Romania -- Inside the local bar in this frozen village in Romania's
bleak northeast, Oana Gatu poured mugs of hot wine for a couple
of farmers and talked about how the European Union is going
to change Christmas.
villages like this one, she said, families slaughter a pig for
the holiday using the traditional method: Two or three men hold
the animal down while someone drives a long knife through its
neck and into its heart. The spouting blood is captured for
sausage, and the pig can take several minutes to die.
said everyone here knows that cherished tradition will become
illegal as soon as Romania joins the E.U., as early as Jan.
1. Membership in the affluent, exclusive club of nations will
mean abiding by strict Europe-wide standards for everything
from pig slaughtering to beach cleanliness, and it's a price
most Romanians are eager to pay.
too poor," Gatu said. "We have to get to the next level."
the hoped-for entry draws near, Romania's experience illustrates
how expansion of the European Union is changing not just the
union but the states that join. Like eight other East European
nations that entered in 2004, Romania is busy erasing the legacy
of half a century of communism and trying to build institutions
that bear the stamp of approval of E.U. headquarters in Brussels.
is struggling to embrace Western-style market economics and
multiparty politics and trying to control corruption. But some
aspects of life here, such as discrimination against the country's
large Roma, or Gypsy, population, remain stubbornly resistant
to the E.U.'s pressure for change.
of Western Europe is feeling fatigue with the half-century-old
project to stitch together a superstate on the European continent.
But in this country of 22 million, enthusiasm for it is practically
a national obsession. Polls consistently show that about 70
percent favor E.U. entry and regard it both as a final break
with the Soviet era and a return to Romania's European roots.
names across the country capture the spirit: Eurovet sells cat
food, Eurofarma fills prescriptions. Blue E.U. flags flutter
alongside the Romanian flag on government buildings and utility
poles in even the most remote corners of the nation.
of Romanians consider the E.U. accession like being a key moment,
the moment when Romania will be back in Europe," President Traian
Basescu, a former oil tanker captain, said in an interview.
"We are very determined to fulfill all our obligations."
digital clock in a main square in the capital, Bucharest, counts
down the days to New Year's Day. E.U. officials have been publicly
optimistic about a January entry for Romania, along with neighbor
Bulgaria, which would expand the roll of members to 27 and extend
the bloc east to the Black Sea.
membership -- along with billions of dollars in desperately
needed development aid and investment -- could be delayed a
year if E.U. leaders decide at a meeting in June that the two
candidates haven't made enough progress toward honest, open
and modern government.
some Romanians, that would be fine. Under the E.U. flag, "life
will change in the countryside for the worse," said Emil Imre
Szabo, a dairy farmer in Transylvania. "There are too many requirements,
and we won't be able to meet them."
200 miles south of here in Bucharest, hundreds of bureaucrats
in Basescu's government are working late into the night to harmonize
laws with those of Europe -- upgrading border security regulations,
modernizing environmental law, and changing hiring and promotion
guidelines for civil servants to attack cronyism and graft.
popular Sunday television show educates Romanians on the changes.
Set in a country pub, characters poke fun at the E.U.'s stilted
bureaucratic jargon and explain issues that come with joining
Europe, such as farm credits and regulations about genetically
Romanian people look at this integration on the 1st of January
as a salvation," said Stelian Tanase, a political analyst. "But
Romanians have started to understand the real price: We have
to change our way of life."
and foremost, according to everyone from President Basescu to
rural goatherds, that means attacking corruption. Bribery and
kickbacks have long greased life in Romania, whether it's paying
big money to win a government contract or slipping a train conductor
a little cash for a cut-rate ticket.
low standard of living in Romania is caused by the high levels
of corruption," said Marcel Daniel Ghemes, 37, a night watchman
in the Transylvanian town of Targu Mures in the country's central
region. He said rampant corruption has allowed officials to
get rich while he and other hardworking people live in drab
his wife and their two children survive on the $130 a month
he earns and the $130 a month his wife earns at a glove factory.
The children sleep in the apartment's bedroom while the parents
bed down in the living room.
predicted that E.U. membership will make life better for him
by bringing more investment, jobs and prosperity, and tougher
for corrupt politicians because of new laws scrutinizing their
behavior. It's already happening, he said, citing the woman
Romanians know as Aunt Tamara.
from the National Anti-Corruption Department, created last year
under pressure from the E.U., announced in January that they
were investigating the wealth of Adrian Nastase, a prominent
legislator who was prime minister from 2000 to 2004. At issue
is how Nastase obtained three apartments, jewelry and cash,
together worth more than $1 million.
has said they were an inheritance from his wife's aunt Tamara,
who died last year. That assertion became an instant punch line
on Romanian television as local media reported that the deceased
woman had no obvious signs of such wealth.
property would likely never have come to light were it not for
a financial disclosure form, introduced as part of the E.U.-mandated
revamp, that Nastase filed on Dec. 30.
