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Promoting Romania’s Image in the EU: the Role of Diplomacy and Branding

January 22, 2006

By Paula Ganga*

There has been a great debate regarding Romania’s level of preparedness for joining the European Union in 2007. Controversy has also surrounded the issue of whether the EU can integrate such a large country, one beset by so many structural and institutional problems. But the question of whether the two partners are ready to fully accept each other cannot be determined until another question – how much each of them truly knows about the other – is addressed.The prevailing opinion among Romanians is that “Romania knows more about the EU than the EU knows about Romania.” European representatives are always interested in such matters of public opinion, not only for the new member states or those in the process of accession, but also for the original 15 members. The Eurobarometer survey is the most used and most trusted resource for gauging the opinion of EU populations, and it has also been introduced in Romania, where it has provided some interesting results. Through it, one can ascertain the approximate amount of knowledge that Romanians have about the union and, most importantly, compare this knowledge to levels gauged in the EU states (with separate columns for the 15 member states and the 10 new member states).

The latest Eurobarometer 63.4, conducted in May and June of 2005 and released to the public on the 8th of September, included new data on Romanians’ depth of knowledge of the EU. These results tend to contradict the popular perception among Romanians that they know more about the EU than the EU knows about them.

To test knowledge levels, survey participants were asked four simple questions regarding the EU and the way in which it works. The four true-or-false questions were: (1.) presently, the EU is formed by 15 states; (2.) the members of the European Parliament are elected by a direct vote from the EU citizens; ( 3.) the EU has its own anthem; (4.) the last elections for the European Parliament took place in June 2002.

Although the percentage of people who gave at least one correct answer was higher that that in neighboring Bulgaria (68 percent for Romania versus 60 percent for Bulgaria), Romanians polled lagged far behind citizens of the original 15 EU countries (80 percent), as well as the new member states (87 percent). So it would seem that Romanians in fact don’t actually know that much more about the EU than what has been said until now.

However, Romanians seem to know more about the union now than they knew 6 month ago (the study records a 14 percent improvement), whereas in most of the countries that participated in the survey the trend was downward.

Further interesting information can be drawn from another survey that tried to measure the compatibility between Romanian and European values. In this survey, more than 85 percent of the respondents stated a desire to know more about the EU (a full 49 percent were recorded as being very interested or extremely interested).

These surveys, which were based on direct interaction with the population, indicate that while Romanians still have a somewhat poor knowledge of the bloc they hope to join, they have expressed their strong interest in becoming more informed in the future. While one might hope that Romanians would go searching out information on their own, realistically speaking the task of educating the population regarding the EU will be given to the government and the media.

On the other hand, however, unionized Europeans don’t seem to know very much about Romania. In fact, their entire perception of this large and diverse nation seems to fall into very specific categories. For most Europeans, Romania’s only claims to fame are Ceausescu, Hagi, Nadia Comaneci, illegal immigration, gypsy beggars and, of course, Count Dracula.

However, Romania of course has a lot more to offer in terms of culture, history, economic products and tourism destinations. And it has a very smart and well-educated young workforce in areas like foreign languages and computer science.

It should be said, further, that personal experience tends to show that the Eurobarometer is not always applicable. Europe is so diverse that one can come across tremendously differing levels of knowledge when it comes to Romania, from those Europeans who swear it’s located near Canada to others who know everything about the significance of symbols painted on the walls of 16th-century monasteries in Northern Moldavia.

To this ambivalent situation, one can add the fact that the long decades of Communist isolation kept Romania far from any cultural exchanges that could have increased its visibility on a Europe-wide level, making it even more “exotic” in the eyes of other European citizens.

Yet it is likely that Romania will in fact come to know more about the EU than the EU knows about it. For centuries, Western culture has been ingrained in the Romanian mentality (especially French, German and British influences), and large amounts of EU-allotted money will continue to flow into the country, with the partial purpose of making the union’s institutions more popular. And with EU accession on the horizon, the Romanian population is naturally starting to become more inquisitive about the union and their future place in it.

The situation thus appears remediable. But on the other side of things, when it comes to making Romania more accessible to the greater European public, things get complicated once again. Who should have the main responsibility for promoting the country? Should it be the president or the minister of foreign affairs, or the tourism ministry, or the diplomatic corps, or perhaps private entrepreneurs?

Over the past few years, efforts to promote Romania on the internet, international television channels and through other country branding exercises have started to improve. And they have been led not only by the government but in some cases by private businessmen and the Romanian diaspora in other countries too.

An article published in the newspaper Jurnalul NaˆšÃ–£ional on September 12 provided the results of an investigation into Romania’s visibility on the internet. The results showed that with 130 million mentions of the country, Romania could be placed between Hungary with 138 millions sites mentioning it, and Bulgaria with 106 million references.

