Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Foreign Affairs

Issue 6 - Evidence


OTTAWA, Tuesday, June 18, 1996

The Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs met this day at 11:00 a.m. with a parliamentary delegation from Romania.

Senator John B. Stewart (Chairman) in the Chair.

[English]

The Chairman: Honourable senators, this morning we have the great pleasure of having with us Professor Oliviu Gherman, the president of the Senate of the Parliament of Romania. He is accompanied in Canada by his wife, but here this morning he has with him four senators and various other members of his entourage.

I will begin by introducing our Canadian senators, and then I will turn to the president of the Romanian Senate and ask him to introduce those accompanying him. Our members who are present today are: Senator Bacon from the Province of Quebec, Senator Corbin from the Province of New Brunswick, Senator Ottenheimer from Newfoundland and Labrador, and Senator Bolduc from the Province of Quebec. Also with us is Mr. Serge Pelletier, our indispensable clerk. I am from Nova Scotia.

Professor Oliviu Gherman, President of the Senate of Romania: I should like to introduce my colleagues. Senator Gheorghe Secara is a member of the Party of the Romanian Unity and a professor at the Polytechnic Institute in Brasov. Senator Stefan Popa is more widely known in Romania by his literary pseudonym of Augustin Doinas. As a published poet, he is a member of the Romanian Academy. He is a member of the opposition party, the Civic Alliance Party. With us also is Senator Constantin Sava, the Secretary General of the Senate. He is President of the Council of National Salvation, the party which he also represents. Senator Aristotel Adrian C<#00E3>ncescu is a member of the Presidium of the Senate. As well as being a member of the Democratic Party, he is also a member of a group of parties which is called the Social Democratic Union Group of Parties. Madame Dumitrescu is a counsellor at the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Senate. Mr. Fricosu is my personal secretary.

I think that the best way to proceed would be for us to answer your specific questions so that you will not glean an image which I will describe to you of our country.

The Chairman: Mr. President, during the last ten years or so, our committee has been chiefly concerned with trade matters. We dealt with the trade agreement with the United States of America, we dealt with the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, as well as with the World Trade Organization Bill. We have also completed a study of the future of our economic relations with Latin America. Presently, we are working on a report on Canada's relations with Europe. I would say the main part of report will deal with trade and economic matters, but we also have been interested in security matters insofar as Canada and Europe are concerned.

I know you will have issues that you will want to raise, but let me begin by asking if it is part of the thinking in Romania that Romania should become a member of the European Union. Is that something that is in the future, either in the short-term or in the long-term?

Professor Gherman: I will try to answer to that question and, at the same time, I will propose an answer to another question, that of joining NATO. These are important issues.

As you know, on February 1 last year, Romania became an associate member of the European Union. On June 22, we presented our offer to become a full member of the European Union. At the same time we submitted the strategy for transition toward the moment when we will be received. That strategy has been elaborated on by all the political forces in Parliament and also by some scientific authorities, such as the Institute of Research for Economic Development. This proposal for a strategy has been joined in by a statement, which has been signed by all the political parties in the Parliament, expressing our will to join the European Union.

In a poll which took place in December, 92 per cent of the Romanian population expressed its will to join the European Union. What we want is the negotiation to start with no discrimination. Obviously, the final decision will be made when every country perceives that we have reached a sufficiently high standard. We must be realistic. Joining the European Union is a question of economic obligation, of economic behaviour, and of the level of democratic development in our country.

If I may use a metaphor, I see the joining of one country to the European Union like putting together two stones which are rotating at different speeds and which have a different composition. If the rotation speed is quite different and if the composition is quite different there is a real danger that the insufficiently strong stone will be destroyed. Our rotation speed must be must similar to the rotation speed of the stone representing the European Union. At the same time, the qualities of the two stones must be similar.

This is a long process. In the case of Spain and Portugal the process took eight years. However, we are already trying to adjust to the arrival of that moment. We have a Department of European Integration in our government. Our legislative court, which is responsible for future legislation, has in mind the need to coordinate our legislation with that of the legislation of the European Community. We have an explicit program in place in that regard. The subject has been discussed in both chambers of Parliament and the expression of the huge majority of the political forces was positive in this respect.

