Secretary Kerry’s Priorities for Romania

Mark H. Gitenstein (Ambassador to Romania, 2009-2012)


There is no country in the Balkans, or indeed perhaps in the whole Black Sea region, where there is a higher marginal value for Secretary Kerry’s engagement. Romanians are enthusiastically pro-American. Notwithstanding the difficulties of this past summer (which The Washington Post in a July editorial labeled “Romania’s Repressive Moves”) and the firm position we took in favor of the rule of law, polling undertaken by the embassy demonstrates clearly that the American image was strengthened by our advocacy as was the image of Germany and the EU which took similar positions. Indeed, in 2010 when the Missile Defense Agreement was presented to the Romanian Senate, polling showed that Romanians had an overwhelmingly positive attitude toward America. The Agreement was endorsed unanimously.

So the first priority is to continue to respond to their strong desire to strengthen the Atlantic Alliance. As part and parcel of that Alliance is the implementation of the Missile Defense Agreement and the construction of the base in Deveselu. Indeed, it would be a very important gesture for Secretary Kerry or another high level U.S. official to attend the groundbreaking this spring or to visit soon thereafter.

No less important than these strategic/military priorities is continuing support for those in Romania who support the rule of law and anti-corruption initiatives. Notwithstanding the recent reports from the EU and the Venice Commission criticizing the past year’s developments, the real lesson of the crisis this past summer is that the reforms to the court system, the prosecutors and the police are beginning to work. Had not the basic reforms mandated by the EU through the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) been implemented, there would not have been legal institutions in place capable of resisting the powerful political forces arrayed against them. In the end, to Prime Minister’s Victor Ponta’s credit, he and the court system complied with the mandates of the Romanian Constitution and the rule of law was maintained.

There is still very important work to be done. Indeed, without the continued support from the United States, the EU and the IMF, it is not at all certain that these reforms will be maintained. It should be the cornerstone of our bilateral relationship that the benchmarks laid out in the recent CVM report and in the “co-habitation” agreement between the Prime Minister and President be met. First and foremost among those is the appointment of credible, competent and experienced individuals to serve as General Prosecutor and Anti-corruption Prosecutor.

This initiative is not simply important because we and the EU want it but because it is the only guarantee that the rule of law, democracy and free markets will survive in Romania. Granted we want a reliable and stable ally with resilient and independent institutions. But these institutions serve primarily Romanians, not us. They are the essential foundations for a free market that will raise the standard of living of every man, woman and child in Romania. They also protect the rights of racial and ethnic minorities like the Roma who still suffer from overt discrimination and religious minorities like the Greek Catholics who for two decades have made little progress in regaining their church property.

My experience is that Romanians are not only pro-American but also that they share our values. In my opinion, there are no more friendly, intelligent, compassionate and creative people anywhere in the world. Romanians don’t simply want to come to America—and that is why the Visa Waiver legislation sponsored by Senator Schumer should be enacted—but they want to learn from us and to apply American experiences to Romania. And, we have a lot to learn from them—that is why the third most spoken language at Microsoft in Seattle is Romanian.

Secretary Kerry should visit Romania and not only Bucharest. He must go to the strikingly beautiful Carpathian Alps, historic Transylvania and the largest wetlands in Europe in the Danube Delta. When the Secretary spends time with average Romanians, and sees the country and culture for himself, he will share my optimism about Romania’s future.