia to become NATO members remain perfectly valid”[22]. Objectively, after the events in Georgia, the Romanian President, Traian Băsescu, clearly stated that “Romania will not change its position regarding the granting of the Membership Action Plan for both Georgia and Ukraine”[23].

A second dimension of the Romanian NATO engagement relates to the continuation of the Romanian military presence in the theatre of operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. The necessity to carry on with the Romanian presence in Iraq has been much debated in the media, most arguments focusing on the idea that the “coalition of the willing” is slowly but surely breaking up and the Romanian motivation of still having troops in Iraq is, by now, obsolete. The current Foreign Minister, Cristian Diaconescu, explained this necessity from the viewpoint of commitments previously taken by Romania: “One can make the difference between an opportunistic state and a state that takes on a set of obligations in a serious and responsible manner and carries them through. At this point, Romania is not an opportunistic state.”[24] Furthermore, in the light of the help pledged to the Iraqi side within the framework of the bilateral Romanian-Iraqi relationship, but also from the perspective of a NATO member, “Romania aims to be a security supplier, not only a security receiver”[25]. This last statement holds good if we also consider the Romanian presence in the monitoring or rule of law missions within the European Security and Defence Policy framework in the South Caucasus or the Western Balkans, a presence that the administration in Bucharest wishes to make more substantial in the future.

Still in terms of security, Romanian officials will continue to stress the strategic importance of the Black Sea area, especially in the context of the need to diversify energy resources and transit routes: “The Black Sea region’s strategic significance also resides in its gateway position for energy resources, which makes it pivotal for Europe’s energy policy. […] we have encouraged the inclusion of energy security as a clear-cut topic on the agenda of the North-Atlantic Alliance. This is a dimension in which NATO has the capacity to contribute to increased security and stability in our region.”[26]

A reconfiguration of the transatlantic relation requires mutual trust, and this seems to be a third priority for the parties, especially from the European side. Several member states, Romania included, when speaking about this sense of trust also refer to the need for their citizens to be exempted from the current US visa regime. Even if a bilateral US-Romanian agreement was signed in October regarding the fulfilment of the “Visa Waiver Program” requirements, the main impediment in the inclusion of Romania in the programme is far from being overcome: the rejection rate of the Romanian applications for US visas remains well beyond the 10 percent formal US threshold.[27] Romania opted so far for an EU framework of negotiations instead of a bilateral approach and the results of this strategy have been rather unsatisfactory if one considers that EU member states with which Romania had a common bid in this respect have been included in the programme[28] while Romania has not. The lack of results makes some voices- like that of Ioan Mircea Paşcu, MEP for the PSD,[29] to argue that the negotiations carried through in an EU-US framework are “the least attractive option as far as the solving of the visa issue is concerned” and that this is a framework that the new member states “are forced to choose”[30].

Having Europe as a partner – the need for a single European voice

“Behold the Obama change! Europe gets a partner of discussion closer to its taste; more complex and thus more nuanced and more multilateralist. By Obama-therapy, the US ceases to be the cultural infant of Europe and is bestowed African-European origins. This will bring into the transatlantic relation the melancholy which must have swept through the Hellenic world when the barbarians became emperors in Rome. Being deprived of their children, the Europeans have an additional reason to stand together for their needs”[31]. Leaving aside the metaphor, what Adrian Severin, MEP for the PSD, and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, tries to suggest is the need of a common European voice in a renewed transatlantic relationship.

The events in Georgia in the summer of 2008 involved high geopolitical stakes for both US and EU as international actors. In the opinion of Ioan Mircea Paşcu, MEP for the PSD, this was a turning point of the transatlantic relations, a set of events that may either weaken or strengthen the ties across the Atlantic, because it signalled the military come-back of Russia which seems to make use of its recently regained energies to recover after the losses incurred in the 1990s.[32] Much more than a mere ‘synergy’ is needed in the area of the Black Sea and that calls for a deeper commitment on behalf of the EU.

The issue of energy seems to splinter the Union in almost every context and the recent gas crisis involving Ukraine underlined once more the weakness of the European position facing an energy dependence on Russia, which in turn affects the EU position as a unitary global actor. For Romania, the lesson the EU should learn from this last episode of the gas saga is simple – the remedy is a single, coherent approach. The Romanian Foreign Minister, Cristian Diaconescu, underlines that the mere bilateral relationship between states was not enough to unblock the crisis and this questions the efficacy of this approach in a similar context in the future: “In all EU reunions, energy is looked at as matter of security and a very important issue that everybody agrees ought to be tackled in a unitary manner […]. This just goes to prove that both the EU and the European Commission have to move beyond words, to action”[33].

