The Road to Sibiu, the Road to Wisdom Thoughts before the Informal Summit of the European Council, updated and illustrated with a civic selfie at the historical event
Romanian prophetic motto:
„Înființarea Comisiunii Dunărene (1856), care să îngrijească de capătul de jos al marelui fluviu european, un fel de «State Unite ale Europei» cu o suveranitate ideală, dar pe «firul apei» și reală, a fost și va rămâne în istoria țării noastre un moment de cea mai mare însemnătate. Fiind alături de regele râurilor europene, căpăta și pământul românesc o însemnătate europeană.”[*]
Simion Mehedinți. 1909. “Perspective asupra Dunării și asupra țărmului vecin al M. Negre până la Carol I”. Convorbiri Literare XLIII(4, April): 388
2018 found Romania celebrating a century of nation-state unity. 2019 finds Romania as the home of the European unity. A freely and firmly committed community of nations is one of the most delicate enterprises of mankind, one that up to now no empire has succeeded in preserving. The nation seemed the ultimate aggregate. But ration is the ultimate aggregator.
The contours of the country’s geography changed after 1918, and the course of its history was a sinuous one, heavily sprinkled with stops and goes, with disappointments and hopes. The world itself was thrown about in these hundred years, powered by forces otherwise unthinkable in earlier epochs: brutalized due to the regressions of human instincts and passions, and bettered due to the revolutions in knowledge and understanding, in (scientific) sense and (artistic) sensibility. Romania presiding over a unified Europe would have seemed a flight of fancy in the 20th century.
If there is a beacon that past Romania shares with present-day Romania and with what Romanians want to become perennial Romania: this is the aim of unity. It is “the” ideal that Romanians think of or feel more often than they speak or are told about. And this is a much deeper unity than any maps or chronicles may catch: it is an inward one based on longing as it is an outward one based on belonging; it is national and cultural as it is European and civilizational. This unity of Romania is part and parcel of the European unity and these “unities” are therefore co-dependant.
Fate granted a coincidence: Romania’s Centennial (celebrated at the end of 2018) marks and matches Romania’s Presidency of the EU Council (held in the first half of 2019). Noteworthy, in Romania, everybody speaks of the need to define, deliver and defend some sort of a “Testament of the Nation”, a “Strategic Consensus”, a “Country Project”, to reasonably, concertedly, orderly establish the future of the nation, while the European Union prepared in Sibiu (Romania) a great summit devoted to “the future of the EU”.
In these symbolic circumstances, Romania has to manage with intelligence and wisdom these two routes.
The first one is outlining this oft-invoked “Country Project”, which must not represent a simple piece of “literature”, filled with the intellectual infatuation of the contributors and the documents’ custodians, but a two-directional educational exercise (between the decision-making and reflecting elites, on the one hand, and the great public, on the other hand). It needs to result in a (re)discovery of the “national interest”.
The second one is this administrative exercise, of institutional maturity: the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Addressed responsibly and rigorously, it can have the benefit of improving Romania’s image of an “exotic” and “erratic” presence in the European picture. Administering the extensive EU agenda is a unique moment of opportunity and challenge; one not of setting the stage, but of professionally serving it.
In different measures and for different reasons, Romania and the EU seem far from unity, and our perennial benchmarks are disturbed – despite learning (in the case of newcomer Romania) and teaching (in the case of the core of the EU) the values and the virtues and the norms and the institutions of the modern and mature world and despite following (in the case of nowadays Romania) and framing (in the case of the mature EU) the prosperity and security architecture, a sentiment of disunity haunts both European Romania and the rest of the European Union.
For instance, there is an overwhelming and oppressive feeling of the persistence of several “dual Romanias”. These polarities display many facets, each being a heavy burden on Romania’s development. There is, for instance, an “inland” Romania and an “abroad” one. The first “#resists” at home – when it might be blooming –, the other “voted with its feet” – uprooted and disgruntled. The “expatriates” need to get back home, to match and master the nation’s material wealth. The human capital haemorrhage is a curse on the country.
There is then, at home, a Romania of the moral and material independent individuals, living on the fruits of their own labour and talent, and one tempted to believe that welfare is a reward for the vote given to generously-populistic politicians. There is also a Romania connected to civilization, utilities and technology, modern and informed, and predominantly urban, as well as a ruptured, inward facing, rural counterpart. And there is a Romania that takes the idea of unity, as little as it is for now, as a given fact and another one prepared to strive to strengthen it.
As for the EU, division lines are no less severe. There are divisions among categories of the public across the continent, there are divisions within Member States on European issues, as there are divisions at the level of the chancelleries. Putting it otherwise, we could speak of regional divergences (exposing a persistent lack of convergence, a failure of cohesion policies), social divisions (between liberal-cosmopolitans and traditional-fundamentalist isolationists), economic disparities (despite the fact that Europeans consider they are better off than ever before).
What might be Romania’s contribution to the European construction since both Romania and the rest of the EU are fighting their own anguishes at home? The legitimate interest of Romanians is to maintain the balance between the rights/freedoms of movement and of action for all inside the EU, on the one hand, and the duties/obligations to respect the rule of law, democracy, functional market economy, on the other side, and to put to honest and efficient use the resources granted for the convergent/cohesive development of Romania.
Namely, the stake is to continue building Romania’s and Europe’s correctly understood freedom and prosperity. For this, we need civic education to make us vigilant and vigorous in the face of antidemocratic political experiments, contrary to the rule of law and to the authentic individual freedom. We need economic education in the spirit of work, accumulation and productive investment, entrepreneurial courage, as antidotes to welfare politicization and state addiction. These are true pillars for resilient and sustainable societies.
These views are legitimate topics not only for a six-month European mandate, but for a Romanian, European-looking, long-term project.
[*] “The founding of the Danube Commission (1856) to care for the lower end of the great European river, a sort of «United States of Europe», with an ideal sovereignty, but on the «water» and real, was and will remain in the history of our country a moment of greatest importance. Being alongside the royal European river, the Romanian land was also of European significance.”