At the same time, we discussed the prospect of joining NATO. In that regard, a joint meeting of the two Houses was held on the June 5. In that meeting we adopted a decision to send a call to all member states of NATO, asking them to support our decision request membership in NATO. This decision of Parliament was a unanimous one. All parliamentary forces decided to join in that call to all the member states of NATO. We ask them to consider that, in the interest of our country, as well as in the interest of European and trans-European security, the joining of our country to NATO is essential from our point of view.

We have heard some specific arguments against our position. However, more than two years of a partnership for peace, the results are positive. They were appreciated by all the specialists in NATO at the headquarters in Brussels. On the other side, they acknowledge our logistical advantage. As you know, before 1989, Romania had a military relationship with Federal Republic of Germany and with Israel. We appreciate that the cost to us of joining NATO, as well as the cost to NATO members of this joining, is proportionally smaller in the case of our country.

I will conclude by saying that, in our opinion, we are not only a consumer of security, we are a producer of security due to our military capacity and also due to our geo-strategic position.

We are ready to answer any questions you may have.

Senator Ottenheimer: My question, sir, deals with the internal evolution of the political situation in Romania. Would it be possible for you or one of your colleagues to describe -- and I recognize that it must be in summary form -- the evolution of your government or power structure since the events of 1989? Perhaps you could also indicate to what extent the present government or power structure reflects a continuity with the National Salvation Front and to what extent are there modifications. Is there continuity or not?

Professor Gherman: I will answer and if any of my colleagues want to complete my answer I will accept their point of view.

As you know, immediately after the revolution the feeling was explosive. After the last 10 to 15 years of dictatorship by Ceausescu, which involved an extraordinary increase of political pressure and an increased feeling of discomfort, the revolution was like an explosion, like a cylinder in which the gas has been under extreme pressure and then the valve is opened. Everything was viewed as being either "black" or "white". Everything had to be changed completely. University professors were challenged by the students, and there was no respect for even traffic laws. In many instances democracy meant having no constraint.

As you know, in May 1990 we held the first election, when the first government, which was the government of the National Salvation Front, was elected. Between June 28 1990 and September 25, 1991 the government had to deal with two specific incidents relating to minority rights. However, the atmosphere of intolerance, which was specific for that period, has decreased step by step. At that time dialogue was practically impossible even inside the same political party. Having overcome many difficulties, the situation has improved. After two years of being in a vacuum due to the fact that we missed extraordinary opportunities, things have changed and there is a trend towards macro-economic stabilization. We reduced inflation from more than 300 per cent per year in 1993 to 28 per cent or 29 per cent in 1995.

This trend towards stabilization also affects our political strategy. Government and opposition cooperate in essential decisions. Of course, political rivalry still exists, but when dealing with problems related to the destiny of our country there is a very acceptable unanimity. The feeling of democracy has been increased.

We succeeded in passing the Constitution by referendum on December 8, 1991.

There are three areas of achievement: The first, and most important area, relates to the legislature and the creation of a democratic institution. The second area relates to economic achievements. We started from a very difficult point in 1989 when we were simply precluded from financial activity. The last area has two aspects: one has to do with intolerance but, as I said, this is demonstrating a positive trend, and the other relates to our incapacity to make decisions. For 50 years decisions were taken by somebody who set himself above others, so we lost the ability to make decisions and to be responsible for them. Not only must we learn how to make decisions, we must learn how to transfer the decisions-making power to local authorities. All the political forces have agreed that the new law for local administration and for local elections is a step forward in comparison with the former law.

[Translation]

Senator Bolduc: I had the privilege of going to Romania in May 1973, and I appreciated very much my one-week stay.

I found tremendous agricultural prosperity and I was struck by the land use planning. We took a bus tour from Bucarest to Timisoara and I was very impressed. Subsequently, I understood that the agricultural problem had become somewhat complicated and that it was less prosperous. What is the present situation in comparison to 1973? How has agriculture evolved? Has the system been privatized, as in other countries?

