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Romania records highest population drop in the EU

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According to recent Eurostat data, Romania had recorded a decrease in population of 0.7% in 2020, the biggest such drop in the entire European Union, writes Cristian Gherasim, Bucharest correspondent.

2020 was also a year marked by the highest mortality rate in the EU in over 60 years.

The largest decrease in population, in overall number of people, can be seen in Italy (-384,000, or -0.6% of the population), followed by Romania (-143,000, -0.7%) and Poland (-118,000, -0, 3%). However, as percentage of the total population, relative to the population of each state, Romani takes first spot. EU countries recorded 534 thousand more deaths in 2020 than in 2019 (an increase of 11%), from 4.7 to 5.2 million, and the data reflect the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Eurostat. Excess mortality has contributed to a slight decrease in population, from 447.3 million inhabitants to 447 million inhabitants.

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Eurostat spokesperson said that this has been "the highest annual death toll since 1961" since data became available for all these countries. The number of deaths increased in all EU countries during this period, but especially in Italy (+111,700, + 18%), Spain (+75,500, + 18%) and Poland (+67,600, + 17%), according to figures from the European Office of Statistics.

To make matters worse, the number of births continued to decline as well. The natural balance (difference between births and deaths) has been negative since 2012. From 2001 to 2019 , the population increased by 4%, an increase fueled by migration, which decreased in 2020 due to the pandemic. "There was an impact, either because the borders were closed, which hindered the movement of the population during this period, or because people returned to their countries of origin due to job loss or other causes," Giampaolo Lanzieri from Eurostat said.

If EU’s demographic situation can raise alarm bells, non-EU member states such as the Republic of Moldova have it much worse. According to an analysis by the Chisinau-based Institute for Development and Social Initiative (IDIS) Viitorul, from 1991 to now, the population of the Republic of Moldova has decreased by almost 1.5 million people. The number of Moldovan citizens is now at 2.9 million - including citizens on the left bank of the Dniester, representing the breakaway Transnistria region, where there are just over 300,000 Moldovan citizens left. The findings show that Moldova is nearing its population level of 1950, if the trend continues.

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Nearly a third of Moldova’s population has left over the past three decades, making the country one of the worst hit by the demographic decline seen throughout many parts of post-communist Europe. The breakaway Transnistria region saw the most shocking population fall, decreasing from 731,000 to 306,000 over the past 30 years.

According to Veaceslav Ioniță, the IDIS expert on economic policies, in 1991 Moldova's population reached 4,364,000, including the people of Transnistria with 731 thousand citizens counted there. Thus, for 30 years, the number of Moldovan citizens left in the country decreased by 1,5 million: 1, 036 million fewer on the right bank of the Dniester and 425 thousand citizens fewer in the Transnistria region.

With Moldova, the demographics drop is very much connected to the country’s economic woes. Troubled by political upheaval, extreme poverty and corruption, it's no surprise that even with a severely declining population, remaining Moldavians are still looking for a way out. According to a survey, one-in-three Moldovans would still like to leave the country. Moldova is facing Europe’s worst demographic crisis, the situation being so bad that some experts even talk about an existential crisis with the stake being the very survival of that state.

Moldova’s pro-European government hopes to turn the tide by clamping down on corruption and improving the country’s economic situation.

European Commission

NextGenerationEU: European Commission endorses Romania's €29.2 billion recovery and resilience plan

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The European Commission has adopted a positive assessment of Romania's recovery and resilience plan, an important step towards the EU disbursing €14.2 billion in grants and €14.9bn in loans to Romania under the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF). This financing will support the implementation of the crucial investment and reform measures outlined in Romania's recovery and resilience plan. It will play a crucial role in enabling Romania to emerge stronger from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The RRF is the key instrument at the heart of NextGenerationEU. It will provide up to €800bn (in current prices) to support investments and reforms across the EU. The Romanian plan forms part of an unprecedented co-ordinated EU response to the COVID-19 crisis, to address common European challenges by embracing the green and digital transitions, to strengthen economic and social resilience and the cohesion of the Single Market.

The Commission assessed Romania's plan based on the criteria set out in the RRF Regulation. The Commission's analysis considered, in particular, whether the investments and reforms contained in Romania's plan support the green and digital transitions; contribute to effectively addressing challenges identified in the European Semester; and strengthen its growth potential, job creation and economic and social resilience.

