Bogdan Aurescu, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Romania, discusses Romania’s foreign policies and diplomatic challenges.

European Times: What are the priorities of your mandate as the head of Ministry of Foreign Affairs?

Bogdan Aurescu: It is difficult to sum up all priorities at once, but it is important to note that the foreign policy of Romania is defined by consistency and I will, together with my colleagues from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, continue in our mandate to follow the main priorities of our foreign policy, as they were defined by now. Basically, the foreign policy of Romania is defined by our membership within the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. A very important pillar of our foreign policy is the strategic partnership with the USA. It is important to note that this year we will celebrate 135 years of diplomatic relations between Romania and the USA. Also, a very important component of our foreign policy is the relationship with the Republic of Moldova; we have a strategic partnership for European integration with the Republic of Moldova. It is important to underline the fact that this is based on our common history, common culture, common language, and we hope to see Republic of Moldova join the EU as soon as possible. But at the same time it is also important to note, and this is defining our efforts these days, that we are the external border of both the EU and NATO, and our neighbourhood is a quite complicated one, I’m referring to the eastern neighbourhood and the events that are taking place in Ukraine. Ukraine is a very important neighbour of Romania and there we have an important Romanian community of almost half a million people. So whatever happens in Ukraine is of relevance for our security, and the security of the region as a whole. There are many other priorities of the foreign policy but these are the most important directions that are guiding our daily efforts.

European Times: What could be some of the biggest diplomatic challenges of 2015 for Romania?

Bogdan Aurescu: Starting with the security situation in the neighbourhood of Romania and especially the situation in Ukraine, I think that this is a challenge that started last year, in 2014, with the occupation of Crimea by the Russian Federation. Here, we note that this happened while breaching the fundamental principles of international law. Our effort will focus also on securing the existing security architecture in Europe based on the respect of the fundamental principles of international law. The efforts of all the important international players, including EU and NATO are now directed towards finding a diplomatic solution for the crisis in Ukraine. Even these days, we have noted an increase of hostilities and of violence in the eastern part of Ukraine and that is why the Foreign Affairs Council yesterday, for instance, tackled the situation in Ukraine and  an extraordinary session. We discussed about how to stimulate the diplomatic effort but also at the same time to see how we can use the tool represented by the sanctions regime in order to find a better solution to the crisis.

European Times: How about the relationship with the Russian Federation in the context of Romanian Euro-Atlantic partnership?

Bogdan Aurescu: The Russian Federation is an important player in the region and we of course cannot ignore that. In the previous years, before the Ukrainian crisis, we tried to build up a good relation with Russia. In 2013 there were signals of improvement in our bilateral relations, the visit of the Minister of Foreign Affairs to Moscow, the visit of the Head of the Secretariat of the National Security Council of Russia to Bucharest, a very productive session of the Joint Economic Commission between Romania and Russia with encouraging signals to the economic area. But unfortunately, the crisis in Ukraine changed the perspectives. Along with the other partners in the EU and NATO, Romania cannot ignore the fact that Russia started this crisis and violated important norms and principles of the international law. So, it depends on Russia’s behavior, to come back to the normality of the international relations in general and within this context, of course, we can think of restarting again the engines in the bilateral relations with Russia.

European Times: What are the steps and the role that Romania is taking in helping Moldova entering EU?

Bogdan Aurescu: This is one of the most important priorities that we have on our agenda and in the previous years, especially in 2014, due to our efforts together with the efforts of the other EU member states, we have witnessed a very good performance of the Republic of Moldova in the direction of coming closer to the EU. With the liberalisation of the visa regime with the EU, basically the Moldovan citizens are now the first of the eastern partnership countries to travel without visas in the EU territory since 28th of April last year. The signature of the Association Agreement and of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement, this is another very important achievement of Republic of Moldova. Romania supported with all our diplomatic efforts and bilateral contributions this effort of the Moldovan authorities. What is important now is to focus on the implementation of the Association Agreement. It is important for the authorities in Moldova to concentrate on how to use better these tools, which is the Association Agreement and the DCFTA, in order to foster the reform of the institutions of the state and of the society in general. The reform process following the European standards is I think the best option for the citizens of the Republic of Moldova. We have a diplomatic tool at our hand which is called the Action Group for the group of friends of for the European action of the Republic of Moldova. It is an informal body which was established following the initiative of Romania and France. It held a lot of meetings in the margins of various foreign affairs councils, bringing together the ministers of foreign affairs of the EU member states and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Republic of Moldova and sometimes the Prime Minister as well. This is a very good instrument to stimulate the efforts of Chisinau towards the EU integration, but also to show the concrete support from the member states for Moldova in that direction. In the near future, in spring, we plan to convene another meeting of the Group of Friends in the margins of the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels perhaps in order to see how the new government in Chisinau will continue this effort. Now, in the Republic of Moldova after the elections that were held on 30th of November last year, the main effort is to create a new government as soon as possible. We are looking forward to seeing the new government formed and restarting this reform process and the implementation of the Association Agreement.

European Times: How do you see the Romanian-USA partnership in the future and how would you describe the dynamics of bilateral relations between Romania and USA?

