Romania’s people power

The image of Romania has received a positive boost in the last few weeks from the widespread reports on international TV news networks of last month’s popular protest on the streets of Bucharest.

Thousands of demonstrators braved freezing weather in February to campaign for more accountable government, independent institutions and respect for the rule of law – core European values. They also demanded that the authorities drop proposed legislation to limit the investigation of corruption to only those more serious offences involving sums greater than €30 000. The protestors quite correctly argued that you either eliminate corruption or you don’t, and that intellectually there can be no half way house to “phase it out”, or to differentiate between levels of scale for bribery.

These public anti-government demonstrations might have given rise to fears of political instability in other circumstances. The demonstrations which removed the former Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu from power was the first revolution to be captured live on television, and the memories of those ugly scenes are still fresh in our minds.

Demonstrators and army vehicles in Bucharest during 1989 Romanian Revolution

But this time round, the protests had a refreshingly positive effect, reassuring us all of the intellectual maturity of the demonstrators and showing us that Romania’s citizens were open, creative, outward looking democrats determined to protect the European values and freedoms precious to them.
Interestingly, countries in Eastern Europe like Romania, value their ties with the EU, and are looking to strengthen them, at a time when some Western countries are looking to weaken their own links with the bloc. The demonstrators in Bucharest have clearly shown that Romania can be a powerful force for positive influence in the EU at a time when such commitment is sorely needed. This popular support for the EU may also be beneficial to the new Romanian Government’s strategic thinking as they must now forge and articulate Romania’s longer term role within an EU of 27 Member States in a post-Brexit world.

Romania is poised to maintain strong economic development in 2017 and to maintain its position as the fastest growing economy in Europe, having expanded by 4.9% last year – and the country could turn out to be this year’s economic success story provided that their new government nurtures a healthy and vibrant business environment that retains and increases foreign direct investment. Romania’s well-educated workforce, the country’s strategic location on the Black Sea, the Danube, its ports and transport facilities have already attracted interest from China to develop the country into a key regional transit point for the transhipment of raw materials from Eurasia.

According to the CEO of the Bucharest Stock Exchange Ludwik Sobolewski, Romania may also be upgraded shortly to Emerging Market status in the international financial community, which will enable the economy to further benefit from capital inflows from international financial institutions, with a positive knock-on effect on the local economy.

This augurs well for Romania’s long-suffering electorate, looking to see economic growth in the country generate increased employment and wealth creation so that greater prosperity can trickle down to the community. There is still work to be done by the new government working in partnership with the private sector to convert the opportunities into reality and benefits for society. But as we have already seen, one thing we can be sure of is that Romania’s “people power” will not shrink from the responsibility of keeping their authorities on track to deliver what is needed.