Lord Alan Watson of Richmond, member of the House of Lords, is one of Romania’s allies in the United Kingdom. Ex-member of the European Parliament High Level Group for Romania, Lord Alan Watson is an important character in the British mass-media and lobby environment. All the way from London, he not only sees the significant opportunities for Romania’s competing for investments, but also the obstacles the country faces in building a positive image. An interview by HotNews.ro correspondent in London, Crina Boros.
"Interests never lie"
Crina Boros:You were discussing enlarging the European Union four years ago. What positive and negative impact did the last EU enlargement process bring, and how important this is from the political and cultural perspectives both Europe and Romania?
Lord Watson of Richmond: I remember going to Bucharest before Romania became a member. There was a huge neon sign somewhere in the town centre: a sort of countdown to the moment of entry. I met many Romanians, who ought to have known better, who were seeing the European Union membership as a solution to all their problems. Of course, it was never going to be that.
The EU membership is very tough, very difficult, and not just for new members, but for old members as well. It will never be an easy option. You’ve got to be very careful when you trade sovereignty for community. You can lose out. I think there’s now a more realistic view of what the EU membership entails. But what it has done – and for me it is a great plus the enlargement into the Central Europe – the real sine-qua-non of all facts: if the EU had not existed after the collapse of the Soviet Union, what would have happened?
Actually, the other partners, including the United States, France, Germany, all the rest and Great Britain, we would all, in a way, despite ourselves, have begun to create spheres of influences. And you saw that due to happen in the Balkans. It is, of course, a disastrous pattern that led to the First World War. I think the existence of the European Union has been a very powerful corrective to that.
The second really important aspect is that the acquis communautaire provide a road map, a check list for the modernization of post-communist societies. For many issues, it takes a very long time to give them a tick, and corruption is one of them. But nevertheless, it’s an irreversible process. And if the acquis communautaire were not there, what would have happened? And if the Copenhagen criteria were not there, what would have happened? I believe in the process.
You can’t create a European Union on good intentions. And the British always say ‘Interests never lie’. Necessity produces interest.
Competing for justified recognition
CB:Romania was portrayed a constantly bleaker image starting with the pre – adhering year. Are we to be tolerated, but not accepted for longer? And if so, how can we change that?
Lord Watson of Richmond: I think you’re doing quite a lot of the right things and many of them simply take time. Romania has nothing to lose by promoting itself, whether it’s culturally, economically and so on. I welcome the fact that your ambassador here is very pro-active. The truth is you are competing with Hungary and the Baltic States for inward investment, for tourism, for cultural recognition. But it will take time.
CB:What changes did the East-European member states bring along?
Lord Watson of Richmond: Quite a few, but one very important: if you compare the attitude to inward investment to Russia and, for that matter, to the Ukraine, and also to the member states, there is a difference. Russia is hugely rich in raw materials to attract investments throughout. But Western companies are extremely cautious because we have no real legal basis and they have already demonstrated that if they want to wash Western investments out or diminish them in terms of oil and gas, they can cause a huge amount of trouble. The Romanian authorities do not have the power to intimidate inward investment in that sort of way, and that’s because of the European content. So, it’s reassuring for inward investment. But Russia is going to soon learn that globalisation is a two-way street.
CB:Was there a wish on the part of the EU to include more countries that used to be the Soviets’ sphere of influence, so that Europe had a better position in its relation to Russia?
Lord Watson of Richmond: Yes, but opinions were somewhat divided. To start with, the Germans were very keen because, after the historical tragedies, Germany was surrounded by enemies. They wanted to make sure particularly with Poland that it was part of the European Union. The British were also very keen at the start, but for a different reason: we favoured a wider European Union rather than a EU which is dominated by the Franco-German relationship, which in our view is pursuing an illusory objective of having a Unites States of Europe. The French were rather sceptical because they were very concerned about the cost.
By and large, the majority was in favour of this enlargement and the war in the Balkans made people realise how important it was. The next level of enlargement is going to be much harder. In Great Britain, we are in favour of Turkey becoming a member, and of Ukraine eventually. Now, Ukraine is very difficult because you’ve got the Russian bit of Ukraine and the Western bit. If the price of enlargement to include Ukraine was strictly Ukraine, the EU would assume it.
