Fresh News

Monday, 27 September 2021

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen paid a visit to Romania

Joint press conference by President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, President Klaus Iohannis and Prime Minister Florin Cîțu


[check against delivery]


Klaus Iohannis: Welcome to Romania, welcome to Bucharest, President von der Leyen!

I am very glad to meet you on this special occasion. Good evening.  It is our great pleasure to welcome today here, as a guest, the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen. Welcome to Bucharest!

I hail the announcement made by Ms Von der Leyen about the PNRR(National Recovery and Resilience Plan), which received the green light from the European Commission today. Its approval represents a symbolic moment, of great importance for the future of our country.

This plan is the result of an intense dialogue with the European Commission in recent months, but also of an unprecedented institutional collective effort. It was an extremely laborious process, which required extraordinary work, under the pressure of time, and I thank all those who contributed to the successful development of this plan. However, the finalization of the National Plan and its approval by the Commission is only a stage win. Today we have taken an important step towards what we intend to achieve in Romania in the coming years, but the major challenges are only just beginning. Full and timely implementation of all measures in this plan is essential. I want us to be very well prepared for the most important stage - the start and, especially, the completion of the reforms we have undertaken. By accessing these funds provided by the European Union we can change Romania in-depth, we can build a country as we want.

The National Recovery and Resilience Plan is a very important instrument for Romania, which offers us, in addition to financing economic recovery actions, the resources to implement investments and structural reforms essential for the development of our country in the medium and long term. All these financial resources represent an extraordinary opportunity for us to invest in the construction of highways, railways, to modernize energy and environmental infrastructure, to develop the hospital network, to implement digitalization programs in economics, administration, to invest in education and healthcare infrastructure.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us very clearly that vulnerabilities in the healthcare system have profound implications for the economy, trust in governments and social cohesion. Therefore, investments in health are a defining pillar of this plan.

The Bucharest Emergency University Hospital, which I visited now together with President von der Leyen, is an edifying example of the contribution that European funds make to the modernization of hospital infrastructure in Romania. By using these funds, patients will benefit from quality care and the most advanced technologies in the field. But this is just the beginning. There is still a lot of work to be done from now on. We have a huge responsibility to ensure that European money will change Romania's face and bring a better life to our citizens.

Together with this Government, we managed to have this plan approved. Prime Minister, Ministers, Mayors and Presidents of County Councils, I ask you to make it an absolute priority to implement the reforms and the investments provided for in the National Recovery and Resilience Plan. It is a chance we are not allowed to miss, the chance to make Romania’s economy more efficient, more sustainable and better prepared for any crisis that may yet appear.

It is the chance to bequeath to future generations a deeply modernized Romania.

I remain an involved partner of this government, which aims to develop our country and together with the support of the European Commission, of President von der Leyen, we will mobilize the business sector, all local and central authorities so that the National Recovery and Resilience Plan is a major success for Romania. Thank you!

Florin Cîțu:

President Ursula von der Leyen,


Ladies and gentlemen,

I am glad that we are here today and that this moment has finally arrived because the workload was very high and the stakes accordingly.

I want to start by thanking President Ursula von der Leyen: the last few months have been intense, during all this time you have supported and guided us. The communication was excellent, thank you for that!

PNRR has been approved, signed and will be implemented, which for Romania will mean development, it will mean modernization. Over the next five years, PNRR will help us implement the reforms and investments we have undertaken.

And you will see that this automatically means that we will have a strong economy that will benefit all Romanians. Romania's PNRR is among the five best-funded Plans in the European Union, it was normal that the negotiations were not easy. We have honoured our commitment: PNRR has been approved, and by the end of the year we will receive pre-financing of 3.8 billion euros.

I am very pleased with the positive assessment of the Commission. This assessment shows that the PNRR is well structured, coherent in terms of reforms and investments and, above all, meets Romania’s current needs.

The fact that we got it 10 “A” ratings out of 11 shows the appreciation of the European Commission. It is essential for us, for Romanians that we managed, after intense negotiations, to introduce in PNRR some essential investments, and the construction of highways is something I especially care about.

