Viorica Dăncilă made history when, in January 2018, she became the first female prime minister of Romania. Prior to holding this role, she had represented Romania’s Social Democratic Party as a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) since 2009, where she was recognized for her achievements in agriculture, gender equality, and research and innovation. Here, she explains her main challenges and achievements as prime minister so far, her approach to a changing Europe and the possibilities to further boost German-Romanian cooperation.
What have been some of your main achievements as prime minister so far?
The fact that I became the prime minister, the first female prime minister in Romania’s history, is an honor and a responsibility at the same time. I understood and assumed the responsibility from the first moment, and made the wellbeing of the Romanians the ultimate goal of our government. As prime minister, I have focused on supporting measures related to gender equality and the equality of opportunity, the promotion of dialogue with disadvantaged persons, as well as on policies designed to ensure a better life for all Romanians. Together with my government colleagues, we drew up a package of measures to make up our governing program, and we are trying to apply all of these measures. We presented these promises in 2016, with the governing program that was voted for by an overwhelming majority in Romania, and now our objective is to put it into practice. I drew up a set of measures that have generated tangible results in the economy, as well as in Romanians’ household budgets. At 4.1%, in 2018 Romania’s economic growth was among the highest in the EU. At the same time, the threshold of €200 billion GDP was exceeded – it now stands at €202.1 billion. As we’ve set out, the period of 2018-2020 is devoted to boosting investments. We have worked to create a friendly environment for investors, and we wish to attract as many investments as possible, including, of course, investment from Germany. When I entered government, there was a very low absorption rate of European grants. But we have reached an absorption rate of 29%, which is very close to the European Union average of 31%. We tried to contribute to the development of all local communities through various sources of funding, such as EU grants, government funding and private funds. I also hope that public-private partnerships will make a great contribution, which is why I announced strategic objectives for this type of funding. I have also strongly supported a focus on education and health. Thus, in the year 2019, we have the biggest-ever budget allocated to these two fields.
What does being the first female prime minister mean to you?
It is not easy to be the first female prime minister because it is a double responsibility. The first is leading your country in the right direction, and I think the numbers show that I am fulfilling this objective. We have seen 5.1% economic growth in the first quarter of 2019. The other, however, relates to the fact that I am the first female. This is an added responsibility because I believe what I do can contribute to the confidence that women deserve to have in order to occupy leading positions in politics, administration, business and in other fields. I believe that many women are attaching their hopes of promotion to the manner in which the first female prime minister succeeds in demonstrating that a woman can be at least as good as a man. I believe that in Germany we have a strong example of this in Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Romania held the Presidency of the Council of the European Union for the first time in its history. What was that experience like?
For Romania, holding the rotating presidency was a challenge because we wanted to demonstrate that we can improve the situation for our Romanian citizens and, of course, for European citizens as a whole.
We proved Romania’s capacity to contribute to the added value of the European Union as reflected in the substantial activity report we are leaving behind: 90 legislative dossiers concluded and nearly 2,500 events and meetings organized. We also facilitated the adoption of 84 conclusions of the Council of the EU on several topics of common interest.
I think that this leads to the growth of Romania’s confidence and visibility. We want Romania to contribute to framing the European Union’s future, keeping in mind the challenges we face on a European level. Like every member state, we wish to be able to contribute, because I believe that if we have powerful member states, we will have a powerful Europe. I believe that at this point, we need a united and powerful Europe.
Following the trend in much of Europe, your Social Democratic Party (PSD) sustained losses in the European elections in May. What are your takeaways from that?
I understood the message sent by the electorate. It is clear that the electorate expressed some discontent in these elections compared to 2016. We are currently undertaking an analysis to see what has dissatisfied the electorate. In my capacity as executive president, I took over the interim leadership of the PSD, and later on, I was elected president of the PSD at the party’s congress.
For me, the main challenge is the unity of this party, to demonstrate that we can remedy the mistakes made, that we can move forward and that we can go back to the issues we came to power on, to the governing program, to the ideas that we brought before the electorate in 2016. It is not an easy moment for the PSD, and nor is it an easy moment for me. I am prime minister, but I am also the president of the biggest leftwing party in Romania. Therefore, both the governing of the country and the party are my priorities. I think we must talk more about what has been done for the people because 73% of the governing program has been fulfilled. We have increased income – in March 2019, Romanians earned an average of 13.7% more than in March 2018, and 50% more than in March 2016 – and we have made large investments from governmental funds across Romania, regardless of each region’s political color; we increased FDI in Romania to €5 billion in 2018, practically double the value recorded in 2010, and, even so, the electorate has sanctioned us.
