Following a rare national consensus, Romania joined the European Union on January 1 2017, thus ending the post World War II geopolitical order. Since then, 12 years have passed with their accomplishments, frustrations and the initiatives that have consumed various projects, controversies and unequaled passions. The Romanian press has mirrored the realities and false expectations which have paved the road of our most ambitious and complex political, social, economic and cultural project of our time. Even so, as we show in a previous analysis, the Romanian mass media along with other segments of Romanian society was not prepared to cope with this historic event resulting in a rapid process of degradation. The failure of the Romanian press to model a new democratic society was manifest in the handling of Romania’s European agenda.
The harsh reality of the unprecedented alteration of the Romanian press in the first years after the country’s entry into the EU was enunciated in a 2009 report by Oxford Analytica which stated that for the first time since 1989 the press in Romania no longer plays a “positive role in the formation of political opinion” and that “the effort to consolidate the independent media as a progressive force in a fragile democracy has failed”. The majority of media sources were “captured by moguls, who seem intent on using them in order to influence national policy for their own interests”. The prestigious institute further shows that the media trusts controlled by such “moguls” as Vantu, Patriciu and Dan Voiculescu have coordinated their activities, in 2009, with the goal of reducing public interest in politics. According to the analysis, this concerted effort has eliminated the discursive space for serious discussion of future political options, and appears to be oriented toward the intoxication of political competition and creation of deceptive public agendas.
Simultaneously, the media trusts pursue, by any means necessary, state-sponsored advertising monies. The trusts behave as veritable mafia organisations extorting protection money from the political class. Through such anti-journalistic methods, they undermine the rule of law, a cornerstone of democracy, as the press no longer serves one of its principal functions. Thus, news networks are the actual public agenda setters, launching diversionary themes which are further promulgated by the publications owned by the trusts. By methodically confusing the subjects, the deviant media attempts to influence and demobilise active citizens, those interested and involved in politics. It is this demographic that is the actual target of their activity, and not the consumers of entertainment and tabloids. Oxford Analytica used an extremely critical tone in characterising the majority of the Romanian press as “appearing to be an extension of business interests. (…) As property is concentrated in the hands of a few wealthy characters, there have been dramatic changes. Investigative journalism has been buried (…) Trivial content or sensationalism has replaced serious reporting”. Additionally, many independent minded journalists have been sidelined or forced into a new editorial sphere, valuable professionals have been marginalised and replaced by inexperienced young new-comers whom are, often, lacking in specialised training.
The social consequences of this situation have proven to be devastating. The Oxford Analytica report concluded that the number of Romanians seeking to emigrate is surging, many considering that the country is poorly governed and that professionalism is undervalued. Moreover, many middle-class Romanians, precisely those who would drive socio-economic development, perceive “the political game as a vulgar media spectacle, yet are too apathetic to attempt to replace the discredited parties with new ones, which would have a solution-oriented agenda”. The analysis shows that Romania continues to exhibit the same characteristics that have continuously stalled its progress since the collapse of communism. Of special concern is the fact that millions of Romanians who prize real values and are economically and socially energetic, desiring national progress, are excluded from power, and as many consider that the country is heading in the wrong direction, they desire to emigrate.
The principal destination for Romanian emigrants are developed European countries, a reasonable option given that 12 years after Romania joined the EU, public confidence in the European Union is growing, reaching the highest rates since 2010 concomitant with a dramatic fall in confidence regarding the Romanian state and its institutions. According to the latest Eurobarometer, in Romania as well as the other member states, citizens have more faith in European institutions than in the national structures. Romania is ranked second, along with Portugal, regarding positive approval rates of the EU. The number of Romanians viewing the EU favourably is growing above the European average (60% in Romania versus an EU average of 45%). The report further shows that Romanians continue to favour the European Union’s priorities at a high rate, with values in between 60% for economic and monetary union and 81% for the free movement of European citizens. Also, 66% of Romanians feel that they are citizens of the European Union, and 49% of these believe that peace is the most positive aspect of the European edifice.
The summary of the poll regarding Romania:
- 60% of Romanians have a positive image of the European Union, compared with an EU average of 45%.