Mr. Gherman: I recognize that you visited us at a very favourable time, because 1973 was an acceptable time in our country's economy. We can say that in the late 1960s and during the 1970s the Romanian economy was very prosperous. But after the Ceaucescu family's tour of China and North Korea, they decided to import the cultural revolution. Things were totally transformed into an absolutely ghastly dictatorship.

We came to have a feeling of fear, not only toward people but toward objects. When I saw a flower, I always wondered if there was a microphone in that flower. The most common feeling in our life was the feeling of fear.

From the agricultural standpoint, the centralization continued until the end of the Ceaucescu era, with increasingly poor results year after year. Immediately after the revolution, the first natural reaction was to privatize agricultural lands. The privatization law was drawn up in 1991.

This law, which came in response to an absolutely natural demand, resulted in the privatization of more than 85 percent of the agricultural land. We have overcome two major problems. In the first place, privatization resulted in the division of farmlands into millions of small parcels; as a result of this division into excessively small parcels, it was impossible to work the land scientifically. Secondly, the agricultural mechanization was in a state of incredible decline. In the final year of the Ceaucescu regime, the major mechanized farm institutions did not purchase any tractors; everything was sold to pay their debts. We ended up with an incredible situation of declining agricultural production as a result of which we moved from being exporters of agricultural products to becoming importers of agricultural products. This also happened after the First World War, because of this "excessive division" of agricultural lands.

Now there is a natural economic tendency, without the use of force by anyone, to reassemble the agricultural land into large holdings, large agricultural expanses. Members of the same family and friends will associate with each other. This indicates a positive trend in agriculture. However, we have extreme difficulty from the technical standpoint, because agricultural technique is in a very difficult situation.

The other problem is the problem of the chemical substances that are being used because, of course, there is a disproportion between the possibility of selling abroad, at a good price, chemical substances that are at a uniform quality level, as is electrical power, and selling domestically to peasants who are unable to purchase them.

Last year was an excellent crop year, but unfortunately this year will be a very poor one in terms of grain, because the land was covered with snow for more than five months. This was a unique situation in the history of our country. Whatever was sown in the fall was destroyed by a layer of ice that smothered the seedlings. We hope to cover domestic needs, even with the production that was decimated this year, and to have improved production in other agricultural products.

I don't want to hide anything from you. I am not here to present some imaginary things to you.

Senator Bacon: I, too, Mr. President, had the pleasure of visiting your country last fall, at the time of the IPU conference. And, obviously, I did not get to the land of Dracula, because they kept us primarily in Bucarest. But I did manage, nonetheless, to tour the Romanian countryside a bit and to get a few kilometres out of Bucarest just the same. With the good offices of our ambassador, we learned more about your country.

As a former Energy minister in my province, of course, I am always interested in this energy aspect. You spoke earlier about electrical energy in relation to agriculture. Are you nevertheless going to place greater reliance on nuclear energy now, or are you going to maintain a substantial portion of your energy in thermal power? We know that the pollution is not the same. However, with nuclear energy, it is still necessary to have some places for the nuclear wastes, to store the nuclear wastes, or do you also have some possibilities in hydroelectric energy?

Mr. Gherman: I will begin with the last part of your question. Hydraulic power is very limited.

Senator Bacon: Yes.

Mr. Gherman: Very limited. We cannot expect more than one tenth, perhaps, of our electrical power consumption to come from hydraulic power. And, as you know very well, the prime minister of your country participated at the start-up of our nuclear power plant, the first CANDU nuclear power plant, which was built with Canada's assistance. The atomic power plant has a production of 650 megawatts. At the plant it is a marvellous development, beyond the hopes of our specialists, and we have already reached 5 per cent of the plant's rated capacity, and even more than 5 per cent.