3. Financial crisis and challenges of global governance: the EU response


Crisis report: more concern for the new member states

Daniel Dăianu, MEP for PNL[34] and former Minister of Finance, addressed at the end of October 2008 a written question to the European Commission regarding the fate of emerging economies, i.e. those of the new EU member states, in the current and future context of the crisis. The main objection of the Romanian MEP is that “most talk about rescue packages in the financial industry, in the EU, concerns, basically, Eurozone member countries and other older EU member states. The EU new member states are hardly mentioned in this regard”[35]. The trouble with these member states is that their economies “do not benefit of the advantages of having a reserve currency of their own, have large current account deficits, and are feeling the pain of the flight to safe investments. All this is putting tremendous pressure on their currencies and is complicating immensely the tasks of local central banks”[36]. Facing such risks, the question asked by the Romanian MEP is obviously legitimate: “How does the Commission intend to address the specific problems of these economies against the backdrop of the international financial crisis and a spreading recession in Europe?”[37].

In this context, one journalist notices that the borderline between the ‘old’ and the ‘new Europe’, between the West and the East, is in force again, “and this time it relates to very real economic and financial aspects”[38]. Furthermore, the media speaks about the illusion of a single European plan created to avert the effects of the financial crisis and the ensuing recession, a plan which the Union cannot force on the member states: “Even though the European banking system is more prudent than the American one, the gust of the crisis has long crossed past the ocean. But Europe cannot come up with a ‘federal’ type of answer for the crisis, it can only put forward a ‘coordinated’ one. The EU has no political, technical and juridical means in order to implement a common plan. Each EU member state maintains its sovereignty in terms of budget, and the answer to the crisis remains a national one”[39].

The coordinated response given at the community level, essentially a single European anti-crisis plan made up by a piecemeal approach at the level of member states, is meant to take effect in a highly interdependent economic world. Thus, going from a micro to a macro approach, the actors will continue to be interdependent but in order to restore confidence in the system, the system itself will have to undergo a series of changes in regulation. This is what the EU aimed at in November in Washington, at the G20 Summit, and the Union’s performance in terms of the measures put forward and the way it was represented was interpreted as a strong achievement: “The image in Washington was that of a great success of the European Union, present in the summit both by means of its members in the G7 (the group of industrialised nations) and as a institutional body per se. […] The European Union officially (not to mention subtext references) called for a fundamental restructuring of the international financial system, based on strong regulations and checks from states or international structures which have been delegated authority in this respect by the governments”[40]. The economic analyst and former Reform Minister, Ilie Şerbănescu, goes on to argue that the package of measures put forth by the Union is “coordinated, solid and very broad. There were virtually no problems resulted from the current crisis that the Union’s plan did not address and for which a treatment proposal was not presented: transparency on the financial markets; risk prevention systems for high risk investment funds; central role of the International Monetary Fund in a more efficient financial architecture; holding in check rating agencies and off-shore territories.”[41]

At the official level, Romanian President, Traian Băsescu, unveiled that the major directions of the Union’s position at the G20 Summit were drawn up on the occasion of the informal reunion of the heads of state and government of the EU member states that took place at the beginning of November and that the EU opts for a reform of the international financial system. This structural vision that the Union has in addressing the crisis, which ultimately relates to a ‘never again’ type of philosophy, is welcomed by the Romanian President by virtue of the importance that he attaches to the EU position in the new global context: “By addressing the issue of the reform of the international financial system, the European Union – and I am making this statement in all responsibility – is openly taking on a leader vocation in global economy.”[42]

The ripple effect of the financial crisis comes at a time of change in the global architecture. The world is turning increasingly multipolar as the rise of Brazil, Russia, India and China (the ‘BRICs’) has deep economic and geopolitical implications.[43] In the opinion of the Romanian President, Traian Băsescu, the power of the emerging economies can under no circumstance be ignored: “It is clear that the current system, agreed in Bretton Woods, is a system that needs corrections that reckon both the strength that the EU has gained in time and the emerging markets. The international financial system cannot be frozen in its initial architecture, because of the economic realities of the European Union and those of the emerging economies like China, India and Brazil.”[44]

