“Romania and Czechia are traditional partners that need to rediscover each other”
Text: Martina Hošková and M. Zisso; Photo: Archive
The relationship between Romania and Czechia has solid foundations. We can mention the historical Czech minority in the Romanian Banat region, the contribution of the Romanian army to the liberation of Czechoslovakia in the Second World War, the decision of Romania not to participate to the Soviet bloc invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and the current increasing political and economic cooperation. The fact that the two countries are members of the European Union and NATO creates the framework of a close coordination, especially given the fact that both strongly support Ukraine in the context of the Russian aggression. Romania’s Ambassador to the Czech Republic is Mrs. Antoaneta Barta, who gave us this interview on the occasion of the National Day of her country.
Becoming an ambassador is a career highlight and dream of many diplomats. How did you become one?
I joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Romania in 1999 after completing my studies in Political Sciences and European Studies at the University of Bucharest. It was 10 years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, a completely new situation that opened a whole different world and perspectives that I was eager and curious to explore as a career diplomat.
Since then, I have had several management positions in the MFA headquarters, focusing on EU issues. Becoming an ambassador was, therefore, a result of a 22 years-long diplomatic career, during which I had accumulated experience and expertise in several fields, with a focus on EU affairs and bilateral relations.
You were appointed Ambassador of Romania to the Czech Republic in January 2021. Can you share your impressions of representing your country here?
I feel very glad and honoured to serve my country in the beautiful capital of the Czech Republic. Despite the lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic I have had a very positive impression of the city and its people, and have enjoyed getting to know many Czech interlocutors, promoting my country and our bilateral relations with the Czech Republic. I also feel very privileged to work in a beautiful building, right in the historical heart of the city, in Malá Strana, on Nerudova street. The Embassy of Romania is hosted in one of the most impressive Baroque palaces of the area, the Morzin Palace. It has been the property of the Romanian State since 1937 during the mandate of Nicolae Titulescu, a visionary minister of foreign affairs, a most distinguished European diplomat, and twice elected president of the general assembly of the League of Nations. Living and working in Prague, a city bearing so many testimonials of Europe’s medieval and contemporary history, is a very special experience.
I enjoy taking walks through the mysterious narrow streets of Malá Strana up to Prague Castle, where one can find enchanting museums, restaurants, and maybe the best panoramic views of Prague. Crossing the Charles Bridge and taking a stroll through the Old Town, passing the Square and taking a glimpse at the astronomical clock, admiring the elegant facades and boutiques with hidden antiquarian gems in Josefov, or attending the extraordinary performances at the Rudolfinum or Národní divadlo, are some of the many pleasant and rewarding activities. I also admire the passion of our Czech friends for nature, and enjoy taking long strolls with my daughter Teodora and our dog Aris through the generous green parks and surrounding forests.
Are there any difficult parts of being an ambassador?
As an ambassador in a very friendly country with a long and rich tradition of cooperation with Romania, I am in a fortunate position of not having a difficult task in fulfilling my mandate.
The profession of a diplomat is mainly about building bridges, opening doors, and finding new ways of cooperation. I am happy to say that during the encounters I have had so far in the Czech Republic
I have met a lot of openness and interest towards my country, as well as willingness to further extend our bilateral cooperation in the fields of political coordination, economic and commercial exchanges, and people-to- people contacts.
Of course, there are challenges that need to be tackled – and I would mention, for example, the assistance for the Romanian citizens transiting or residing in the Czech Republic during the COVID-19 pandemic – but with a good team at the embassy, and in cooperation with our Czech partners, we managed to solve these issues.
Does fulfilling your mandate also include promoting your country as a tourist-worthy holiday destination?
Indeed, Romania is a great destination for tourism, with an important tradition in this country. Many Czechs used to travel to Romania during the communist times, to enjoy the beautiful beaches of the Black Sea or to hike in the Carpathian Mountains.
Today, Romania still represents a generous and diverse destination for Czech tourism, offering adventurous hiking trails in high mountains, preserved natural landscapes, archaic villages, the unique Danube Delta and the Black Sea, historic cities, diverse food, and great wines. One of our objectives is to give a new impetus to cooperation in the field of tourism, and we are in contact with professionals from both countries to find the best ways of increasing the number of Czech tourists to Romania and diversifying the offers for the Czech market. Geographic proximity and people-to-people connections, including the Czech minority in Banat, also play an important role in boosting tourism.
Can you elaborate a bit further on the overall status of Czechia-Romania relations?
