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March - 2005


Listening to an anecdote recently, an English friend who is resident in Romania told of how he was invited to a wedding in London by an ex-girlfriend who was to be married.
At the reception after the ceremony, he was speaking to the wife's mother about what he had undertaken since splitting up with her daughter. He informed her of his new country of residence.
“Really, Romania!” she said eagerly. “Is that the same as Bulgaria or are they different countries now?”
Analysing her reply, he decided that not only did the guest have no idea where Romania was located, but also had somehow confused the country with Czechoslovakia and, at the same time, found herself about 15 years behind the history of the rest of the planet.
However the ambivalence that Romania strikes in the hearts and minds of the majority of Europe's citizens might be to its benefit over the next 18 months.
Following Romania's victory in the European Parliament, every European country now has, until 31 December 2006, to ratify its treaty of accession [see Features].
If these countries' governing bodies fail to secure a large majority in favour of Romania's accession hopes, the joining date of 1 January 2007 will not take place.
But if one nation's party or group forces through a negative vote it would create a political crisis and place that country's own domestic parliament in conflict with its representatives in Strasbourg.
In order for such dissenters to take such a risk there would have to be strong backing for the decision among their nation's press and the general population.
And it is here that Romania's anonymity will be to its advantage. Neither a fisherman in Helsinki, a waiter in Birmingham, nor a truck driver in Vilnius has an opinion on Romania's entry into the European Union. Most are not aware it is joining, many believe it is already part of the EU, while others are not sure if it is even a real country.
None of the existing European states, one hopes, would risk such a huge diplomatic and political battle with Brussels and Strasbourg for an issue that would have no sympathy among the electorate.
Foreign minister Ungureanu says he wants to tour Europe on a charm offensive to change Romania's reputation as an impoverished country of orphans, fruit-pickers and corrupt bureaucrats, but maybe he should lie low for a while till the ratifications slip through unnoticed.