A strategic partnership – to be continued on European premises

Romania
European Institute of Romania
 
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”.[1] 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”[2]. 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”[3].
 
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.”[4] 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”[5]. 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.”[6]
 
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.[7] 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[8] while Romania has not. The lack of results makes some voices like that of Ioan Mircea Paşcu, MEP for the PSD,[9] 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”[10].
 
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”[11]. 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.[12] 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”[13].




[1] See chapter 25 of Romania’s governing programme, December 2008, Chapter 25, available at: http://www.gov.ro/capitolul-25-politica-externa__l1a2066.html (last access: 20 December 2008).


[2] See: http://www.mae.ro/index.php?unde=doc&id=37682&idlnk=2&cat=4 (last access: 20 December 2008).


[3] See: http://www.presidency.ro/?_RID=det&tb=date&id=10143&_PRID=ag (last access: 20 December 2008).


[4] See: http://www.mae.ro/index.php?unde=doc&id=38010&idlnk=2&cat=4 (last access: 17 January 2009).


[5] Ibid.


[6] See: http://www.mae.ro/index.php?unde=doc&id=12733&idlnk=&cat=4&lang=en (last access: 20 December 2008).


[7] In September 2008 the rejection rate reached 25.5 percent. See: http://www.euractiv.ro/uniunea-europeana/articles|displayArticle/articleID_14087/Dosar-Relatiile-UE-SUA.html (last access: 17 January 2009).


[8] The Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Hungary were included in the “Visa Waiver Program” in November 2008. See: http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/without/without_1990.html (last access: 17 January 2008).


[9] Social Democratic Party- Partidul Social Democrat (PSD).


[10] See: http://www.euractiv.ro/uniunea-europeana/articles|displayArticle/articleID_14087/Peste-Atlantic.html (last access 17 January 2009).


[11] See Adrian Severin: Schimbarea numită Obama (“The change called Obama”), Jurnalul Naţional, 11 November 2008, available at: http://www.jurnalul.ro/articole/138493/schimbarea-numita-obama (last access: 20 December 2008).


[12] See: http://www.euractiv.ro/uniunea-europeana/articles|displayArticle/articleID_14662/Situatia-din-Georgia-dezbatuta-si-in-Parlamentului-European.html (last access: 20 December 2008).


[13] See: http://revista22.ro/exista-o-clara-insatisfactie-in-relatia-cu-federatia... (last access: 28 January 2009).