Romania and the Czech Republic are traditional partners in the region, with very good bilateral relations favoured by common history, similar recent paths, convergent opinions, and evaluations regarding the current European and international agenda. We are both strongly pro- European and pro-transatlantic countries, which defend the same fundamental principles and share common interests and values.
Major historical events such as the establishment of the Little Entente, the participation of the Romanian army in the liberation of Czechoslovakia in the Second World War, or the refusal of Romania to participate in the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 represent solid premises for enhanced cooperation. In 2020 we celebrated an important moment for our bilateral relations: the anniversary of 100 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between our countries. Last year, we celebrated 100 years since the creation of Little Entente between Romania, Czechoslovakia, and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes.
Romania and the Czech Republic are strongly connected by the growing Romanian community in the Czech Republic and the historical Czech minority, present in Banat, in the Western part of Romania. They play a significant role in bringing us closer to each other by creating special people-to-people bonds.
The Czech Republic is also a significant economic partner for Romania, ranking 8th in the EU and 10th worldwide in our foreign trade. Economic cooperation is an important pillar of our bilateral relations, which we are interested in developing further. In 2021, the total volume of trade between Romania and the Czech Republic has reached a record level 5.1 billion Euros, 15.8% higher than the previous year. The current geopolitical and economic developments offer new opportunities for cooperation at a bilateral level in new and significant fields such as energy, transportation and logistics, tourism, agriculture, and food security.
The Romanian-Czech relations therefore have a solid foundation, a lot of potential, and a strong impetus for more cooperation in the future. As I like to say, we need to rediscover each other and work more closely together, because we have all the right premises to do so.
Romania has a long border with Ukraine. How is the war there affecting your country?
Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has fundamentally changed European security and has had a multidimensional impact on our countries. It is a game changer that should prompt us to cooperate even more closely together – in the region, in the EU, and in NATO. Romania and the Czech Republic are both strongly engaged in supporting Ukraine – politically, militarily, and with humanitarian aid – in the context of the Russian aggression.
Moreover, the impact of the war in Ukraine became the top priority of the Czech Presidency of the EU Council, in all its aspects – support for territorial integrity, humanitarian assistance, and post-conflict reconstruction. Romania, as a frontline state having the longest external border with Ukraine, acted quickly and efficiently in support of our neighbouring country, both at the governmental level and at the level of civil society. We have sent humanitarian aid to Ukraine and received refugees on our territory, offering them support, accommodation, medical assistance, and support for social integration. In addition, we have set up a logistic hub in Suceava to collect and transport international humanitarian donations to Ukraine. We have taken all steps to streamline transit at the border crossing points and increase the capacity of our ports on the Danube and to the Black Sea, which became the main transit hubs for Ukrainian grain export.
The aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine has extremely strong effects on the Eastern Neighbourhood of the EU, especially Moldova, which you also share a border with. Does Romania take any actions in this regard?
The Russian aggression has increased the risk of regional destabilization, and the Republic of Moldova is the most vulnerable neighbour of Ukraine in the current context of this illegitimate war.
Given the special relations we have with the Republic of Moldova, based on the community of language, culture, and history, we have stepped up our bilateral support and raised awareness at the European level about the need to step up the engagement in support of this country with a pro-European leadership, in order to avoid further deterioration of the socio-economic situation.
A historic decision was the granting of candidate status to the Republic of Moldova at the June European Council, a decision for which Romania made sustained efforts, and which demonstrated the unity and strategic vision of the EU.
I would like to mention here another important initiative of Romania – the launching, together with Germany and France, the Moldova Support Platform. After the first meeting in Berlin in April, Romania hosted a second meeting on 15th July in Bucharest. We were satisfied to see the important financial support pledged by the participants – 615 million EUR, including 432.3 million EUR as direct grant assistance, which comes on top of the 659.5 million EUR of direct financial support for Moldova pledged at the inaugural Ministerial Conference in Berlin.
We are already working with the Republic of Moldova on the implementation of a 100-million-Euro project-based grant. At the same time, we recently disbursed direct budgetary support of 10 million Euros, announced in the framework of the Moldova Support Platform wit a view to assist Chisinau and its economy through these troubled times.
Also, on 14th October 2022, among other measures to help the Republic of Moldova ensure its stability in the energy sector, Romania started delivering electricity to the Republic of Moldova, after Ukraine stopped its supplies to the country in the context of the Russian attacks on Ukraine’s critical power plants.
We will continue and intensify our efforts to stimulate international financial assistance and to support the reforms, which are particularly relevant now, given the Republic of Moldova’s accession path.
