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Heads up – Embassy 7 – April 2008

Romania – The Science of diplomacy

When Romania embarked on its big bang democratic experiment in 1989, nuclear physicist Ion Jinga’s laboratory suddenly seemed too small.

“I was inspired by the changes in Romania and I wanted to be part of building a new Romania,” says Jinga, now Romania’s Ambassador to London.

What followed was a frenetic period of night classes and weekend work as Jinga juggled three degrees simultaneously in Law, Public Administration, European Studies in Administration – plus a fellowship in International Studies at Leeds University thrown in for good measure.

“I believe in trends in life. You need to be at the right train station, at the right time, you can catch the train – even if it’s the last wagon!”

Joining the Romanian foreign ministry in 1992, Jinga hopped on the EU bandwagon, working unceasingly on Romania’s accession to the EU until last year when he accomplished his mission.

For the Ambassador, the biggest challenge of the period was the implementation of EU standards. He and his team had to negotiate hard for their transition clauses. Now, over a year since accession, Romanians are not suffering any signs of a post-accession anti-climax. “We are still the most pro-European nation in Europe,” says the Ambassador. With EU approval ratings still hovering around 70% Jinga thinks Romania could even afford to export some EU enthusiasm to Britain.

Settling in his new post, the Ambassador is looking forward to bilateral work and has already set himself four priorities.

Firstly, he wants to add real substance to the strategic relationship with Britain. Secondly, he wants to assist the Romanian community in the UK, particularly to resolve the outstanding issue of labour restrictions on Romanian workers. “It’s not because we want Romanian workers to come here – on the contrary, our economy is one of the fastest growing in Europe, averaging 6-8% over the past eight years, and we want them back! My appeal is simply on the basis of fairness and equal treatment. We don’t want to be treated in a different way, compared to Poles, Hungarians, Czechs, Slovaks and so on. I don’t think it is fair that Romanians and Bulgarians pay the bill for a situation that they didn’t create.”

To observers who worry that Britain cannot cope with another “flood” of immigrants, the Ambassador assures them that the UK is not the destination of choice for Romanians.

He adds that most Romanians are young, qualified and are thus net contributors to Britain’s welfare system, rather than a burden. Finally, he says that with the free movement of people guaranteed under accession, many will not bother with a complex work permit scheme, instead opting to work illegally, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation from unscrupulous employers and depriving the UK economy of their tax receipts.

The Ambassador’s third priority is for the Embassy to play a role in accordance with Romania’s position as the seventh largest country in Europe in terms of population and size.

The country already proved that it is a reliable partner, having hosted the largest-ever Nato summit in April which had a very satisfactory outcome. Two new countries – Albania and Croatia – were invited to join and the Ambassador hopes Macedonia can solve its bilateral issues with Greece and join soon. Complaints about burden-sharing in Afghanistan were addressed and, careful not to provoke Russia, the door was left open for Georgia and Ukraine to be invited on the Membership Action Plan at a later date.

His last priority is to raise the Embassy’s profile in London – and in that he is eminently qualified, having been both a nominee and winner of the Ambassador of the Year Award in Brussels (along with a string of other decorations). The Ambassador’s recipe for success? “You need to put a little of your soul into your work”. And like a good scientist, he also knows how to catalyse change.

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HE Mr Ion Jinga

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