Menekşe Tokyay – ANKARA
Duvar English has launched a new series of interviews with the ambassadors in Ankara.
The interviews will be reachable both from our Turkish and English websites.
The political, economic, commercial, social aspects of bilateral relations as well as challenges and opportunities ahead will be elaborated in each interview.
The fifth interview is conducted with Stefan Tinca, Ambassador of Romania to the Republic of Turkey.
Tinca elaborated on the latest developments in the region following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and how his country managed the refugee flow. The Romanian ambassador also drew attention to the ongoing trade, business and investment ties between Turkey and Romania, giving some suggestions about untapped cooperation avenues.
He also underlined the need for diversifying energy resources to decrease dependence on Russian resources, and added that Turkey can also play an important role in supplying Romania with natural gas on the LNG chain.
Dear Ambassador, the current hot topic is surely the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and the refugee flow to Romania. What are / will the common projects to manage it?
There is a humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, our neighbor, and we understand to take our share of responsibility in ensuring an orderly flow of people seeking refuge and providing humanitarian relief and decent living conditions for those in need. At the same time, we took measures to facilitate the transit of third-country nationals (e.g. charter flights, boosting capacities for transit through Republic of Moldova and towards main Romanian airports). So far, the majority of Ukrainian refugees entering Romania chose to continue their journey to other European countries, where many of them have relatives or friends. Our Government took swift action to provide humanitarian support and assistance to all Ukrainian citizens entering Romania, either in transit or staying, in the form of accommodation, food, medical services, access to education etc. I am happy to say that the mobilization and solidarity of Romanian citizens, non-governmental organizations, civil society and state institutions alike have been remarkable.
A special platform named „dopomoha.ro” has been established for better coordination of assistance and humanitarian aid offered by the Romanian government in cooperation with humanitarian organizations and civil society. A Logistics Center for storage and distribution of humanitarian assistance has also been established in Suceava, close to the border with Ukraine, in cooperation with the EU Commission and under the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. This hub, which collects and distributes humanitarian assistance offered to the refugees in Ukraine and Republic of Moldova, became operational on 9 March. Many countries have already used this facility. We are planning to open two more such humanitarian logistic centers in order to help the distribution of international humanitarian assistance to Ukraine.
By now, there have been more than 730,000 Ukrainian refugees entering Romania, out of which more than 100,000 Ukrainian citizens chose to remain in our country. Most of the refugees are mothers and children, and more than a third of those that remained in Romania are children.
There have been also third-country citizens who entered Romania – including Turkish citizens (approximately 8,000, by the end of March). More than 30,000 of these third-country citizens were helped by the Romanian authorities to come into Romania and then to leave towards their countries of origin. More than 20 diplomatic missions that were in Kyiv were also helped by the Romanian authorities and their personnel was evacuated in safety through Romania.
Romania has swiftly taken administrative measures to facilitate the entry of Ukrainian refugees and third country nationals (e.g. visa waiver, exemption from anti-Covid quarantine measures), to ensure the most appropriate conditions for refugees (e.g. mobile camps set up in border areas) and to facilitate the transit of third country nationals (e.g. charter flights, increased transit capacity through Moldova and to main Romanian airports).
In order to help Ukraine, the Government has adopted substantial humanitarian assistance packages for Ukraine (and the Republic of Moldova) and has created an online platform to coordinate and channel assistance from private entities/NGOs in Romania. Romania has also adopted a comprehensive set of measures to ensure, in the medium term, living conditions for Ukrainian refugees in Romania (such as medical assistance, accommodation facilities for students coming from Ukraine, enrolment in Romanian schools/universities, facilitating conditions for them to work in Romania).
Romania has also decided to receive wounded people from Ukraine and, for this purpose, we have more than 3,000 beds available in 11 military hospitals.
At the same time, Ukrainian citizens have access to a special telephone number where they can receive useful information, in Ukrainian language, 24/7. A web platform has also been created, accessible from any device, to help those seeking refuge in Romania.
