Adrian Pogacian's blog

Romanian new leadership and latest developments in the Middle East and Europe. Realities

January 22, 2016

           Romanian new leadership have not succeeded (one may think they lack the will) to impose intrinsically new directions on our foreign policy. The causes may be seen both personal, determined by the nature of those responsible, but also constitutional, influenced by the relations between the state institutions.


         Moreover, Romania is a state known for its predictable principles and initiatives when it comes to international affairs. There are only few sudden or unexpected changes along our modern history, and even then there are solid justifications.


         In the case of Syrian file, Romanian approach is governed by two stances: the membership of the Euro-Atlantic Community (supporter of the democratic principles and of Human Rights and in total opposition with dictators), but also, more or less, the motherland for 30.000 citizens located across the Syrian territory, most of them in the regions controlled by Bashar al-Assad. 


        Therefore, before Cioloș term in office, Romania maintained diplomatic relations with Syria. My guess is this status quo is unlikely to be altered. At least, not until we will have managed to transfer back home all our countrymen and women from Syria who would express their wish to be repatriated. Or until EU and/or NATO will decide in full consensus  against preservation of that relation.


       The Russian intervention, as well as the newly appointed government in Bucharest, do not fundamentally change the current situation.


           On one hand, the Russian intervention is not (I envisage it will not be) in contradiction with the more discreet intervention of NATO, while a political solution for the Syrian domestic conflict appears to be the only reasonable way. I see, in the short and mid run, no reason for a more consistent involvement of the Romanian establishment.


          However, the appointment of a new Cabinet cannot change the Constitutional ambiguity which, because of a decision made by the Constitutional Court, gives the Presidential Administration the ultimate prerogatives in terms of foreign policies. Politically weak, with no obvious parliament back up and upcoming elections to organize, Cioloș&Co are not expected to start a battle in order to regain a more resounding voice in foreign issues. 


         Similarly, the state figures involved do not reveal the political background or the personality to enhance the foreign drive. The President appears to be satisfied with the current constitutional arrangement and his foreign policy activity is rather insignificant. Prime Minister Cioloș is nothing but an European bureaucrat, with no strategic experience, whilst Minister of Foreign Affairs is an obsolete clerk, with no leadership skills or charisma. 


      Romanian silence in the Middle East, even against a background in which the Russian intervention, the nuclear agreement with Iran and the conflict between Tehran and Riyadh have dramatically modified the strategic balance, can also be explained by the next fact: Romania is no longer attractive for its Arabic partners, compared with the '70s or the '80s. Therefore, the chance and the logic of a deeper involvement are hard to find.


         To conclude, one can anticipate that 2016 will not see Romania as a more active voice in the Middle East, both politically or militarily. Of course, miracles can happen and we cannot rule them out, but that is only the case of straight, unanimous decisions of the Euro-Atlantic bodies. Other than that, the interest is to keep the door open for the Romanian citizens (and their families) who might consider take refuge in our country. Not to mention we traditionally prefer political solutions - the only realistic ones, in my opinion, in this particular situation.


         On the other hand, there is a certain contradiction between the position of Romania from the eastern frontier of the European Union and the very poor relations between Bucharest and Moscow. The causes of these poor relations are complex and it is not realistic to hope for a sudden and complete change. The case was no different before the Ukrainian crisis since the bilateral Romanian – Russian relations were not brighter under political or economic aspects. It is only at the level of cultural exchange that we can speak of, although the premises of success are not encouraging as long as the plans of the Romanian Cultural Institute target chiefly the western cultural market.


      Nevertheless, Romania did not represent a disturbing factor in the relations between the European Union and Russia. We must also include the internal political factor: the new presidency of Romania seems less adventurous at the level of anti-Russian statements and eloquence and the domestic political relations changed for the better as opposed to the previous period.


         We can assess that Romania shall not oppose such a normalization of the relations between Europe and Russia, in case that is decided by the great European powers. But it is not realistic to believe that a potential transformation of the Romanian – Russian bilateral relations can actually turn our country into a champion of the friendship between Russian and the European Union, for the simple reason that Romania does not have the power to decide within the European Union.    


          Yet, the importance of a good relation with the Russian Federation is not to be neglected for any capital, especially for one geographically situated close to Russia, such as Bucharest. This is the reason why a favorable moment to get back to the normal course of the bilateral Romanian – Russian relations is expected after the relaxation of the relations at the European Union level. The softening of the voice when it comes to offensive oratory and the continuation of the normal cultural relations can contribute to this normalization. 


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