As a child, I remember big Romanian ports, especially Galați, my hometown. Can Romania once again become the gate to Europe from the East?
I am glad you asked this question, since transport routes on the Danube and the Black Sea are subjects of growing interest in the dialogue between Romania and the Czech Republic. As mentioned in my previous answer, one of the consequences of the Russian aggression against Ukraine is that the Black Sea port of Constanţa, as well as the port of Galaţi, on the Danube, have become main transit hubs for Ukrainian grain export, and not only that.
The increase in fuel prices, the major disruptions in transports and supply chains for various goods caused by the war in Ukraine, and the overcrowding of the traditional west-European sea routes justify the interest in shipping goods to and from the Czech Republic and the wider Central Europe region using the facilities of our ports, the Danube, and the interconnected railway networks in a more efficient way.
I am glad to recall that, in June of this year, the Embassy of Romania organized a conference entitled “Romania‘s Black Sea Port of Constanta – a Strategic Hub for Europe”, with the participation of many officials and companies. The conference focused on promoting the strategic location of the port of Constanţa and the ports on the Danube River, and gave the opportunity for important business contacts.
On 11th October, Romania was re-elected as a member of the UN Human Rights Council for the 2023-2025 period. What are the implications for Romania, and your priorities as a Council member?
Romania was proud to experience impressive support for joining the UN Human Rights Council for the 2023-2025 mandate. In the General Assembly, an overwhelming majority of UN member states voted in favour. Romania will serve for the third time in the Human Rights Council, after our successful mandates in 2006-2008 and 2011-2014.
Our future membership is consistent with our commitment to multilateralism, the rule-based international order, and the comprehensive approach to peace and security, and also sets in a wider global engagement for democracy and human rights.
We have a strong determination to focus on those main priority areas, where we believe our experience and proven commitment may generate positive transformations and a meaningful impact on the work of the Council. These include fostering democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, protecting and promoting the human rights of women and girls, countering discrimination, xenophobia, and racism, and enabling freedom of expression.
Another important date to mention is 1st July this year, the beginning of the Czech presidency in the EU Council. What expectations do you have, and will Romania become part of the Schengen area anytime soon?
As I mentioned, the Czech presidency of the Council of the European Union was deeply marked, and rightly so, by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, as well as its consequences.
Romania has expressed its full support for the Czech Presidency and the successful accomplishment of its objectives, which we fully share. This support was also reconfirmed during the visit of the Romanian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bogdan Aurescu, to Prague, on 18th August 2022, when the two ministers had an in-depth exchange of views on the main topics on the agenda of the Czech EU Presidency.
We welcome the fact that the Czech government has succeeded in promoting and maintaining unity and solidarity among EU member states. Our expectation is that the EU remains united and committed to defending its own values during these challenging and volatile times.
We can say that the success of our host country at the helm of the EU is a success for Europe as a whole. Regarding Romania’s Schengen accession, we appreciate the strong support of the Czech authorities for this legitimate objective of my country. We are also grateful to the PRES CZ for having included the subjec of enlargement of the Schengen Area among the Presidency’s top priorities, and for actively pursuing this goal. At the same time, the resolution adopted by the European Parliament on 18th October sends an important political signal, and reiterates the broad institutional support for this objective.
As you know, Romania has already been fulfilling all the necessary criteria for joining the Schengen space since 2011. Also, in the context of the Ukrainian crisis, Romania proved, once more, that it has both the capacity and the commitment to face major challenges and to ensure effective management of the EU external border. Completing the integration of the Schengen Area will not only be a response to our country’s legitimate expectations over 15 years after its accession to the EU, but will also represent a step forward towards meeting our common goal, which is building a stronger, more resilient, and more cohesive Union.
You gave this interview on the occasion of your National Day. What do you wish for Romania? And for the Czech Republic?
Both Romania and the Czech Republic celebrate on their National Days historic events that marked a new geo-political era – the creation of the modern Romanian State on 1st December 1918, and the creation of Czechoslovakia on 28th October 1918, after the end of the First World War and the dissolution of the Austro- Hungarian Empire. 104 years later, we are experiencing turbulent times once again, with a war in Europe, at our borders.
In such times of crisis, I wish for both Romania and the Czech Republic to stay strong together in defence of our shared values, and to remember past solidarity and common history as a strong impetus for more cooperation in the future.
To my fellow citizens here in the Czech Republic and to all Romanians I extend my best wishes for peace, health, prosperity, and personal accomplishments.
La mulți ani România!