Romania took over the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union on January 1 and pressure is already high.
In the coming months, the presidency will need to navigate a changing and treacherous political and diplomatic landscape, from Brexit to the European Parliament election. This comes at a time when the country’s embattled government is accused of backsliding on anti-corruption efforts and pushing the country away from EU values.
Romania has faced early questions on its preparedness — or lack thereof — to take the wheel on EU policymaking on the Council side. To prove the doubters wrong, it will have to give a decisive push to a few key legislative files still waiting for the white smoke to come out of interinstitutional negotiations before the European election. They range from rules on food transparency to efforts to regulate e-commerce.
Here are 19 key Romanians you need to know in Brussels.
The Romanian ambassador is well aware of the difficulties ahead. “We will face a lot of challenges,” Odobescu told POLITICO ahead of the start of Bucharest’s presidency. “The legislative window is quite limited, while we have a lot of important files on the table.” She vowed that the Romanian presidency will be “ready and committed” to starting work on the future relationship between the U.K. and the EU. A career diplomat with expertise in energy, economic and monetary union, taxation and trade — she led negotiations on these issues during her country’s accession talks — Odobescu has had a long experience in Brussels. In her current position, she has improved the Romanian representation’s communications efforts and opened it up for events. A Francophile, she is a driving force behind a group of French-speaking ambassadors in Brussels that works to promote the French language and multilingualism in EU institutions.
Crețu is the European commissioner for regional policy, which makes her highly influential in countries that are net recipients of EU development funds, including Romania. She is a member of Romania’s ruling Social Democratic Party, or PSD, and, having served as both vice president of the European Parliament and an MEP, she is exceptionally well-connected in Brussels. She will likely play an important backstage role in Romania’s EU presidency. Crețu is also part of the old guard of PSD leaders and very much at odds with her party’s current leadership, embodied by the controversial Liviu Dragnea, president of the Romanian chamber of deputies. Her sharp and frequent criticism of the PSD government’s inability to make use of EU funds is regularly picked up by opposition-leaning media in Romania.
In 2015, a POLITICO investigation found that nearly half of her closest staff had resigned during her first year in office and raised concerns about a light work schedule as well as a tendency to combine official trips with leisure travel and to ask staff to perform personal tasks. Crețu defended her record, saying she had maintained a busy public schedule and her work was based on honesty and integrity.
During the country’s EU presidency, Crețu is expected to make a useful ally for President Klaus Iohannis, a former liberal leader who also fiercely opposes Dragnea.
A former agriculture minister, Irimescu is the point man for agriculture policy under the Romanian presidency. One of his team’s key tasks will be to wrap up the reform of the EU’s General Food Law — legislation on how companies publish information about their products. The 60-year-old will also likely have to contend with pressure from European Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan to make progress on his proposal to overhaul the Common Agricultural Policy. Irimescu has headed Romania’s agriculture team at its permanent representation to the EU since 2017. He also serves as the country’s spokesperson for the Special Committee on Agriculture (SCA), one of the most influential agricultural bodies in the Council of the EU.
The Romanian presidency will have the difficult task of bringing the digital single market to the finish line, when only the most controversial files are left on the negotiating table. For example, the fate of the e-privacy regulation will fall on the shoulders of telecoms and cybersecurity attaché Ramona Niță. The privacy reform, put forward by the European Commission to protect the confidentiality of electronic communications, has been stuck in the Council of the EU for two years. Also at the permanent representation of Romania to the EU, Lucian-Petru Dobrogeanu is in charge of data protection and retention, Corina Panaitopol of copyright and Karina Stan of the platform-to-business regulation. The copyright reform and the platform-to-business proposal — a regulation aimed at enhancing transparency in the relations between platforms such as Amazon and Google and their business partners — are both at interinstitutional negotiations stage, meaning they are the most likely to close under the Romanian presidency.
Manescu has spent a decade transforming how the EU communicates with Europeans. First, Manescu led the European Council’s social media efforts, and since 2012 she’s been in charge of the same thing at the European Commission, building up more than 1 million followers on Twitter alone. While sometimes self-congratulatory and stiff, the EU’s online comms has greatly improved under Manescu, in particular by riding the global video wave, engaging in dialogue instead of lectures, and tapping into the existing interests of citizens instead of merely pumping out pro-EU propaganda. As a secondee to the Romanian presidency, Manescu’s task will be to highlight the technical work of the Romanian government, and promote the country’s brand in parallel, seeking to steer clear of the country’s toxic domestic politics and corruption.
