Romania’s Prime Minister, Nicolae Ciucă, is convinced that the threat from Russia is not limited to Ukraine alone, but to all countries that support it, both in the European Union and in NATO. That is why he is calling for a common effort by the allied countries to defend “every inch” of territory.
Romania, a country of 19 million bordering Moldova, Ukraine, Hungary, Serbia and Bulgaria, has been a member of the European Union since 2007, and of NATO since 2004. But these alliances are not making Ciucă lower his guard against Russia. This four-star army general insists that, to defend against Moscow, coordination among EU and NATO partners and with the arms industry matters more than increasing the military budget. Even so, his own government has raised its military spending for next year from 2% to 2.5% of GDP, when the EU average in 2020 stood at 1.6%.
Ciucă, 55, has participated in NATO operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2019, he quit a military career of more than 30 years to serve as defense minister in the executive of the conservative National Liberal Party (PNL), which he presides. A year ago he began his term as prime minister in a coalition government together with the Social Democratic Party (PSD, center-left) and the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR), representing that ethnic minority.
The prime minister showed up for the interview on Wednesday after participating in a Spain-Romania summit held in the Spanish city of Castellón de la Plana. The gathering, which brought together Ciucă, Spain’s PM Pedro Sánchez and six ministers from each country, was the first of its kind and an acknowledgment of Spain’s Romanian community, which numbers around one million people.
Question. Has the missile incident in Poland, in which two people died near the border with Ukraine on November 15, made you think about reinforcing your country’s security?
Answer. Anything to do with the effects of this invasion by Russia is of concern not only for Romania and its neighboring countries, but also all members of the European Union and NATO. For this reason, joint decisions have been taken to continue with the defense policy on NATO’s eastern flank. Romania is one of the countries that benefit from this decision. Spain has recently sent a radar to Romania, in addition to the personnel necessary for this radar to be operational. This radar is already integrated into the NATO defense system. In addition, next week Spain is going to send eight fighter jets and 130 soldiers to Romania. Furthermore, in Romania this year we have made the decision to increase defense spending from 2% to 2.5% of GDP. Of that sum, approximately between 35% and 38% will be used to equip the army.
Q. The war looks like it might go on for a long time. Are you considering the possibility of increasing spending beyond 2.5%?
A. In these situations we realize that the most important thing is not the amount of the budget to acquire equipment, but the way in which it is coordinated, to ensure that the defense industry can provide this equipment and that money can be spent in an effective way. Close coordination and cooperation is needed, both in the EU and in NATO, to ensure this reconfiguration of the industry. Because military equipment is not to be found in the supermarket. In addition, it is not just a question of acquiring equipment, but also of training [those who will handle it]. And this takes a minimum of three to five years. For that reason, as much as we would like to increase the budget, the most important thing is coordination with the defense industry. And between members of the EU and NATO.
Q. You have military experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. What lessons do you draw from the war in Ukraine? Is there any factor that has surprised you?
A. They cannot be compared. In both Afghanistan and Iraq, a coalition of countries was fighting terrorism. Whereas here we have a conventional military action that, having failed to achieve its goals through the Armed Forces, is now using tools of hybrid warfare. This war is directed against civilians and aims to weaken the resistance of the Ukrainian people. The message that we must send to everyone, especially to the younger generations, is that peace is a priceless good and that we must defend it. And the Armed Forces must protect it.
Q. Romania has been a member of NATO since 2004. Despite this, do you feel more vulnerable as a result of the war in Ukraine?
A. Russia’s assertive behavior had been observed since 2008 [the year in which Moscow intervened militarily in the Caucasus against Georgia]; it was accentuated with the annexation of Crimea in 2014, and from then until the aggression against Ukraine we witnessed an increase in Russian military capabilities, both in the Black Sea through an increased military presence in the Crimea area, and in the Mediterranean Sea where Russia intervened in Syria. This poses a threat not only to the countries in the Black Sea area, but to all countries in the east and to the stability, unity and solidarity of the EU and NATO allies. The Kremlin’s rhetoric is not only aimed against Ukraine, but against all those who support Ukraine. This is not a one-off. We need a common effort to take action, to defend ourselves and to ensure that all the citizens, as well as every inch of the allied territories, will be defended by the NATO alliance.
Q. Romania is one of the three most corrupt countries in the EU, according to the 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index, published by Transparency International. It ranked 66th on a list of 180 countries and, within the EU, it is only ahead of Hungary and Bulgaria. How do you plan to remedy this situation?
A. Since I took office, we have managed to ensure the independence of the justice system and our institutions. We are taking important steps to no longer need the MCV [Mechanism for Cooperation and Verification, set up by the EU in 2006 to examine the development of the administrative and judicial systems of Romania and Bulgaria].
Q. On December 8, the interior ministers of the European Union will meet to discuss the incorporation into the Schengen area of Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia. What support does Romania have?
A. All Schengen countries support the entry of Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia. It is true that some countries, not just the Netherlands and Sweden, have been more reticent. But for this reason we have offered absolute availability for anyone to come to Romania to verify any unclear aspects. This way we can prove that we deserve to enter the Schengen area and that we meet the technical criteria.
Q. How did the summit with the Spanish government go?
A. Very well. Seven MoUs have been signed. I am sure that they will materialize in common action for the benefit of our citizens, both Romanian and Spanish.
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