Monday, May 09, 2005

Part of the Union

Romania is scheduled to join the EU on January 1st, 2007, along with Bulgaria. Basescu even signed the accession treaty a couple of weeks ago. It’s pretty much done and dusted, unless there are some serious breaches between now and then. I have no idea how this will play out, but I suspect it will be a very difficult transition, on both sides.

Romania will be the poorest country yet to join the EU by some way. Per capita GDP is approximately $8000. Comparable to Turkey, about whose entry so much fuss has been made. It is fairly corrupt, though I’m not sure if it’s vastly more corrupt than anywhere else, or than Italy was 20 years ago, for example. The infrastructure is in a mess. There are industrial towns still (mostly in Walachia) but here in Transylvania, for example, it is extremely rural and broadly speaking an agriculturally based economy. Some of these factors are actually good reasons for this marriage to take place. Presumably, EU membership can help to lower corruption, improve infrastructure and raise living standards. But it will, I believe, be a very difficult few years ahead.

In Transylvania at least it seems to be largely a self-sufficient kind of place. All the food needed to feed Transylvanians (and probably Romania) is produced here (though of course we still import exotic things like chocolate, coffee, and rice). The extremely high levels of poverty, therefore, are somewhat shaded from the full glare of the market economy because everybody has to survive in this kind self-contained way. Those who have nothing can eat because they are part of the same community with the producers of the food. The food production goes largely unregulated, because it’s a traditional agricultural economy and because to impose some standards would render the whole process more expensive, and therefore force farmers to demand a higher price for their food to recoup their extra costs, putting their produce out of reach of the 50% of Romanians living below the poverty line. The EU, of course, will impose regulations and insist that these standards are met. There will be subsidies which will ease the transition period, but in Hungary at least (of the new members) these have been slow in coming and farmers are going to the wall. So, I suspect there will end up some kind of two tier economy – farmers who have a little put aside and can afford to take a short term hit to take advantage of EU subsidies and update their farming practices will do so, and be able to export to the rest of the Union. Farmers who cannot afford to do this will remain in some kind of unregulated limbo, dealing directly with their (local) customers, while unable to officially sell their produce in the shops. The urban poor, on the other hand will be cut off from their supply of affordable food, and, … well, I don’t know. I assume that some people have foreseen all this and have made contingency plans for dealing with the transition phase. It seems like something that will obviously happen, even to the non-trained eye (like mine), so one would certainly hope so.

It’s going to take a lot of EU money to “rescue” Romania, and one wonders what’s in it for them. Is the EU about dragging poor countries to a higher more equitable level with their neighbours? It would be nice to think so, but given the number of conditions they impose on various aspiring countries, I suspect not. Is the EU about strategic control of the European continent? Bringing in Romania and Bulgaria gives the union access to the Black Sea, so maybe. Is it merely about giving Greece (a geographically isolated member for donkey’s years) a land bridge to the rest of the continent? Is it about “rewarding” reform in some kind of elaborate carrot and stick game? (If so, it’s an expensive game) The last does seem to be the outward reason that is being given now Croatia has been put on hold until they cough up their (alleged) war criminals. Rumour abound that Ukraine is about to start the long road toward accession, having been so good as to throw out their crypto-communist government and moved towards having Western style corruption instead. The suspicion grows in me that the EU is some kind of covert CIA weapon of assimilation. That’s not to say that it’s a bad thing that Eastern European governments are becoming more accountable and the systems more democratic, and I’d much rather the west use this method of making people good capitalists than the, ahem, somewhat flawed Iraq “method”.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

putting their produce out of reach of the 50% of Romanians living below the poverty line
--- nope, Romania had in 2004 28 percent of its population living at or below poverty line, which included the 7 percent who are living below.
So, in Romania, 7 percent of the population lives below poverty line, most certainly not 50 as you stated :)