We are now completing the second nuclear plant because, as you know very well, in Cernavoda, there are five nuclear units. The second one has been 65 percent completed and we anticipate some assistance from your country in order to continue, about 35 million dollars in assistance to finish the second plant. But, in addition, we are making a domestic effort to complete the things needed to build the plant, the second nuclear plant, and we hope that with your assistance we will be able to complete it by the year 2000, 2001, and get it operating. This is essential because our policy is focussing on nuclear plants, which are essential to the Romanian energy industry because of the fact that, in the first place, natural gas is extremely limited, and petroleum is in very limited supply for use in the thermal plants.

At the same time, the coal has a very low, very poor heating power, which causes some problems in eliminating the ash from these enormous quantities of very low quality coal. We are very interested in pollution because, as you know very well, the thermal power plants, especially those built to use coal, have free radical products and no one knows what this free radical is composed of for several generations. Initially, there was a fear of radioactivity, but it seems to me that the free radicals present the same dangers as radioactivity and when the atomic power plant operates in proper conditions there is no radioactivity as a byproduct. Because of this, our policy is very clearly directed -- this is independent of any particular political affiliation, and is accepted by all politicians in Romania -- toward nuclear energy and, because of that, we are very interested in developing the second plant and, after that, the three other plants which will be set up at Cernavoda.

Senator Bacon: Thank you.

Senator Corbin: Mr. President, I have not had the pleasure of leaving and travelling to your country.

Mr. Gherman: It is not too late, we are expecting you.

Senator Corbin: I make a special point of getting some information before meeting with eminent persons such as you. This morning, browsing through the few pages devoted to Romania in the Quid, which is a sort of encyclopaedic reference manual produced by France, I noted that you have a constitutional provision that is extremely interesting, in my opinion. In Canada we have the composition, if I may so put it, the following ethnic composition, with at the bottom the aboriginal people, the so-called founding peoples, the French, the English, and all those who have arrived here as immigrants.

I note that you have a provision that automatically guarantees, if I read rightly, 13 seats to the national minorities.

Mr. Gherman: To stable national minorities.

Senator Corbin: Stable? Can you explain this situation to me? Are these seats guaranteed in the Assembly and the Senate or only in the Assembly?

Mr. Gherman: No, only in the Assembly. It is a guarantee because, when we drew up the Constitution, we felt that some ethnic groups might be placed at a disadvantage by the fact that they do not have the power to elect a representative in the Chamber of Deputies themselves.

We have, for example, the Turks, the Tatars, the Italians, the Czechs, the Slovaks, the Serbs, who are minorities who are very well connected to the social life, the economic life of our country. We felt, when drawing up the Constitution, that these minorities might not be able to participate in parliamentary activity. And for that reason, we provided that article in our Constitution, and it is adhered to.

In the Chamber of Deputies, there is a minorities parliamentary group, which is different from the Hungarian minority, which itself has a parliamentary group in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. This national minorities group is of great importance because when we discuss, for example, the budget, it always presents its views on encouraging minority schools and we have some schools of different degrees that depend on the number of the respective minority.

We have, for example, the elementary school. We also have secondary schools for some minorities and, for the Hungarian minority, we have some sections in the university in all subjects that guarantee the preservation of the culture, language and traditions. We have an Hungarian section in the Conservatory. We have an Hungarian opera at Cluj, we have German theatres, Hungarian theatres. And this is guaranteed by the Constitution, that's true!

Senator Corbin: Thank you very much, Mr. President, and please excuse me, as the Chairman, Senator Stewart was saying, I have to chair another meeting.

Mr. Gherman: We are very pleased to have had this opportunity, and to invite you to see what is happening.

Senator Corbin: Thank you very much.

[English]

The Chairman: Perhaps there are questions members of your group would wish to direct to us.

Professor Gherman: Although our group is representative of both the government party and the opposition parties, we appear before you as a cohesive group.

[Translation]

Mr. Stefan Popa, Senator: I visited Canada almost 20 years ago. I was invited to Montreal, to a national writers' symposium. At that time I made the acquaintance of many Quebecers. I knew that at that time the separatist movement was beginning. I know the result, we noted the defeat of the separatists, but, some time ago now, a new consultation was held and the result, from what I know, was very close. The separatists and intégristes are virtually tied in so far as their options are concerned. If you will allow me, I would like to know now what the situation is from this standpoint.

