Month: April 2014

Ambassador Jinga: ‘An Open Door to Hate’

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Read article in Huffington Post here.

I had a look to the Ukip Manifesto 2014. As we are in the period of electoral campaign for the European and the local elections, I expected some politicians be tempted to use propagandistic tools in order to create emotions, with the hope to transform emotions in votes. After all, this is not a new recipe and it remembers me the old times when the Communist propaganda was trying to convince us that the Communism was the bright future of the mankind even though the shelves in supermarkets were empty. Nobody believed it and the result was that the number of subversive jokes against the political regime flourished.

What I did not expect is to see revived aggressive scaremongering spread last year about a Romanian “invasion” – which became subject of mockery in the media after 1 January – and Romanians in the UK being again insulted in a country known for its politeness and for being homeland of fair play.

Blaming political opponents and presenting yourself as the saviour of the nation could be part of a political strategy, but it is totally unacceptable in Europe to disseminate, as political message, outrageous lies about a foreign community. It is even more unconceivable in the country which produced the Magna Carta and – for good reasons – is one of the most admired modern democracies. Fortunately, a huge majority of Britons rejects such attitudes, but a campaign based on distorted information and racial slogans risks to manipulate the public opinion in a very toxic way.

In the Ukip Local Manifesto 2014, the party leader mentions that “Today, local communities are under attack… On 1 January 2014, the UK opened its doors to people from both Romania and Bulgaria. Up to 29 million more people are, therefore, entitled to come here, to take advantage of our benefits and social houses”.

The reality is that just 0.06% of these 29 million have come to work in Britain but the bad news is that a total of 400 million people from Europe are entitled to come to the UK if they wish so, because all EU citizens have the right to decide where to reside and work within the European Union. According to Mr. Farage, one of these 400 million people is a member of his own family.
On the other hand, it seems that no one in the EU migrates more than Britons do. According to a paper delivered on 23 April at the British Sociological Association’s annual conference in Leeds and quoted by The Independent, “Almost 3000 Britons move abroad each week, with around five million now living outside the UK. Nine out of ten British migrants are of working age. 320,000 people left the UK in 2013. 383,000 Brits live in Spain”.

Evidence suggest that Romanians are not in a hurry to come to the UK after the lifting of restrictions on the labour market, even though since the beginning of the year British companies advertised more than 10,000 posts on a Romanian website to plug gaps in the highly skilled jobs market. Nor they abuse the benefits system in Britain. In 2013, out of 60 million people living in the UK, 9.5% received benefits, whereas is 1.4% out of 120,000 Romanians. And the only significant connection I know between Romanians in the UK and the social housing is that a Romanian company based in London employs 500 people and builds social houses in England and Wales. Romanians are net contributors to the public purse, not a drain.

Even more damaging to their lives and reputation in Britain is the use of distorted information about crime. The Ukip Manifesto 2014 claims: “An open door to crime: 28,000 Romanians are held for crimes in London”. This allegation is untrue and targeting an ethnic community is racism.

Politicians who hope “to produce an earthquake” in the European elections forget to mention that the figure of 27,725 released by the Scotland Yard on the basis of Freedom of Information Act represents “arrested people” and is for a five years period (from 2008 to 2012). “Arrested” is different from “charged” or “convicted”. A simple check in traffic becomes an “arrest” in statistics if you are asked to go to the Police station for ID verification. In many cases the same person was “arrested” several times. To compare, only in 2012 more than 5.6 million crimes were committed in the UK. If multiplied by five years, one could reach the conclusion that 28 million Britons have committed crimes. It is a non-sense, as it is a non-sense to say that 28,000 Romanians are held for crimes in London.

According to data published by the Metropolitan Police, the number of Romanians charged with an offence in London in January 2014 dropped 3%, compared to the same month last year. In many cases Romanians are victim of crimes, with 543 persons in the first three months of 2014. As Don Flynn, director of Migrants Rights Network, told Jessica Elgot from the Huffington Post UK: “the figures contradict the claims made in some sections of the tabloid media that crime figures would rocket. If we take into account an increase in the size of the Bulgarian and Romanian populations in the UK during the course of 2013, then this suggests that crime rates are actually falling rather than growing.”

At the national level the figures are even more speaking for themselves: in the first three months of 2014 the number of Romanians convicted in the UK was 1522 compared to 1797 in the same period of 2013 (a reduction of 15%). This is consistent with the trend in 2013 versus 2012, where the reduction was more than 30% (from 9540 to 7304 convictions).

There is no country without crime, but statistically the crime rate in Romania is one of the lowest across the whole of Europe. According to the Metropolitan Police cooperation with Romania is one of the most efficient they have in Europe. For the last six months we have had eight Romanian police officers seconded to the MET as part of the Operation Nexus. They are targeting in partnership any form of criminality with Romanian authors and they are protecting those Romanian nationals who are victim of crimes.

The Ukip nationwide poster campaign claiming that “the UK opened doors to unlimited numbers of people from Romania and Bulgaria” and “an open-door to crime” is, in fact, an open-door to hate. I hope reason will prevail.

