Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

Romania: A Latecomer Who Wants to Get in the Game: A Vacuum Waiting to Be Filled?

Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

Romania: A Latecomer Who Wants to Get in the Game: A Vacuum Waiting to Be Filled?

Article excerpt

The TSI aims to strengthen cooperation mainly in the energy, transport and telecoms/digital infrastructure sectors, with a view to boosting regional development at a time when Central and Eastern Europe is growing faster than the West but also has a lot of catching up to do. In many ways, the CEE region also receives less support from bigger EU Member States, as the latter struggle to live up to the expectations of their own dissatisfied and increasingly nationalistic electorate. Notwithstanding the Initiative's economic mission, most TSI states and many outside it see this primarily as yet another strategic, security-oriented move of sticking together in the face of threats from the East. Some fear it will also evolve into an intra-EU Eastern bloc opposing the influence of eurozone members.

Either way, there is more structure to it at this point than there is content, which seems to support the view that it began as a strategic project which has yet to materialise as something solid and lasting. One thing is blatantly clear to all that are part of it: there can be no genuine integration within the Euro-Atlantic space without de facto economic integration at all levels, including infrastructure, freedom of movement of goods, capital and people, regulatory harmonisation, a level playing field on the labour market, ease of doing business, public-private partnerships, and maximising the absorption of EU funds.

Stronger Together, within the EU

Romania is certainly among those who find value first and foremost in the coming together of all CEE countries to acknowledge the need for a broad, inclusive and consolidated format of cooperation, as opposed to smaller groups such as the V4 or Poland + the Baltic States. It feels that these can only achieve limited results and are not conducive to more regional solidarity and a stronger, united voice within the EU, but may rather damage cohesiveness. As the trend in Europe seems to be advancing in the direction of Scenario 3 of the White Paper on the Future of Europe (those who want more do more), it is becoming clear that the region will fall behind unless it can find a common voice. Hence the twofold challenge: 1) tighten ranks and turn an initiative for cooperation among states which are not necessarily used to cooperating, do not always see their interests as being convergent, and do not even see themselves as a "region," but rather as a loose association of small sub-regions into a solid, permanent and results-oriented structure; 2) in the context described above, identify those economic sectors, issues and priorities where it can actually deliver concrete results, develop a unitary vision, articulate a strategy and follow up on implementation. Otherwise, the risk of the Three Seas Initiative remaining yet another form without substance is real, and in this region it would not be for the first time.

To be sure, Romania has every interest in contributing to the creation of said substance and the strengthening of cooperation. This is for reasons of hard security, since only such inclusive regional structures can cater to Romania's needs (as will be described in more detail below), but also in relation to economic security. Situated on the outer periphery of the European Union, and having joined later than its Central European neighbours, Romania is a big country with a big market and tremendous potential, but ranks constantly as the poorest in the EU save for Bulgaria. It is not, in short, a country that can boast of being properly integrated with the EU common market (or at least as well as it is politically integrated). This view is unanimous among Romania's political class and decision-makers, as is the realisation that national security will not be truly assured until this integration is achieved. Bucharest cannot continue to count exclusively on the country's strategic geopolitical position and its political alignment with Western partners. It faces an impending need to better connect to the EU core and reduce the convergence gap, an imperative it shares with other regional EU members. …

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