Now we need to pay special attention to the implementation part. Everyone in charge has to do their job because every piece of the puzzle is important.

One thing I can guarantee is that the Romanian Government will implement all the reforms that have been undertaken, achieve all the proposed goals and do all of its tasks so that Romania will attract all the funds provided by PNRR because there is no other way. We can no longer stand still while the whole world develops.

Therefore, by 2026, when the PNRR is completed, we will have different standards for daily living and the economy will be close to the European average.

In short, in terms of reforms, we will improve access to health services for vulnerable Romanians and we will take the pressure off hospitals.

"Educated Romania", a project that both the president and I care about - will benefit from funding through PNRR. It is a project designed to improve early education, reduce early school leaving, improve dual education and, most importantly, digitize the entire education system.

We will stimulate the increase in the use of green energy - because this is clearly the future.

We will reform pensions and reduce inequalities. We will make sure that things work well in the pension system in five years, in 10 years and in 20 years.

We cannot live from one year to the next, we need predictability, and Romanians must know that they will receive a pension when they stop working.

To all this are added the tax reform, the administrative reform, plus reforms aimed at waste and water management, energy efficiency. A total of 64 reforms will be implemented which will benefit Romanians and boost confidence in the public sector.

As I say every time, reforms go hand in hand with investment. There is no other way. I have said since the beginning of my takeover that investment will be a priority in my term.

Therefore, the PNRR includes 107 investments from all fields. One-third of the allocations go to transport. It is the largest allocation approved by the Commission for this sector, and this will make a difference for Romania!

3.1 billion euros will be allocated for highways( A7, A8, A1 and A3), 3.9 billion euros for railways and trains, 1.2 billion euros for urban mobility and 600 million euros for underground investments in Bucharest and Cluj.

We also invest in the field of education, in the healthcare system - which will include new hospitals, new wards, modernization of existing buildings and, very importantly, new equipment. The list is long, all these allocations will build Romania, develop and modernize it.

Madam President, it is clear that if we were not part of this great family - the European Union - things would have been much more complicated for us. However, I am glad that Romania's PNRR makes an important contribution to two objectives of the European Union: the green transition and the digital one.

Thank you again!

Ursula von der Leyen: Thank you very much.

 Dear Mr President. Dear Klaus,

Mr Prime Minister, Dear Florin,

First of all, thank you very much for the very warm welcome I got here,  at the Bucharest Emergency University Hospital, the largest hospital in Romania as far as I have learnt. I really want to commend and applaud the medical staff, the doctors, the nurses, the healthcare workers. I was really impressed with what you presented to me, and it was amazing to see not only your professionalism but also the dedication you showed, the motivation you showed. And for me, it was also impressive to see what you have already achieved, but also the enormous plans of innovation and investments that are ahead of you, so, we owe you very much for all the work you are doing, thank you very much for that. And I am very glad that Next GenerationEU was able to power some of your ideas, in the right direction. So, thank you so much for that visit here. Indeed, NextGenerationEU is reshaping our continent for future generations. As you know, it is worth 800 billion euros in today’s prices, it is one of the largest recovery worldwide plans that exist, and it is the recovery that Europe and Romania need now and for the future.

And indeed, today, the European Commission is giving its green light to Romania’s Recovery and Resilience Plan, it follows a thorough assessment and very good cooperation that I really want to congratulate you two for that, and thank you for the excellent cooperation over the past weeks and months.

There are three main pillars that have already been mentioned. First, the Romanian plan will help us reach the objectives of the European Green Deal, 41 percent of the plan’s budget supports green sustainable investments. And it includes significant investments for example in sustainable transport, almost 4.5 billion euros for modern railway and metro infrastructure.

And indeed, we’ll soon see not also the roads but also the charging points for electric cars deployed everywhere in the country for clean road transport. Then, we’ll have more than half a billion euros invested in clean energy production, and for us it is important together in this plan, doing this green transformation, working on this green transformation to leave nobody behind.

Together, we are developing renewable energy and green hydrogen, and this is overall great news for Romanians because it means cleaner air in the country and protection of nature.

