BUCHAREST, Romania — Romania’s membership in the European Union has brought “peace and stability to our continent,” the European Commission’s president said Thursday, adding there should not be a second-rate Europe.
Jean-Claude Juncker told the country’s Parliament that Romanians are “a courageous and committed people.”
Juncker said that Romania’s EU membership in 2007 had extended the bloc’s reach to the Black Sea that forms Romania’s eastern border.
“In the EU, there have never been second-rate countries or countries that are left behind,” Juncker said. However he said European countries could progress “with different rhythms. A Europe with several speeds is foreseen in treaties.”
There is some sensitivity, even resentment, among Romanians about their place in the EU. A decade after joining, Romania still isn’t part of the visa-free Schengen travel zone and the EU is still monitoring the government’s progress on judicial reform and fighting corruption.
Juncker said Romania deserves to be a Schengen member as soon as possible.
His comments came days after Romanian President Klaus Iohannis told lawmakers that the country is “not a second-rate state in the EU,” and urged citizens to “overcome an internal barrier that prevents us from manifesting our national capacity and limits us to unjustly considering ourselves a second-level state.”
Juncker said when Romania takes over the presidency of the EU in 2019, it should no longer be monitored by the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism implemented when it joined the bloc.
“One cannot preside over the European Union while under the impression that one is controlled by the others,” he said, noting he had personally promised this at the beginning of his mandate.
Speaking later at a reception at the Cotroceni presidential palace, Iohannis underscored the European credentials of Romanians, calling them “the most pro-European citizens of the union,”
Iohannis said the country could “reinvigorate and consolidate” the European project. “In a region marked by complex challenges, Romania has the advantage of being a source of stability.”
Juncker warmly greeted former Romanian prime ministers, and tightly hugged Traian Basescu, president from 2004 to 2014, kissing him on the forehead.