Romania will be at the core of the European decision-making process in the first semester of 2019… Preparations… rely on a systematic and concerted effort of all the relevant players at national level… since everybody brings its own contribution to this major project that we perceive both as a challenge and as a significant opportunity.”
“It will be a challenge if we have only a short look at the complexity of the political landscape and of the European agenda in the first half of 2019. We are talking about important processes that will shape the future of our Union…
GDL: On the 1st of December 2018, Romania celebrated 100 years of existence. What can you tell us about this special date and how did you celebrate it in Greece?
LF: This is indeed a very special year for our country because we celebrate 100 years since the foundation of the Modern Romanian State on the 1st of December 1918, the date of the Great Union of all Romanians. This historic moment is the landmark political achievement of the Romanian nation ever, because it reunited for the first time, all the Romanian historic provinces.
The Centenary was largely celebrated in Romania and by our foreign missions abroad. In Greece, we organised cultural events dedicated to, or under, the aegis of this special moment in the history of all Romanians. We started our cultural programme in March with the concert by a famous Romanian traditional music performer, Grigore Lese, at the Parnassos Hall. In July, we hosted at the Embassy a concert of pan flute by Maestro Nicolae Voiculet on the occasion of a ‘Gala Evening – 100 for the Centenary’, when 10 personalities from the Romanian community in Greece were symbolically awarded a distinction by the Minister for Romanians abroad. At the beginning of November, we hosted a very colourful and full of beauty I dare say, fashion show, showcasing the masterpiece works by the five best Romanian fashion designers.
In the cultural field, I would like to refer to, with satisfaction I might add, to the increased interest from the general public for Romanian cinema productions in Greece and in the Greek festivals.
Continuing this very rich tradition, several Romanian directors and their movies had a considerable participation at this year’s International Film Festival in Thessaloniki in November, and at the Anymasyros International Animation Film Festival in September, which took place in the beautiful and cultural island of Syros. We also cooperated with the organisation of a painting exhibition by the artist Ioan Bompa and participated with works by a young Romanian artist, Stefana Petre, in the painting exhibition ‘Mare Magnum’, organised by the UNESCO Club for Literature and Arts. It also goes without saying that we celebrated our Centennial Anniversary together with the associations of the Romanian Community in Greece at events that they organised in honour of the 1st of December, as well at the reception hosted by the Romanian Embassy on this occasion. We intend to continue this rich cultural programme throughout 2019, and primarily in the first 6 months, when Romania will hold the Presidency of the Council of the European Union.
“The Sibiu Summit assumes even more relevance, since it is expected to bring a fresh vision for our common future together, for a united, stronger and more effective Union, as well as a renewed commitment of the European leaders towards the values and principles that lay at the foundation of the European Union.”
GDL: Indeed, in the first semester of 2019, Romania will assume the Presidency of the Council of the EU. How do you see your upcoming Presidency and what is the course of preparations for this important task?
LF: Starting on the 1st of January 2019, Romania will assume for six months the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU, opening actually a new sequence of the Trio of Presidencies that will continue with Finland in the second half of next year, followed by Croatia in the first semester of 2020. Romania will hold for the first time this mandate since its accession to the European Union on the 1st of January 2007, which clearly explains the strong interest raised in the Romanian society and the national consensus on which the Presidency Programme was built.
As you very well underlined, it is an important task because Romania will be at the core of the European decision-making process in the first semester of 2019. We are determined to be a constructive partner, to actively engage in enhancing the European project and to act as an ‘honest broker’, meaning an impartial mediator that will work closely with Member States and EU institutions in view of advancing the negotiations on the legislative files of the EU Council and of ensuring the continuity of the European agenda. Preparations for assuming the Presidency on the 1st of January 2019 are well on track and they rely on a systematic and concerted effort of all the relevant players at national level, be it institutional bodies, political parties, NGOs or ordinary citizens, since everybody brings its own contribution to this major project that we perceive both as a challenge and as a significant opportunity.
It will be a challenge if we have only a short look at the complexity of the political landscape and of the European agenda in the first half of 2019. We are talking about important processes that will shape the future of our Union, the elections for the European Parliament being perhaps the most visible event in which citizens all across the EU Member States are called upon to elect their representatives for the next five years. Before the EP elections however, it is worth mentioning that the ‘Brexit’ process will enter its final stages and that the reflection process on the future of the EU will record a new chapter with a key Summit that will take place in Sibiu on the 9th of May 2019. On the Anniversary of Europe Day, and within the new framework generated by the ‘Brexit’ vote, the Sibiu Summit assumes even more relevance, since it is expected to bring a fresh vision for our common future together, for a united, stronger and more effective Union, as well as a renewed commitment of the European leaders towards the values and principles that lay at the foundation of the European Union.