The second big pillar is devoted to digital transition, 21 percent, and we had an example here, in hospital, the future is digital, we could look into what the future will bring, for example, on the imaging sector in the medical domain. This plan will make public services much more accessible and much more efficient for the Romanian people because it will digitize the administration.

There will be a new government cloud, and electronic ID cards, for example, it will connect the country which is also so important, it is a wide and large country, it is so important to connect everybody, with the extension of high-speed internet. And of course, it will also help Romanian schools to go digital. The plan’s name is NextGenerationEU, so we should really and you do that, invest in the next generation.

And finally, I am very glad, that’s the third pillar that you chose to invest in strong healthcare, here digitalization means the quality of healthcare available remotely, so wherever you are, in the country. E-health is the key to access to very good high- quality medicines. You know that. And I am glad that your plan foresees almost 2 billion euros of investment for modern hospitals, including here the Bucharest Emergency Hospital.  

So, to conclude, the Romanian plan meets the very demanding criteria, we have jointly with the Council established. It combines, on the one hand, the investment in the green and the digital transition and it addresses the reforms that are necessary to address the Romanian structural challenges. So, for example, to put public finances on a sound footing, you invest in pension reform and the digital tax administration. And I really commend you for working on the minimum inclusion income. It is very important here too, to support the most vulnerable people and the low–income households.

And I very much like – if I look at the whole set of reforms that you are also reforming the education system, the next generation definitely deserves it.

So, our approval today is an important milestone, the disbursement of more than 29 billion euros which is more than 10 percent of GDP over the next years. And I would emphasize that it is good news to be here today, but by no means, it is the end of the journey, but in some ways, the hard work begins now, because now is about implementing and delivering the plan. And here, one word on absorption, we all know and we have discussed that together, the timely selection, planning and implementation of projects will be crucial, time is really of the essence because we have three years to really deliver. I am very confident that you will be able to build on the experience of the past programming periods. And I want you to know that I will stand with you every single step on the way forward, ensuring that the money is spent in line with what we have agreed.

NextGenerationEU is there to build a robust economy everywhere, in the European Union, a healthy and strong economy, and that is first and foremost built on trust, trust that makes business and investment thrive, so, I am very glad and you described the many reforms you are addressing now. It is of enormous importance to strengthen the capacity of your institutions and to really strengthen the economy of your country.

So, together, I think we can make this outstanding plan a big success. Thank you very much again, and now, I have the pleasure to hand over to you the approval of the work that you have achieved. So, congratulations on that!

Reporter: My question is for all the three officials. How can the Commission help more Romania given that our country is well behind the European average in terms of vaccination, and whether compulsory vaccination of certain categories of staff can be a solution?

Ursula von der Leyen: So, first of all, vaccination is of utmost importance. I asked everybody to take the opportunity to get vaccinated. Vaccination saves lives, it protects you, but it also protects your loved ones. We, in the European Union, are very lucky to have access to vaccines now. This is an enormous advantage, to protect our European people but also to reduce the risk of spreading the disease, and having more variants of concern.

So, I urge everybody if you have not taken the opportunity. Science is very well established, take the opportunity of getting vaccinated.

The second point: I think, it is national competence to decide how to convince people to get the vaccination. My experience is that we need a lot of good communication. It was very important that we saw in the European Union, on average, 73 percent of the adult population are vaccinated, and things are getting better with the vaccination. The impact of the virus is not as heavy and negative anymore and we know that it really saved lives, so, I really encouraged everyone to get vaccinated.

Florin Cîțu: When asked how the European Union could help - it helped a lot by having access to the vaccine at the same time as all the EU countries. We had a discussion today with the President of the European Commission about the vaccination campaign in Romania and the measures you have presented. There are several options in the EU and as you know, we are also taking these options into account in order to accelerate the vaccination campaign. We have seen an increase in the number of people getting vaccinated during this period. We have always said that the only solution to overcome the pandemic is vaccination. Any other measure will only slow down, but will not eliminate the pandemic. We are looking to see which are the measures that had the biggest impact on the rest of the European Union countries and we will use them here as well.