- 52% of Romanians have confidence in the European Union, compared with an EU average of 44%.
- 50% of Romanians are optimistic regarding the labor market, compared with an EU average of 44%.
The 2019 Eurobarometer is also interesting because it offers a clear image of the interests of European citizens and of the perception and prioritisation of the real problems on the Union’s agenda. Thus, confidence in the EU is at the highest level since 2014 and remains above that of confidence in the national governments and parliaments.
1. Confidence in the EU has grown in 20 member states, with highest levels in Lithuania (72%), Denmark (68%) and Estonia (60%). Additionally, over half of respondents “tend to have confidence” in the EU in Luxemburg (59%), Finland (58%), Portugal (57%), Malta and Sweden (both at 56%), Bulgaria and Hungary (both at 55%), Ireland, Poland, the Netherlands and Cyprus (all at 54%), Romania and Austria (both at 52%), Latvia and Belgium (both at 51%).
Since the last standard Eurobarometer poll of fall 2018, the percentage of respondents with a positive image of the EU (45%) has grown in 23 member states, most evidently in Cyprus (47%,+11), Hungary (52%, +9), Greece (33%%, +8), Romania (60%, +8) and Portugal (60%, +7). A two percent growth was registered in the fall of 2018 (+10 compared to spring of 2014), reaching the highest level in the last 10 years. 37% (+1, compared to fall of 2018) of respondents have a neutral perception of the EU, while less than a fifth have a negative image (17%, -3); the smallest score in 10 years.
The majority of Europeans are optimistic regarding the future of the EU (61%, +3 percentage points), while only 34% (-3) are pessimistic. The highest level of optimism is registered in Ireland (85%), Denmark (79%), Lithuania (76%) and Poland (74%). On the other end of the spectrum, optimism ranks lowest in the United Kingdom (47% compared to 46%) and in France (50% compared to 45%).
55% of Europeans say that they are satisfied with the democratic process in the EU, the highest score since the fall of 2004 (+5 percentage points compared to the fall of 2018; +11 compared to the fall of 2014), while the number of those who are “dissatisfied” has fallen by five percentage points to 36%.
The majority of Europeans agree with the statement that “their voice matters in the EU”. The EU average reaches 56% (a growth of 7 percent compared to fall of 2018; +11 compared to the spring of 2018; +14 compared to spring 2014), the largest percentages being observed in Sweden (86%), Denmark (81%) and the Netherlands (76%).
2. Record levels of support for the Euro currency.
Support for the economic and monetary union reaches a record high, over three fourths of respondents in the eurozone (76%, +1 percentage point; +9 compared to the fall of 2014) declare that they favour the euro, the EU single currency. Overall, in the EU, support for the euro currency is stable at 62%.
Positive opinion regarding the national economic situation prevails (49% believe that the situation is good and 47% view it as negative). The majority of respondents from 17 member states (16 in the fall of 2018) affirm that the national economic situation is good. Luxembourg (94%), Denmark (91%) and the Netherlands (90%) are the countries with the highest scores. The lowest percentages of positive perception are observed in Greece (7%), Croatia and Bulgaria (both at 20%), Italy (22%), Spain (26%) and France (29%).
3. EU Citizenship and freedom of movement are viewed as the principle achievements of the EU.
In all of the 28 member states, over half of respondents consider that they are citizens of the EU. Overall in the EU, 73% agree with this sentiment (+2 percentage points compared to the fall of 2018), and at the national level the percentage varies from 93% in Luxembourg, 88% in Germany and 87% in Spain, to 57% in Greece and Italy and 52% in Bulgaria.
A large majority of EU citizens support “the freedom of movement of EU citizens, who may live, work, study and engage in economical activity anywhere in the EU” (81%. -2 percentage points compared to the fall of 2018), and in all EU member states over two thirds of respondents share this sentiment, from Lithuania (94%) to Italy and the United Kingdom (both at 68%).
4. Primary concern at the national and EU levels are related to immigration and climate change are, on average, on the rise.
