Romania To Restore Serbian Ties

Bucharest looks forward to building bridges with the new Serbia.

Romania To Restore Serbian Ties

Bucharest looks forward to building bridges with the new Serbia.

Tuesday, 6 September, 2005

The downfall of Slobodan Milosevic prompted a huge sigh of relief in neighbouring Romania. The euphoric media coverage of events in Belgrade echoed reports of the overthrow of communist dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu a decade ago.

"Any regime that defies its own people will fall, just as the Ceaucescu regime fell," declared Romanian President Emil Constantinescu.

Foreign Minister Petre Roman, who helped to depose Ceaucescu, visited Belgrade October 12, to begin the process of repairing relations damaged when Romania allowed NATO bombers to use its airspace during the bombardment of Yugoslavia last year.

"Let the past be the past," he said. "Romania and Yugoslavia now have a very solid base to relaunch political and economic ties."

In a prompt response to the European Union's decision to lift sanctions, Romania ended the oil embargo against Serbia on October 12 during an extraordinary session of parliament.

Keen to see a resumption of trade with its Balkan neighbour, Industry Minister Radu Berceanu accompanied Roman to Belgrade. Berceanu said he hoped Romania would be able to offset business losses through improved economic ties with Yugoslavia.

The Yugoslav authorities had asked for immediate help to stave off a winter fuel crisis. Berceanu promised his government would do all it could to supply the necessary fuel oil and electricity. "We still have to discuss quantities and, last but by no means least, the way such supplies will be paid for," he said.

Serbia needs about 50,000 tons of petrol and around 60,000 tons of diesel a month, 50 per cent of which must be imported.

Romanian industry leaders have welcomed the rapprochement between Bucharest and Belgrade. Mihai Ionescu, president of the Action Group for Balkan's Reconstruction, said," local businesses could now stand a good chance of recouping money lost as a result of last year's war and international embargoes against Serbia."

Action Group member companies have already identified business opportunities in the former Yugoslavia worth an estimated $100 million.

The oil embargo against Serbia severely restricted economic development. Romanian exports to Yugoslavia amounted to $119 million per annum before NATO's bombing campaign. Imports stood at $61 million. As a result of sanctions and infrastructure damage, trade practically ceased and Romanian industry is estimated to have lost at least $50 million as a result.

NATO bombs destroyed bridges across the Danube, which blocked traffic across along the river. The Navrom shipping company claims its outlets at the Danube ports of Galati, Giurgiu and Turnu-Severin suffered losses of $25 million. Most of the country's shipping employees have been laid off and plans to privatise the state-owned shipping industry put in jeopardy.

The river's closure also delayed a $570,000 rehabilitation project for the Portile de Fier (Derdap) power plant near the Yugoslav border.

But local experts reckon traffic on the Danube could now return to normal within ten weeks. Trade in general goods amounts to around $10 million per month at present, local officials claim. That figure is expected to increase ten-fold by the end of this year.

Not everyone though welcomed the news from Belgrade. Stefan Radeanu from the leading daily newspaper Curierul National said he feared Western aid, previously earmarked for Romania, could now be diverted to shore up the Kostunica government in Yugoslavia.

As far as Milosevic is concerned, the Romanian government is treading softly. Along with EU member states, Bucharest last year declared Milosevic "undesirable", banning him, his family and close associates from entering Romania. Roman said the government would now act in accordance with the wishes of "our friends in Belgrade".

Marian Chiriac is a regular IWPR contributor.

Balkans, Serbia
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