Romania's president has warned France to stop lecturing his country over its close links with London and Washington as he prepares to sign the treaty to join the European Union.
Traian Basescu (pictured) says he wants to form a “special relationship” with the US and Britain to improve security in the Black Sea region, and he also aligns himself with London's liberal economic policies.
Mr Basescu's stance has infuriated France, Romania's biggest supporter in the EU, and could exacerbate fears in France that it is losing its grip on an expanding EU.
Next Monday Romania and Bulgaria will sign the accession treaty paving the way for them to join the EU on January 1 2007, bringing the union's membership to 27.
Members of Romania's centre-right government, in a series of interviews with Brussels-based journalists, made it clear they saw themselves in the Atlanticist, free-trade bloc which Donald Rumsfeld, US defence secretary, called New Europe.
“Traditionally we have worked together with London and Washington,” Mr Basescu said, most recently by sending troops to Iraq, and he resented French criticisms of that policy.
He said Jacques Chirac, French president, caused offence in 2003 when he told EU candidate countries to “shut up” over Iraq, and that Michel Barnier, French foreign minister, recently compounded the insult when he said Mr Basescu did not have “a European reflex”.
“Romania is a country which has respect for itself,” he said. “France is one our main supporters, but at the same time we do not like these kind of declarations.”
Asked which economic model he would pursue, he said it would be a “more liberalised” system. “We want to have a state with minimal involvement in the economy,” he said.
Mr Basescu's pro-Washington approach has disconcerted Paris, which has deep historic links with Romania, notably its francophone tradition and a capital modelled on Paris.
In a separate interview, Calin Tariceanu, Romania's prime minister, admitted he was “worried” the EU constitutional treaty might be rejected by France, provoking a political crisis in Europe.
But Mr Tariceanu said he was confident his country would join the EU on schedule in 2007, and deliver the reforms demanded by Brussels before then. “It would cause enormous disillusionment to see external political issues interfering with the accession of Romania and Bulgaria,” he said.
The government is stepping up efforts to crack down on corruption and to improve the performance of the judiciary two areas singled out for criticism by the European Commission.
With a GDP per head of little more than 30 per cent of the EU average, Romania will be the poorest country to join the union, and some members will impose restrictions to stop its workers heading west to find jobs.
Romania's accession to the EU will confront Europe with a range of problems, from the unstable Black Sea region on its new eastern border to the need for large cash transfers to Romanian farmers and other sectors. But for most Romanians the prospect of European Union membership is undiluted good news: 86 per cent in a recent poll support joining the bloc.
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