February, prosecutors charged him with corruption violations
connected to his purchase of an upscale Bucharest home in 1998,
allegedly bought from a lawmaker's relative for a price 25 times
lower than its market value.
has denied wrongdoing, and his supporters argue that he has
been targeted in a political campaign to show the E.U. that
big fish can be caught. But other people call the case a genuine
breakthrough. "A couple of years ago, nobody thought that they
would start to investigate one of the big politicians," said
Integration Minister Anca Boagiu, who presides over a ministry
created to help Romania join the E.U. "I think that this is
a good sign that the system's started to work."
prosecutors have also charged a former transport minister with
accepting a bribe and announced that they are investigating
Deputy Prime Minister George Copos on suspicion of tax evasion.
to Justice Minister Monica Luisa Macovei, the court system has
been sufficiently reworked to handle politically explosive cases.
an interview, she said that trials are now randomly assigned
to judges by a computer and that millions of dollars have been
invested in computerized databases for police and courts. Hiring
and promotion of judges and prosecutors, she said, will now
be decided by open competition rather than cronyism.
of Basescu's first acts upon taking office in 2004 was to demand
a review of several major contracts, including a $2.5 billion
deal signed in 2003 with U.S. construction giant Bechtel Corp.
to build a 250-mile highway through Transylvania. The contract
was awarded without public bidding, which brought complaints
from critics in Romania and, perhaps more significantly, the
European Union. Bechtel was not accused of wrongdoing.
the interview, Basescu blamed "very bad" procurement laws, which
he said are being replaced with new ones that require competitive
new laws, he said, are "very European."
recent day in Targu Frumos, a small town in northeastern Romania,
Ionel Pandele's eyes flashed with anger. Under E.U. pressure,
the Romanian government has promised to end discrimination against
the Roma, but Pandele, 22, said he and his family have seen
little change. "I have no rights in this country," Pandele said.
"Everyone says they will do things for the Roma, but I don't
see anything happening."
was showing a reporter a videotape made on Aug. 19, 2003, when
police officers wearing black uniforms and hoods forcibly evicted
his family from the fruit and vegetable stall they had run for
more than a decade. A half-dozen officers are seen swinging
nightsticks over and over as they beat Pandele's brother, Cristinel,
then drag both brothers into a police van.
beat us like it was a civil war," Ionel Pandele said.
family said the eviction, the beatings and the failure of any
officer to be punished in the 2 1/2 years since the incident
were racism pure and simple.
officials said that the stall was closed as part of an effort
to renovate the market and that the Pandeles had violated the
terms of their lease. The Targu Frumos mayor, Gheorghe Tataru,
said in an interview that authorities had acted properly. He
blamed the situation on the Pandeles, and on the Roma in general.
If the Roma say life is difficult, he said, "it's above all
because they don't want to make it better for themselves."
has about 7 million to 9 million Roma, with the largest concentration,
1 million to 2 million, in Romania, according to the World Bank.
Discrimination -- and often violence -- against this minority
is a centuries-old reality in Romania.
the justice minister, said she used to handle discrimination
cases for Roma clients when she worked as a human rights lawyer.
Anti-discrimination laws have vastly improved recently, she
said, but anti-Roma attitudes persist. "In the real life, the
majority, the Romanians, do still treat the Roma people as different
and not their equals," Macovei said.
government has passed new hate crime laws and created a National
Council for Combating Discrimination, which recently ruled that
the Pandeles' eviction was due in part to ethnicity. Town officials
are appealing that finding.
Summa, a European Commission official who oversees E.U. enlargement
issues, said that despite advances in anti-discrimination laws,
"the theory and the practice don't meet every time" in Romania.
Discrimination against the Roma is decreasing, he said, but
remains a concern: "What is needed is a change of culture, a
change of mind-set. There is no way to do it overnight."
Moscovici, the European Parliament's special observer for Romania,
said European officials were encouraged by the country's overall
progress and want evidence that the country's course toward
modernization is irreversible. "Poland was not perfect, Lithuania
was not perfect," he said, naming two of the 2004 entrants.
"Romania won't be perfect. In the end, we will have to take
a political decision, which will be, 'Are they good enough?'
Travis Fox in Golaiesti and special correspondent Alexandra
Topping in London contributed to this report.
2006 The Washington Post Company