As I was mentioning earlier, the Presidency of the Council of the EU comes along with significant opportunities, especially since Romania will play a major part in facilitating the decision-making process. From this perspective, we are committed to advancing the negotiations on the next Multiannual Financial Framework, a central file currently on the European agenda, aiming for a modern and robust budget of the European Union, capable of ensuring adequate funding for all the priorities set by the Member States for 2021-2027. In terms of the calendar of activities, apart from the traditional meetings that take place regularly in Brussels or Luxembourg, our Presidency will organise various events throughout Romania, thus offering the visiting delegations the opportunity to have a first-hand experience of our traditional hospitality, as well as of our rich cultural and historical heritage. At the same time, the Presidency of the Council of the EU gives us the occasion to reconfirm Romania’s profound attachment to European values and to make a tangible contribution to the overall efforts of enhancing the most significant project aimed at bringing peace, stability and prosperity for the Union’s citizens.
“The Presidency of the Council of the EU gives us the occasion to reconfirm Romania’s profound attachment to European values and to make a tangible contribution to the overall efforts of enhancing the most significant project aimed at bringing peace, stability and prosperity for the Union’s citizens.”
GDL: What is the motto of the Romanian EU Council Presidency and can you tell us more about the ambitious priorities which Romania is set to achieve?
LF: The Romanian Presidency will be conducted under the motto “Cohesion, a Common European Value” that is the result of several rounds of consultations involving prominent members from the academic, scientific and publishing environment. We believe that the motto clearly encompasses the vision that Romania has on its upcoming mandate, while being also consistent with our firm commitment to one of the most valuable and far-reaching principles of the EU, that brings a concrete contribution to improving the lives of European citizens and to reducing the gaps between the regions of each country, but also between the Member States. As the Romanian Presidency will put at the forefront the citizens, in view of supporting the efforts aimed at fostering democracy and at bringing the EU decision-making process closer to its citizens, we believe that a return to the fundamentals, together with a consistent approach of safeguarding and enriching them, will be instrumental in regaining citizens’ trust in our Union.
Citizens, civil society, NGOs, central and local administrations, as well as the Presidential Administration, Government and Parliament, Romanian MEPs, members of the Economic and Social Committee and of the Committee of Regions, all stakeholders were involved in different mechanisms of open and frank dialogue with the team of the Presidency, in view of designing the programme and the priorities. The conclusions reached at the end of these complex consultations were integrated into four strategic topics of interest of the Romanian Presidency which represent in fact the main pillars of the six-month programme:
- Converging Europe: growth, cohesion, competitiveness, connectivity;
- II. A safer Europe;
III. III. Europe, a stronger global actor;
- IV. Europe of Common Values.
In turn, each topic then comprises several dimensions that will be given special consideration by the Romanian Presidency, such as:
- a) Sustainable development, reduction of disparities, convergence, employment and social rights; b) Innovation and digitization; c) Connectivity and markets;
- a) Strengthening internal security: border management, Schengen, current challenges; b) Cyber security; c) The future of the area of freedom, security and justice;
III. a) Common Security and Defence Policy and the efficiency of EU external action; b) The consistency of EU policy in its neighbourhood; c) Honouring international commitments;
- a) Solidarity, cohesion, equal oppor-tunities and social justice; b) Democracy, freedom and respect for human dignity; c) Combating racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, intolerance and populism.
“As the Romanian Presidency will put at the forefront the citizens, in view of supporting the efforts aimed at fostering democracy and at bringing the EU decision-making process closer to its citizens, we believe that a return to the fundamentals, together with a consistent approach of safeguarding and enriching them, will be instrumental in regaining citizens’ trust in our Union.”
GDL: How do you assess the bilateral relations between Romania and Greece? Which are the strong points in their cooperation and, in your opinion, what are the fields with potential?
LF: I would say that bilateral relations between Romania and Greece are privileged, in the sense that they are built and cemented on centuries of deep historical and cultural ties. Apart from the strong bonds between the peoples, the geographical proximity and the two countries’ membership of the EU and NATO, political and economic ties constantly developed so that today Greece ranks as the 7th largest foreign investor in Romania. Another solid argument is the bilateral trade that, despite the economic crisis, kept an upward trend which culminated at the end of 2017 with the highest level of exchanges ever recorded. We are aware of the still considerable potential for the development of our bilateral economic relations and we encourage companies to be more extrovert, to make use of the business opportunities from both countries, especially in the fields of energy, health, infrastructure and public-private partnerships.
“A strong point as regards our cooperation is the fact that both Romania and Greece aim at firmly promoting stability, prosperity, peace and security in our neighbourhood, which we consider of vital importance for the European and the Euro-Atlantic area as a whole.”
Our excellent cooperation extends to the fields of culture and education and actually one of the priorities of our Embassy is to build upon these very unique and strong connections that I referred to. Culture is definitely a strong point in our cooperation and we have developed a close collaboration with all the creators and promoters of culture in Greece.
