Minister-Delegate for Relations with Romanians Abroad, Dan Stoenescu: “Free movement within the EU should be a principle that all member states adhere to” [interview]

Minister – Delegate for Relations with Romanians Abroad, Dan Stoenescu recently visited Greece and met with Deputy Foreign Minister Ioannis Amanatidis. Doenescu was accompanied by Romanian MPs Mihai Deaconu, Ovidiu Critian Iane and the Romanian Ambassador to Athens, His Excellency Lucian Fătu. Stoenescu said that Romanians were very well integrated into the Greek society, while they have succeeded in maintaining the main elements of the Romanian culture, with the support of the Romanian government and the Greek local authorities.

Speaking to the Romanian Minister also referred to the current refugee crisis and said that it was a common issue that should be dealt with much care, taking into consideration the concerns of all European countries.

Interview to Eleftheria Pantziou

Question: How is Romania affected by the refugee crisis? How do you feel about the EU policy on the matter?
Dan Stoenescu: We believe that the refugee crisis is a common issue, that needs to be approached in a common way by all European countries. We need to reach a consensus. Romania is very well aware of the struggle of some EU countries to deal with is issue and we are ready to help, because a problem of one European country is a problem of Romania as well.
I would like to stress that Romania is one of the countries, mostly involved in FRONTEX. We were actually the first contributor of FRONTEX and we will continue to be. A few days ago Romania received the first refugees. We will meet our commitments on an EU level and we strongly believe that any issue that concerns refugees should be addressed in a common way and dealt with much care, taking into consideration the concerns of all European countries – not just some countries.
Regarding the closure of borders, we believe that free movement within the European Union should be a principle that all member states adhere to. We hope that the refugee crisis will help us be strong, united and apply coordinated policies. It is an issue that concerns us all and not just some countries of the European Union.

Question:. What are your main priorities as a Minister – Delegate for Romanians abroad and especially in Greece?
Dan Stoenescu: Regarding Romanians living in Greece, we have set priorities in order to support them maintain their language, heritage, culture, civilization. There are currently 45.000 Romanians living in Greece and they are very well integrated. They are adding to the Greek society despite the current crisis. Prior to the crisis in 2009 the number was double and now with the citizens of the Repubic of Moldova, we’ve got 60-70.000 Romanian speakers in Greece. We have been funding Romanian Non Governmental Organizations that organize cultural activities, courses for children and other initiatives. We’ve been cooperating well with local authorities in Greece and the Greek government.
We are hoping to open an Academic Chair for the Romanian language at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. The first such Academic Chair was established in Komotini. The relations between the two countries are excellent and this way of teaching the Romanian language gives us the opportunity to strengthen our ties.
We also have a project entitled, “Romanian Language, Culture and Civilization”, which is currently running in many countries around Europe, especially in Italy and Spain, but also in Ireland and Belium. The program includes Romanian language classes after school, with teachers from the local communities. There are currently 150 schools operating in Spain and 150 schools in Italy. We want to develop this institution further in Greece and we’ve asked the Ministry of Education for its suppport.
We are also planning to establish a Romanian Archaeological Institute in Athens. There is currently a delegation from Bucharest in Athens, that represents a consortium of four Universities from Bucharest, Timișoara, Cluj and Iași. We have such a rich history and it is a way to discover and learn our common roots. We hope that the Greek Ministry of Culture will support this initiative.

Greece is the 6th foreign investor in Romania. Despite the crisis, Greek companies in Romania are thriving.

Question: Are there any programs currently running in Romania for the repatriation of Romanians?
Dan Stoenescu: We are offering opportunities to Romanians who would like to be intergrated into the Romanian society and to benefit from the funds that are graciously given by the European Union in many fields. For example in order to establish small and medium size enterprises or work in agriculture.
The Romanians have a large diaspora. There are currently many Romanians living the Republic of Moldova, almost half a million in Ukraine and also in Hungary, Bulgaria and Serbia. So, we apply focused policies on each country and each region, depending on the needs of every community.

Question: Romanian communities in Greece are very well organized and a good example of cultural exchange. You must feel content.
Dan Stoenescu: Romanian communities in Greece are doing an excellent job. I am very proud! They are true Ambassadors of Romania and compared to Romanian communities in other countries, they are well organized and they are doing a great volunteer work. It’s the first time we have Romanian theatre performed in the Romanian diaspora. There is a Romanian news bulleting on the Athens Municipal radio and many on-line media. This is a good example of the integration of Romanians into the Greek society and a good example of cooperation between two countries.
At the same time Greeks have also integrated into the Romanian society. We’ve got our common history that started in Iași. The two countries have a long history of cooperation and also the Greek minority in Romania has – by law – a representative in the Romanian Parliament.

Question: There are currently many Greek enterprises operating in Romania. How has the crisis affected them?
Dan Stoenescu: Greece is the 6th foreign investor in Romania. Despite the crisis Greek companies in Romania are thriving. We are the 2nd country in the European Union that shows signs of growth. Growth reached 3.7%, unemployement is very low, one of the lowest within the EU. So, there are business opportunities in Romania. Greeks and Romanians should know that. In the European Union we have the freedom of choice, the freedom of movement. The mentality of being born in one place, living and dying there doesn’t exist anymore. We have to follow the opportunities.

Question: Romania has always been a favorite tourist destination to the Greeks, while Romanians also visit Greece for holidays. Do you see this trend developing further?
Dan Stoenescu: Greece is attracting 1 million Romanians every year. More than 40% of tourists in the coastal area of Katerini in northern Greece are Romanians. More and more Romanians visit Greece because they feel comfortable, the culture is very similar to theirs, they enjoy the Greek hospitality, the culture, the food, the music.
On the other hand we are happy to see more and more Greeks visiting Romania, because since we joined the European Union, it’s easier to travel. We are not in the Schengen zone but we are hoping to enter very soon. That’s not a problem though. Romania is offering many things: its rich, ancient history, the mountainous areas, the diverse culture. In Transylvania there are many old churches, medieval castles. Once can visit the Black Sea, the Danube Delta, old monasteries in the area of Bukovina and in northern Moldova. I really believe that tourist relations between the two countries could develop further, despite the crisis.

PHOTO: Ministry of Foreign Affairs – Romania flickr