Immigration remains the primary concern at the EU level, being mentioned 34% of the time, in spite of a strong decrease (-6 percentage points compared to the fall of 2018). Climate change, which was ranked fifth in the fall of 2018, is currently placed as the second most important issue after strong economic growth (+6 compared to fall of 2018).
Three issues have identical ranking: the economic situation (18%, unchanged), the state of the public finance in member states (18%, -1) and terrorism (18%, -2), followed by the environment- the main concern for 13% of respondents, registering a growth of four percentage points. Unemployment ranks seventh on the EU level (12%) and remains the main issue of concern on the national level (21%, -2 percentage points), along with the growth of prices/inflation/cost of life (21%, unchanged) and public health and social security (21%, +1).
Environmental problems, climate and energy follow closely with a strong growth (20%, +6). Immigration, was mentioned by 17% of respondents (-4 percentage points compared to the fall of 2018 and -19 compared to the fall of 2015), is no longer found among the top three concerns at the national level, for the first time since the spring of 2014. The economic situation is ranked sixth (16%, +1).
Of course, beyond the data offered by the scientific instruments of the continental poll in contributing to the formation of a real agenda for the European Union, it brings an important contribution to the analysis of the themes addressed by mass media and the issues debated by European institutions and organisations. We will review these themes in order to more easily decipher the way in which the Romanian press approaches the European agenda.
- The theme of economic development brings to the forefront a variety of subjects, from the consolidation of the euro zone (which Romania should be joining), the extension of the Schengen zone to Romania and Bulgaria, the preservation and growth of European exports in the context of new American protectionism, securing energy resources and prime materials (primarily from the Russian Federation, North Africa and Central Asia), the construction of an economic structure that will serve as an IMF for Europe in the post-crisis years, the accelerated transition of European economies imposed by the fourth Industrial Revolution and many others.
- The theme of migration/immigration and the failure of multiculturalism are, probably, among the most acute for European citizens. On one hand, the countries in the east and south of the continent are increasingly worried by the massive exodus of their qualified labor force, which makes their economies more vulnerable. On the other hand, developed states encourage this intra-European migration meant to replace that of extra-European immigration (primarily of African and Asian origins) which, given the failure of integration and multiculturalism, has created problems which are considered insurmountable for many generations. Countries such as France, Germany, Italy and the Scandinavian region are most affected economically, socially and culturally.
- The ascension of extreme right-wing parties and illiberal ideology, of intolerance and xenophobia are, also, worrisome phenomena which have developed as a reaction of European societies based on the above mentioned issues and on the back of the effects of the financial crises from 2008-2010. This social and political development is further accentuated by the fact that the recent, post-WWII, growth of extremist and nationalist ideology puts in question the very process of the European construction; opposition to the Union having reached, via democratic elections, into the heart of the European Parliament, and countries like Hungary, Austria, Poland and Italy openly manifest against globalisation and a more integrated Europe.
- The management of post-Brexit processes is, probably, one of the most serious challenges in the proximate future of the European Union. The implications of the United Kingdom’s exit from the Union are severe and likely to affect a variety of domains ranging from finance and economy to that of the sensitive topic of continental security.
- The economic gaps between the North-South and East-West are extremely concerning due to the serious imbalance provoked by the unitary development of the Union and the distortions brought into the the affected societies. Due to these, the Southern and Eastern European states have the, often justifiable, perception of being exploited as import markets and as reserves for the extraction of raw materials and human resources. The tensions resulting from these realities often approach the point of rupturing the Union and the result is the resurgence of the idea of multi-speed European integration.
- A federal Europe or one of sovereign nations? Based on the clash of these two dominant political visions in the member states, this appears to be the fundamental question regarding Europe’s future. On one hand we have the project of ever greater integration until a federal European state (a so-called United States of Europe) is realised, and on the other hand, the Gaullist vision of a Europe of independent nations, a sort of Common House of Europe promoted, at the end of the Cold War by the President of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev. In attempting to offer a viable solution to this major debate this year, the President of France, Emmanuel Macron directly presented to Europe’s citizens, by means of the press, a 10 year progressive plan to change the Union.