I could just mention some examples such as Romania’s participation as the honoured country at the Olympus Festival in Dion in 2016, our constant contribution to the Film Festivals in Greece, in the major projects of the EUNIC – Athens Cluster, the growing interest shown by Greek festivals and theatres for Romanian plays and play writers, such as Matei Visniec, but also the events that we organise in order to promote Romanian culture in Greece, mainly through music, since it has no borders. I must admit that we are also privileged to have some remarkable Romanian artists performing in Greece, such as Cellia Costea at the Opera House, or musicians in the Greek major orchestras, visual artists and writers. On the other hand, Greek culture is very much cherished and praised in Romania as an eternal source of inspiration and fascination and we constantly encourage cultural exchanges between our countries.
Education gives another strong dimension for our bilateral relations. We have a successful Romanian Language Lectorate at the Democritus University in Komotini and last year we witnessed the opening of the Romanian Archaeological Institute in Athens. It was an old dream that became a reality thanks to the great cooperation with the Hellenic Ministry of Culture.
Last, but not least, tourism is a key sector in our cooperation, since more than a million Romanian tourists choose every year to spend their holidays in the Greek paradise, also enjoying the rich Greek gastronomy and cultural life.
“One of the priorities of our Embassy is to build upon the very unique and strong connections – culture is definitely a strong point in our cooperation… Greek culture is very much cherished and praised in Romania as an eternal source of inspiration and fascination and we constantly encourage cultural exchanges between our countries.”
GDL: How do you assess regional cooperation between Romania and Greece, including in the trilateral and quadrilateral formats of cooperation?
LF: Romania and Greece have developed over the years a strong cooperation at bilateral, regional and European level, based on friendly traditional and historical relations. Our two countries share similar positions on the main issues on the European agenda, which, I admit, facilitates significantly my mission here in Athens.
A strong point as regards our cooperation is the fact that both Romania and Greece aim at firmly promoting stability, prosperity, peace and security in our neighbourhood, which we consider of vital importance for the European and the Euro-Atlantic area as a whole.
The regional cooperation between Romania and Greece is being conducted in different formats, such as the Trilateral Meeting Romania-Bulgaria-Greece at the level of the Foreign Ministers (we hosted the 10th reunion this spring, in Bucharest), the Quadrilateral Summit of Romania-Greece-Bulgaria-Serbia at Prime Minister level (its 5th edition took place in Varna, Bulgaria just a few weeks ago), the Quadrilateral Ministerial Meeting Romania-Greece-Bulgaria-Croatia (its latest informal meeting was held in New York in September), but also in specific ad-hoc formats with countries from the Balkan region, for example, or from the Visegrad Group.
Obviously, our formats of cooperation are in a continuous expansion, one example being the recent Quadrilateral Summit of Romania-Greece-Bulgaria-Serbia, where the Israeli Prime Minister was invited. We thus had the opportunity to discuss important issues, such as infrastructure, energy cooperation, the fight against terrorism, cybercrime and Israel’s support for regional connectivity projects.
Just as important is the cooperation between Romania and Greece within the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Organisation of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation, the South-East European Cooperation Process and other structures with regional vocation. In all these formats, our common efforts focus on major issues of interest for the region, such as: sustainable development and stability, security, including energy security, deepening and diversification of sectoral cooperation, interconnectivity of transport networks and corridors and also of energy and digitization, infrastructure, cross-border cooperation, management of illegal immigration.
All in all, our cooperation upholds a revitalised European and Euro-Atlantic perspective for the Western Balkan countries, as well as a stable, secure and prosperous Eastern Neighbourhood (and here I would like to mention that the engagement with EU’s most committed Eastern partners remains one of Romania’s strategic goals), the need for political settlement of conflicts in the Southern EU Neighbourhood, as well as topics of strategic relevance at regional level, such as the Black Sea region, the Danube Strategy and the future of the peace process in the Middle East.
Having in mind all these assets, we envisage there is still room for strengthening our dialogue with Greece on regional and EU affairs, especially with respect to the current debate on the future of the European Union, ultimately aiming at consolidating the cohesion of the European project.
GDL: What can you tell us about the Romanian community in Greece and the Greek community in Romania?
LF: The Romanian community in Greece and the Greek community in Romania represent real bridges of cooperation in the economic, social and cultural fields, and they definitely contribute to bringing our two peoples closer together. According to official data by the Greek authorities, we have in Greece a strong presence of more than 55,000 Romanians.
I am particularly pleased to see that Romanian citizens are well integrated into Greek society and that at the same time; they are closely linked to Romania. Just in the Attica region, there are 6 very dynamic Romanian cultural associations which organise various cultural events and educational activities, such as Romanian language courses at the weekends for children. We support them in their activities and I would like to take this opportunity to extend our sincere appreciation for all the support that the Greek authorities provide to them. Equally important, I wish to refer to the remarkable activity of the Hellenic Union in Romania and to our excellent cooperation with them.
Interview by Nicolas Boutsicos
Editor, Greek Diplomatic Life