Post Scriptum: I read with great interest the article “UKIP immigration policy – the wife test”, by the BBC Political Editor Nick Robinson. My only comment is that in Romania, if you are a politician or a civil servant, it is against the law to employ your wife as your secretary, if the job is paid with public money.

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A Few Glimpses of History

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, Ambassador of Romania to the UK, in Huffington Post:

I have always been fascinated by history because I believe that if we know the past then we better understand the present, prevent painful history to be repeated and eventually anticipate the future. For a diplomat, understanding and respecting the history and culture of the host country is a prerequisite for any correct professional judgement.

I remember when I first came to Britain in May 1993. From the Heathrow Airport I went directly to see Windsor Castle and being there made me feel like I had stepped off the plane and straight onto one of the most fascinating pages of European history. I met again the British history 15 years later, as a newly appointed Ambassador of Romania to the Court of St James’s. While still in Brussels and preparing to cross the Channel, an English friend of mine advised me to see the film “The Battle of Britain”: “Watch this film – he said – and then you will understand why we are the way we are”. He offered me another piece of advice: “If you deliver a speech in front of a British audience and you don’t tell a joke in the first three minutes, you will be considered boring”.

Since then, I have seen the red thread of history in many occasions. Sometimes, I found fabulous glimpses of history connecting Romania and the UK. For instance, during one of my journeys to Scotland, I learned that 1800 years ago Dacians (the ancestors of nowadays Romanians) enrolled in the Roman legions have built the Antonine and Hadrian Walls. At that time, the provinces Dacia and Britannia were both part of the same political entity, the Roman Empire. There are tombs of Dacian soldiers and other archaeological findings – such as 31 written stones from the Hadrian Wall in Newcastle – proving the Romanians’ ancestors presence in Britain for more than 300 years, before they blended into the local communities. One of the inscriptions says: “Under Modius Julius, legate of the emperor with pro-praetorian power, the First Aelian Cohort of Dacians built this, under the command of the tribune Marcus Claudius Menander”. The text was discovered in 1914 and is dated AD 219.

At the beginning of their diplomatic relations, Romania and the UK were closely linked through their Royal families, Queen Maria of Romania being British by birth and grand daughter of Queen Victoria. A Romanian Navy battleship is today named “Queen Maria”. Here again the history is present: in 1929 the Guild of the Freemen of the City of London decided to establish a symbolic relationship with successive ships of the Royal Navy bearing the City’s name. In this respect, the 8th HMS London, a heavy cruiser launched in 1927, received a piece of silver plate as a gift from the Guild (the 1st HMS London is dated back in 1657). It is worth to note that in 1941 HMS London took part in the famous chase of the German battleship Bismarck, followed by two years escorting Russian convoys to the Artic Ocean. The happy relationship between the Guild and the Royal Navy continued over the years and the 10th HMS London, a Type 22 Batch 2 anti-submarine frigate, was launched in 1984 and took part to operations in the Persian Gulf during the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein. This frigate is now proudly the Romanian battleship “Regina Maria”. However, HMS London returned in its new livery to the UK for the Trafalgar Fleet Review in 2005…

Trying to understand “why the British are the way they are”, I came across Blandon in Oxfordshire, where in the graveyard of the Church of St Martin rests Sir Winston Churchill, according to his last wish. Seeing the simplicity of the tomb of such a great man, it came to my mind Lord Nelson’s words at the Battle of Trafalgar, in 1805: “England expects that every man will do his duty”. I keep in my office a photograph taken at our Embassy in 1939, when Sir Winston, then First Lord of the Admiralty, met the Romanian Foreign Minister Grigore Gafencu to discuss about the danger of a new war in Europe. 70 years later, this photograph offered me the privilege to have as a guest, in the same room in 1 Belgrave Square, Lady Mary Soames, Sir Winston’s daughter.

The history is often twined with the present and the best example is London, a metropolis which has its own soul (and whims, because if you treat it with indifference, London could crush you with its immensity and complexity). The City of London is the heart of the international commercial diplomacy and the most important financial centre in the world, but also a fusion of ultra-modernism and century-old traditions. For instance, one of these traditions is related to the Guilds. It was at the Guild of St George where I first listened to “Rule Britannia” (“…Britons never will be slaves”) and it was at the Guild of Freemen of the City of London where I discovered the meaningful Ceremony of the Loving Cup. At the Easter Banquet at Mansion House, a few days ago, you might feel teleported back into history (after all, the current Lord Mayor has 685 predecessors), but the speech delivered by the Foreign Secretary was one of a great actuality.

Before the WW2, Nicolae Titulescu, the greatest Romanian diplomat and one of the brightest European minds of his time, twice elected President of the League of Nations, was for ten years the ambassador of Romania to the Court of St. James’s. He was a strong supporter of close relationships between Romania and the UK (“The one who does not understand the importance of Britain’s moral support must not get involved in foreign policy”) and a tireless advocate for the respect of the international law. Romania and the UK share today a Strategic Partnership, are close friends and allies. We celebrated recently Romania’s 10th anniversary in NATO, the world’s most powerful military alliance. It is widely recognized that Romania has strengthened the alliance immeasurably since it joined in 2004. In the current international context, once again, the history is part of our present.