What do you think about the reaction of the international community regarding the crisis? Do you expect that this crisis will push European and NATO countries closer for being stronger in future crises?
The reaction of the international democratic community in condemning and sanctioning the behaviour of Russia has been firm and united so far. EU and NATO, but also other UN members have reacted in the only way possible faced with this aggression. Democracies around the world have warned Russia that an aggression will come with huge costs. Today, these costs are tangible and painful. There is a large-scale sanctions regime in place. Equally important, Euro-Atlantic solidarity has led NATO allies to take measures to enhance security on the Eastern Flank, including by increasing the military presence of allies in countries like my own. It is what a defensive Alliance has to do when the situation in its immediate neighborhood has deteriorated gravely, to the point of war breaking, and NATO will continue to take all necessary measures to protect allies.
Thirdly, the assistance for Ukraine has also been substantial and swift and it should continue, as it should be the case for the most exposed Eastern neighbors, such as R. Moldova and Georgia.
On a more general level, I believe there are prerequisites for EU and NATO to emerge stronger after this war. EU has always grew stronger after the different crises in its history and we are delighted to see that today, both NATO and EU have acted swiftly and have taken the robust measures that we, Romanians, advocated for a long time.
What are your country’s projections to decrease energy dependence on Russia? Will 3 Seas Initiative be an antidote to Russia’s energy weaponization and will secure energy supply chains?
Romania does not find itself in a critical dependence of Russian gas, since more than two thirds of its consumption comes from domestic production. But you are right, we are now seeking ways to ensure the remaining part of our gas needs from other suppliers. The 3 Seas Initiative is a tool for solving this problem.
The Black Sea has long been a bridge between key energy producers and the European Union market, an important region to security of supply considerations. Romania has actively pursued a policy of ensuring unhindered access to energy resources, while positioning itself as a stability factor in Central & South-Eastern Europe based on transparency, predictability and reliability. Even if certain progress has been made towards assuring the Central and South-Eastern Europe energy security, the region still remains largely dependent on a single external energy supplier, which is Russia, and has an important deficit of energy infrastructure, including interconnections.
Therefore, as current developments show, it remains vulnerable to disruptions in energy supply and to the risk of energy being used as a means of political pressure. In order to reduce energy dependence on Russia we advocate for the use and expansion of the Southern Gas Corridor and its future extension through the Vertical Corridor. From Romania’s point of view, the BRUA project is the central element of the Vertical Corridor, which should be instrumental in interconnecting the Central Europe with new energy sources, such as those in Central Asia, Azerbaijan and even the Eastern Mediterranean. Even though Romania has a limited field of options in this area, we recognize the contribution the LNG might bring to the energy security in Europe, and welcome the recent US commitment in this regard.
At the recent Joint Economic Commission in Istanbul (31 March), we discussed a lot about energy with our Turkish partners. Given the capabilities and experience in the LNG sector, we believe that Turkey can also play an important role in supplying Romania with natural gas on the LNG chain. There are good prospects to see in the future that energy becomes a key element of our Strategic Partnership.
Do you think the current form of the Montreux Convention adequate for regional stability? What makes the Black Sea so strategically important?
I think that the Montreux Convention has served us well since its adoption back in 1936. It has passed the test of time during one world war and one cold war. For more than 8 decades the Convention has ensured stability in the Black Sea.
The Black Sea is definitely a strategically important region because is a bridge between Europe and Asia. All coastal countries have vested interests in the Black Sea, albeit not the same. Because of these different interests, because the huge economic potential and because of its particular geography, I believe that finding a way to accommodate these diverging interests, while maintaining regional stability, will be a huge task for the future. Since there are three NATO allies bordering the Black Sea, I believe that closer cooperation among Romania, Turkey and Bulgaria should be a logical first step in harnessing cooperation opportunities and mitigating security risks in this area.
