Your Excellency the Apostolic Nuncio, Dean of the Diplomatic Corps,
Your Royal Highness, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Together with Prince Radu I would like to welcome you warmly this evening to the Royal Palace, which, in one shape or another, has been a centre for Romanian politics and life for all over a century of our nation’s modern existence. We have revived a tradition of diplomatic encounters which goes back a long time, and I am delighted to see so many of you this evening.
When we met last year, I spoke about the centennial of our Great Union, of the moment when all Romanians came together in one state, at the end of the First World War under the rule of King Ferdinand, my great-grandfather. It was an event of great national importance, and one marked by millions of other Romanian families, who also recalled the honourable deeds of their own grandfathers and mothers one century ago.
This year started with another historic event: the first Romanian presidency of the European Union. To a new generation of Romanians, for those born after the fall of the communist dictatorship or those who were simply too young to remember the years of totalitarianism, it all looked rather natural: EU countries take their turn to provide the presidency of the EU, and earlier this year, it was Romania’s turn.
But I must tell you that when I was first able to return from exile and set foot in Romania 30 years ago almost to this day, nothing about the future direction of our country looked preordained. The economic situation was grim. And so was our image in the world. People spoke of the Velvet Revolution in Prague.People admired the Solidarity leaders in Poland. And media networks broadcast live the opening of the border Austria and Hungary, the first true hole punctured into the Iron Curtain. But Romania? The talk was only about dirty orphanages, poverty-stricken villages and violent miners on Bucharest streets.
Those of us who experienced those days lived with hope and desperation in equal measures. But I also remember my beloved father, the late King, who despite all these setbacks never veered from his belief that, ultimately, our nation would triumph in confronting these crises.
We, the Romanians, could never have done it on our own. Our transformation into the country we are today could not have been accomplished without the support of the two institutions which continue to underpin our prosperity and security today, namely the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. But, ultimately, our membership in both institutions would not have been achieved without our own efforts.
I leave it to the historians to decide whether we could have accomplished the process of transformation quicker or in different ways. Still, it gives me great pride to point out that this year alone, we led the European Union’s presidency, and a Romanian was appointed as the Deputy Secretary General of NATO. None of the demonstrators who fought and died on the streets of Bucharest three decades ago in order to topple the communist dictatorship would have dared to predict such an outcome.
Needless to say, all this is merely a work in progress, and much more needs to be done. For instance, the October report from the European Commission is worrying: it still founds serious shortcomings in our fight against corruption. It is not only right, but it is the duty of the EU Commission to continue the fight against the cancer of corruption throughout our continent. Nevertheless, we also need to remember that this battle – in which Romania must accept great responsibility – is better fought if there is a sense of fairness in the way all EU countries are treated. But when we agreed two years ago to 12 separate benchmarks which needed to be achieved in this regard, only to discover last year that we had eight additional recommendations issued for us to meet, this tends to create the fear that the so-called Cooperation and Verification Mechanism, to which we readily signed up to back in 2007 as a transitional measure will, de facto, become a permanent one.
The same relates to the application of the Schengen Agreement, where anything we do never seems to be quite enough. Again, I am not advancing an argument for special treatment. Nor do I believe that my country is being victimised; I am fully aware of the pressures under which other EU governments have to operate. Still, it is worth pointing out that a Romania which feels that is being treated equally and that it bears no more and no less than the burdens applicable to all the other EU member-states is a better partner for the long-term.
The same applies to the security situation in our region, which I believe deserves greater attention. A few months ago, Romania joined hands with Poland and the Baltic States on the occasion of 80 years since the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, that odious treaty between Europe’s murderous 20th century dictatorships. We also wholeheartedly support NATO’s current efforts to boost the defences of our Baltic allies; their security remains our security. I also salute the contributions of our allies in the defence of Romania. But I just wonder if we are doing enough, given the troubles facing us in Ukraine and around the Black Sea. Let me remind you: all of Russia’s assaults on our security, from the attack on Georgia in 2008 to the attack on Ukraine in 2014 and the Russian military intervention in the Middle East in 2015 happened around our part of the world, around what used to be called NATO’s “Southern Flank”. We boosted our defence budgets and will continue doing so. But we should all remain faithful to our cardinal principle that European security is indivisible; that is the lesson we learnt from the horrors of the past century.
Let me conclude by devoting a few words to the role that I see for the Crown in the Romania of today.
I see the Crown and my role as that of a national unifier and consolidator. This role is even more important today, as millions of Romanians live outside our country. I was touched by a recent installation which was lit up in the City of London, the British capital’s financial district, which simply spelt the message “Mi-e dor de tine” – I Miss You – put up by Romanians living overseas. This is an offshoot of a project which actually started in Cluj. But it is also a message to us all. For the relations between Romania and a number of European countries such as France, Spain, Italy and Britain to name but a few, have been changed probably for ever by the presence of millions of Romanians who have settled there. They are enriching the culture and life of their countries of residence.
But they are also, indirectly, changing us all here, back home. I see it as my duty to strengthen the connections between this diaspora and our country.
I also believe that we can help in boosting Romania’s more global orientation. We spend plenty of time in Europe talking about our internal difficulties and challenges, but perhaps too little about the world outside Europe, which is also evolving fast. I am proud of the fact that Romania continues to have a strong global network of embassies, and continues to take an active role in organisations such as the United Nations; our effort this year to join the UN Security Council may not have been successful, but it was a clear indication of our global vision, and one which the Royal House and I remain determined to support and enhance.
Four generations of my family worked in this palace for the benefit of this Nation and we, the fifth generation, can do no less.
Please join me in saluting the friendship between Romania and your countries.
I wish you all a happy and prosperous New Year.