Interview with Mark Meyer: "The most damaging form of corruption is judicial corruption"
WSN: What do you remember about your first visit to Romania? Was the information you had about the country accurate, or did the reality on the ground surprise you?
MARK MEYER: My first visit to Romania was in November 1990 when both the weather and the landscape were bleak and grey. I had taken an interest in the transitions underway in the region and focused on Romania more by happenstance than design. I had no prior involvement with Romania and knew only the things that I had read in publications that were not particularly current. I arrived in Bucharest as Chairman of the newly-formed US-based Romanian-American Chamber of Commerce to host our first effort – a two-day conference on privatization held at the Intercontinental Hotel. I was accompanied by senior representatives from large US banks, accounting firms and consulting groups who all spoke at the conference that I chaired. But what I remember mostly about that first visit – what became seared into my memory -- were the people on the street. Wherever I walked, people stopped me, pointed to my crossed American and Romanian flag lapel pin and physically embraced and kissed me; most were elderly and many cried. They said that they had waited for the Americans for fifty years and thanked me for coming. That is when I fell in love with Romania.
WSN: You were awarded the prestigious Romanian National Order of Merit in the Rank of Commander. What were the circumstances?
MM: For 16 years, I have volunteered a significant amount of time to Romania as Chairman of the Romanian-American Chamber of Commerce, promoting trade and investment between our two countries through meetings, seminars, speeches all over the United States and a host of advisory services – all without any payment of any kind. I have been responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars in investment in Romania, and was credited by leading Romanian newspapers as having been influential in restoring most favored nation treatment for Romania and lobbying for Romania’s admission into NATO. I acted as a special advisor to President Iliescu on legal matters in his first term and was co-chair of President Constantinescu’s Tax Reform Commission. For many years, I have been the vice president of the Congress of Romanian-Americans, which is the chief lobbying arm of the Romanian Diaspora in the United States – the only non-Romanian-American to be an officer or director of CORA. Until last year, no one ever said thank you -- no one. It was President Iliescu who awarded me the Romanian National Order of Merit in the Rank of Commander, along with a similar award for Armand Scala, the President of CORA, in recognition and thanks for our efforts.
WSN: The Romanian justice system has been constantly criticized, by both Romanian citizens and by foreigners. What are your thoughts on this subject?
MM: As you may know, I have written extensively and been widely published on this subject. Many of my articles can be found on the website of Herzfeld & Rubin/Rubin Meyer Doru and Trandafir spca at http://www.hr.ro/digest_archive.htm The general theme that runs through my many years of criticism is that the most damaging form of corruption for an emerging nation is judicial corruption. If investors cannot be assured that they will receive fair treatment in the national courts, then their investment would be in substantial jeopardy and they will look elsewhere for more favorable investment opportunities. This is particularly true of small and medium size investors who, unlike large multinationals, do not have the clout to bring the force of their embassy or government to bear in their support. Judicial corruption and the general perception of it, in my view, is the primary reason why foreign direct investment in Romania had lagged so far behind Romania’s neighbors over the past fifteen years.
WSN: You have witnessed various Romanian political regimes, their successes and failures. How do you perceive the present one?
MM: Each administration has a somewhat easier task in fulfilling Romania’s transitional needs based upon the work of the preceding government. It may be just a bit early to begin to make any definitive comparisons between the current regime and past governments. However, I am impressed by the resolve of both President Basescu and Prime Minister Tariceanu to fight official corruption, although the effectiveness of their efforts may not be evident for a year or more.
WSN: Romania is an important ally of the United States. We have troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan. How do you see this relationship evolving in the next decade?
MM: Historically, Romania has always looked for a friendly big brother far enough from its borders not to jeopardize its independence, but still protect it. That is the role today of the United States, and Romania has brilliantly balanced its desire for strong ties with the US with its need to be an accepted member of the European Union. It has been a rather deft balancing act which will become easier as the tensions caused by certain aspects of American foreign policy among certain European states wanes. I have heard senior US Administration figures say countless times that Romania is one of our closest European allies. This view will have an impact upon US investors, particularly as the business environment in the country improves. The normalization of the US-Romanian relationship has been a matter of great satisfaction to me.
WSN: In the last 16 years we have been labeled as a country in transition, without clear and concise reforms in the political or economic realm and with a week civil society and a generalized corruption. In your opinion, have we managed to surpass (or slightly surpass) these issues, or not just yet?
MM: The transition has been painfully slow in Romania. Nevertheless, the transition is ongoing and with each year, it increases in its dimensions. No single issue has been surpassed, but all are being addressed with differing measures of seriousness. To my mind, the change that will accelerate all other reforms is in the development of a strong civil society. What moves and shapes policies in democratic nations, and makes governments act responsibly towards their citizens – and not their own self-interests – is an actively engaged civil society. As Romania’s people organize themselves from neighborhood associations and parent-teachers committees to political action groups, the pressure on government leaders to win their votes by doing the right things will move Romania’s transition into high gear.
WSN: Romania's goal for 2007 is its accession to the European Union. Are you optimistic about it? Moreover, should the Romanians be optimistic about it?
MM: It is now beyond peradventure that Romania will join the EU in 2007 or 2008. No European parliament will vote against Romania. Romanians have every reason to be optimistic about EU entry – just look at what European Union membership did for Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Greece. Romanians must also be realistic. Such changes do not come painlessly. Many Romanians will find that their lives will be altered and their jobs will disappear. They will also need to change in order to meet the challenges of an emerging market. It is my hope that the EU will help Romania provide the safety net that will make this transition as bearable as possible.
WSN: If there is anything else you would like to add, please do so.
MM: President Basescu has made the reintegration of Transdniestria into Moldova a top priority for Romania. Until this conflict is resolved, the people of Moldova will continue to suffer economic hardships that are increasing exponentially. The peace and security of southeast Europe requires an end to this long-running frozen conflict.
As chair of the New York City Bar Association’s European Affairs Committee, I have shepherded a watershed report that is about to be issued on the violations of international law in Transdniestria. The report on Transdniestria is the only independent legal analysis of the conflict that currently exists. As such, it will add a significant element to what has heretofore been viewed primarily as a political dispute. In particular, the New York City Bar Association has focused upon Russia’s maintenance of troops in Transdniestria -- despite treaty promises to demobilize the repeated Moldovan requests that Russia remove the troops. Russia has propped up the viability of the Transdniestrian regime and made reintegration more difficult. It provides materiel, expertise and other support to the regime on an ongoing basis, and inflicts economic pressure through the use of energy prices as a carrot or a stick. It uses tariff barriers against Moldovan goods, provides economic assistance to the Transdniestrian regime and maintains a rather tawdry economic interest between Russian and Transdniestrian elites. Taken as a whole, there is a significant intervention by Russia on behalf of the separatist regime in Transdniestria that must be viewed as a constellation of activities creating a compelling picture of inappropriate intervention by Russia into the domestic affairs of Moldova. Russia’s actions are not merely political; they are violations of the basic norms of international law. You will be hearing much more from me about Transdniestria this year; I am determined to see justice done for Moldova.