What are your plans of your country regarding Russia’s hosting of Euro 2028?
The main plan for Romania is of course to qualify at that final tournament!
Setting jokes aside, in the actual context, I simply cannot imagine anyone considering Russia as a possible host of a major sports tournament. There is an ongoing process to designate the host of EURO 2028 and there are strong bids to choose from, including Turkey. On a broader note, these past few years the international sporting community has been rather generous to Russia in awarding different final tournaments and perhaps there are lessons to be learned.
What is your country’s stance on Turkey’s EU membership bid?
Turkey is a candidate country. Romania supports the continuation of an open and constructive dialogue between Turkey and the European Union and the deepening of the ties. We have actively advocated for dialogue, as the only viable way to restore a positive momentum and to develop the full potential of the EU-Turkey relationship. Romania has proven this plainly 3 years ago, during its Council Presidency, when the EU-Turkey Association Council was held.
We note with satisfaction that dialogue and cooperation with Turkey have been on an upward trend since 2021, all the more so since, in June last year, European leaders recalled the EU's strategic interest in developing a mutually beneficial cooperation relationship with Turkey and paved the way for a positive agenda. Increasing economic cooperation, resuming high-level dialogues on issues of mutual interest or increasing people-to-people contacts - these are key areas in which we hope to achieve positive results in the near future.
A number of High Level Dialogues have taken place in the second half of 2021, in a number of key sectors. Further discussions on the modernization of the Customs Union should also remain a priority, in line with the approach agreed at the European Council level. Positive signals of commitment from Turkey have been extremely important in setting the course. Confidence will be restored step by step, through sustainable constructive efforts, as well as through determination and constructive engagement with the EU and all its Member States.
At present, Turkey has the status of a candidate country. We should not change this status, but work together, the EU, its Member States and Turkey, to regain the positive dynamics of the accession process.
Do you think Ukrainian EU membership will bring a new path for the prospective membership of Turkey? In other terms, did the geopolitical card bring about new opportunities for neighboring countries?
It is well-known that Romania is committed to the advancement of enlargement, which remains a key policy of the European Union and the most striking proof of its transformative power. We support an accession perspective for countries in our Eastern neighborhood, such as Rep. Moldova, Ukraine or Georgia. However, I find your question a bit too speculative. I am not denying that geopolitical considerations play a role in the enlargement process; it did also for the enlargement wave of 2004-2007. But at the end of the day, enlargement is about meeting criteria for membership and sharing European values, while observing the `own merits` principle.
The deployment of French soldiers, along with other soldiers from European countries, in Romania under the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) - the first units of the NATO's Response Force (NRF) - has been accelerated in recent weeks. What will be the critical contribution of your country to this new European and international security architecture? Do you think it will be a turning point to consider the untapped military potential of your country in the eastern flank of NATO?
Because it was obvious that as a defensive Alliance, NATO had to take measures to defend its territory and population. Some of these decisions were unprecedented – the streamlining of its command and control chain to the current situation, the adjustments of NATO defence plans, posture and alert levels.
As you mentioned, NATO has deployed thousands of more troops to the North-Eastern, Central and South-Eastern part of the Alliance and place more troops on stand-by (ready-to-deployed forces, when ordered). Presently, the number of troops under the command of the Supreme Allied Commander /SACEUR has now increased ten times.
As a consequence, in the last weeks my country has become the beneficiary of these important decisions. We are grateful for all Allied contributions that strengthen our capacity to defend the Eastern Flank of the Alliance.
So far, we have a substantive US presence – the Stryker Battalion, the F16, F18 aircrafts for enhances Air Policing missions in Romania, the aircraft carrier USS Harry Truman in the Mediterranean Sea performing surveillance and reconnaissance missions, also in the Black Sea; the strategic bombers flights, are only a few examples.
