ECONOMY

Romania on EU track

BUCHAREST (AFP) – The Romanian prime minister yesterday presented a budget that projected economic growth of 6.4 percent for next year and a public deficit of 2.8 percent of gross domestic product. «Thanks to modern budgetary policies, the country has assured its place within the European Union on January 1, 2007,» Calin Tariceanu told Parliament. «The government in particular was able to encourage private initiative by establishing a flat rate of (income) tax of 16 percent which proved positive for growth,» he said. The budget was based on receipts of 38.1 billion euros (48.8 billion dollars), which was «the highest level ever recorded in Romania,» according to Tariceanu. Growth for 2006 is expected to come to 6.0 percent and the budget deficit for this year is set to be 2.5 percent of GDP. The prime minister said the budget showed that Romania, which has been slower to develop than most other former communist countries of Eastern Europe, was economically ready to join the EU. Under the EU’s fiscal rulebook, member states are supposed to keep their public deficits to less than 3 percent of gross domestic product. Romania, which has a population of 22 million, and Bulgaria, with 8 million people, will be the poorest members of the enlarged 27-nation bloc when they join next year. Their entry has caused debate in many of the states that are currently part of the bloc amid fears of a deluge of immigrant workers that would take jobs from local work forces. Some EU states have said they will place restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians, including Britain and Ireland, which adopted an «open door» policy for the 10 mostly former communist countries that joined in 2004. But Romanian Foreign Minister Razvan Ungureanu insisted earlier this month that labor markets in EU states faced no threat of invasion from Romanian worker «hordes» once the country joins the bloc as Romania offers plenty of job opportunities at home. «Those who expect Romanian ‘hordes’ of workers knocking down Saxon cities like in the Middle Ages are not politicians, they are just believers of some stereotypes,» Ungureanu said during a visit to Athens. With unemployment in some Romanian regions «lower than 1 percent,» there was «presumptively no danger» for EU members who opted to completely open their labor markets to Romanian workers, the foreign minister argued.