- The problem of European defense and of a united foreign policy is fundamental to the definition of the status as a global power for the European Union. Currently considered a “Colossus with feet of clay”, Europe is threatened with being left out of global decision making and losing the privileged status it enjoys in the process of globalisation. However, the creation of a European army and of a single foreign policy are directly dependant on the formula adopted for the European federal state, along with all other implications of such a project.
- The tensions between Old and New Europe. Resulting from the phenomena discussed above, especially after the 2008-2010 crisis, a series of economic and political conflicts have developed between the states of Eastern and Western Europe. Not incidentally, the concept of “Old” and “New” Europe were introduced by political actors from the United States of America. “Old Europe” designates Western Europe, and more specifically the Franco-German duo, which refused to support the US during the second Gulf war, later developing a series of positions and policies that ran counter to the Atlantic partnership while tightening their relationship with Russia. The term “New Europe” was first used in 2003 by Donald Rumsfeld, who at the time served as Secretary of Defence for the United States, in designating the political geography of Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the post-communist countries that joined the European Union and NATO. The specific difference between the two Europes is primarily given by their attitude toward American presence on the continent, the New Europe being supportive and toward this aim developing the Three Seas Initiative (Baltic-Adriatic-Black Sea). The Initiative being a project meant to limit the pressure exercised by Russia and Germany on member states and to maintain the presence of the United States in Europe.
- The conflict between the European Union and the USA – which first manifested during the presidency of George W. Bush and reappeared along with the installation of Donald Trump- appears to mostly run along a dimension of economic competition. In reality its geopolitical causes are based primarily on the anti-Atlantic partnership of the Berlin-Paris axis in tandem with the Russian Federation to which adhere, based on various considerations, other states as well. The anti-Atlantic partnership originated with the 1990 Kohl-Gorbachev Accord signed in Geneva, through which Russia and Germany delineated their spheres of influence in Central and Eastern Europe. The Accord is currently manifesting economically, where Germany financed the construction of the North Stream Pipeline in order to bring Russian gas into the heart of Europe, but also in the defense arena as Berlin refuses to raise its military spending contribution to 2% of GDP, while choosing to invest along with France in common army separate from NATO. Additionally, under President Emmanuel Macron, France continues the Gaullist policy of pushing back on America’s continental presence in favour of a “Europe from Lisbon to the Urals”. The reinterpretation of the post-WWII political formula involving the USA at the source of the term “Atlantic”, now expressly abandoned so as to disambiguate from the new construction with Russia.
- The challenges of the Eastern neighbourhood (Ukraine, Moldavian Republic, Georgia) and of the Mediterranean Partnership (Turkey-Levant-North Africa) are a major provocation for the future of Europe. The two areas are immediate neighbours, and are considered to be the geopolitical “hinterland” of the European Union. However, these areas form a giant arch of crises which Europe must manage and, ultimately, resolve. On its eastern flank, the EU finds itself in a complicated relationship with states that have openly expressed their desire for quick integration into the Union, but all of which have frozen conflicts on their territory with Moscow. Ukraine has open cases regarding Crimea and Donbas, the Moldavian Republic has Transnistria, Georgia is coping with separatist movements in Abkhazia and Ossetia. Things are not much better in the Mediterranean basin where relations with Turkey, Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Algeria are tense due to civil wars, migration, terrorism and numberless economic issues. In order to consolidate the eastern frontier and the Mediterranean status as a “mare nostrum”, Europe must resolve each of these problems, regardless of the effort or costs necessary.
Of course the list of real problems on the European agenda could be extended to encompass many more issues of equal importance. However, even only those so far discussed are sufficient to allow us a fairly clear image of the complexity and diversity of challenges which Europe must face. How does the Romanian mass media position itself, socially and economically, relative to this real agenda of the political union to which we belong? Of course, the question asked from within the phenomenon seems to be rhetorical. It is worth mentioning that, faced with the European agenda, Romania adds its own interests sometimes in line, and sometimes not, with the concerns of the Union:
- The problem of Romanian emigration in the EU is a veritable hemorrhage of qualified work force and intellectuals. The proportion of active Romanians who have left the country (aged between 20 and 64) has almost tripled over 10 years – from 7.5% in 2007 to 19.7% in 2017, according to a Eurostat analysis. Romania is thus squarely placed as the EU state with the largest percentage of population working in a different member state. The European average is 3.8% of citizens aged between 20 and 64. It is important to remember that half of higher education graduates have already left Romania. The main European states to which Romanians emigrate are Spain, Italy, Germany, France and the northern states (until recently also the United Kingdom, however Brexit has closed this pathway).
