Guest Article: Romania: Ten Years of EU Membership

By Hunya, Gábor | Romanian Journal of European Affairs, June 2017 | Go to article overview

Guest Article: Romania: Ten Years of EU Membership


Hunya, Gábor, Romanian Journal of European Affairs


A story of mixed success

Ten years after its accession to the EU, Romanians keep showing a high rate of confidence in the European Union (68% tend to trust).3 They see the benefits of EU membership primarily in the freedom to travel and work abroad. 'Enthusiasm' was especially upbeat in the first two years of membership when more than 600,000 people left the country; another almost 300,000 emigrated in the following seven years (net migration balance according Eurostat). The number of those working or studying abroad temporarily is estimated at an additional 2.5 million.

Despite large emigration, Romania's economic growth has been remarkable: the volume of GDP grew by 30% between 2005 and 2015 in real terms, which is the third highest rate among the Central and East European EU members (EU-CEE) after Poland and Slovakia.4 Reflecting the effects of migration, price level and economic growth, per capita GDP at purchasing power parity (PPP) rose from 34% to 57% of the EU28 average in the same period. This fast pace of catching-up is especially remarkable compared with the previous ten years when the development gap hardly narrowed (32% in 1995 and 34% in 2005).

Closing the development gap between Romania and the EU cannot take place overnight, however, nor in a decade or two. In the EU-wide ranking, Romania has overtaken only Bulgaria, making it the second least developed Member State. Although we lack calculations of the contribution of EU membership to the improved macroeconomic performance, it is most likely that the accession has improved the legal stability, FDI inflow and financial transfers from Brussels have decisively contributed to Romania's economic growth. When going into detail, however, one discovers several shortcomings in the economic policy, doing business conditions and the rule of law. Many of these have to do with the premature EU accession and the slowdown of the pace of reforms in the post-accession period. Romania's institutions and administration are still not functioning well enough, therefore there is enough room for the country to fully benefit from EU membership.

Premature EU accession

The negotiations between 2000 and 2004 were spent with the transposition of the community rules and standards into the Romanian legal system and there was neither time nor capacity for their proper internalisation and implementation. In the 2006 monitoring report, the European Commission (EC) stated that 'the country made sufficient progress and would not put at risk the EU's core policies and its regulatory framework'.5 This positive view reflected the interest of the EC being in an enlargement-friendly mood similar to the EU member states which were ratifying Romania's accession treaty. When the European Court of Auditors (ECA) opposed the accession of Romania and Bulgaria on the grounds that EU money would not be spent efficiently, it was seen inopportune to change the process of accession.6 It was left to the new member states to step up reforms in their own interest.

The concern that Romania needed more time to prepare for accession, so that EU transfers could be absorbed in a more efficient way, has proved to be correct. Lack of institutional capacity and wide-spread corruption has hindered the country to fully benefit from EU funds. Out of the EUR 15.5 billion allocated to Romania under the EU cohesion policy in 20072013 (supplemented by EUR 3.4 billion national co-funding), only 75% could be spent by April 2016.7 The total sum used in Romania amounted to 1.5% of the cumulative GDP over seven years, one of the lowest shares among the new EU members. There have been some remarkable results nevertheless, including the expansion of water and sewage infrastructure and the modernisation of public heating systems, while the large amount of funds spent on road construction resulted only in a fragmented motorway network. (In the 2014-2020 period the allocated funds are two times higher comparing to the previous one. …

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