During a brief ceremony in Thessaloniki on Friday, Romania took over the six-month rotating chairmanship of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) organization from Greece. Romania was represented by Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi at the BSEC’s 23rd ministerial meeting, which ended with the issuing of a statement acknowledging that the Black Sea region is vulnerable to climate change and that all member states should make joint efforts to confront the issue. Greece and Romania, however, are linked by more than just the threat of climate change, as Baconschi revealed in an interview with Kathimerini focusing on Bucharest’s attempt to put its economy in order under the watchful eye of the International Monetary Fund, its role within NATO and a number of other issues. Romania had to undertake severe and painful measures in order to meet the demands of its agreement with the IMF. Are you willing to extend this agreement, and, if so, do you think that Romanian society could survive more cuts in salaries and social benefits? When do you think that Romania will be able to stand on its own two feet? Our strategic objective, and that of the EU, is to achieve a sustainable recovery, accompanied by job creation. We had to act in order to offer companies the possibility to support the recovery. Given the current international conditions, we firmly believe that fiscal consolidation, fiscal discipline and structural reforms are the only solution. As for the external finance agreement, it supports structural reforms and consolidates our financial position. Toward these ends, we are indeed considering a new precautionary-type agreement with the European Commission and the IMF in 2011. Of course, we tried to minimize the social impact. As a matter of fact, we already took the most painful measures and we actually expect a partial recovery of the salary cuts in 2011. Despite the «aftershocks» of the crisis in Europe, we expect growth to pick up in 2011, backed by better performance of industrial production and of the export sector. Both Greece and Romania are going through deep financial crises. Has the recession affected the Greek investments in your country and how important is their role to the overall Romanian economy? Greece is the fifth-largest foreign investor in our country (3.3 billion euros in the last two decades), bilateral trade is very important and there are several thousand Greek companies operating in Romania. Of those, the financial sector accommodates the most important Greek investments, with 25 percent of the total banking capital. Indeed, a decrease in trade and investments was noticeable but much less than that predicted and we have been encouraged by our strategic investors’ continued interest in the Romanian economy. Moreover, we should see the crisis as an opportunity. I see important opportunities for cooperation in the region and with other interested partners in sectors such as infrastructure, energy and tourism. We will focus on those during our tenure of the BSEC presidency. How would you assess the current state of US-Romania relations and where do you see room for a more substantive strategic partnership with Washington? How significant is the agreement regarding the ballistic missile defense system and why is participation in the new system important to Romania? Do you believe that this agreement sends a signal of reassurance to other US allies in the region? This partnership has reached a point where Romania and the US are on the same page virtually on almost every topic on the international agenda. The same goes for our cooperation at bilateral level. Nevertheless, it remains our firm belief that there is still significant scope to further expand the strategic partnership while also striving to take full advantage of the existing cooperation opportunities. Its potential is, in our view, far from being exhausted. At the same time, we have to acknowledge that there is a certain degree of imbalance between the different components of our strategic partnership. The excellent cooperation in the military arena, for example, should be matched by a similar level of interaction in the economic field. Regarding your second question, we have acted all along, as was evident during the summits in Bucharest and Strasbourg-Kehl, as a strong supporter of creating a NATO missile defense (MD) capability providing coverage to all allied territory and populations, based on the fundamental principles of indivisibility of security and allied solidarity. We see our bilateral project with the US in the field of MD as an important contribution to the capability NATO has just decided in Lisbon to develop, consistent with NATO’s decisions and principles. The US phased adaptive approach system in which Romania participates is not aimed against any state, it is designed to counter ballistic missile threats, and by design it is purely defensive. This message was made clear both by the US and Romania to Russia and all our neighbors, in a spirit of openness. Missile defense will make us all safer. Coming to your last question, to refer to our relationship with the US in terms of needs of reassurance would mean in fact to question it; it would not be correct factually and would send the wrong signal politically. I would rather describe this agreement as a step forward in an ever closer partnership we and our American friends are building on the basis of common values and trust, a multifaceted partnership, covering aspects beyond the security one. And this is the same for Romania and the other US allies in the region. For the next six months, Romania will hold the chairmanship of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation organization. What is your vision about further enhancing cooperation in this region and what are the main directions of action proposed by the Romanian BSEC chairmanship? Romania will take over the chairmanship in office of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization from the Hellenic Republic, one of our main partners in the European Union and BSEC. This means a great deal of work and responsibility and we are confident we will benefit from the support of all BSEC states, as well as of the BSEC PERMIS. We will be working to build further on the BSEC economic mission and mandate, focusing on increasing trade and investment at the regional level and paying special attention to cooperation in fighting organized crime and promoting the protection of the environment. As one of founding BSEC states, Romania is dedicated to seeing this organization grow in terms of relevance and efficiency