Also, France and Belgium sent troops at Mihail Kogălniceanu Airbase, as part of the spearhead (VJTF) of the NATO Response Force; for us, the French contribution bears a special significance. The Netherlands sent a contingent to take part at a multinational exercise. We have a consolidated air presence with Italian, German, UK and US detachments. Our long-standing Polish friends have a company affiliated at MN BDE SE (Multinational Brigade South-East) in Craiova, which continues its mission there.
The public perception regarding all these Allied deployments in our country is extremely favourable as their presence has a reassurance effect, a strong signal/message that NATO is capable to defend our territory.
We consider that these measures should remain in place and be part of “a new normal”, as the first elements of a sustainable European and international security architecture that we have to build in the aftermath of the conflict, as Russia will remain a threat to the Alliance on the long run.
That is why, we need to reconsider and adapt the collective posture on the long term to be able to respond to the new realities. We need to continue our work in order to reach the goal of having a truly effective approach of the entire Eastern Flank.
On very short term, the priority for us is the establishment and deployment of the Battle Groups in the Central and South-East Europe, including in Romania. We welcome the decision taken at the NATO extraordinary Summit on 24 March.
Romania expressed its readiness to host this structure. From the Host Nation perspective, we have made the necessary steps in order to ensure the IOC (Initial Operational Capability) criteria are met for this Battle Group.
Did Romania involve in any battle group of the EU? Do you think this concept will bring swift reaction to urgent military offensives?
As you know, EU Battle groups are multinational, military units, usually composed of around 1.500 personnel each and form integral part of the European Union`s military rapid reaction capacity to respond to emergency crises and conflicts around the world. Like any decision relating to the EU`s Common Security and Defense Policy, their deployment is subject to unanimous decision by the Council. Romania has participated in the European Union Battle Group HELBROC, with Greece as a framework nation, since its creation, in 2006 (starting semester I of 2023 the allocated ROU forces will be on standby).
The adoption of the Strategic Compass represents an important step forward in the field of European security and defence. It is important to keep an eye on the vulnerable regions, in order to avoid further negative consequences for the Euro-Atlantic security.
EU needs to enhance its capacity to act in managing external crisis and to strengthen its partnerships, especially with NATO and the US. In this context, we express our hope for a swift adoption of a new Declaration on EU – NATO cooperation.
We cannot talk about consolidating EU-NATO cooperation if we do not address the most challenging issues, such as the developments related to Russia and Ukraine and more general, to the European security. Close coordination at both NATO and EU level and a common position to Russia are of utmost importance in our approach.
The increasingly deteriorating security environment and, in particular, Russia’s unjustified and unprovoked aggression against Ukraine underline the need to strengthen the EU security and defence. This crisis made it clear that we must be able to act swiftly and in a united manner. Fortunately, this crisis also demonstrated that when confronted with extraordinary challenges, we are able to take a common firm stance.
Recently, Ford Otosan, a joint venture of Turkey's largest industrial conglomerate Koc Holding, and United States automotive giant Ford signed a contract to purchase all Ford Romania shares. Will this move trigger tripartite cooperation in the automotive sector?
Indeed, on mid-March, one of the leading companies of the Turkish automotive industry, Ford Otosan, the joint venture in which Ford and Koç Holding are majority shareholders, announced that they have reached an agreement with Ford to acquire Ford's Craiova factory in Romania. Ford Otosan is to assume ownership of the Craiova plant and Romanian manufacturing business, subject to regulatory approvals and following consultation.
Along with the announcement of this strategic move in the growth of the Turkish company and expansion within the Single Market of EU, Ford Otosan also announced the objective of increasing its production capacity to over 900 thousand vehicles.
The agreement to purchase Ford's Craiova plant opens a new chapter in Ford Otosan’s success story in Romania, strengthening Ford Otosan’s position as the largest commercial vehicle producer in Europe and enabling the Craiova facility to play a major role on the global automotive industry. This is indisputable proof for the solid ground that my country is providing for major business and investments, as a broader strategy for regional economic development.