We’re in favour of Turkey joining because I think it’s the only secular Islamic state. We either see Turkey as an extension of Europe into the Middle East, or as an extension of the Middle East into Europe. But the French and the Germans are against it.
30 years to go to a European living standard in Bucharest
CB:What about Romanians' right to work in Great Britain?
Lord Watson of Richmond: I would like to see those restrictions ended. I don’t think they were right. I regretted that and I’ve spoken against it. What actually happed, I think, was that initially the UK Government, which has been very slow under both Conservatives and Labour to understand the read dynamics of immigration, was too open.
The Germans and the French put on controls. The British had none at all and were entirely taken by surprise by the number of Poles coming here to look for jobs. People had expected 200,000 Poles but got 600,000. Unfortunately, Romania got caught in the aftermath. I’m sure it’s not going to last and those controls will shortly come to an end.
CB:In 2003, Economist Intelligent Unit produced a report estimating the time the new member states needed – including Romania, which was to join the EU later – to equal the 15 member states’ medium GDP. In Romania’s case, the verdict read 80 years. Which is your forecast?
Lord Watson of Richmond: I don’t think 80 years it’s right at all! But the reason statistics are so misleading is the tool used for measurement. If you’re measuring average GDP, Romania is clearly at a different level of development than, say, the Western part of Germany. You would get in an earlier development stage of economy.
You have bigger discrepancies between wealth and poverty. That distorts the average GDP. But I would be very surprised and disappointed if in 30 years from now there will be the same difference. That doesn’t mean there will not be pockets of poverty in Romania. There are pockets of deprivation in this country, too.
Country branding: What can Romania offer the European Union?
CB:If you were to offer Romania several country branding suggestions, what would those be?
Lord Watson of Richmond: How do you construct a brand? You don’t start with the end of the process; you have to start with the beginning. Try and strand out the positive characteristics. Some of the positive characteristics in Romania: it’s a very European country. It’s an old country. It’s got a lot of natural beauty and talented people. It’s quite resourceful. It has a lot of variety.
You won’t find only one strand that takes you straight to your brand. But you got to somehow arrive at a brand that goes beyond tourism. The slight trap for Romania is to get stuck with the tourist brand. I’m always struck with how difficult it is with Mediterranean countries, like Morocco or Egypt. And they always end up with tourist brands, which don’t tell you anything about the real ambitions or directions of the country.
To be a bit corny about it, remember John F. Kennedy with “Ask not what the country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”. In a way, Romania has to say “Well, what can Romania do for Europe?” not just “What can Europe do for Romania?”.
CB:Please pick a slogan that should represent Romania
Lord Watson of Richmond: A very good word nowadays is IMPACT. It’s energetic. Not the Romanian influence or constitution, but what is the Romanian impact? I’ll give you an example which is not only true for Romania, but for the Central European states: your age profile is somewhat different and most economies say that your market growth potential is higher than all the EU states. I believe that will do the case.
CB:What do you consider to be Romania’s present economic attractions?
Lord Watson of Richmond: Great growth potential. There is a correction going on because of the recession, which may actually be very helpful to Romania. I think your property prices went too high and that was becoming counter-productive. That will reduce and change. And you still have enormous potential in terms of land and new agricultural development. You have an awful lot going.
"The biggest bathroom I've ever seen"
CB:Have you had any cultural shocks in your visits to Romania? Consider the political culture, too
Lord Watson of Richmond: Definitely. The first time was extraordinary: I was put up in some sort of Ceausescu’s palace from the outskirts of Bucharest, where I was the only guest! I was walking around the huge building. There was the house keeper and a big lake in the garden with all these armed guards walking around. It was very peculiar. It was early on, Ceausescu had just been deposed. And I remember it had the biggest bathroom I’ve ever seen in my life.
I went to the Village Museum. That was for the English Speaking Union. I had no idea what a strong folkloric tradition there is in Romania. And I was very struck by the musicality of things.
I liked the young people. I also went to seminars with students and I thought they were very bright. You had encounters which were encouraging and encounters which were depressing, like the number of wild dogs on the street. I found Ceausescu’s Parliament House a disgusting building and the amount of money and resource poured into that is terrible. He was a dictator who had absolute contempt for people and it shows.