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Update No: 129 - (28/02/08)

Bucharest is preparing for a big event, its biggest since the dramatic departure of the Ceaucescus in the Christmas of 1989 that put a seal on communism in Central Europe. It is to host the next summit of NATO in April.

Where next for NATO?
Romania is about to assume centre point on the world stage again. With a fag-end of an administration in Washington, the April NATO summit might seem to be a non-event, everyone waiting to see who is the next US president. 

But this is not so. There are problems crying out for resolution, which cannot be just put on hold for ten or twelve months. 

The Kosovo conundrum
The most close to home is Kosovo. Its declaration of independence from Serbia is obviously imminent. What is to be the position of NATO and the EU on the subject?

Romania, plus Cyprus, Greece, Spain and Slovakia, oppose giving recognition now it has happened. They fear a further spread of secessionist moves that could affect themselves. In Romania's case it is the loss of Transylvania they fear, populated by Hungarians and wrested from Hungary after the First World War. It was recognised as Romanian by the Treaty of Trianon in 1919. They are of course supported by Russia, with its own fear of secession by Chechnya, but probably prepared to facilitate secessions of its clients Transdnestr from Moldova, and South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgia. In fact Russia has taken a ‘legally correct’ in international law, position in support of that of Serbia 

But the US and the vast majority of EU states support independence for Kosovo, simply because there was no way back to any feasible relationship with Serbia. After the war in 1999 went against the Serbs, it has a certain inevitability about it. The majority of Serb voters themselves seemed to agree in re-electing President Tadic on February 3, a realist on the issue. Tadic is in principle opposed to Kosovo independence, but would not use force to prevent it. 

NATO enlargement
The Bucharest summit is being seen as an appropriate moment to enlarge NATO to include several other Balkan states, namely Croatia, Albania and Macedonia. 

Croatian accession is a distinct possibility, but there are those in Brussels who think that it would be premature at this stage to bring in the other two before they have carried out further reforms. But an encouragement of their ambitions to join would be in order at the summit.

What to do about Afghanistan?
There is furious disputation going on about what to do about Afghanistan. President Karzai has refused to accept Lord Ashdown as NATO's point-man in his country, which has enraged the British. He also claims that the British have failed in Helmand province in the south – where they have a nightmare of a job. They were left to deal with the hellhounds of the Taleban largely on their own. The Americans have now agreed to send in a contingent to help the British out in Helmand. This could make all the difference.

Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, successor to the hapless Donald Rumsfeld, has accused the British and the Canadians - indeed all non-American Nato forces engaged in Afghanistan, of being ineffectual in counter-insurgency. This has naturally caused ructions in London and Ottawa, who think exactly that of the Americans in Iraq and elsewhere. It is however commonplace for allies to disparage each other's military abilities- privately and eventually publicly. 

Actually, the Americans after all these years have done well in their parts of Afghanistan. The Canadians are thinking of pulling their troops out of Afghanistan altogether, which the British would never do, but this does signify a kind of despair in seeing any exit policy, let alone any definitions of victory would consist of. 

The Bush administration and its strange avatars have a genius for putting their foot in it, all the same. To fall out with their fellow-speaking Anglo-Saxon confreres shows distinctive talent of a rare order. 


The European Commission has warned Romania and Bulgaria they must do more to tackle high-level corruption. 
Both countries joined the European Union in 2007 and were threatened with penalties if they failed to reform their justice systems. An interim report from Brussels, which came out on February 5, says that so far neither has shown convincing results. 

A spokesman said that 10 important corruption cases in Romania had been delayed and some of the cases had been compromised because of ineffectual procedure. He said that public confidence in the ability to deal with high-level corruption had to be strengthened. 

Last December, Romania's Justice Minister Tudor Chiuariu resigned after eight months in the job because of an investigation for alleged corruption. He denied wrongdoing. 

The European Commission's report sees as positive the work of Romania's National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA). 

It says the DNA has requested permission to start criminal investigations into eight serving or former ministers and has begun investigations into appointments of senior prosecutors. 

Organised crime 
Apart from high-level corruption, Bulgaria and Romania are told to work harder to tackle organised crime. 
In its last report the commission singled out the problem of contract killings. Now it says that from a sample of 10 high-profile cases of organised crime between 2000 and 2007, only one has been completed. But it adds that there does appear to have been a positive trend in recent months.

Commission spokesman Mark Gray said Bulgaria needed to establish a better track record in investigation, prosecution and judgement of organised crime and corruption. 

Final reports will be issued on both countries later this year, and the EU has the power to impose legal sanctions if it is unhappy with progress.

Mr Gray described the situation in footballing terms. "We've had quite a poor first half, we expect a much better second half. None of us wants to see extra time or penalties and that's why we expect the two governments to improve in the second half."

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