[English]

The Chairman: We have here today two senators from Quebec; Senator Bolduc, who is a member of the opposition party in the Senate, and Senator Bacon who supports the government in the Senate. I will turn to both of them in the event that they will express somewhat different viewpoints on this. Senator Bacon, perhaps you would lead off.

[Translation]

Senator Bacon: My comment will no doubt be coloured somewhat by partisanship, one cannot leave that behind, I think. It is true that the Parti Québécois government has been in office since September 1994. There was of course the referendum, which resulted in this close outcome, as you well know. Except that it does not appear that the present government, the Parti Québécois government, is respecting this nonetheless democratic result. The people expressed themselves. The result was close, but there was nevertheless an expression of opinions.

So it was decided, on behalf of the Parti Québécois, to again prepare for another referendum. There has been, I don't know if you are aware, a change in premiers. Mr. Parizeau, who was the Parti Québécois premier, left, and Mr. Bouchard, who was leader of the Bloc Québécois party in Ottawa, went to Québec to take up the position of premier. He said in New York, recently, that there would not be a referendum for three years. But he often changes his mind, in front of business people it helps to say there will not be a referendum for three years. He is a fairly emotional man who often, as a matter of fact, changes his way of seeing things.

Previously, he had said he would have quick elections, a few weeks earlier. So everyone is somewhat on tenterhooks. Obviously, for the other provinces of Canada, this creates a rather unpleasant situation. And you have to understand them, they've been hearing about separation for 20 years. It doesn't happen, people express themselves and it doesn't happen, because the people don't express a firm desire to do it. And we will have to continue explaining to the people that a federal government is important, that a federal government can even protect this same people in many fields, and that is what we intend to do.

Mr. Chrétien, Canada's prime minister, said recently that he would try to settle the problems one-at-a-time. There is a federal-provincial conference, on the weekend, with the various provincial premiers and the Canadian prime minister. Mr. Bouchard will be there. He had said earlier that he would not go and now he says he will be present. He does not want to discuss the Constitution, he wants to discuss mainly the economy or a transfer of powers from the federal government. The federal government is taking some huge steps in favour of the provinces, which can help strengthen the Canadian federation. But this creates a climate that is not easy to experience for someone who rejects Quebec's separation. And I am one of those. Obviously, if someone from the Parti Québécois were to come and tell you that it will be paradise after separation, I will not believe him. When you think about the increasing integration the Europeans want to bring about, this is not a time for separating countries or breaking up a country. My adherence to Canada is very strong as a Quebecer, and that does not make me any less a Quebecer. So I think, if I may be very personal, that many Quebecers think as I do.

Mr. Gherman: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Senator Bacon: I was Minister of Culture. I appreciate your talents as a writer, which we described earlier.

Senator Bolduc: The vote was close. That's true, but the polls have consistently indicated that at least 65 to 70 percent of Quebecers are basically moderate federalists, that is, relatively moderate nationalists. They are therefore federalists and they want to stay in Canada. The question that was put to the Quebecers is the following: do you want to be sovereign, but at the same time have an economic union with Canada? Of course, if you put the question to people in that way, the people will vote for the ideal. Many people were saying: we're going to vote for sovereignty, but, basically, it will be just for the sake of arguing with Ottawa. It will provide a basis for negotiations or additional pressure.

There are many moderate nationalists who are federalists and who voted sovereigntist.

That is why, at first glance, I hope the federal government will present the provinces with proposals that can win the support of this group of people, which is sizeable, because in my opinion, perhaps 25 percent, not more, are hard-and-fast separatists.

Mr. Popa: Not more.

Senator Bolduc: There is another group that represents 30 or 40 percent of the people who want a bit more decentralization than there is in the present system in Canada. It should be understand that in Quebec, while we want more decentralization, as in Alberta or British Columbia, while the people in the Maritimes do not want it so much, this also leads to a sort of equilibrium. The federal government cannot only take account of Québec. It has to take account of the others. This is a fact.

