23 January 2020
Category : Interview
“Twinning programmes generate not only economic, but also human and social, wealth”
Manuel Larrotcha, the Spanish ambassador to Romania and Moldova since the end of 2018, receives us at the Spanish embassy in BucharestManuel Larrotcha, the Spanish ambassador to Romania and Moldova since the end of 2018, receives us at the Spanish embassy in Bucharest
Could you give us a snapshot of Romania in 2020?
Romania is a little known country in Western Europe. Institutionally, its semi-presidential system resembles the French model. Its geographical location, bordering as it does the Black Sea, explains its geostrategic interest and importance. Things happen in this area, such as the Russian occupation of Crimea.
Moreover, Romania constitutes the current eastern frontier of the European Union. And it is important to see matters from the perspective of this end of the European territory.
Talk to us about the social context.
The social situation is stable. Romanian society is a traditional society: more traditional than the Spanish one, without a doubt. Things that we now consider part of our daily lives, such as gay marriage, have yet to be legislated for here. Socially speaking, apart from its traditional character, the welcoming and friendly manner in which Romanians receive foreigners is particularly noteworthy. They are a very hospitable people.
Romania’s Achilles heel is, I believe, its drop in population; five million Romanians have emigrated in the last ten years. Once the exodus began it has not let up. Unfortunately, the youngest and the most educated are the ones who most easily find well-paid jobs in Western Europe. Of those five million, one million settled in Spain. This situation has created a bottleneck, because the Romanian economy needs manpower. This ongoing drop in population is not helping at all.
And its economy?
Income levels still lag behind the European average. Consequently, they are still in the process of catching up with the rest of Europe. Nonetheless, the country scores well in terms of its natural resources; it has both gas and oil, not to mention a very powerful farming sector. And it has industry: Dacia cars, which are sold in Spain and, indeed, throughout Europe, are made here in Romania, along with a thriving auxiliary industry.
A very interesting market, the country offers many possibilities. Opportunities abound in the infrastructure sector: roads, motorways, railways, high-speed lines; practically everything needs doing.
Why do you think there is such a close relationship between Spain and Romania, regardless of the fact that we are EU and NATO partners?
This bond comes from way back: our common belonging to the Roman Empire, our shared Latinity and the linguistic proximity of Spanish and Romanian, etc.
There were no diplomatic relations with Romania when Franco was in power. But when they were eventually reopened in 1975, Spanish companies began to discover some very interesting markets here. Obviously, when Romania entered the European Union, there was a considerable population movement of Romanians to Spain. Accordingly, there are many ties between the countries, ranging from human, economic and social to historical and cultural. All of which serves to strengthen a not only very intense, but also a very complete, relationship.
What is Romania’s role in the European Union?
Romania was one of the last countries to enter the EU, along with Bulgaria. It is particularly concerned with avoiding any widening of the gap that exists between Eastern and Western Europe within the EU. This can be achieved by maintaining or increasing the financial resources allocated to social policies (which include the cohesion policy) and to the Common Agricultural Policy. There is no doubt that Romania needs support. lt needs solidarity and cohesion within the Union and the rest of the member countries are also under an obligation to provide this solidarity. We, the Spanish people, saw how, in the 1980s and 1990s, Spain underwent considerable changes owing to the generosity and solidarity received from our European partners.
What role did cooperation play in Romania’s accession to the EU?
Development cooperation, understood in the classical sense of the term, had nothing to do with it. However, if what we mean by this is cooperation as technical assistance and twinning-like programmes, Romania benefited from these long before 2007. After the dictatorship of Ceaușescu, this country was in an awful state from all points of view, including the administrative one. Its administrative capacity was practically non-existent. This meant that during the entire pre-accession period Brussels had to provide Romania with what is called capacity building. Technical assistance proved to be one of the best tools to achieve this.
Romania gradually created groups of public officials with management skills: first to develop programmes, then to properly manage them and, thirdly, to account for how the financial flows that had been allocated to those programmes had been managed. Accordingly, Brussels made a big effort in Romania with twinning programmes, in which FIIAPP was always very active.
Even so, I think that Romania still has some way to go in this area. There is a lot still to be done, for example, with respect to infrastructure: there are very few motorways in relation to the country’s size and population.
Nonetheless, do you think twinning has been beneficial?
I think it has. You only get out of it what you put in. And I believe that they generate, not only economic, but human and social, wealth as well.
I was very much involved in a twinning programme in Turkey and I can assure you that there are hundreds of gendarmes in Turkey today who are doing their job a lot better than they would have if it had not been for these kinds of EU programmes in which FIIAPP has been, and continues to be, the executive arm.
Moreover, I had worked with FIIAPP before.
I worked with FIIAPP for three years in the Rabat Process; a process in which Spain played a very prominent role. In fact, our country continues to be present in the steering committee for that process. In 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 we managed to get Brussels to allocate funds to this initiative and to involve the European Commission in the north-western Atlantic migratory routes. I found it a very positive experience. We organised loads of meetings, in Brussels, in Ouagadougou and in Madrid. I worked a lot with FIIAPP staff.
During those years, I noted the ease with which FIIAPP engaged with the Administration. And the guidelines to which FIIAPP worked were in keeping with the Spanish authorities’ migration policy at that time, which made engagement between FIIAPP and the Administration relatively easy and always very positive.
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