Return of the Godfather: Tony Blair and Romania

Perhaps it's time Tony Blair explained why he should be let anywhere near European power in the future when his rash actions seem to have robbed Romania of the chance of normal democracy

Should Tony Blair be allowed near European power again?
Tom Gallagher
On 3 July 2012 09:15

In Romania it’s a real start in life to obtain a godfather who wields influence. This was true even in communist times when the acronym of the ruling party, the PCR was widely translated as pile (pull), cunostinta (contacts) and relatiii (relatives).

It is no exaggeration to say that the nation of Romania, or at least the elite segment which has been in the ascendancy in the epoch after communism ,on its own very restricted agenda, has benefited from having a super godfather. This is Tony Blair no less. He has only actually set foot in the country twice but both visits have proven significant.

The first was in May 1999 when he played the lead role in getting NATO and the EU to confront the Serbian leader, Slobodan Milosevic over his tyrannical behaviour towards the Albanins in Kosovo. For its support in a high-risk showdown, Romania was offered the chance to join the EU.

Blair set a precedent by ensuring that Romania could leap from near the end of the queue to receive entry on informal terms. The rules were clear: no country with Romania’s broken-down economy could be considered as it would be unable to compete and be a drag on other members.

Once Blair persuaded European colleagues simply to disregard them, his attention soon turned to the Middle East. Indeed, he seems not to have given Romania another thought for a long time. But he came back on March 26th this year to speak in Bucharest as the guest of groups close to the Social Democratic Party.

He anointed its aggressive young leader, Victor Ponta, as a left-wing European moderniser and, according to the Romanian press, left €200,000 better off for his promotional efforts for the direct heirs of Nicolae Ceausescsu’s Communist Party.

Blair is supposed to have matured since the late 1990s when there is plenty of evidence that he assumed office without a sound knowledge of major problems and challenges but instead with a series of instincts, often shallow ones, that have proved harmful to this country. But it seems that he still knows little about Romania and may even care less.

Romania joined the EU on informal terms very much to the benefit of second level communists who have never been far from power since 1989. They outwitted the haughty but often slow-witted and complacent EU bureaucrats by going through the motions of change while leaving the old structures largely intact.

They accepted with alacrity the main EU entry condition, that Romania privatise much of the state-led economy. These holdings were usually bought up by Austrian, Greek, Italian, and German concerns at bargain prices and huge profits were made. Or else it was the clients of the post- communists who cleaned up.

In the five years since it entered the EU, Romania finds itself a virtual economic colony for core EU states after it was required to fling open its markets. National producers have struggled to survive against the better-organized competition.

In 2006, Anthony (Now Lord) Giddens, the champion of globalization and the nearest thing to Blair’s chief ideologue, advised the Social Democrats how to project the image of a modernising force despite being addicted to graft and strong-arm methods.

Another figure who linked up with PSD figures in 2006 was Sir Roger Liddle, a Euro-enthusiast in all seasons and an eminence grise of Tony Blair. He has been an advocate of the managerialism and corporatist policies which have disfigured Labour's record in the United Kingdom. (In fairness, it should be pointed out that at least one politician on the British centre-right, prominent in media discussions on the EU financial emergency, also gave ill-starred but well-remunerated advice on privatisation.)

By contrast, countless ordinary British citizens and local communities, blessed with charitable instincts, displayed remarkable solidarity of a kind rarely shown by the EU by flocking to help vulnerable groups in Romania and communities devastated by the cruel abuses of the communist system.

It is doubtful if many of the Eurocrats overseeing Romania’s ‘return to Europe’ in good order have been so altruistic or have even felt the desire to build second homes in the country which they were supposed to be ushering into a better age. It is one where a good many talented and public-spirited Romanians have opted to head abroad rather than build families and careers in a country where the media, the education and health system display signs of increasing decay.

The ‘lost generation’ that endured the neo-communist restoration of the crafty survivor from pre-1989 times, Ion Iliescu, now appears set to be followed by a second such generation which will be stuck in a stagnant backwater perhaps comparable with the American Deep South in the century before the 1960s.

There is no sign that Tony Blair is losing any sleep over this. He will presumably emphasise his role as the architect of the ‘Europeanized’ Balkans as he manoeuvres to become ‘President of Europe’ once the top people tire of the lugubrious Herman van Rompuy and begin to forget the foreign adventures which alienated Blair from most of his continental allies in the Noughties.

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