- The problem of joining the Schengen zone and the adoption of the euro is fundamental not just to the free movement of capital, merchandise and persons but most importantly for the continued development Romanian society and economy. Within this context we find geopolitical and economic considerations, as is the case of the Constanta seaport of which management has been insistently demanded by Holland in order to secure the Rotterdam’s dominance.
- The economic development of Romania and the attraction of European investments in industry and agriculture remains a major preoccupation of Romanian government, along with the growth of European Union funding absorption. If in agriculture European investors have an increasing presence, reaching the point of owning entire regions, in industry with the exception of some French and Austrian firms, the major European industries are almost completely absent from the production arena though they are crowding the banking and commercial sectors.
- The tensions between Old and New Europe find Bucharest in an ambiguous position: on one hand, Romania shares many of the concerns of the other Central European and Eastern states (in avoiding a multi-speed union and and the status of a second-tier nation, and avoiding becoming an export market, a correct financial and investment market treatment and many other similar issues). However, on the other hand, Romania remains profoundly invested in the the European project, working through all available means to prevent the division of the Union, in many cases choosing to not join the other New European states, and specifically diverging from the Visegrad Group (the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland).
- The conflict between the European Union and the USA finds Romania with one foot in each boat. Romania has been devoted to the European project and considers that it cannot evolve without the strategic partnership with the United States of America. Due to this reasoning, Romania is not just a strategic ally of the USA in Europe, but also a primary protagonist in the 3 Seas Initiative, which is a key Euro-Atlantic project for Central and Eastern European states as well as for the whole of Europe.
How does the Romanian media position itself relative to the European agenda and the national interest? The answer would probably be easier to decipher from a wholistic perspective of the challenges faced by Romanian society in recent years:
- The attack on the justice system and rule of law through the modification of certain fundamental laws and the “re-organisation” of relevant institutions;
- The attack on civil society through defamation campaigns and unsubstantiated accusations of puppeteering by the “globalist” Soros network or foreign secret services, as well as by violent interventions as in the case of the protest on August 10, 2018;
- The attack on the institutions of the European Union, which have been accused of “interfering with the domestic affairs” of Romania when they demanded a cessation to the subversion of the justice system;
- The attack on Mrs. Corina Cretu, the only Romanian member of the European Commission (who served as Commissioner for Regional Policy). She was blamed for having attracted attention to the underperformance of the government in absorbing European funds;
- The attack on Western investors, banks (the majority of which are European) and on multinational corporations. These actors were accused of having participated in and financed protests against the the government and the adoption of Governmental Ordinance 114/28 December 2018;
- The attack on the country’s energy security by blocking the exploitation of gas from bituminous shale and the Black Sea through the same Urgent Governmental Ordinance 114 and supplementary taxation through offshore law;
- The attack on traditional Romanian foreign policy objectives by conducting, outside of the EU’s policy, controversial actions regarding the nation’s embassy in Israel, relations with Arab states and economic penetration by China;
- The attack on Romanian secret services through budget cuts to these institutions and continuous political pressure on their leadership;
- The attack on the Romanian Army, destabilised at the highest levels of command, the Defense Staff, and by delaying and sometimes blocking their acquisitions programme;
- The consistent subversion of the state’s institutions through frequent changes of ministers, and appointments of often unqualified staff, which has also negatively affected the national economy through the incapacity to develop necessary infrastructure.
