Romanian flags flying at the Triumphal Arch in Bucharest, Source: Depositphotos

Does the EU really mistreat Eastern Europe?

Does the EU really mistreat Eastern Europe?

Debunking a false narrative that often prevails in Romanian media

In September 2018, Romanian die-hard Eurosceptic Ilie Serbanesu, writing for the publication Romania Libera, described his country as one that quickly had turned, and remarkably without any foreign military occupation, into “a poor colony”. In another online publication, Jurnalul National, the West, he claimed, “took Romania in NATO and the EU and, in only ten years, with an unimaginable speed on a historical scale, drained it! It took under control of our natural resources, energy distributions, banks, forests, lands, industries”.

Such comments are representative of a popular trend that tries to portray the European Union as an imperial power determined to exploit Eastern European countries by means of stealing their resources and national assets and eroding their national sovereignty.

Portrayals of the EU and Romania’s Western partners as malicious imperialist powers hold no ground when placed under close scrutiny, but nevertheless manage to gain advocates in Romanian society through disinformation.

The myth of the aggressive EU

That sort of narrative seeks to paint any issues between Brussels and an Eastern European country as evidence of that supposed quest for dominance. Adrian Severin, a politician involved in a corruption scandal, speaking to Radio Gold FM stated for example:

The EU has announced that it will penalize Hungary by forcing the Budapest Government to follow a path that the people do not want. They can no longer call themselves leaders of the European Union, this is called imperialism.

The comment was made after Viktor Orban, leader of the FIDESZ ruling party emerged victorious in the 2022 Hungarian parliamentary elections. It was meant to portray the EU as an anti-democratic actor that punishes Hungary for choosing a Eurosceptic leader. The argument is false, however, because the so-called “penalization” Adrian Severin talked about, was not an aftermath of the Hungarian election. It was a disciplinary procedure commission triggered by the European Commission.

President Ursula von der Leyen made the accusation against Viktor Orban's administration in front of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. This procedure complies with the EC Conditionality Regulation, which became effective on 1 January 2021. It hadn't been used by the European Commission before. Poland and Hungary appealed the decision to the EU Court of Justice on 11 March 2021. On 16 February 2022, the Court issued a decision in this case and dismissed both appeals.

The Luxembourg Court also came to the conclusion that the EU law and its obligations with regard to the rule of law were in line with European regulation. Therefore, the decision of the EU institutions to pursue legal action against Hungary was legitimate and in line with EU law, hardly a political attack against the popularity of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

The myth of national assets robbed by the West

According to another false claim made by Diana Iovanovici Soşoacă, a far-right senator linked to plenty of conspiracy theories about the EU, the COVID pandemic and the war in Ukraine, the most valuable Romanian partly-public enterprise, Hidroelectrica, will be sold to foreigners on the London Stock Exchange.

In reality, only the 19.94% owned by Fondul Proprietatea (an investment joint stock company created by the government with the aim of it turning private) would be sold, and the company will only be listed on the Bucharest Stock Exchange. The claim that "Fondul Proprietatea no longer belongs to the Romanians", which she made on Zeus TV was false because only the Romanians who have shares in the fund have ever owned it. Nonetheless, FP's shareholding is currently organized as follows: BNY Mellon, foreign institutional shareholders, non-resident people, Romanian institutional shareholders, Romanian natural persons, the Ministry of Public Finance, and FP's own shares make up 72.47% of the total.

The reality is that Romania, as well as Eastern European countries like Hungary and Poland, are member states with full rights within the EU benefiting from integration just like any other Western EU country.

Claims that Brussels forced these countries into an unequal and exploitative partnership are misleading narratives maliciously designed to erode the trust citizens have in European institutions and to play into harmful nationalist interests promoted in and by some questionable media outlets.

This article is part of Read Twice – an EU-funded project, coordinated by Euro Advance Association that targets young people and aims to counter disinformation and fake news by enhancing their skills to assess critically information, identify vicious and harmful media content and distinguish between facts and opinions, thus improving their media literacy competences.

The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of its author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the European Union nor of TheMayor.EU



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