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Securing Romania's green and digital transitions  

The Commission's assessment finds that Romania's plan devotes 41% of the plan's total allocation on measures that support the green transition. The plan includes measures to  phase out coal and lignite power production by 2032. Reforms promoting sustainable transport include the decarbonisation of road transport, green taxation, incentives for zero-emission vehicles, and a modal shift to railways and water transport. The plan also has a strong focus on improving the energy efficiency of private and public buildings.

The Commission's assessment of Romania's plan finds that it devotes 21% of its total allocation on measures that support the digital transition. This includes measures to digitalise the public administration and businesses, improve connectivity, cybersecurity and digital skills and develop an integrated e-Health and telemedicine system. Measures to support the digitalisation of education are expected to contribute to skills development for both students and teachers, and will be reinforced by measures to modernise school laboratories and creating smart labs. Participation in a multi-country project is planned to be implemented as an Important Project of Common European Interest (IPCEI) on microelectronics.

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Reinforcing Romania's economic and social resilience

The Commission considers that Romania's plan includes an extensive set of mutually reinforcing reforms and investments that contribute to effectively addressing all or a significant subset of the economic and social challenges outlined in the country-specific recommendations addressed to Romania.

The implementation of social and educational reforms and investments is expected to tackle long-standing vulnerabilities and structural deficiencies. The plan provides for measures to strengthen the public administration, including through reinforcing the effectiveness of the judicial system and fighting corruption. It will also include measures to support private investment, particularly for SMEs, and improve the business environment through reducing the administrative burden for firms. The plan's reforms in the areas of education and jobs are expected to support a stronger labour market, favouring growth. The flagship reforms on the coal phase-out and the decarbonisation of transport, and investments promoting the green and digital transition are expected to boost competitiveness and make the economy overall more sustainable. Social resilience should to improve as a result of the educational reforms and investments included in the plan. Having a well-skilled labour force and reducing early school leaving should make the economy more resilient against future shocks and the population more adaptable to changing economic patterns.

Supporting flagship investment and reform projects

Romania's plan proposes projects in each of the seven EU flagship areas. These are specific investment projects which address issues that are common to all member states in areas that create jobs and growth and are needed for the green and digital transition. For instance, the Romanian plan includes a project to build a secure government cloud computing infrastructure to allow for the interoperability of public administration platforms and data services, fostering the adoption of digital public services for citizens and companies, and the deployment of electronic identity cards for 8.5 million citizens.

The assessment also finds that none of the measures included in the plan significantly harm the environment, in line with the requirements laid out in the RRF Regulation.

The control systems put in place by Romania are considered adequate to protect the financial interests of the Union. The plan provides sufficient details on how national authorities will prevent, detect and correct instances of conflict of interest, corruption and fraud relating to the use of funds.

President Ursula von der Leyen said: “I am delighted to present the European Commission's endorsement of Romania's €29.2bn recovery and resilience plan. By focusing on measures to secure the green and digital transitions, from improving the energy efficiency of buildings to improving connectivity and digital skills, the measures set out in the plan have the potential to be truly transformative. We will stand with you in the years to come to ensure that the ambitious investments and reforms set out in the plan are fully implemented.”

An Economy that Works for People Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said: “Today, we have endorsed Romania's recovery plan to emerge stronger after the crisis and boost economic growth. The plan will help Romania to decarbonize, with measures to phase out coal and lignite power production that should boost competitiveness and make the economy more sustainable. It will also promote sustainable transport and improve the energy efficiency of public and private buildings. We welcome its focus on improving connectivity and cybersecurity as well as digitalising public administration, healthcare and education, thereby improving digital skills development. By carrying out social and educational reforms, backed by investments, Romania should stimulate growth by tackling some long-standing structural issues – with a stronger business environment and less red tape.”

Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said: “With today's green light from the Commission for Romania's recovery and resilience plan, the country takes an important step towards a more prosperous, competitive and sustainable future. This is a big plan, both in terms of the amount of funding Romania is set to receive and the ambitious nature of its reforms and investments. The European Commission will support the Romanian authorities in their efforts to deliver on these commitments, which if successfully implemented will bring tremendous benefits to Romania's citizens and businesses.”

Next steps

The Commission has today adopted a proposal for a decision to provide €14.2bn in grants and €14.9bn in loans to Romania under the RRF. The Council will now have, as a rule, four weeks to adopt the Commission's proposal.

The Council's approval of the plan would allow for the disbursement of €3.6bn to Romania in pre-financing. This represents 13% of the total allocated amount for Romania.

The Commission will authorise further disbursements based on the satisfactory fulfilment of the milestones and targets outlined in the recovery and resilience plan, reflecting progress on the implementation of the investments and reforms. 

