Radu Magdin, Contributor
Consultant și analist de risc politic, CEO Smartlink, fost Policy Manager la Google Bruxelles
A changing world: risks and opportunities for Romania end 2020 and early 2021
The key risk is paralysis. Inaction. Delay. The temptation to put everything on hold while addressing the pandemic and campaigning for the legislative elections. The reason why this is shortsighted is that we have to adjust our risk perceptions and evaluations: as the pandemic has shown, it does not follow a linear trend, but rather an exponential one. Tiny problems today can become major headaches tomorrow. Everyone is waiting for the electoral season to be over, although the result is more predictable than ever. Sure, small differences could matter, but we are still in the most likely scenario of a PNL – USR governing alliance, with Ludovic Orban continuing as Prime Minister. The PSD will grow but still prefers opposition for the moment. And PMP and UDMR are looking for a third seat at the coalition table. Who will fill in the Cabinet position is honestly of lesser importance, provided that the overall cabinet plans are clear enough and the main objective of the new coalition is to take the needed measures to shore up successfully the country amid an abundance of crises.
This leads me to the second risk. The idea that everything can be decided on the spot and the details figured out on the back of the page, in sweet improvisation or tactical mode. At the moment, the sensation is that we are in the demo version and, once the elections are over, the reality will take a turn for the worse, with stricter health measure to address the pandemic more efficiently and with more austere policies to account for the economic downfall and the lack of resources. Despite the attempts to communicate a different, more optimistic version of the (post-elections) reality, the first temptation is not to believe this story. I wonder why this is the case. Perhaps, the commitments are so vague and general, and the past few months have seen so many flip-flops, respectively populist temptations, that thinking otherwise would be foolish. A full budget for 2021 would send a clear signal, would be a costly commitment and would grease the wheels of decisions and investments.
Romania is not an island and, despite the cheers for a Biden administration (America is back, some would say), the international scene is not that different. The great power competition will not stop nor take a pause. Our country will still have dilemmas to face, even in the context of better and revamped transatlantic relations: we will still have to reconcile the sometimes competing forces of prosperity and security. If we are not serious about a national plan for boosting exports and attracting investments, the recent experience of losing European funds for the ELI project is likely to become a recurring theme. The 80 billion euro have to become more than a discursive success, more than a talking point – the exact mechanisms for making sure that they will quickly and positively impact the economy are still to be seen. Moreover, the strategic autonomy narrative will continue to drive the European project, so it is likely that these resources are meant to strengthen the European partnerships and not provide opportunities for companies from other continents, even if they represent allies. So, expect economic and development choices and our leaders need smart options and swift action.
As we saw yesterday with the bickering over the Boeing – Airbus dispute, trade wars are not over, even among transatlantic partners. Things cannot go back to normal in terms of international trade, crucial decisions and new arrangements are decisive for the post-Trump era and what we could discover is that the erratic global steps are more of an effect than a cause. This type of uncertainty will continue to shape the global economy in 2021 and Romania cannot escape from its consequences. Moreover, although it is a safe bet to say that Trump is gone, until the transition officially takes place, the US is in a moment of weakness: the current administration will not cooperate with the new one and will try to score some political points even if this will undermine the Biden team. In the meantime, Russia will do whatever it can to take advantage of the situation, while China is rapidly bouncing back after the pandemic debacle and has just approved its plans for the next 15 years. Fun times ahead for a Romania and a wider EU exploring second wave lockdowns!
Without keeping these things in mind, the danger is that we are, once again, failing to be the masters of our own destinies and then complain that in the lack of a masterplan and a clear direction beyond empty soundbites we only score tactically but are seen as chaotic overall. Remember in context, dear leaders, our claim of regional leadership and please make it look real not out of touch.