Founder Editor in Chief: Octavian-Dragomir Jora ISSN (print) 2537 - 2610
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Independence through Interdependencies

Independence through Interdependencies Some thoughts on the regional cooperation mechanisms in which Romania is involved

The study titled The role of regional cooperation mechanisms in the current geopolitical context – opportunities and challenges for Romania, authors: Octavian-Dragomir Jora (coord.), Marius-Cristian Neacșu and Cezar Teclean, under the auspices of the European Institute of Romania, attempts to offer a lecture entry-point – one of the many potential ones – regarding Romania’s regional cooperation mechanisms, useful not only to the purveyors of external policies, but to all those who internalize its shortcomings. This approach attempts to make itself useful by signalling the multitude of interpretations of the international reality, which goes from the level of the common citizen all the way to chancelleries and which demands a smart reconciliation and a sage reconnecting at maybe the hardest calculable parameter when it comes to the very existence and functioning of a state: the national interest.

The formulated conclusions – out of which a brief excerpt is republished below – emphasise, rather than exhaust, the wide range of possibilities of regional cooperation, in a heterogeneous/eclectic set of catalogued formats/mechanisms, which must be detached, before anything else, from the realm of monotony and rigidity. We are talking about promising, uncharted fields, but also about upsetting redundancies; about lucrative components, but also about bureaucratic laziness; about room for national initiative, but also about convenient conformity. These aspects are further complicated by the upsurge of the contestation of the international rule-based order. Here is a concise inventory of some generic ideas – concentrated in 10 points – which emerged from the research process, while a bit more extensive summary, preceding the study in full (in Romanian) is to be retrieved here.

1. Despite the risk of sounding like the result of a reductionist take on regional cooperation (leaning too much towards an overly “economic” perspective), pragmatism emerges as a legitimate “paradigm” for evaluating performance, specifically in the Central-Eastern/South-Eastern European region, given its historically complex backdrop. The factors that can effectively bring together nations with such diverse spatial, cultural, and political backgrounds, despite (or perhaps because of) their shared destiny, are those that are demonstrably lucrative, productive, and financially rewarding.

2. Rather than resigning ourselves to being prisoners of geography, be it physical or symbolic, it is prudent to harness its power to the fullest extent possible. Romania’s territorial features, endowments, and regional relationships exhibit both elements of invariance and historical variability. These aspects need to be addressed from civic, political, economic, and scientific perspectives, with a combination of vigilance and vision. This approach is essential for the best course of action, whether reactive or proactive, operational or strategic, individual or collective, within the unique framework of this geography, which is, before anything else, humane.

3. There are no clear-cut separations between local, regional, and global geo-levels, and the layers of cooperation, as well as international competition, have long been interconnected. Terms like deglobalization, sub-regionalization, and sovereigntism denote the spasmodic movements of a society that remains international, continually adjusting its loyalties and disloyalties, filtering relations with neighbours through those with regional or global powers, and vice versa; the evaluation of costs and benefits of their twists and turns is done on a marginal basis; and calculations are nevertheless influenced by economic and electoral cycles.

4. Romania’s role and position in the various mechanisms of regional cooperation need careful consideration and prioritization to achieve foreign policy ends by arbitrating, integrating, and optimizing the means provided by these mechanisms. The perception, fuelled by inadequate or inefficient public communication, is that these mechanisms are approached in a fragmented manner, with performances validated through ritualistic alignment of diplomatic actions with their functioning “logic”, rather than absorbing this logic into our (desirably pragmatic) “philosophy”.

5. Expressions of soft/smart power, even in the realm of the “geopolitics of the underdog”, have always relied on a combination of reputation (for instance, in terms of sound socio-economic governance highlighted by objective indicators) and resources (internationally shareable under mutually advantageous conditions, rather than ostentatiously stockpiled). Romania, like any other country, can only become relevant by proving that it knows how and has what it takes, and by being credible and resourceful (not just demanding), to regional partners and, together with them, to those beyond its borders. Any alternative approach is merely rhetorical or naive.

6. Considerations about shared routes for capitalizing on opportunities related to Euro-Atlantic integration (in the first wave of CEE/SEE regionalism) and collective responses to security challenges on the new Eastern flank of the extended Euro-Atlantic community (in the second wave) reveal both the external catalysts’ coagulating force and the opportunistic and challenging behaviours from regional partners. Bucharest understands that the strength of the value chains in terms of regional cooperation lies in the links least attached to common values (Budapest?, Bratislava?, Belgrade?).

7. The most vibrant format for regional cooperation for Romania is the Three Seas Initiative or 3SI. This is primarily because it pragmatically covers areas where our country has significant gaps (transport infrastructure) – featuring on the “demand side” – and unique strengths (energy resources) – featuring on the “supply side”. The digital component serves as a neutral ground, oscillating between the mythology of a thriving IT&C sector and the stark reality of low technological penetration in society. Thus, 3SI should be nurtured as an economic outlet for political outcomes from other, relatively more silent, cooperative formats.

8. Undoubtedly, 3SI (alongside the B9 or Bucharest 9) does justice to Romania’s potential (territorial and population-wise) in the region, even allowing space for the hoped-for regional leadership. However, certain conditions must be met: understanding the order and measure of things (e.g., acknowledging the primacy of Poland, cultivating the strategic partners, involving associated states etc.); direct participation in efforts to sensitize mutually interested parties (political capitals and private capital); presenting priority projects not as national ambitions but as gateways to the regional market.

9. The 3SI platform has the advantage, thanks to the existing Investment Fund (and those planned to be added), of having a capitalist/entrepreneurial financial aspect, more versatile than the alternative mobilization and public/bureaucratic management of financial resources. Open to diverse cultures of the capital(ist) world, the Initiative can act as a lever for necessary pro-business reforms, amplifying economic freedom at the expense of statist inertia. However, there is also the flip side, given the new ESG requirements, which may surpass the processing capacity in these societies.

10. Without fetishizing the role of the academic environment, eternally (self)invited to major societal projects (though often serving as a certifier, not a censor of public policies), research, undertaken responsibly, must be part of the discussion in regional cooperation. The arguments stem from understanding the role of science as a civilizational interconnector between diverse cultural spaces (regionally), the costs of isolating it, as well as the benefits of sharing it, in a global environment where only knowledge-based economies, whether national or regional blocs, will be sustainable and resilient.

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The Market For Ideas Association

The Romanian-American Foundation for the Promotion of Education and Culture (RAFPEC)

Amfiteatru Economic