‘Israel can count on Romania as a good friend’

Romanian FM Aurescu tells ‘Post’ Bucharest is working to bring Israel and the EU closer.

Mr. Bogdan Aurescu, Romanian  Foreign Affairs Minister. (photo credit: EMBASSY OF ROMANIA IN ISRAEL)
Mr. Bogdan Aurescu, Romanian Foreign Affairs Minister.
Romania will continue to encourage the rest of the EU to strengthen its ties with Israel, Romanian Foreign Minister Bogdan Aurescu told The Jerusalem Post.
“You may count on Romania as a good friend. We have already proven this,” Aurescu said on Thursday.
The EU and Israel “are firm believers in democratic principles and values. They have a lot in common and have to work together on many aspects regarding the region,” he said.
Romania is one of the countries that backs the reinstatement of the EU-Israel Association Council, and Aurescu brought up the topic at the EU Foreign Affairs Council, as well as in a meeting of EU foreign ministers with Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi in Berlin in August.
The Association Agreement signed between Israel and the EU in 1995 is the legal basis defining relations between the sides. It establishes an Association Council, which is meant to ensure a dialogue and improve relations between the parties.
The Association Council has not met since 2013, as a form of protest by the EU against Israeli settlements and policies towards the Palestinians, starting after Operation Protective Edge in 2014.
EU High Commissioner for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell is strongly in favor of restarting the Association Council with Israel, and has tried to convince member states of its merit, but a number of Western European states have called for progress towards peace with the Palestinians before the council can be called.
Aurescu said “our position is that the EU-Israel Association Council should resume without any preconditions relating to the Middle East Peace Process. The EU and Israel should enhance their bonds.”
Most EU foreign ministers support that position, especially following normalization agreements between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan, Aurescu said.
“I hope that this process will continue,” he added. “I’m encouraged by the fact that minister Ashkenazi and colleagues worked hard on the process of normalization in substance, reaching agreements and understandings with these three countries.”
Perceptions of these agreements have been very positive within the EU, and Aurescu said he is convinced the EU-Israel Association Council can be pushed forward.
In 2019, Romania’s prime minister at the time Viorica Dăncilă said that her government planned to move the country’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The speaker of parliament in Bucharest soon followed.
However, the government has changed since then, and Aurescu said Dăncilă was speaking beyond of her authority as it is the president who makes decisions on foreign policy, and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis opposes the move.
“The position of Romania on that has not changed,” Aurescu said. “We will stick to our position for the time being that we have to follow the international framework on this issue.”
“The status of Jerusalem is connected to core issues of the peace process. I just hope there will be progress,” he added.
For now, Aurescu said, Romania is staying with the EU’s decision not to fully ban Hezbollah.
The EU has divided Hezbollah into a military wing and a political wing, and only banned the former, though the terrorist group does not divide itself in that way. Israel has been pushing countries around the world, including those in Europe, to ban the Lebanese Shi’a terrorist group in its entirety.
Five EU member states have banned Hezbollah so far, including Germany, Lithuania and Estonia this year.
Aurescu said Romania is analyzing the decisions other countries have made on the matter and has not reached a decision yet.
Romania is also working on a national strategy to fight antisemitism and xenophobia, which Aurescu said is expected to be finished by the end of the year. A draft has already been published for public review.
Aurescu pointed out that the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism was adopted during Romania’s presidency in 2016, and the country adopted the definition soon after.
“We continue to be very vocal in combating antisemitism, xenophobia, hate speech and all related violent behavior,” he said. “Romania can be considered one of the models in the region, leading the effort against antisemitism.”
Aurescu spoke to The Jerusalem Post the week after Romanian Prime Minister Ludovic Orban visited Israel, and Aurescu said the trip was “excellent… very substantive… [and] opened areas of cooperation between Romania and Israel.”
Discussions touched on a wide range of topics, including defense industries, cooperation in the fields of water management, agriculture and energy, among others.
The countries also have a working group on economic issues, initiated by Aurescu and Ashkenazi earlier this year.
High on the agenda of next week’s meeting of the economic working group is cooperation on manufacturing COVID-19 vaccines, though Aurescu said concrete details have still to be determined.