In view of the realities of a multipolar world, and bearing in mind the European wish for a multilateralist approach in the international realm, the European Union has to stand ready to share the responsibilities derived from its increasingly important role in the global architecture. Objectively, this translates into a more efficient ‘burden-sharing’ in all aspects of global governance, from the commitment in Afghanistan to the challenges of global warming. As to what the future holds, Daniel Dăianu’s comments may offer a glimpse at what comes next: “The EU and US will come out of this crisis with reshaped economies (with larger public sectors) and will continue to be, fundamentally, liberal democracies. But the financial crisis has already weakened them and will not halt the ascendancy of the new global powers. The future will be driven by a competition between liberal democracy and authoritarian forms of capitalism (principally exemplified by China and Russia). […] Western countries will have to come to grips with their weakened relative status in the world economy and shed much of their hubris in dealing with the rest of the world, for their own sake”[45].




[1] See: (last access: 9 January 2009).
[2] See: (last access: 9 January 2009).
[3] See: (last access: 9 January 2009).
[4] Ibid.
[5] See: (last access: 18 January 2009).
[6] See: (last access: 18 January 2009).
[7] Ibid.
[8] See: (last access: 18 January 2009).
[9] See: (last access: 18 January 2009).
[10] Ibid.
[11] See: (last access: 18 January 2009)-
[12] Ibid.
[13] See: (last access: 18 January 2009).
[14] Ibid.
[15] Council of the European Union: Brussels European Council 11 and 12 December 2008. Presidency Conclusions, available at: (last access: 18 January 2009).
[16] Ibid.
[17] See: (last access: 18 January 2009).
[18] Ibid.
[19] Ibid.
[20] See chapter 26 of Romania’s government programme, December 2008, available at: (last access: 18 January 2009).
[21] See chapter 25 of Romania’s governing programme, December 2008, Chapter 25, available at: (last access: 20 December 2008).
[22] See: (last access: 20 December 2008).
[23] See: (last access: 20 December 2008).
[24] See: (last access: 17 January 2009).
[25] Ibid.
[26] See: (last access: 20 December 2008).
[27] In September 2008 the rejection rate reached 25.5 percent. See:|displayArticle/articleID_14087/Dosar-Relatiile-UE-SUA.html (last access: 17 January 2009).
[28] The Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Hungary were included in the “Visa Waiver Program” in November 2008. See: (last access: 17 January 2008).
[29] Social Democratic Party- Partidul Social Democrat (PSD).
[30] See:|displayArticle/articleID_14087/Peste-Atlantic.html (last access 17 January 2009).
[31] See Adrian Severin: Schimbarea numită Obama (“The change called Obama”), Jurnalul Naţional, 11 November 2008, available at: (last access: 20 December 2008).
[32] See:|displayArticle/articleID_14662/Situatia-din-Georgia-dezbatuta-si-in-Parlamentului-European.html (last access: 20 December 2008).
[33] See: (last access: 28 January 2009).
[34] National Liberal Party – Partidul Naţional Liberal (PNL).
[35] See: (last access 15 January 2009)
[36] Ibid.
[37] Ibid.
[38] See Mircea Vasilescu: Noua şi fragila Europă (“The new and fragile Europe”), Dilema Veche, 6-12 November 2008, available at: (last access: 17 January 2009).
[39] See Rodica Palade: Autism romanesc in vreme de criza (“Romanian autism in times of crisis”), Revista 22, 15 October 2008, available at: (last access: 17 January 2009).
[40] See Ilie Şerbănescu: G 20 – prima consecinţă majoră a crizei (“G20- the first major consequence of the crisis”), Jurnalul Naţional, 13 January 2009, available at:–prima-consecinta-majora-a-crizei (last access: 15 January 2009).
[41] Ibid.
[42] See: (last access: 15 January 2009).
[43] See Daniel Dăianu: Keynes, not Marx, is back, European Voice, 21 October 2008, available at:,-not-marx,-is-back/62757.aspx (last access: 17 January 2009).
[44] See: (last access: 15 January 2009).
[45] See: Daniel Dăianu: Keynes, not Marx, is back, European Voice, 21 October 2008, available at:,-not-marx,-is-back/62757.aspx (last access: 17 January 2009).