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Media & Politics -> Romania
THEMES AND VARIATIONS OF EUROPEAN INTEGRATION: THE ROMANIAN 'JUST DO IT'
02.09.2002: Cristian Stefanescu

 

This article was written as part of Media Online's attempt to get a closer insight into European Union representation in the media in candidate countries: Bulgaria, Slovenia and Romania. Media Online will later look into the representation of European integrations in the media in other countries in South East Europe.

 

 

Romania belonged to Europe, Romania never left Europe, her place is inside the European family and if someone dares to even think some alternative geopolitical or ethno-cultural theories, he automatically becomes a pariah. If you’re a journalist and your professional interest is Romania’s struggle for the European Union membership, you have two alternatives. Either you are subscribing to the popular myth, yelling that even Spain, Portugal or Ireland used to be pour countries before they became part of the European Union and even later. You also should try to blame, as an apogee, Western European decision-makers on conspiracy against your motherland. Or, on the other hand, you’re pointing the sad truth – Romania still has a long way in order to join the political and economical club. Chose the truth - it’s like a Russian roulette with your own professional future.

At least, that happened for years. Things are slightly changing. But there’s always a "but"…

Back in 1997, months before the Madrid NATO summit – the one Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland joined the Alliance. By electoral means, Romania just changed a parliamentarian majority. It was the first time in Romania’s history that a new majority democratically replaced a governmental team. Unfortunately, except, maybe, the now-recognized good strategic position (which is not a matter of performance, it’s just a question of destiny), it was the only atu for a NATO membership with no other political or economic arguments. Watching both politicians and media, a single refrain was heard for months: the entire country’s future depends on whether NATO will invite or not Romania to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization at the Madrid summit. No alternative was accepted.

No diplomatic strategy for the case Romania wouldn’t be invited has been elaborated. Asking for an alternative strategy, you were considered as being ignoble and anti-national. "No, we don’t even think such scenario, we’re only counting with the NATO membership". It was a matter of surviving: either NATO will invite Romania or the country will be shacked by a political crisis, including a violent fall of the newly elected government. The NATO summit ended with no invitation. US president Bill Clinton visited, the very next day, Bucharest and promised to Romanians that "the future is yours". Romania’s government has been shuffled by other political reasons - identity crisis inside the majority coalition, a strange combination of left and right wing parties. But there was no major national destabilization – the same allied parties named a new prime minister. And, before the next general election, Romania also had a third government head representing the same majority.

Back to our days. After years-long debates, the European Council in Helsinki, in 1999, admitted that, in order to offer the same opportunity to all the candidates and to accelerate and consolidate the all-European integration process, membership negotiations should start with all 12 former communist candidates at the same time. It was obvious that not all 12 will have the same timetable.

Romania was an outsider. And it still remains one. But both politicians and media celebrated the fact that Romania was invited to negotiate his EU membership as a victory.

At the end of the day, neither politicians nor media are able to clearly explain to the people what will actually the European integration bring to Romania. That’s a single clear finality: the honor of being, in the end, after a long, bitter expectation, recognized as part of the European family. Up to the place where we belong - where the eagles fly. But no single voice had stated that you firstly have to learn to fly. Polls after polls are showing that some 90% of Romanians definitely support the European integration idea, even if most of them don’t understand as good as nothing from all the technical details and disagrees with the necessary social sacrifices. But nation-wide desire and willingness are far from being criteria in this pro-European campaign.