More information

Questions and Answers: European Commission endorses Romania's €29.2 billion recovery and resilience plan

Factsheet on Romania's recovery and resilience plan

Proposal for a Council Implementing Decision on the approval of the assessment of the recovery and resilience plan for Romania

Annex to the Proposal for a Council Implementing Decision on the approval of the assessment of the recovery and resilience plan for Romania

Staff-working document accompanying the proposal for a Council Implementing Decision

Recovery and Resilience Facility: Questions and Answers

Recovery and Resilience Facility

Recovery and Resilience Facility Regulation

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Romania

Illegal logging claims victims in Romania

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Two journalists and one environmental activist were severely beaten while documenting illegal logging in a forest in Suceava county. A group of 20 individuals attacked them with sticks and axes, injuring the three and destroying all their equipment, writes Cristian Gherasim, Bucharest correspondent.


All three ended up in hospital with various injuries. One of the attacked journalist told investigators:

"Suddenly I saw 20 people with axes and sticks in their hands assaulting us, with the forestry engineer leading the way. We took refuge in a nearby car but we got thrown out of the car. I was hit in the face and I fell into a ravine, then I called the emergency number 112."

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Several of the attackers have been identified and taken to the police station.

The attack was quite severe as the three ended up wounded in hospital and two of the victims lost consciousness while being taken into medical care.

A local environmental NGO announced that also a film documentarist was amongst the victims, together with a well-known local activist and advocate against illegal logging.

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“His video equipment and all records were destroyed. Along with him was colleague and environmental activist Tiberiu Boșutar, who helped identify evidence of forest crimes in Bucovina region”, said the NGO.

Activist Tiberiu Boșutar later said that both he and one of the cameramen lost consciousness for a short time during the aggression.

Illegal logging has been plaguing Romania’s forests for decades now. Twenty million cubic meters of wood are illegally cut every year in the country, according to data provided by the National Forest Inventory.

Last year, according to a country report the intensive exploitation of the Romanian forests led to an economic loss of approximately 6 billion EUR / year.

Logging is a very profitable business in Romania and wood theft is a multi-million-dollar crime. Data coming from the Romanian Ministry of Environment shows that the yearly income of companies dealing in wood cutting and processing had a total overall income of 2.5 billion EUR. Activists claim that more than half of that stems from illegal wood, untraced and untaxed.

In all began after the fall of communism when large scale logging was encouraged by the state, making it easy for illegal cuts to emerge. Corruption enable illegal cuts to even take place in reservations across the country and led to everyone being involved, including the very forest rangers that should prevent this from happening. In addition to forest rangers, civil servants high and low have several times been caught in selling and processing of illegal wood.

But illegal logging does not only cost money but also lives. The 3 injured for investigating illegal logging are not an isolated case, but rather the norm lately. Six forest rangers have been killed and 650 have been attacked and threatened over the past years by illegal loggers upon being caught in the act prompting many to call for the government to take action. And they aren’t the only ones calling for authorities to act.

The head of the Representation of the European Commission in Romania reacted saying that this is inadmissible to be attacked while doing your job, and the national authorities must take all necessary measures to protect the freedom of the press.

The attack on the journalist comes after the European Commission called on member states to improve the safety of journalists.

The European Commission Representation in Romanian pointed out that illegal logging is an ongoing issue in Romania that spread significantly across the country with several cases of investigative journalists being attacked on site over the past years and many threatened.

“It is inadmissible to be attacked while doing your job. Information is a public good. We need to protect journalists, because they are the ones who ensure transparency. National authorities must take all necessary measures to protect freedom of the press, in accordance with the values underlying the European Union and enshrined in the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. As European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced, the Commission is working on a law to guarantee the independence of the press. If we defend our press, we defend our democracy at the same time!”, said the head of the Representation of the European Commission in Romania.

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Why in Romania and around the world conservative values are the new ‘far right’

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Mainstream media have moved so far left over the past two decades that any party faithful to conservative – and especially Christian values – is now branded “far right.” This label is wide off the mark for most political parties and actors on the Christian-right spectrum, writes George Simion.

I grew up in the 1990s in post-Communist Romania – a country quickly finding its democratic legs and rediscovering political pluralism after four decades of single-party dictatorship.

