Thirty years after Ceausescu, Romania still looks forward
2019-07-01 16:12:29 -
World News

The eastern European country’s presidency makes its mark on the map of Europe despite EU elections, Brexit and corruption, says Michael McGowan


I have just returned from Romania having spent the last days of the country’s six-month presidency of the EU, which ended on 30 June as Finland takes the mantle from July to December.


I met members of both the Romanian senate and chamber of deputies, and representatives of political groups of the country’s parliament, and it was a particular privilege to meet up with Gabriela Cretu, who is the current chair of the European affairs committee of the senate and a former socialist member of the European Parliament.


This year was Romania’s first ever presidency of the EU since it joined the union in 2007 — and it was an eventful six months of major distractions, including European elections and the negotiations of the UK leaving the EU.


Moreover, and only days before I arrived in Bucharest, the head of Romania’s ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD), Liviu Dragnea, was jailed for corruption after his attempts to appeal an earlier conviction failed.


Many meetings of European leaders were held in Bucharest during the presidency, and even Pope Francis made a three-day visit to the former communist state while I was there. The Pope sought to heal an ancient schism between the Catholic and Orthodox churches and warned about the dangers of populism in Europe.


The major religion of Romania’s population of 21.4 million is Christianity, which is largely Christian Orthodox with Catholicism comprising just over four per cent.


After the Second World War, Romania fell under Communist rule, although the leadership pursued a foreign policy independent of the Soviet Union. The legacy of Communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu has lingered long after the uprising which brought about his downfall on Christmas Day 1989.


Romania took a major step away from the past when it joined Nato in late March 2004, and in January 2007 became a member of the European Union.


Returning to the present day, and the decision to jail Liviu Dragnea for corruption has been a major embarrassment to the country. Nevertheless, Romania claims its first EU presidency has been a success.


My visit included a meeting with Gabriela Cretu, who was a valued source of advice and information about the current situation in her country. She was elected to the Romanian chamber of deputies for Vaslui County in the 2004 election and became a Member of the European Parliament in January 2007 with the accession of Romania to the EU.


She is keen that Romania joins the Euro and looks forward to the EU increasing its influence in collective foreign policy and on collective defence.


Cretu is a powerful influence in Romania politics, she is openly feminist and militant for gender equality, and has a proud record of defending democratic values. She is determined that Romania makes its mark on the map of Europe and internationally.


She is also proud of Romania’s cultural rich heritage, stressed the importance of culture in politics, and at a dinner she hosted a Romanian string quartet was present.


Bucharest is the cultural and artistic centre of the country. The city’s 37 museums say a great deal about the pride, love and concern for beauty that has always been part of the history and heritage of the country.


I visited the People’s House, currently the seat of parliament, an expression of megalomania of the former Communist dictator Ceausescu. This colossal building is the second largest administrative building in the world after the Pentagon.


To make room for its expanse, an entire hill was levelled, almost one-fifth of the historic centre of the capital was destroyed, over 40,000 people were forcibly displaced, and many churches, synagogues and historic houses were demolished. It is now the seat of the institutions that define a democratic state.


Michael McGowan is a former MEP and president of the Development Committee of the European Parliament.

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