Ten Years in the European Union

/ June 15, 2018
Read this article in Romanian on PressOne.ro

On January 1st, 2007 Romanians became citizens of the European Union. With this came the freedom to work and travel freely across the 27 European Countries.

The tenth anniversary is a good time to reflect on the impact of this historic event. Two things are very obvious:

Private financial investment has led to substantial economic progress in the large cities of Romania. There are hundreds of new buildings and bustling cafes, as well as modern private hospitals and clinics. There is a growing middle class with disposable income to spend. In 2018, Romania’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will exceed 200 billion dollars — double the value it had in 2006.

The public sector has completely failed in its role to modernize roads, rail, schools and healthcare.

There is a general discontent in Romania that things have not improved fast enough and that we are still dealing with chronic issues of corruption, stifling bureaucracy and government incompetence. So how do things truly stand? How have we benefited since becoming a member of the European Union and what have we lost?

In order to respond to this question, we listed ten of Romania’s developments since it acquired EU membership and compared them with the previous period.

1. Huge numbers of Romanians have left the country

By far the most significant statistic is the migration of Romanians to the West. In 2000, there were 1,135,867 Romanians living abroad. In 2015, the number was 3,408,118. Only war-torn Syria had a higher rate of migration.

The economic impact of such a large population loss is difficult to measure. Clearly Romania has lost a large percentage of it’s highly skilled workforce. On the other hand, the diaspora work force sends billions of Euro’s home every year to care for and support family.

Socially, the consequences are devastating, as families have been torn apart. Regardless of whether it has been parents leaving their young children or young adults leaving their elderly parents.

Politically, the consequences may be where the greatest damage is felt. Young professionals that understand how democratic systems and free markets work, are not in the country to vote in Parliamentary elections. This leaves an electorate of largely unemployed older people whose votes are easily bought with simple pension increases.

2. Much longer life span

The average life expectancy immediately after the Revolution was 69.5 years. In 2006, before entering the EU, it increased to 72.2. Now, it has reached 75.4. (National Institute of Statistics, POP217A table — Average life expectancy by residence area, sex, macroregions, development regions and counties.)

In other words, in the last 10 years, Romania’s life expectancy grew more than it did in the 16 years prior (1990-2006). The most likely factors behind this increase are access to better pharmaceuticals and an improvement in living conditions.

3. Romanians get married later

Average age at first marriage — National Institute of Statistics.

This increase follows the trends in most developing countries that when people have more money and more choices, they get married later. 

4. Trains service is worse now than in communism

This increase follows the trends in most developing countries that when people have more money and more choices, they get married later. 

5. Imports have grown massively

We often hear that “Romania has become an outlet for goods from the European Union”. Indeed, between 2006 and 2016, imports from the EU’s strong economies have increased considerably.

Disadvantaged by the fact that we have entered the EU is mainly the Russian Federation (38% decrease in imports) and other countries that were part of the Soviet Union.

The reasons for the large trade deficit include the “brain drain” of skilled labor, lack of infrastructure, inefficient bureaucracy, corruption and unpredictable government policy.

6. The average Romanian family is now able to save or borrow money

Average monthly income and expenditure per household — National Institute of Statistics.

7. The number of cinemas have dropped to below 100

In 1990 there were 450 cinemas in Romania. This number dropped to 67 in 2010, but has increased to 92 in 2016.

Almost all the new cinemas in Romania are built in new shopping malls. The effect is that urban residents have access to modern cinema and that the rural residents have lost access to movies.

8. The decline of sports

The only gold medal at Rio 2016 was won by the women’s national fencing team.

For years the Romanian State was an active supporter of organized sports. Since 2007, the number of athletes eligible for state support has decreased by 80%.

In the 2004 Athens Summer Olympics, Romanian athletes won 19 medals whereas in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics, Romanians won only 5 medals.

9. Only seven counties have more employees than before Romania’s entry into the EU

Not all regions of Romania have benefitted to the same extent from EU integration. Only 7 of Romania’s 41 counties have more employees than in 2006. 

18 of the 41 counties have lost more than 10% of their employees since Romania joined the EU. Generally speaking, this is in reference to the poorer counties, where much of the workforce has left Romania and gone to work abroad.

10. Record number of tourists

One encouraging sign is the record number of tourists visting Romania. In 2016, the last year of NIS aggregated data, the number of foreign tourists totalled 10.2 million. (National Institute of Statistics, table TUR107C — Arrivals of foreign visitors to Romania based on continents and countries of origin.)

Many of the tourists fall in the love with the beauty of the Romanian landscape and traditions of rural life. This influx of foreigners into rural Romania has dramatically increased direct contact with the western world.

Euroscepticism in Romania is relatively low (around 20%) compared to other European countries.

11. Future Projection

Compound Annual Growth Rate between 1992-2015. (Source: World Bank, 2017. “Magnet Cities: Migration and Commuting in Romania.”)

Since 1990, Romania’s economy has grown over 9% per year, not as fast as China, but much faster than the western world. 

What is most disappointing is the failure of government to invest in the future of Romania. The infrastructure, education system and healthcare services all fall well below European standards and the progress of other former communist countries. This is why so many Romanians have left the country and why 51% of the population still lives in poverty.

The strength of Romania has always been it’s culture, not it’s self-governance. The hope for Romania is that citizens around the world decide that their culture is worth fighting for and assert their democratic rights to elect competent government officials that serve the public interest and preserve our beautiful culture.

One example of negligent public investment can be seen by comparing the European highway network to Romania

Completed Highways in Romania — 2018.