Is Romania really ready for the EU?

That’s the question of an opinion piece of mine that just ran this Friday in The New Republic. Unfortunately, you have to pay for TNR Online content, so I copied and pasted the article here.

Is Romania really ready for the EU?
Country Bumpkin

Next week, the European Union’s executive body, a beast that thrives on rules and the enforcement thereof, will decide whether Romania is ready to join next year. This is the final review in a seven-year process whose litmus test remains the adoption of a truckload of regulations dumped at the slopes of the Carpathians. Even though, in 1974, communist Romania became the first Central European country to develop relations with the EU, it wasn’t until 2000 that it was finally invited to sit down and discuss its accession. Now, according to most metrics, Romania is almost on track.

Joining the EU’s 25 member states is a process called “negotiation,” but no country really negotiates the rules of the game–only the minutiae of implementing them. The EU has demanded that Romania fix its justice system, ban international adoptions, eliminate corruption, reform agriculture, and more. With new laws now in place, almost all 31 chapters of “negotiations” have been addressed to the satisfaction of the Union. At the last review in May, the EU had just minor requirements, asking for, among other things, tax-paying mechanisms to match the EU’s, an infrastructure to channel funds to farmers, and improvements in food-safety issues.

But, even if these problems have a legislative fix by the likely accession date of January 2007, that doesn’t mean they’ll be resolved. Agriculture is an emblematic issue. Despite adopting EU regulations, Romania lags behind in treating swine fever and bringing milk to European standards–only 30 percent of the milk currently complies. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Romania might look ready on paper, but it’s not ready on the ground.

That’s because drawing up new regulations is the easy part. Enforcing them in a politically and economically immature society like Romania’s will prove far more difficult. Adrian Lungu, an editor at, an online publication dedicated to EU news, says that, although Romania’s legislative structure is more than 90 percent harmonized with the EU’s, “it lacks consistency when it comes to implementing the new laws and creating institutions to cope with the new regulations.”

Corruption, for example, remains a significant problem. In May, the EU praised Romania for progress in cleaning up its government, saying “non-partisan investigations into allegations of high-level corruption have substantially increased.” (Current investigations include 100 or so cases brought against politicians and other public officials for bribery, embezzlement, and influence peddling, though a big catch has yet to be made.) But these grand-scale efforts do little to address the small-time, greasing-the-wheels corruption that affects the daily lives of average Romanians: everything from paying teachers for higher grades to rewarding local clerks for expediting bureaucracy. Studies by Transparency International have consistently indicated that Romanians use bribes to make daily life easier. On a scale from 0 to 10, with 10 being “highly clean” Romania’s corruption perception index (CPI) in 2005 was scored by Transparency International at 3. The average among current EU members is 6.7.

The justice system is in a similar state of disarray. An EU readiness review by the Open Society Foundation (OSF) found that many of the statutes under which the Romanian judiciary operates are confusing, and problems continue to exist in areas like the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary, especially concerning the appointment and promotion of judges and prosecutors. Scandals in the last decade highlighted a cozy relationship between the parties in power and the judiciary and have crushed public trust in the rule of law. A January Eurobarometer poll indicated only one-third of Romanians trust the justice system. True justice is such a foreign notion that, the OSF report noted, “[I]t is worrisome that … the defendant’s rights to personal freedom and fair trial are still seen as tricks instead of being considered fundamental procedural rights.”

And then there is the economy. Romania is poorer than any current EU member-state–a country where the average annual income per capita is $7,700. Twenty-five percent of the population lives below the poverty line. Romanians had hoped the EU would improve their financial prospects, but recent news hasn’t been good. The press is predicting a post-accession spike in the price of basic goods like gas, alcohol, and cigarettes–a fate that befell neighboring Hungary following its 2004 accession–which could hit the poor in their pocketbooks and turn them against the European idea.

Potential price hikes are not the only thing affecting the accession readiness of the Romanian psyche, which already displays ambivalence toward the European Union. While politicos talk about money transfer mechanisms, farmers are worried that the EU will impose draconian changes on their way of life: Don’t make your own alcohol; don’t slaughter pigs with your bare hands; don’t grow abnormally large cucumbers. Most of these are myths, but the government has not debunked or explained them in the mainstream press, which loves to fuel firestorms of panic.