Bringing Our Elites Back Home: Mentorship Programmes for Romanian Students in the UK

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Last Saturday, I have attended a mentorship programme organised by the League of Romanian Students Abroad (LSRS-UK). It was the third student event hosted by our Embassy in the last couple of months, after the Conference of the Romanian Students, Professors and Researchers in the UK and a mentoring seminar organised by the Romanian National Union of Students in the UK (RONUS-UK). At the RONUS-UK event a keynote speaker was Paul Brummell, the future British Ambassador to Bucharest. He won the souls of the audience with a few sentences in Romanian. His presence is a testimony of the exceptionally good cooperation the Embassy of Romania has developed with the FCO and the British Embassy in Bucharest. We have ambitious common projects for an ever closer partnership between Romania and the UK and the current British Ambassador Martin Harris will always have a place in my heart.

The last weekend event brought together more than 150 mentees and mentors, with the Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP, Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee in the House of Commons, as a keynote speaker. The outstanding British politician paid tribute to the Romanians living in the UK for their contribution to the British economy and the dignified way they crossed the difficult period of 2013. He praised the high quality of the Romanian students in British universities and offered to host in the House of Commons the LSRS-UK next mentoring event.

There are more than 6,000 Romanian students in British universities and as Ambassador I have regular contacts with them. In six years I have visited almost 40 British universities (some of the best in the world) where young Romanians are enrolled. I try to understand their dreams for the future and their expectations in relation with Romania.

Recently, I was present at the University of Bedfordshire (I had inspiring talks with Vice-Chancellor Bill Rammell, a keynote speaker to the Conference of Romanian Students last October), the London Metropolitan University (thank you, Professor Stephen Perkins, Dean of Business and Law Faculty), the University of York (Deputy-Vice-Chancellor Dr Jane Grenville spent a Sunday morning with us) and the Oxford University (Professor Martin Maiden, Chair of the Faculty of Linguistics, was awarded by the President of Romania for his outstanding contribution in creating a scientific connection between Oxford and Romania and his role in opening the Lectureship of Romanian language at the Oxford University and I had the privilege to bestow the decoration to him). Next May, I will be going to the University of Manchester (where I am a member of the Manchester Debating Union) and from there to Belfast, Ballymena and Londonderry, to meet Romanian communities living in Northern Ireland.

I was told by vice-chancellors and professors that Romanian students perform exceptionally well. Some of them try hard to cope with the financial difficulties after their supporting payments have been suspended by the Student Loans Company. It was supposed to be a temporarily suspension in order to check the residency eligibility for maintenance loans, but six months later students are still waiting for the conclusions of this exercise to be published.

I enjoy meeting students. They help you to keep your spirit young and your mind alert. Students are some of the best ambassadors a country could have abroad. In almost all discussions with them, a common denominator is the choice between going back to Romania and staying in the UK after graduation. I tell them that every responsible nation gathers its intellectual, scientific, economic and cultural elites and Romania cannot afford to loose some of its best brains. I would like to see these young Romanians returning home and contributing to our economic, social, cultural, scientific and political life. During the mentorship programmes, students expressed their interest in business, engineering, law, journalism, architecture, medicine, academic research, public administration and diplomacy. They could find places in Romania in all of these fields. I tell them that a successful career is the result of choice, not of chance. They must be prepared to compromise, because the life is full of compromise, but they should never compromise on their principles.

To those interested in diplomacy, I tell them that highly performing diplomats have more to do with sacrifice and refrain than with champagne and caviar. Some definitions of the job could be misleading. One is that “Ambassadors are people who tell you today what will happen tomorrow, and tomorrow will explain why what they predicted did not happen”. Otto von Bismarck once said: “I am a diplomat by birth, because I was born on 1st April”. Sir Henry Wotton, the envoy of King James VI to Venice, said in 1604: “An ambassador is an honest gentleman sent to lie abroad for the good of his country”.

The reality is that despite the technological advance and the so called “Tweeter and Facebook revolution”, diplomats remain a center piece in listening and understanding the position of various parties. The future will rely more and more on connectivity and fluid networks and understanding how best to use networking is increasingly important for countries and geographical blocs. One of the most vital parts of communication is listening to other people, and this is a key art of good diplomacy. Diplomacy represents power. Power represents people. Diplomacy represents people who are in power.

Diplomacy requires clarity of the objectives, knowledge, experience and a bit of talent. A good diplomat must be able to convince other people to embrace his ideas, because more powerful than blood and money is the power of ideas. From my experience, diplomacy is a profession to be learned from books, from previous generations of valuable diplomats and from practice, because good diplomats are formed in eight to ten years. They need communication and negotiation skills, flexibility, creativity and adaptability to a multicultural environment. Above all, what must always guide the action of a good diplomat is defending and promoting the interests of his country. One of the most experienced diplomatic services in the world, the British FCO, has its mission statement defined 166 years ago by Lord Palmerston: “We have no eternal allies and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow”. This applies not only to diplomacy but to other many areas where our young professionals are expected to contribute.