Klaus Iohannis: First of all, let me point out that, without the personal involvement of President von der Leyen, we would not have benefited from a significant number of vaccine doses as we did. President von der Leyen took the initiative, took a risk - and did well - and set up a mechanism whereby the entire European Union benefits from lots of doses of vaccine. And I would also like to take this opportunity and thank you, Madam President, for your extraordinary involvement in this area. And I emphasized this due to the fact that health is not among the Commission’s areas of competence. Health is a national competence, but this issue could not have been resolved without the intervention and support of the Commission. Furthermore, it is obvious that the Commission's support consists in the doses of vaccine that will continue to come to Romania and in the data that is being prepared by the European forums, the specialized commissions and which are distributed in all the Member States. But let me say something more about vaccination. We have a lot of Romanians who got vaccinated, today we asked for data and we saw that over 10 million doses of vaccine were distributed or given. There are almost five and a half million Romanians who are vaccinated with the complete scheme. It's a pity there are so few. If we look a little at what is happening in Europe, a few days ago, for example, I read an article about Denmark. While we have thousands and thousands of new cases daily and, unfortunately, also in intensive care, and deaths, in Denmark, all restrictions have been lifted. All restrictions. Why? Because almost everyone got vaccinated in Denmark. We would have had doses, and if we had all been vaccinated, as the Prime Minister and I and many others have recommended, we would not wear a mask. We could go anywhere in peace, attend concerts, shows, meetings of all kinds, without any restrictions. What made many people reluctant? We will see.

In this respect, I can add that together with the Prime Minister, I discussed meeting this week to reevaluate the vaccination campaign and to see how we can make it work. It is a paradox. We are in a full pandemic, we have the weapon which we can end the pandemic with and we are not using it, it is a shame, some are probably more reluctant, some require a few more days to think it over, others want additional data and we will see how we can convince more people. It is a pity to have so many ill people, people in intensive care and bereaved families when we could put an end to this acute phase of the pandemic with vaccination. Thank you.

Reporter: Can the political situation in Bucharest impact the signing and later the implementation of the National Recovery Plan? Thank you.

Ursula von der Leyen: So, first of all, I want to emphasize how grateful I am that we had excellent cooperation over the last weeks and months. It was a tough piece of work, to get this plan going. Like with all the other Member States, there is a lot of innovation in it, there are a lot of new topics in it, it is hard work, we need to match reform with investment and the milestones that we have agreed on to deliver. Many, many thanks for the excellent cooperation that was there. There is a reason why I have mentioned that, because building on the experience that our administrative staff in the Commission and the Romanian administration had together, we also know by now, that there are excellent conditions, there is a lot of trust between our administrations, we went through lots of ups and downs with developing the plan and we know exactly what is necessary. Now, looking forward, there is a reason, there are targets, milestones in every plan, also in the Romanian plan, that have to be met for the next tranche to be disbursed. Here, again, we offer all the support, all the advice that is possible and perhaps necessary to make sure that you meet the milestones, that you implement the necessary steps, that you meet the targets so that the next tranche can be disbursed, so, the very good system of checks and balances that make sure the European taxpayers’ money is invested in the right sense.

Florin Cîțu: There is no risk regarding the implementation of PNRR in Romania. Moreover, I believe that, as it was built, it will accelerate reforms that were slowed down or postponed for years in Romania. That is why we wanted very much that PNRR includes the pension reform, the salary system reform, the administrative reform, Educated Romania, to ensure that this system of reforms, with milestones, comes with investments. Reform and investment go hand in hand and, regardless of the political statements during this period, I do not think that there is any responsible politician in Romania who would want to play with the future of Romanians, in terms of PNRR.

Klaus Iohannis: There is no political risk for the implementation of the National Recovery and Resilience Plan. It does not exist because those reforms and investments that are included in the national plan are desired and expected by everyone. It is a very complex plan and I think most of you noticed that it took a long time before this plan was negotiated. It wasn't a mistake, it was an intention. Both those who negotiated and the President of the Commission and I wanted to have a plan that can be implemented immediately. We did not want a description of some intentions, as we have many as such.