at regional and international level. The results of the Thessaloniki Ministerial Council are promising and we are committed to building upon these achievements for increasing the cooperation within this organization. At the same time, in our view, the European Union is a natural partner for BSEC and a growing interaction between the two will be beneficial for all BSEC member states. The motto chosen to guide the actions of our CiO will be: «Building Sustainability, Enhanced Commitments.» This motto mirrors the BSEC acronym and spells out our strong commitment to the organization and its activities and to continue a wide, consensus-based process of reflection regarding the perspective of our organization. How would you define the current status of relations between Romania and Russia? We favor a good cooperation with Russia. We advocate the need for dialogue and balanced solutions/options to seek a common denominator. Our views are convergent in many areas for cooperation (international terrorism, organized crime, new threats and challenges). Good economic ties and people-to-people contacts should bring benefits for the citizens of both countries. Russia is one of Romania’s most important economic partners (trade, economic presence etc). We have had a consistent number of economic contacts during the last two years. We want a more active presence on the Russian market through economic missions, the presence at fairs and exhibitions. On our side, we support measures to stimulate Russian companies’ presence on the Romanian market. This is our priority in enhancing/extending bilateral contacts. Since becoming a full member of NATO in 2004, your country has been as a strong voice for Atlanticist cooperation within the alliance. Romania has deployed over a thousand soldiers in support of the international mission in Afghanistan, played a critical role in building consensus for NATO’s new strategic concept and remains an active supporter of the alliance’s «open door policy,» particularly in the Balkans. As NATO evolves to meet 21st-century security threats, what specific role do you see for Romania within the broader alliance? The Lisbon Summit has been a significant opportunity to strengthen the unity of purpose and views of the allies in a context of increased international uncertainty and financial constraints. The strategic concept NATO adopted on that occasion will no doubt contribute to the success of the alliance in the next decade. NATO is essential for Romania’s security and defense. It is also a major contributor to stability in our neighborhood and at the international level. Our vision of NATO is one of a strong, united transatlantic alliance, able to tackle both regional and global security challenges in a comprehensive manner, alongside other partners and organizations. Our security policy has been developed within a complex framework in which our NATO membership is an essential guarantee for our security, and to which the European common security and defense policy brings a crucial added value. We believe in a NATO that is at the same time conserving its current strengths, in essence built around the Article 5 of the Washington Treaty and the capacity to deter and defend against any threat to our countries, and adapting to the new security context. Its new strategic concept refers in an innovative way to the emerging security challenges, such as terrorism or cyber-threats or indeed energy security risks, and to lay the foundation for a future successful contribution to Euro-Atlantic security. Romania’s strategic location as a front line of the Euro-Atlantic community defines its vision, positions and actions. We are a European country with a natural transatlantic vocation, an active ally that promotes the values of freedom, democracy and prosperity and stands ready to extend, along with other allies, Euro-Atlantic values into neighboring regions. Romania’s regional experience can contribute, for example, to bringing the western Balkans closer to European and Euro-Atlantic institutions, helping the Republic of Moldova to consolidate its European vocation and projecting the values of the European unity into the wider Black Sea area and beyond. That is what makes us an ally keen on developing NATO’s partnerships. They have proved to be a springboard for advancing security and stability beyond allied borders, thus contributing to our security and complementing NATO’s open-door policy as a tool to ensure that our neighborhood or vicinity is peaceful. At a time of global insecurity, we need an enhanced cooperation with all our partners, from revitalizing our oldest and most comprehensive partnership – Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council – through enhancing our dialogue and cooperation with the partners around the globe. The deportation of thousands of Roma people from France has been deplored by many worldwide. Romania was one of the countries to receive a large number of them. Are you afraid that these people might be stigmatized and do you think that they will be able to integrate easily into Romanian society given the harsh economic situation and the subsequent social problems? Improving the social inclusion of the Roma people is a priority for the Romanian authorities. Projects in the field of education, healthcare, access to public services and housing are ongoing. The strategy for improving the situation of the Roma people, adopted in 2001, generated concrete results in this respect, such as implementing positive discriminatory measures in the educational field, the creation of special posts for Roma social assistants at the local town halls and joining the police forces of many people belonging to the Roma minority. Also, a new strategy for 2011-20 is being developed. I would like to stress the importance we attach to the necessity of adopting measures in order to prevent the social exclusion of this minority. In this respect, the Romanian authorities have taken important steps in order to better involve the local authorities in the process of the identification of concrete projects for Roma. For instance, we are going to create a mobile unit entitled to help the representatives of the local communities to draw up acceptable projects with European financing. As France was mentioned in the question, I would like to note that in the spirit of the strategic partnership binding Romania and France, my country has constantly expressed its willingness to cooperate on this issue. As a result of our dialogue with France, we are cooperating closely in order to present a project for improving the social inclusion of the Roma community.