The issue is whether we are going to create conditions sufficiently attractive to Quebecers that they will remain in the confederation, which in my opinion would be ideal from every point of view, both economically and politically.

I think Canada is a country that has been an extraordinary success for 125 years. There are no good objective arguments against or for separation. There are none, except that Quebecers, when they are speaking extremely emotionally, will say, "Well, we're a people, we French-Canadians -- because it's not certain when we say a people whom we are referring to -- but we are a people, so we want a country."

There is a sort of latent and even disquieting ethnocentrism underneath this, such that there are many Quebecers who do not speak out and will not say what I am saying, but who will feel it. I think there is lots of room for the federal government to make some reasonable proposals.

We already have a system with five or six sectors in the Canadian federation, in which the powers are not the same pretty well everywhere in Canada.

Take security, for example. Security is handled by the RCMP, but in the province of Quebec and Ontario, it is the provincial police who handle most of the things. The RCMP intervenes only on questions involving drugs and terrorism and things like that.

In the western provinces, there is an old tradition in which the police, which we call the "mounted police", the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, played a very important role in the development of the country, so they act not only as a federal police but also as a provincial police and even a municipal police force in some cases. That is one situation.

In the area of loans and bursaries for university students, this is a situation in which Quebec has its own program. The other provinces decided there would be a Canadian program for them. There is no problem with that. It works very well.

In immigration, we also have some special powers in the province of Quebec. We exercise them in our own way, perhaps well, perhaps poorly, but in any case it works. There is no dispute between the federal and the provincial governments, so it is possible for these things to exist while having a country that, for the most part, is kept together. In the area of the economic union and in some forms of the social union, it is possible to do that. A federation is supposed to be relatively flexible in order to adapt to such problems, which are, when all is said and done, minor.

If we were in China or Indonesia, people would not see any problems in our arrangement. With us, it is something of a national sport; it is almost cultural among Quebecers to feel sorry for themselves.

Mr. Popa: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Gherman: Owing to the fact that we are very pressed for time, I would like to inform you of two things that are perhaps important to you. Concerning the bilateral treaty with Hungary, the situation is well on its way. Next week, I hope the group can reach a consensus because things are well on their way, with the exception of one very small item. How can one introduce or not introduce a recommendation of the Council of Europe? All the other items have already been accepted on both sides.

The negotiations with Ukraine are coming along well. There are two issues, including the more or less historical issue of making a certain reference in the treaty to the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, of course. There is some reservation on the part of Ukraine about making a certain historical reference to that pact and some other very ad hoc legal issues concerning the territories aspects. We hope to arrive at an acceptable situation. Thank you for this very brief comment.

[English]

The Chairman: How many people who would be called Hungarians live in Romania? Perhaps you could assist me by reference to the map attached to your brief.

Professor Gherman: The area in the centre of Transylvania is the area most populated by Hungarians. Official statistics show about 500,000 to 600,000 Hungarians in a population of 23 million, that is, 7 per cent.

We also have a substantial population of Gypsies, stable Gypsies, who originally lived near villages or towns, who declare themselves to be either Hungarians or Romanians depending on the majority in that village or town. Only about 400,000 people declare themselves to be Gypsies. There are those who, before 1980, were nomads and who were forced to establish their domicile by decree of Ceausescu. Those people never integrated themselves into their local communities. They retain their nomadic style and attitude towards living. The greatest conflicts which occur between them and the rest of the population is not between them and Romanian, or them and Hungarian, but between them and the more stable Gypsies who consider themselves Romanian or Hungarian.

The Chairman: We certainly have enjoyed every minute of our meeting. We have had a good exchange. We do appreciate your appearance before our committee, and we hope that the relationship between your country and ours will continue to flourish and prosper.

Professor Gherman: I think that after your next visit to Romania you will change your opinion about the realities of our country.

It is a great honour for me to present you with anniversary medal of our Senate. On December 6, 1994 our Senate celebrated its one 110th anniversary. It is a great honour for me to present that medal to you.

The Chairman: Thank you very much. Your Senate is three years older than our Senate in that we date from 1887. You are our seniors.

The committee adjourned.