The Romanian Communist Party was reincarnated at the time and successfully claimed the left of the political spectrum, later morphing into today’s Social-Democrat Party (PSD). The PSD barely faced any competition before the emergence of the progressive-liberal party, Save Romania Union (USR), followed by another party, the Freedom, Unity and Solidarity Party (PLUS), which officially merged to form the consolidated platform, USRPLUS, which sought to capture the right.  

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From the early 1990s, my family was more interested in the newly reestablished historical parties that were banned by the Soviet-inspired totalitarian regime that ruled our country from the end of World War II until the Romanian Revolution in December 1989. Many educated workers and urban intellectuals became involved in the resurrected Romanian right that promised to return to the social and political fold conservative values such as promoting religious freedom, family life and respect for the elderly. Christian values were dear to me as a young man and to my parents.

Romania’s new democracy also brought back the far right, represented by various niche parties of xenophobes, Neo-Nazis and other extremists that had very little membership and zero public support, which translated into dismal electoral results. Like most Romanians, who see Romania’s Communist experiment as a totalitarian tragedy, I have never liked extremists and have nothing in common with them. To advocate for extremism is to seek a return to this catastrophic chapter.

I was barely 10 years old in autumn 1996, when the center-right Christian-Democratic National Peasants Party (PNT-CD) spearheaded a broader coalition that won the general elections and the presidency in Romania. Society pinned great hopes on that alliance of parties. We believed that we would see the moral rehabilitation of a corrupt and decaying political class after six years of crypto-Communist rule. But after failing to deliver on some essential promises – largely due to coalition infighting and poor internal coordination – the PNT-CD missed the threshold in the 2000 parliamentary elections. It has played a marginal role in Romanian politics ever since.

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From that moment forward, politics in Romania succumbed to increasing levels of corruption, chaos, and bureaucracy. Unfortunately, unlike the Baltic states and also Poland, Romania never saw a comprehensive turnover of its ruling class after the fall of the Communist regime. Successive generations of interlinked politicians and oligarchs followed, who had different names and faces but all shared the same goal and priority – to steal as much as possible from the nation’s coffers, and to ensure a stagnancy in democratic growth that would allow them to continue doing so.

That is why, after nearly a decade and a half of political activism, I decided to enter the political foray in 2019 and founded the Alliance for the Union of Romanians (AUR). Because Romania’s political class has persisted to fall so far astray over the past years, I believe that the only way for us to get back on track as a people and as a nation is to replace our political elite, one so marred by thievery and corruption, with one that is defined by family, nation, Christian faith, and liberty.

After five electoral cycles, the AUR shocked critics in December 2020 by receiving nearly 10 percent of the popular vote. No other political party established on Christian-Democratic or conservative values had ever won a seat in the Romanian Parliament in the two decades before.

Because the AUR was only one year old at the time, competent media coverage the world over is at an all-time low, and the average journalist in Romania is still relatively young, the media fell into confusion and rushed to categorize the AUR as far right, when we are in fact anything but.

Some media still find it fashionable to label us this way, although we have dealt with social, environmental, cultural, educational and national identity issues over the nine months of our parliamentary activity without ever espousing a far-right idea. And we never will. It is a shame, and, for us, a disaster, that although we were at first likely mislabeled as far right out of naivety, this mislabeling is now fueled by a progressive current in Western media that our critics have latched onto to debase us in the hope to keep stagnancy and corruption in Romania alive. For them, Romania is a “giving tree” that lines their pockets. God forbid they should lose their place at the trough.

But this phenomenon of maliciously identifying conservative and Christian parties as far right is not specific to Romania – and it did not originate here. It is global in nature. The fire was lit and stoked by the liberal mainstream media in the United States as part of a coordinated effort to attack the Republican Party during the previous administration. This paradigm shift in the media has caught fire globally – and pushed the boundaries of political currents to the left without any prior notice. Mainstream media worldwide now denigrate parties that traditionally swam in the right lane of politics and mislabel them as far right for the sole sin of promoting Christian values.

I have never been one to feel burdened by the words of those who wrongfully criticize me and my actions, especially when there is ill-will or purposeful misdirection at play. So, I write this piece solely as a message to the young voters out there – in Romania and all over the world: Political parties that build their program around true Christian values are, in fact, incompatible with the far right. To equate them is mistaken and sickening. The basic morality of Christianity is not and cannot be extremist. It is built on respect and the struggle to achieve good for all people, everywhere, without discrimination. While ideologies and media paradigms shift periodically and eventually become obsolete, conservative values and their adherents will remain strong.

Parties such as ours are here to defend them – and we are here to stay.

George Simion is the president of the Alliance for the Union of Romanians.

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