While it is important to have a strong media presence, in this case the saying that “even bad publicity is good publicity” definitely doesn’t apply. For example, in 2002 the Romanian government spent $3 million in 6 months on promoting the country’s image internationally, and all it took was a few articles in three influential French newspapers on Romanian beggars in Paris to ruin the campaign, reported the Jurnalul National on July 26, 2002.

Now that officials have admitted that a bad image could delay the accession process, a special working group has been created in order to redefine Romania’s national brand. “The brand is a term, a symbol, a design or any other element that could identify a certain product or a campaign as being different from others,” wrote Dollores Benezic, in an article of 12 July 2005 titled, “How do we sell our country?” and printed in the newspaperCotidianul. And, the author adds, it should be created with a long-term focus in mind, and accordingly is granted a consistent fixed budget for 10-20 years into the future.

The Agency for Governmental Strategies, which initiated the project, has already assigned a group of officials to create a strategy in order to improve Romania’s image. However, since the task of defining an entire country by just one label is very difficult, others have proposed soliciting foreign expertise as well, such as Romanian ambassador to France Sabin Pop, in the above-linked article. On the other hand, this group’s activity started only in May 2005, so a complete final strategy hasn’t yet been elaborated.

Another promotional strategy, the most important for some, is diplomatic activity. Diplomacy is seen by the researchers of the Diplomatic Studies Program of the University of Leicester as the “art of promoting national interests through the means of an intense exchange of information between nations and peoples,” in the words of George Limbeanu (Diplomacy, Protocol, Ceremony, Lucian Blaga University Press, Arhip Art, Sibiu, 2005, p. 108).

In his work The New Diplomacy (Antet, Bucharest, 2004, p. 113) Riordan Shaun also agrees that “the national promotion has always been an element of diplomacy”. In a textbook for students created by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1997, promotion of culture was considered to be one of the most important tasks of an ambassador (French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The ambassador and the consul, Col. Racontte-moi, Nouvelle Arche de Noe Editions, Hemma, 1997, pp. 14-16).

However, while there is in Romania some recognition of the ambassador’s role in promoting the national image, Romanian law doesn’t have anything to say on this topic. One law, article no. 32, presents all the obligations and the responsibilities of the diplomatic corps; Riordan Shaun’s observation matches this situation. “National promotion limits itself to commercial promotion and cultural visits. Cultural promotion, including the promotion of values” should be left to other organizations, he says (p. 113).

Unfortunately, after studying the websites of each Romanian embassy in the EU member states, I came away with a not very rosy image of Romania’s efforts at self-promotion. Most of the sites failed to mention the activities of the diplomatic corps in terms of actively promoting Romania’s image. Either the websites of the embassy’s own information hadn’t been updated in a very long time (as the case of the Romanian embassy in Denmark’s website, which hasn’t been updated since 2002), or the embassy just hasn’t had any new activities to post on the site.

Romania currently has embassy websites for 11 out of the 25 EU member states. Some have very interesting designs and present all the events and activities going on within the institution. But the other 9 Romanian embassies in EU member states didn’t have any website; specifically, the embassies to Cyprus, Hungary, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, and Spain (not available).

A bit of good news has arrived in the last months, in successive declarations of Romanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mihai-Razvan Ungureanu, which have been marked by a strong will to make Romanian diplomacy more dynamic and proactive in regards to its self-promotion activities. In response to a parliamentary interpellation, the minister cited the promotional campaign begun at the moment of signing the Accession Treatise, also stating that one or two diplomats in each European embassy should inform the institutions whenever specific efforts at Euro-integration are made.

Another important factor that influences the perception of Romania abroad is the diaspora. The Romanian communities in EU countries have organized themselves into different kinds of associations, each one keeping alive the Romanian spirit as a way of feeling in contact with their homeland. In countries such as Spain, for example, there is a federation of Romanian associations that manages to make the government aware of this community’s necessities.

Unfortunately, however, the diaspora groups as a whole have not been similarly organized into a European network, merely acting on the local level. So while Minister Ungureanu’s dream of using the joint action of the diplomacy and the diaspora is a very good one, the current lack of a central organization is an impediment to the realization of this plan.

Nevertheless, in some cases such groups are the only information source for many EU citizens regarding Romania. So their work does have significance, and with the right organization they could become a productive force for the promotion of the country, as other European diasporas have become for theirs.

Still, in the end Romanian diplomacy and the government’s actions have the main responsibility for improving the country’s visibility on a European level. In the next two years, the amount of money spent on this activity will be consistent enough to achieve the purposes settled at the government’s annual meeting on diplomatic strategy. Therefore, what will make the difference will be the degree of dedication Romanian officials have for making this dream a reality.


*Paula Ganga studies political science at Romania’s oldest university, Alexandru Ioan Cuza in Iaši, and is currently a Socrates Mobility Student at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques in Lille, France. Her thesis examines modern Russia’s diplomatic relations with the ex-Soviet states. Paula’s articles on Romanian politics and the role of France and Germany in the EU have been published in the Bucharest political science journal Paralele…Paralele.

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