ECONOMY

Romanian FM predicts country will become an economic tiger

Romania’s foreign minister claimed his country will emerge as an economic tiger after it joins the EU on January 1, but played down an early push to join the euro. «I think we will offer the European Union a very interesting surprise, a positive surprise, in the years to come… We will become one of the economic tigers of Europe,» Mihai-Razvan Ungureanu told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday. Romania – which will join the EU with Bulgaria – is due to receive around 30 billion euros ($38 billion) during 2007-13 in aid from the EU. On joining the eurozone, Ungureanu said, «If the macroeconomic figures are good, it is quite likely by 2011-12.» Ungureanu was on a one-day visit to Greece and met with Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis. As EU members, Greece and Romania could promote greater stability in the Western Balkans and broader region, he said, adding that he hoped Romanian-Greek trade could reach 1.5 billion euros ($1.9 billion) in 2006. Romania joined NATO in 2004 and has proposed holding an alliance meeting in 2008 in Bucharest. In September, the European Commission recommended admitting Romania and Bulgaria in 2007 rather than 2008, but insisted on further reforms – especially in fighting graft and organized crime. Ungureanu said his country had been frank in reporting the progress of those reforms. «We have never ‘camouflaged’ with Brussels what our problems were,» he said. Areas of progress «have become irreversible… they cannot be stopped,» he said, noting that a new flat tax had brought more than 100,000 black-market jobs into the normal economy. But he added that only «erratic efforts» had been made on judicial reform and corruption. Ungureanu lamented restrictions by Britain and Ireland on Romanian and Bulgarian workers, despite having opened up their labor markets to the 10 new EU members in 2004. «We weren’t expecting it, quite frankly,» he said, arguing that the «presumptive immigrant labor force has already been drained off,» with 1.5 million Romanians currently working in Western Europe. He added: «Things have changed… The EU is no longer the golden apple.» Earlier Wednesday, Ungureanu said he opposed radical solutions on Kosovo, saying, «Without far-sightedness, policies in the Balkans may be extremely toxic.» «The complete inviolability of borders is a very strict aspect of political involvement,» he added. «We cannot move frontiers the way the 19th century political figures did.» What is needed is «a proof of maturity by Belgrade, a proof of tactfulness on our behalf.» (AP)