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José Manuel Durão Barroso
President of the European Commission
Statement by President Barroso following his meeting with Mr Mihai-Razvan Ungureanu, Prime Minister of Romania
Brussels, 15 March 2012
I am very pleased to welcome Prime Minister Ungureanu to the Commission for the first time in his new capacity. We know each other for some time now and it was a pleasure to welcome him now as the Prime Minister of Romania. I wish him, the Romanian government and the Romanian people all the best in these very challenging times.
Prime Minister Ungureanu has taken office at a very difficult time and I want to pay tribute to his commitment to a reform agenda and a desire to work with the European Commission and the European institutions in a serious and constructive way.
We have discussed a range of issues starting with the economic situation.
I want to acknowledge the good cooperation we have experienced under the EU-IMF financial assistance programme.
The programme is on track and I welcome the commitment from the Prime Minister to fully implement the programme and adhere to the fiscal targets in 2012. A sound fiscal policy in Romania will stand the test of time.
The EU-IMF financial assistance programme has an important structural policy agenda that should help to address the causes of macroeconomic imbalances. It is important that this agenda is followed closely and that the uneven progress made in areas like the energy sector, state-owned companies and the health care sector is quickly addressed.
We have discussed the specific issue of youth unemployment. Education is a strategy area for funding for future growth and I have asked the Prime Minister to look again at budget allocations and how his Government can reduce the number of teenagers leaving school early.
We have also looked at the practical help that the European Union is providing in terms of investments in Romania. The EU's structural and cohesion funds are a crucial part of the potential growth of the country. As the Prime Minister himself said yesterday, the full absorption of the available funds could increase the country's GDP by 1.8% per year.
The current absorption rate of 7.4% is painfully low. Following my visit to Bucharest in November 2010 we have established a priority action plan to try to improve this as quickly as possible. I really welcome the commitment that Prime Minister Ungureanu has shown in terms of focusing his energy and determination in addressing this area. This is indeed a priority concern not only for Romania, but also for the European Commission.
We believe the key is to remove the administrative bottlenecks especially in areas of public procurement and expenditure verifications. I have also indicated that the Commission is prepared to look favourably on Romania's request on the period of eligibility for a 10% top-up of structural funds, as long as this is used for promotion of growth and employment. The Prime Minister promised me that he will send very soon concrete programmes on this and this is of course very important for our final decision, but we are looking at this in a very favourable way.
Finally, a word on the cooperation and verification mechanism. I want to recognise the Government's commitment to reform which has been well reflected in the Commission's last interim report. I encourage the Government to intensify its efforts in the coming months.
The Commission's assessment this summer will look at progress as from accession – over the whole five year period. The key test would be sustainability and irreversibility of the reform process.
I will not prejudge the outcome as it will depend on the progress made in Romania. What I can say is that the Commission will reject any attempts to link the mechanism to the Schengen accession process. This is a question of fairness and you can count on the Commission to push for the final decision to be taken by September at the latest. I said it in the European Council and I can repeat today – I believe that it is fair to give Romania the status of Member of Schengen.
I thank you for your attention.