Faced with the European Union’s agenda and Romania’s serious problems, the media has shown weakness, inconsistency and often shallow journalism. A clear example is the open letter recently released by President Macron to the citizens of the EU, through which he proposes a real plan to reform the Union. The letter was published by the Romanian press, but never followed up with any discussion or debate! Without a doubt, there exists an analytical and editorial press found especially in the written medium and on some professional platforms, which have largely fulfilled their role as guardians of democracy, notably “22”, “Contributors”, “Reporter Global” and through their blog space “Adevarul”. However, the truth is that the informative press, and especially the television networks, have failed in this mission, mostly remaining in the space of tabloid sensationalism and participating in barefaced manipulation, leading to the promotion of a false agenda in Romanian society. Rape, crimes and infidelities capture too many hours of programming, too many pages of newspapers and magazines and divert attention away from very real societal problems, while the state idles and misses irrecoverable opportunities.
We are especially missing the commentary of veritable subject experts, professional documentaries on the major issues, academic involvement in tackling major themes and identifying viable solutions for Romania, and comparative analysis of situations and solutions with other Central and Eastern European countries. Generally, the same figures, journalists without qualifications and designated talking-heads cycle through all the networks and shows, regardless of the subject. The impression is created that somewhere, in some central command, we might find a list of those permitted to, or prohibited from, appearing in the media. Such suspicion is at the core of the endless debate and rumours of “undercover agents” in the press.
In reality, the media reflects on contemporary Romanian society and is neither better nor worse than it. But, the media should be better, otherwise- how can it fulfil its role? What happens to a society without a free and competent press? “Governors would lead government, business, academia and other fields, keeping in mind only their own interests, disinterested by the concerns of the majority. The laws of the land would be selectively applied to the defenceless. Corruption would spread. Reforms would stagnate. The price of doing business would grow. Citizens would lose faith in their government and detach themselves from national development”. You may find this to be a familiar scene, because in reality similarities are not accidental.
An independent and professional mass-media is essential for the development of society. The press must provide important information to the public on the activity of its government, on the economy and the business world, on academia, culture, local administration and other topics. Mass media must be involved in the evaluation of government and local authorities’ expenditures of public finances and alert the public to cases of corruption involving government officials and influential personalities. The press is called upon to reflect debates on public policies and to be the voice of societal opinion regarding policy, regulation, legislation and decisions. A responsible and professional press is the only entity that can form a bridge between citizens and leaders, that can involve citizens in public life and make their voices heard in the development of the country.
An overlooked, but very important, aspect of the press is that of its role in the development process. As the former head of the World Bank, Mr James D Wolfensohn, pointed out „A free press is not a luxury. A free press is at the absolute core of equitable development, because if you cannot enfranchise poor people, if they do not have a right to expression, if there is no searchlight on corruption and inequitable practices, you cannot build the public consensus needed to bring about change.” When the responsible and independent media correctly educates the public, we can develop and improve healthcare, agriculture, education and other domains. Ultimately, in today’s globalised world, without free movement of correct information, no country can effectively participate in the global economy. Countries without a free, professional, press are left ever further behind, losing the competition for development- missing out on their own future, and that is a real tragedy.
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 Oxford Analytica este una din cele mai prestigioase firme de consultanță și analize strategice din lume. A fost fondată în 1975 de Dr. David Young, fost angajat al Consiliului de Securitate American. Firma publică rapoarte bazate pe “open source intelligence” (adica surse publice). Printre clienții acestei firme se numără guvernul Statelor Unite și înca 18 guverne din lume, instituții internaționale din toate domeniile, inclusiv marile firme din sectorul privat. Oxford Analytica are acces la lucrarile știintifice și analizele din diferite domenii ale aproximativ o mie de savanți din întreaga lume. Localizat in Oxford, Anglia, și în legatură cu mulți dintre savanții ei, firma nu are totuși relații formale cu această universitate.
 Raportul Oxford Analytica: Presa, câinele de paza al mogulilor. Trustul lui Vintu a desfiintat Raportul. Revista 22, 5 Sept. 2009, revista22.ro/actualitate-interna/raportul-oxford-analytica-presa-ciinele-de-paza-al-mogulilor-trustul-lui-vintu-a-desfiintat-raportul.
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