Bogdan Aurescu: It is a very dynamic relationship and a very rewarding relationship for both partners. This strategic partnership which was created back in 1997 but reshaped in 2011, by the Joint Declaration for the Strategic Partnership for the 21st century, has a lot of dimensions. Of course, the political military dimension is perhaps the most developed one; we have a very good military cooperation with the US. And this is reflected by many initiatives that we have developed jointly. To give you one example, which is saying for the depth of this relationship, is the Missile Defence project. As you know, we have concluded in 2011 an agreement between Romania and the US for the deployment in Romania of the US missile defence system. This missile defence system is going to be hosted by the Romanian base in Deveselu, in the Olt County in Romania and it will become operational in this year, at the end of 2015. After this, the missile defence system is going to be integrated within the NATO missile defence system. This is a very concrete bilateral contribution of Romania and the US to the security of the NATO allies. We also cooperate as far as the operations in Afghanistan. As you know Romania was one of the main contributors to the ISAF operation which ended at the end of last year. But we will continue our presence in Afghanistan with up to 650 troops in the Resolute Support Mission. I think that this places Romania in the top contributors to the Resolute Support Mission. But we also facilitate the transit of American but also other allied troops to and from Afghanistan. The Mihail Kogalniceanu airbase in Constanta County is used as a hub for transit of troops and equipment to and from Afghanistan, which replaced the role of the Manas base in Kyrgyzstan. These are just some of the areas where we cooperate in the military field, but we also have to mention the cooperation between Romania and the US in this area, also in the context of the regional security situation. The NATO summit in Wales in September last year, decided certain reassurance measures and also some adaptation measures. The most important document of the summit is called the Readiness Action Plan. The US considered very important to have a consistent presence of US troops in Romania for the reassurance measures. We witnessed last year very consistent naval presence of the US in the Black Sea, and we will continue this joint cooperation in the Black Sea. Perhaps you have noticed that during the summit in Wales, president Obama announced the initiative of a naval partnership between US, Romanian and Bulgarian navy in the Black Sea. We are looking forward to continue this cooperation. But also as far as the adaptation measures, we work together very well with NATO in order to implement the Readiness Action Plan. There are also other dimensions of the strategic partnership, like the economic one or the consular matters because we are working together with the US in order to access the Visa Waiver Program. So there are many other areas, energy security is also very important in our bilateral relations.

European Times:  What would you like to say about the energy sector cooperation?

Bogdan Aurescu: Romania is perhaps the least dependent country in the region from sources coming from other countries. For us it is a priority at the national level, and also an opportunity for us to become a source of energy for the region. There are good prospects in the Romanian continental shelf of the Black Sea for hydrocarbon reserves, so let’s say in five years time we will perhaps be able to start exploitation of those sources.

European Times: And Romania will be able to have energy independence?

Bogdan Aurescu: That is one of the most important goals of the EU as a whole and of the countries in this region particularly. Inside the EU, we will work together with the other member states for the establishment of the Energy Union, this is another important goal. So I’m looking forward to seeing how to shape this project.

European Times: Nobody understands why Romania is not in the Schengen, it fulfilled the technical criteria but it somehow lacks the support of the member states. What do you think those member states want from Romania, what else needs to be done in order for Romania to enter the Schengen?

Bogdan Aurescu: It is also very important for us because Romania has fulfilled all legal and technical requirements of the Schengen acquis. From the Schengen acquis point of view, Romania is ready to become a member state already for some years. In practical terms Romania is behaving and acting as a de facto Schengen state. There are indeed some, very few, member states who are still thinking about the decision on the accession to the Schengen Area. We work together with those member states, on diplomatic channels and we hope that the conditions will be met in order for Romania and Bulgaria to join the Schengen Area. The explanations are not within the technical realm, the explanations are perhaps political or there are perhaps some explanations within the internal politics of certain member states, but we are very open to work together with our partners in order to find the best solution to this problem.

European Times: Now that you have the opportunity to communicate via European Times to EU public and those member states, what message do you want to say about Romania’s economic potential that it can contribute as a partner for member countries?

Bogdan Aurescu: First of all, Romania is a very stable country in the region and our economy is doing well. Last year we have had a good economic growth; at the end of 2014 we have had a 2.6 economic growth for Romania. The prospects for this year are also around 2.6-2.8 economic growth. It is a large market with 19 million inhabitants, with well educated people willing to contribute to the economic growth, not only of Romania but also of the EU as a whole. We have very good experts in IT and many other areas. Our position is also quite relevant from the economic point of view. We are the crossroads of the transport corridors, three important transport corridors, Corridor number 4, connecting Eastern and Western Europe, Corridor number 9, connecting Northern and Southern Europe, and corridor number 7, which is the Danube, and Danube is the cheapest way to transport goods from Romania to Western Europe and from Western Europe to Romania. But we also have the potential of connecting Europe with the Caucasus and central Asia. This is the best place to transit goods from Western Europe, Central Europe via Danube through the Constanta harbour, which is the largest harbour in the Black Sea towards Georgia and other countries in the southern Caucasus and from that point to central Asia, and from central Asia to here. So this is a very important asset that we are available to use together with our partners. The unemployment rate is quite low, 6.4 in December 2014. So there are a lot of arguments in favour of doing business here. But the most important thing is that Romanians are very tolerant, we have open doors and open arms for everybody who is willing to come here and do business with us.

European Times: What would be your personal message to our business readers and political personalities across the globe?

Bogdan Aurescu: I’m looking forward to seeing the impression they will have after the presentation of Romania that you will do, I am pretty sure that this will be very professional and that it will help us attract more investments to Romania because, once again, we are a trustworthy partner and a very stable country, you may rely on Romania.