European issues are often subjects of the Romanian media outlet, even if they are mostly far from being top topics of the gatekeeper’s setting agenda. Articles on subjects like controversial debates inside the Union, about founds which EU are offering in various development projects or, maybe, negotiations chapters, which are opened or closed, can be read almost every day in the Romanian newspapers. At the very beginning of this year, for example, the main interest of the media was the outcome of the single European currency. Last year, the country report of the European Parliament was a real earthquake for the entire society. European Parliament’s special rapporteur for Romania, Baroness Emma Nicholson for United Kingdom, came to Bucharest, took notices and after some weeks announced, in a press statement in Strasbourg, that Romania is not respecting own promises. Prime Minister Adrian Nastase and Minister for European Integration, Hildegard Puwak, reacted officially, calling the Baroness’ statement as being unfair and based on information which haven’t been updated. The declaration Ping-Pong between Strasbourg and Bucharest was a hot topic during the summer. Meanwhile, Romania’s government acted properly and improved some of the most sensible subjects - like legislation regarding institutionalized children’s care and traffic whit adoptions, for example. The Baroness finally admitted that progress has been reached, so that, months later, in autumn of the same year, the country report was optimistically recognized as being the best evaluation ever made toward Romania. Media, nominally Bucharest based national newspaper ZIUA, was the one who considered as being necessary to translate into Romanian the report (even if it was a very technical document), so that public opinion could create at least a vague impression about how far the country lies behind the advanced candidates. A governmental official translation was never publicly released, even if every single ministry came out with notes and commentaries on specifically chapters.

Specific occasions are covered by the Romanian media institutions. Some technical information, announced at the press conferences held every Monday at the Ministry for European Integration are reflected in major newspapers. Romania also has, besides a special Ministry, a chief-negotiator for European integration – central media often quotes his opinions. The Foreign Affairs Ministry works on this issue too, so that several diplomats are often cited in Romanian press expressing points of view regarding the same European integration topic. European Commission’s Delegation in Bucharest organizes press conferences regarding different programs. Most of these events are reflected in an at least curious manner. Media presents a short note about the good news: there’s a new funding coming for a new development project; but when it comes at the technical part, explanations are mostly vague generalities.

EU financial assistance programs like PHARE and SAPARD and especially the way Romania is managing those funds has been and are covered in extenso - it’s Europe-wide notorious that during the past decade Romania lost millions because national coordinators were not able to elaborate proper development projects. At different deadlines, it came out like that Bucharest doesn’t need the money, doesn’t need financial support from Western governments. Romanian media often investigated - by journalistic means - the reasons why governmental resorts (ministries, agencies, etceteras) has lost sponsorships and grants, identified those responsible but nothing happened at all, nobody was sanctioned, no official explanation has been offered.

Some media institutions have special programs dedicated to the European integration and European affairs. National press agency Rompres has a weekly newsletter called "European integration", including press review from abroad, official and unofficial statements made by Romanian or foreign politicians, opinion-makers or analysts, press releases form Romanian and European institutions. At least one weekly talk show on European topics has been included in the program of every major TV broadcasters. Best known is "Pro-Vest", hosted on the private Pro TV station by Bogdan Chiriac, deputy editor-in-chief at the Bucharest-based Adevarul newspaper. The public television, Romania 1, also has her own debate programs, but they are usually broadcasted at the "rush hours" or very late in the evening, so that the audience is pretty low. Both Pro TV and Romania 1 has resident envoys in Brussels, covering all subjects related to Romania’s negotiations with the EU. The public radio Romania Actualitati, considered by many Romanians as being the best information source, offers interviews, debates and special correspondences on topics related on European affairs or European integration. Former newspaper Ziarul Politic transformed itself in a weekly baptized exactly Integrarea (The Integration). The start policy was to cover Romania’s efforts for euro-atlantic integration, but meanwhile it is more like a general-politics magazine. The daily newspaper Ziua offers, besides news, a weekly half-page section dedicated on the hottest European affairs topic. It started at May 9th 2001 (Europe’s – Schumann day) and it’s called, obviously, European Integration.

Looking at the entire offer, one may understand that Romania’s public opinion is well informed on what European integration and European Union means. Well, that’s a false image, because most of Romania’s journalists are, themselves, not specialized in these topics. The shared information is mostly technical and when it comes to explaining what actually the information means, journalists are far from being helpful for the average reader. For more details, officials are invited, but they also are using a complicated, technical language, so that at the end of the day nothing becomes clear. But Romania’s public opinion remains the most pro-European. Besides all misunderstanding.

 

Cristian Stefanescu is foreign politics journalist at the Bucharest-based ZIUA daily newspaper. Media Online 2002. All rights reserved.

 
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