May 1, 2013
I’m going to stray a bit from my usual topics, on account that this is a subject close to me. The subject at hand being the loss Romania is going to suffer from failure to understand the geographical and geo-political situation it is in, and the opportunities this entices.
4 years ago, roughly about the same time as now, I came up with an analysis and strategy to use all the above mentioned opportunities to spark development in Romania on a larger scale than anything I had done before – a 25 year investment strategy with 50 years of associated growth. It was the foundation on which I built my thesis and my diploma project, albeit at a smaller scale due to academic restrictions. However, it was this strategy that enabled my project. At the time I postulated that Romania had a very good chance of providing the Europort of the East – Constanta, the largest port to the Black Sea had definitive advantages in this respect, especially since it is connected to the Danube by a canal that would allow for a very good connection to Central Europe. Romania also has the advantage of more than one major Pan-European transport routes going across it’s territory connecting South and North, East and West. At the time, my strategy involved a list of priority investments that were meant to validate this routes and create a new cargo lifeline from the East to the heart of the Union – goods from India for example could be shipped by boat trough Suez, the Bosporus then Constanta and then by train or significantly cheaper up the Danube to Central Europe. The same would apply for goods coming across the Black Sea. You get the general idea. At the same time I identified a list of problems, or temporary circumstances that needed to be adressed and a list of circumstances that will most likely change within the next decade and that would undermine the validity of the entire strategy should action not be taken.
Presenting this entire strategy to my professors at the University, same people who at large are responsible with Romania’s development strategies, it became obvious that parts of my strategy had already been taken into account at a smaller or larger scale.
The 4 years that passed in-between that moment and today I kept hoping that all these ideas would migrate from the strategy part and move into the implementation phase, or that at least it would become an object of public policy or agenda. None of that actually happened. Instead, my if not scenario started to become reality, faster than expected, as follows:
1. Infrastructure projects in Romania – railways and highways – stalled or disappeared, most of them under shady circumstances.
2. Romania did not enter accede to the Schengen Area – this rendered Constanta’s ability to become a serious Europort useless, since all goods going into the Schengen area will not be checked here, but at Romania’s western border, albeit EU membership – it was important that checks, validation and Schengen customs would be done at the entry point – in Constanta. Conspiracy aficionados would see here a different reason why Holland (where Rotterdam is, the EU’s largest port) vetoed Romania’s accession to the Schengen area.
3. There is still no pan-European Danube strategy – at the EPP summit in Bucharest last year, president Băsescu of Romania adressed this subject in his speech, so it is not with out importance.
4. The Serbian counter-scenario – Serbia is the biggest problem in this scenario – if Serbia was to join the EU (which is quite possible in the near future – within a decade), and if Serbia was to develop it’s infrastructure faster, then Romania could loose most advantages. Earlier tonight I read an interesting article on Serbia’s plans for it’s infrastructure: a canal to link the Mediterranean Sea to the Danube (effectively short-circuiting Constanta by activating Piraeus in Greece), high speed railway to Budapest, and extended network of highways to connect Serbia to pan-European transport routes – from Hungary to Bulgaria and Greece. As Serbia is not a member of the EU, it can do this with Chinese money, something that would be less possible in Romania, which is a member of the EU, and where increased Chinese investment would not be taken as lightly. Kosovo was the biggest issue in Serbia’s accession to the EU, but it seems this will be soon resolved, as under EU pressure Belgrad seems to seek agreement with Kosovo.
Looking to these 4 points above, it is clear that my initial scenario would no longer constitute a valid choice, as we missed the opportunity to have it well underway today. A consolidated Romanian positive scenario would make it a lot more costly for the Serbian scenario to be implemented. Romania has failed in achieving that upper hand.
It is a bit sad to me to see my strategy play the if not scenario, but on the other hand recent developments validate it, which makes me happy that it was correct in it’s larger scale. All is not lost for Romania just yet, as it can still develop it’s capacity to concentrate Black Sea traffic. But, firstly it must understand that this bet was lost.
I wrote this primarily to explain why the scenario I presented 4 years ago is from this point on unsuccessful. And why we need a new one.
Because if we were in a Bond movie, this is where the strategist would tell Romania (sort of Bond, if you accept my paralel) – ” No, mr. Bond, I expect you to die!”. It remains to be seen if Romania, as Bond, safely escapes this and moves on. I hope it will.Horatiu Ferchiu