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Embassy Row

- The Washington Times - Friday, November 28, 2008

NEW REVOLUTION

When he came to Washington as Romania's ambassador in 1996, Mircea Dan Geoana praised capitalism as the key to success for his country after decades of economic decline under communist rule.

Now he believes the free market failed Romania, as he calls for a socialist revolution to replace a conservative government that neglected to prepare the country for the current global financial crisis.

"We are speaking about a revolution into how the Romanian modern state should operate," he told the Associated Press in an interview at Social Democratic Party headquarters in the capital, Bucharest.

Mr. Geoana, who served as foreign minister from 2000 to 2004 under a previous socialist government and now chairs the socialist party, advocates imposing higher taxes on the rich and spreading the wealth to poor Romanians in villages and small towns still trapped in 19th-century agricultural practices. He also predicted difficult economic times for Romania for the next year to 18 months.

"It's going to be tough," he said. "If we use this crisis as an opportunity to get our act together, we might be seeing Romania stronger."

Romanians appear to be embracing Mr. Geoana's populist message. A new public opinion poll shows that 35.4 percent of Romanians back the socialist, while 31.5 percent support the ruling conservative party.

Shortly after he arrived in Washington, Mr. Geoana promoted Romania as a country developing a free market and soliciting foreign investment. In a March 1996 interview with Embassy Row, he said Romania had privatized 45 percent of its economy and the remaining state-owned property was being quickly sold.

"We are at a point of no return," he said in the interview. "With a new stock exchange, we are re-entering the capital market after 60 years. Romania is looking for business opportunities. Doing business is the best way of healing wounds."

Romanians overthrew and executed communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in a bloody revolution in 1989.

LOWER EXPECTATION

The European Union's ambassador in Washington is warning his EU colleagues against excessive optimism over what Barack Obama can achieve after he is inaugurated as president in January.

"A lot of Europeans don't understand that a president is not all-powerful in the American presidential system," Ambassador John Bruton told the Associated Press this week.

Mr. Bruton is worried that the new administration will be unable to persuade Congress to adopt European-styled climate-change regulations, even though both the House and Senate will be controlled by Mr. Obama's own Democratic Party. Europeans are preparing for a summit in Copenhagen at the end of next year to adopt a new pact on global warming to replace the Kyoto treaty.

Former President Bill Clinton approved the Kyoto treaty, but his allies on Capitol Hill warned him they did not have the necessary two-thirds vote to get Senate approval, even though the upper house of Congress was also controlled by Democrats at the time.

In a speech earlier this month, Mr. Bruton predicted that Mr. Obama will be preoccupied with pressing domestic issues like the financial crisis to spend too much time on foreign policy.

"There are now, of course, high expectations in Europe of a major change in policy in the United States with the election of President Obama and of a Democratic majority in Congress," he said in a speech to the Bertelsmann Foundation.

"To those in Europe who expect big changes very quickly, I would refer to domestic constraints on the president's freedom to act internationally," he said. "What many are worried about is that the United States won't be ready for Copenhagen."

• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washington times.com.