A notable aspect, from the Green transition perspective, is that Ford Otosan announced that on the medium and long term, the production will shift to full electric vehicles and this will give Romania a competitive advantage on the future industrial map of Europe.
Could you also give us some updated statistics about the bilateral trade and investment? In which sectors are Romanian and Turkish traders and investors are focused on in each other’s country? Do you think there is still an untapped potential in some fields?
The commercial and investment ties between Romania and Turkey are substantial and they have been constantly growing in the past years. The bilateral trade reached a record high in 2021, when we celebrated 10 years since the establishment of the Strategic Partnership between our countries. The amount of 8.3 billion USD in 2021 (as recorded by Romanian statistics) places Turkey as the most important non-EU trading partner of Romania and brings us very close to reaching the goal of 10 billion USD in bilateral trade.
Yet, although the Romanian economy produces competitive goods at the highest level, Romanian exports are way below the level of absorption of the Turkish market. From that perspective, the 27th Session of the Romanian-Turkish Joint Economic Commission (JEC) held in Istanbul at the end of this March, along with the bilateral Business Forum which recorded historical levels of participation, clearly emphasized the will and capacity of raising the goal to 15 billion USD in bilateral trade.
This new level includes the aim of a balanced trade, with much higher figures of Romanian exports to Turkey, based on the complementarity of our economies. We can do much more, for example for Romania to advance from the 17th position in the top 10 Turkey's import markets.
We really appreciate the solid presence of the Turkish companies in Romania. With over 16.500 companies registered in Romania, the large Turkish business community represents a reliable partner, substantial contributor to Romania's economic development and to the region's as well, strongly supported by strategic geographical position and proximity to the Black Sea and similar business practices and cultural ethics in the Balkans. There are many success stories which can stand as proof to the ongoing openness of the Romanian authorities and support for new investments and the multiplication of existing ones, especially for those aimed at making value-added products.
In my opinion, it is a very good time to capitalize on the excellent conditions offered by Romania for the relocation of the production activities of companies from Asia to Europe. I also believe that we have the resources to start new development projects together in many areas, such as industrial production, agro-food industry, automotive and agricultural machinery, oil and gas, renewable energy, IT&C (Information Technology and Communications). Research and innovation are topics of interest that would refine bilateral collaboration.
How many Syrian refugees were resettled in Romania over the recent years and what were the integration projects that were developed for them?
About 4,500 Syrians live in Romania, many of whom have been here for over 30-40 years, settling here after studying in Romania on the basis of scholarships offered by the Romanian state, a process that continues today. As for the people from Syria with refugee status in Romania, they were 2121 in February 2022, another 207 Syrians being in the asylum application procedure.
The Government fosters a favorable protection environment where persons of concern enjoy protection and solutions, and refugees benefit from integration prospects and community support.
Romania experienced an increase in arrivals in 2021, with 59 per cent more asylum applications lodged than in 2020 and a 17 per cent increase in the refugee population. In 2021, the Romanian Government, IOM and UNHCR have signed a new Working Agreement for the Emergency Transit Centre for Refugees in the city of Timisoara, document that allows smoother and more efficient approach and response to the refugee’s needs.
In terms of integration, how would you assess the situation of Turkish community in Romania? In which areas they mostly work, what are the integration tools that were developed for them?
In hundreds of years of coexistence, Turks and Romanians have respected each other's culture, customs and language. The Turkish-Tatar community in Romania is a strong liaison between Romania and Turkey and enjoys special attention from the Romanian state, benefiting from full conditions of freedom. Historically, this community is located in the South East, near the Black Sea, in the region of Dobrogea. It is with certain pride that as ambassador of Romania I hear quite often from Turkish officials referring to the term `Dobrogea model`, meaning an example of integration and coexistence within the entire society.
Thank you so much Dear Ambassador for this insightful interview.