Most ominously of all, the majority of Romanians tends to view the EU as a knight in shining armor that will rescue the country from its social and economic ailments. According to the latest Eurobarometer poll, 68 percent of Romanians trust the EU–a level higher than in current member states–and half expressed unhappiness with the present and optimism about their future as part of the body. (By contrast, EU citizens said they are happy with the present and pessimistic about the future.) Romanians, however, are likely to be disappointed. Joining the EU could allow Romanians to work in other countries for better pay, for example, but a recent European debate on immigration has cast a shadow over this possibility. Currently, Great Britain is debating whether to open its borders to Romanians and Bulgarians, and fear of a labor-force migration has prompted other countries to consider restrictions as well.

If the EU doesn’t turn out to be the savior Romanians are expecting, the blow could be fatal to an immature political system. Postponing accession (still a possibility) or disappointment with the reality of being part of the EU might send Romanians running to the extremist parties, which are popular anyway. A recent survey showed that 38 percent of Romanians trust Gigi Becali, a right-wing politician with a heavily nationalistic platform–and the number has been growing.

It’s true that countries always scramble to meet their new requirements in the period just before their accession is approved. But, even by those standards, Romania is not ready. Former chief negotiator Leonard Orban said Romania was a tougher case than the 10 countries that joined in 2004. “You transform the economy, you transform elements of political life, of social life and so on,” he told a Croatian magazine.

That’s a tall order for a spate of dinky regulations. The marriage of Romania and the EU is like the marriage of a grumpy, old-Europe gentleman who built his fortune by following strict rules to a smashing young woman who needs a protector. The trouble is, there’s every indication that she’s not prepared to settle down.

5 Responses to “Is Romania really ready for the EU?”

  1. This words’ game between the EU and candidate countries never ceased to amaze me. What do we understand by “ready”? They say, fulfilling some criteria and accession demands. We blame all changes on them, cause “Brussels says so”, and say we’re ready, of course we’re ready, we’ve been ready for the last 2000 years. The wise say it’s also a question of mentality which will hardly change once Romania joins. No, Romania is not ready now, and it won’t be in one year or two or three. Readiness is not just a euphoric state of mind fed by years of putting the accession on top of the political agenda.

    But this whole accession is not about being “ready”, no matter how loud the EU shouts that out or how much the Romanians (government) claim to be. Poland wasn’t ready. Hungary wasn’t ready. You are sometimes thinking if Italy or France were ever “ready”, and yet they are founding members of this whole thing.

    Next week, the Commission will say that we’re “ready, but” and the Council in December will say that we join January 1st under close supervision. If they ever wanted to stop this, they had enough chances by now.

    Romania is not ready. The question is now, will it cope with membership? Cause there’s no way out, like in a marriage (for the desperation of Brits alike), at least not until the constitution is passed.

    Ready for the weekend, that may well be a clear yes!

  2. After repeat visits to the country, it seems insane to me that Romania is even being considered for entry to the EU, let alone a shoo-in for entry. What is the EU thinking? Allowing Poland in has been a disaster — entry was supposed to “civilize” the country, but now Poland has drifted into a hazy world of embarrassing homophobia, antisemitism, disarray and sweetheart deals for the government’s friends. Don’t people ever learn?

    We’ll see how this Romania scenario plays out. Loved the marriage metaphor, Mr Owlspotter…

  3. You might be amused by this…got it from

    Where is Romania? Is it famous, is it anonymous? Ok, let’s say that if it was a TV star, Romania would be a lady in her 40s, a gymnast in her youth; at the age of 30 she would have become the lover of a sadistic man, which she had killed in the past. She would have a grandpa that uses to drink blood and another one who uses to drinks. She is still quite pretty, but she uses a lot of make-up. She graduated from high-school, but she introduces herself as a person with PhDs in several important areas. She would work hardly, but only on a schedule that would keep her at work at 6:00 p.m. the most. She speaks English with a slight influence that the foreigners don’t know if it is sexy or Slavonian. The most important thing is that she is available. She will soon have enough money for the boob-job, if the GDP increases in the same manner.

  4. Geez, it’s seems the Romania as woman metaphor is getting a lot of traction these days. This is indeed fun, although I am a little disturbed by the hordes of stereotypes here denoting a male dominated culture. After all, women (and Romania) should aim to please.

  5. This is sort of a half response to carolina’s Polish example.
    First, almost surely, the current (weird)leaders of Poland would have won the power be it in the EU or not.
    Second, partly digressing from a real answer, I want to point out C.Ghinea’s opinions from last week’s Dilema Veche, which can be found here:
    Long story short: integration did good for Poland.

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