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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.

European Commission

REACT-EU: Commission approves €2 billion of additional resources for the recovery in Italy, Spain, Luxembourg and Romania

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The Commission has granted €2 billion to Italy, Spain, Luxembourg and Romania following the modification of two European Regional Development Fund, one European Social Fund (ESF) and one Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived Operational Programmes (OP) under the Recovery Assistance for Cohesion and the Territories in Europe (REACT-EU). In Italy, the national OP ‘Governance and Institutional Capacity' will receive a total of €1.2bn. Of this sum, €761 million will go towards buying 68 million doses of vaccines against the coronavirus. In the Southern regions, authorities will use €374m to hire new public healthcare workers and cover the costs of extra hours worked by workers currently in the system. €108 million will help strengthen the administrative capacity of national and regional authorities, including in the healthcare system.

In Spain, ‘Comunidad Valenciana' will receive additional resources of €690m to provide, amongst others, working capital to the most affected small and medium-sized enterprises, and to reinforce health, social services and investments in basic infrastructure for citizens, including in the health and education sectors. Luxembourg will receive €69m to support large-scale coronavirus testing and the acquisition of vaccines, and investments in sustainability such as the electrification of the national bus network. In Romania, €56m will be invested to provide material support for disadvantaged groups, such as hot meals, assistance to disadvantaged children with school supplies and to disadvantaged mothers with essential kits for their newborn babies. REACT-EU is part of NextGenerationEU and provides €50.6bn additional funding (in current prices) over the course of 2021 and 2022 to Cohesion Policy programmes.

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Romania

Romania’s governing coalition collapses after less than a year in office

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The Romanian government coalition led by Florin Cîțu (EPP) has collapsed following a no confidence vote in Parliament. The 281 MEPs voted against the government with 185 abstaining. 

President Klaus Iohannis (EPP) will have to nominate a new PM. 

The vote comes as Romania sees its fourth wave of COVID. Despite vaccine availability, Romania has one of the lowest rates of vaccination in the EU.

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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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