We have many descriptions of intentions - both political and technical. I wanted a plan applicable for Romania, a plan for the modernization of Romania, with practical projects, and reforms, with precise deadlines, with specific costs and measurability. We know exactly what and the deadline for it. So it is much more than a project, it is a plan that must and can be implemented. And the Government will take care of the implementation of this plan. The European Commission President handed the PNRR approved, because even today I read that some have the impression that the plan has not been approved. It is approved. It is ready for implementation. And this will happen and we will change Romania for the better, we will modernize Romania through this Recovery and Resilience Plan, resilience meaning resistance to shocks. Therefore, we don't want the next crisis to catch us off guard. The measures we implement, the investments, and the reforms will make Romania much more resilient, better and will bring better living standards for every Romanian.

Reporter: When does the first tranche of funding enter the country and for what particular field could it be granted?

Ursula von der Leyen: So, the next step now is the Council, that will also give its go, that will ask four weeks, and then, we can disburse the first tranche immediately, because the Commission has gone already to the capital market, issued bonds, also green bonds, it was a big success, they were heavily oversubscribed, so, we had enough capital that can immediately be disbursed.

Florin Cîțu: Our calculations, our information have shown so far that if we look at the calendar, the first tranche should enter the country at the end of November, 3.8 billion euros. There are several sectors in which this money can be used, for the Educated Romania project, the transports and fiscal reform. There are several chapters, to which this money can be allocated. The serious bonuses are in the first trimester, next year. We have some at the end of this year, and for those, we will use that money.

Reporter: What solutions does the European Commission have for the countries that sent requests linked to the surging prices in electricity and gas? Do you agree with price capping, asked by the many Member States?

Ursula von der Leyen: Right now, we are in the process of analyzing together, first of all, the reason for the energy rise. What we see is a global phenomenon, it is not a phenomenon that is only in Europe, but it is a global phenomenon because gas prices overall are rising. Why that? This has two different components. The first one, during the pandemic and the lockdown, of course, the demand for energy was drastically reduced. Now, we see an enormous rise in the demand for gas, mainly in Asia which is picking up fast driving the prices up. And then, a second topic, the lack of speedy response of the supply. I am very glad that our Norwegian friends increased the supply in a short term and I hope that Russia will do the same, and follow that good example that we see with Norway. It is important for you to know also that the overall energy prices are composed not only of gas but also of renewable energy. Here the good news is that the prices are stable and have fallen over time, so the investment in renewable is the right way, it makes us independent from imports of, for example, gas, oil, and it gives us energy that is renewable and has costs that are decreasing over time. Now, we will next week, at the European Council in Slovenia, discuss the whole topic. Indeed, the Commission will come with proposals, what we can do on the European Union level, how we can relieve, for example, vulnerable households, small incomes, small businesses of the pressure of high energy prices. That is the goal that we address the topic not Member State by Member State but the European Union together because the experience of last years showed that whatever the crisis is, we are stronger, when we act together, and here, the leverage of 450 million Europeans should be used to find solutions for people.

Klaus Iohannis: I would comment a bit on this. It was not accidentally that the EC President and I discussed this thoroughly today including this issue. I want one thing to be very clear: high prices in energy, especially at electricity, are not solely a Romanian issue, but one that has become global. Everyone is affected by these price increases, we want to search and find solutions starting next week when we attend an Informal Council in Slovenia, and we will have the first ideas and solutions to approach the issue. A second very important thing, even if this issue was not generated by us, we must address it, and I know that the Government has taken it very seriously. It prepared a package, at the beginning for the vulnerable consumer, you may have noticed that that law was promulgated one day after I received it from Parliament, exactly in order to give the Government time to prepare these compensations or other measures for people who cannot afford to pay more. Much more is needed in this respect and I know for sure that these issues are discussed and prepared by the Government. Entrepreneurship needs active measures as these higher prices will be quickly felt by the real economy, and obviously, they will have an impact on other prices as well. Therefore, we did not generate this problem, but we will come up with specific solutions now, as soon as possible and in parallel, at the European level, we will search for ampler solutions as we want to solve the issue in a consistent manner. Thank you.



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