Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Romania ready for EU accession?

According to an official EU survey, most Romanians believe that their own government officials are improperly diverting European Union funds meant to help the country adapt to EU standards. Most, in this context, means ninety percent of a poll of a thousand respondents.

In a country where the average monthly salary is 6 million lei (€150), corruption is endemic at all levels of society, so the perception of corruption in the handling of EU funds is hardly surprising.

In one of the more publicised cases, Hildegard Puwak, the minister for European integration, resigned last year after being accused of misdirecting EU funds to close family members. The Romanian media revealed that two companies run by Puwak's husband and son had obtained 150,000 euros in EU funding to operate business training schemes after she was appointed to her job in December 2000.

In another incident, Octavian Ionescu a Romanian ex-soccer star turned businessman, alleged that government advisor Virgil Teodorescu and local officials at a Romanian holiday resort had embezzled five million euros of EU money, a case in which a senior government adviser was said to be involved.

However, such high profile cases are extremely rare in a society where journalists are more at risk from exposing corruption than are their targets; where state-owned companies will only place advertisements in pro-government media; and where commercial TV stations rely heavily on government funding.

Neither is exposure helped by the fact that most of the people now in politics are over 50, in the main people who already held some authority before the revolution in 1989 and have skeletons in the cupboards. And, to keep the political elite under control, it seems that the main rule in Romanian politics is never promote someone who cannot be blackmailed.

Altogether, its seems as if Romania is now eminently qualified to join the EU.

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