Yet, it is clear that mistakes were made, and in order to regain the confidence of the people, you must admit your mistakes, remedy them and go forward with more strength. When I was watching the elections for the European Parliament from all over Europe, I saw this trend repeated again and again. I had been an MEP for nine years in the group of the European Socialists and Democrats. We now see that the configuration of the European Parliament is very different. I think that something influenced the elections at a European level, as well. Perhaps we haven’t been very close to the citizens with the decisions made on a European level; perhaps we moved away from the citizens’ priorities; perhaps we did not respond to all the challenges that appeared on a European level; perhaps our responses were not the ones expected by citizens. Therefore, it is clear that we need to reset all these aspects, and to find those answers that match both the reality in Romania and on a European level.
How would you describe the bilateral relationship between Germany and Romania?
The relations between Romania and Germany are strong. They are built on the foundations of the numerous shared successes between the two countries. But I think the most powerful foundation is the desire to build a better future for Europe. There has been a high frequency of political and diplomatic meetings lately, confirming the very high level of relations between our countries. Bilateral economic relations have also developed substantially, with Germany being for so many years Romania’s top commercial partner and, at present, the third most important foreign investor in the country. I would also like to highlight the fact that one of the elements contributing to the very good relations between Romania and Germany is represented by the German minority in Romania, which was always a trustworthy partner and a positive factor for Romanian-German cooperation. I would like to make reference to a special instrument in the bilateral relationship, namely the bilateral Meeting of Joint Romanian-German Governmental Committee for German Ethnics in Romania, which was founded in 1992 and convenes annually either in Romania or Germany. I believe that its role is to offer a platform for dialogue between Romania and Germany in areas of interest for both countries.
In 2018 Romanian-German relations developed in an anniversary context, and with historical implications. Last year we celebrated the centenary of the Great Union, which offered an occasion to commemorate the significant role of the German minority in the formation of the modern Romanian state, and its contribution to the cultural, ethnic and religious diversity of the country. To sum up, the cooperation between Romania and Germany is based on trust and includes dynamic and sustained dialogue. I believe, however, that there is always room for improvement, and from the perspective of the Romanian government, as well as from my point of view as prime minister, I believe that the relations can be intensified. I believe that this is the road which we must walk.
Could you expand on the current economic relationship?
Our economic relations constitute a catalyst of the partnership that connects us. The potential of this relationship must be used fully to attract new investments, especially in future sectors like innovation and new technologies. Considering Romania’s proven capacities, there is great potential for increasing cooperation in the vehicle construction industry, as well as in other industrial sectors and for cooperation in the manufacturing of batteries for electromobility and hydrogen fuel cells. Taking into account the high level of expertise of Romanian IT specialists and the high level of talent in cyber-security, research and development centers can be created in Romania by German companies. It is a strategic branch of the Romanian economy, and cooperation with German partners could contribute to the digitization process and the shift to Industry 4.0. At the same time, the expansion of bilateral economic relations can include areas like biotechnology and bio-economy, biogas and renewable energies, environmental protection and the circular economy, as well as the modernization of Romania’s railway, road and naval infrastructure. Germany is Romania’s main trading partner, importing 23% of Romania’s exports and accounting for 21.6% of total foreign trade. In 2018 the value of bilateral trade exceeded €32 billion – 10.3% more than in 2017. In terms of the structure of these trade exchanges, in 2018 machinery, appliances and electrical equipment comprised the majority of exports and imports. Still, the government I am leading is aware of the potential for growth generated by recent measures implemented to improve the business environment. In this respect, the Ministry for Business Environment, Commerce and Entrepreneurship, led by Ştefan-Radu Oprea, has had an intense dialogue with his counterparts at the federal level and in various German regions. At the end of 2017, FDI from Germany amounted to 12.8% of the total FDI received. Romania hosts approximately 7,500 German companies with more than 250,000 employees. According to data from the National Institute of Statistics, the turnover of German-based companies accounts for 24.1% of the total turnover of companies with foreign capital in Romania, putting them in first place on that metric. Over the past 25 years, German companies have constantly and sustainably invested in Romania, contributing to its technological development and boosting Romanian economic competitiveness. It is also a win for German companies. Romania is an attractive country from the point of view of solid investments, which target markets that lead to the development of long-term projects. This is demonstrated by the ratings from international agencies that place our country in the recommended investment class, which is a positive signal for the international business environment and external financial markets, where confidence in Romania remains high. As a business destination, Romania offers high profit margins, a well-qualified workforce at competitive prices, low tax rates, tax incentives to stimulate research and development, a network of private and public industrial parks, and a legal framework for vocational and dual education, based on the German model.