Mureşan is an economist and, since 2015, spokesperson of the center-right European People’s Party. As a member of the European Parliament, Mureşan is also vice chair of the Parliament’s budgets committee, a key role as the bloc seeks to finalize its next seven-year budget running from 2021-2027. Mureşan has strong links to Germany, having worked as adviser to the chair of the German Bundestag’s European affairs committee.
As Facebook’s policy communication manager, Gradinaru is part of the company’s first line of defense in Brussels. Once an adviser to then-European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes, Gradinaru has been in crisis communication mode for the past year, trying to calm lawmakers’ outrage over privacy scandals, terrorist content and a fake news debacle. She was on Mark Zuckerberg’s detail when the Facebook chief executive officer visited the European Parliament. Gradinaru is a dual national of France and Romania and got into EU policy as a trainee in the office of Kroes, the Dutch commissioner who crafted much of the initial plans for the European digital single market, and was part of the Commission’s campaign to end mobile roaming charges in Europe.
One of the leading Romanian journalists in Brussels, Pop is a stalwart of the press corps, having reported for more than a decade from the EU’s de facto capital. Pop’s 13 years of EU reporting include seven years at EU Observer before she moved to the Wall Street Journal in 2015. Her other assignments include two years as the Economist’s Romania correspondent.
EPP MEP Marian-Jean Marinescu plays an outsized role in most aviation-related legislation in Brussels. An aerospace engineer by training, Marinescu was among the first batch of MEPs Romania sent to Brussels after it joined the EU in 2007. Marinescu has carved out a role for himself in some of the more technical pieces of legislation doing the rounds, including drone safety, airspace reform and technological innovation. These days Marinescu is busy with the 2021-2027 EU budget, wrangling the Commission to put more money in infrastructure and research funds like the Connecting Europe Facility and the European Fund for Strategic Investments.
Staicu is the health attaché at the permanent representation and will be in charge of getting EU countries to make progress on some entrenched files, such as joint clinical assessments on the value of medicines. He has more than eight years of experience in Brussels and previously served as an adviser to the health ministry in Bucharest. In the European Parliament, Staicu might want to keep an eye on a fellow Romanian, Cristian-Silviu Bușoi, who is also involved in some key health files. A physician by training, Bușoi has led opinions on health funding and health technology assessment. He is a member of Romania’s National Liberals, an opposition party back home that comes under the European People’s Party umbrella. Bușoi was first elected to the European Parliament in 2007.
Vălean has been the chair of the European Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee since January 2017, steering work on contentious issues such as climate policy, health care and hazardous chemicals. Like Bușoi, Valean is a member of the National Liberal Party and the EPP group. Prior to her election as chairwoman of ENVI, Vălean served as a vice president of the European Parliament.
Boiangiu, a career diplomat, is Romania’s deputy ambassador at its mission to the EU. He will be in charge of steering the Council’s work on all policies related to energy, climate, transport, agriculture and competitiveness. Prior to taking on his role in Brussels in April 2016, Boiangiu served as Romania’s ambassador to Slovenia. Before that, he was in charge of managing Romania’s relations with the United Nations within the foreign ministry.
Frantescu founded VoteWatch Europe, an independent organization compiling data on the voting behavior of EU governments and members of the European Parliament. Its data mining and analytics tools were originally developed in 2009 to inform the public in the context of the European Parliament election. VoteWatch will be one of the go-to sources to assess MEPs’ voting records and policy choices in the last five years, ahead of the 2019 European election. Frantescu is also a member of the European Artificial Intelligence Alliance.
As spokespersons of the Romanian Permanent Representation to the EU, Pop and Anghel will be the first point of contact for many journalists and other stakeholders seeking information from the presidency. Anghel joins the Romania diplomatic service from the European Parliament, where she worked as an adviser for four years, following six years at Microsoft as a communications manager.
Reporting by Ryan Heath, Kait Bolongaro, Laurens Cerulus, Laura Greenhalgh, Anca Gurzu, Katie Jennings, Laura Kayali, Matei Rosca, Saim Saeed and Marion Solletty.