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Consultant și analist de risc politic, CEO Smartlink, fost Policy Manager la Google Bruxelles

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What Global Romanians should do in times of great power competition

Which country wants to be the next UK? Confused? Before we start, take a moment and imagine: if your country became the third largest, richest, most important country of the European Union, what would that mean for you and what would you do? 
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 The French say Jamais deux sans trois, meaning that something can become a rule if it happens at least three times. The UK was the counterweight of the European political equation that kept the Franco-German engine in balance. Brexit seems to be returning things to a binary way of doing things, with everyone aligning either with France or with Germany, if the two by chance don’t agree (if they do agree, they become almost irresistable). With Italy, next in line as weight, in perpetual political excitement, there is a race for being the counterweight. No, it is not Spain, which seems to have aligned nicely with France and Germany. It is the Netherlands. However, as much as it is economically important, it is missing something – territory and population: while Netherland’s GDP is 4 times bigger, the country has a population smaller than Romania’s. Of course, it is not only population or GDP, it is also political influence and credibility. Here, we have some good news: Romania has successfully delivery and concluded its first Presidency of the Council of the European Union, performing and impressing above expectations. 

 
It is impossible to overstate how crucial it is now to not ruin -but capitalize on- what we have built over the past 6 months. While Romania has had some political drama over the past few months, it none the less created overall a positive narrative for itself: delivery for the European project. Now that we feel better about ourselves, we are confronted with a different reality – being on the front stage of Europe makes one subject to the whirlwinds of Global Power Competition (GPC). Not only are the Europeans talking about Strategic Autonomy (from President Trump?), investment screening (from China?), and energy independence (from Russia?), but we are looking at the first Saharan summer of Europe, resulting in a push for carbon neutrality by 2050, and we are also under pressure from all things digital, for which the EU had probably the most accelerated regulatory drive in its history over the past 2 years, adopting numerous norms to protect Europeans – particularly from fake new. 
 
In this new environment of protection(ism) in Europe, being proactive and acting today for the future in 2-3-5 years’ time is ideal. While Europe will continue to maintain oases of 19th and 20th century on its territory, it will need both the people and the companies to help it implement its targets for 2025, 2030, 2050. Furthermore, the people and companies capable of delivering this to Europe will actually become world class competitors, as they will be courted by countries around the world in their quest to address emerging challenges. The beauty in the context of GPC is that Romania has had positive relations with most countries of the world, and when the big actors quarrel about how to carve up their territory, Romania and Romanians can be agile players and find niches and networks to be active in.
 
More institutionalised and bigger actors have the advantage of bigger finance, traditional knowledge networks, and tradition. They also have the disadvantage of being seen as established, slow, and imposing too many conditions; historic animosities may also be encountered in developing markets. Agile players can be crafty – they do not discomfort other players from around the world as they are not perceived as a threat, they can learn both from upstream and downstream – if they are smart to position themselves as knowledge and innovation partners in global networks, and if they play smart they will attract investments and long-term interest as high-potential high future growth opportunities. 
 
We, Romanians, but also other EU member states from the region, have had the handicap of coming from a primarily manufacturing economy, and we have tried to develop both services and digital economies simultaneously. Assuming we have learned from this pseudo-leap frogging, we should attempt to make the next leap into future industries, where services, research, science, operations, digital are all mixed together. If it seems confusing, that is because it is certainly a different paradigm. But it is what we need to prepare for, the 4IR is coming. It is improbable that, for example, Croatia can develop a Rheinmetall of its own, but it most certainly can have the agility to develop a successful unmanned maritime vehicles industry. Romania is in a position where it is large enough to develop something more substantial, but also small enough to become both niche leader and intermediary for others. 
 
These are just a few things one can learn from global players from Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai, Israel, and global Western cities:

 

1 – Stability, predictability, engagement, persistence, and policy development are not things that happen only in state institutions. “Be the change you wish to see in the world” (Gandhi) applies to companies as well and starts by opening doors and asking if you can contribute your thought, knowledge, and experience input to the regulatory and strategy development processes of institutions. 

 

2 – Being a stakeholder credentialed with being involved with academia cooperation, policy making, being part of an effort to educate the public on your core topics etc. helps when needing to open doors, obtaining financing, etc. 

 

3 – Long term financing – usually from global finance centres – can help step over short term difficulties. Having a clear vision that is about the future and not catching up with others is what can drive such successes. 

 

4 – “Coopetition” is actually a thing – because it is better to fight together, as competitors, against something that threatens your whole sector, is better than hoping you will be the last one hit. There should be no borders when considering this – international networks help, as the stakes mount for multiple governments. #LeveragingValueChains

 

5 – You don’t know what you don’t know, and you can only find out if you allow yourself to get entangled in surprising and exotic (also legal) conversations. The catch is to become a knowledge broker. For that you need to find the right people to put you in touch with more right people, so that you become one with time. 

 

Finally, Global Romanians are themselves a “species” that traditionally divides binarily: those rooting for “home”, and those rooting internationally. How about we innovate a third, balancing version as well? It looks like this: flexible, innovative, good communicators, are part of several networks, can talk to global power competitors and get great deals from everybody. 

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