Romania’s ambassador to the Republic of Turkey, H.E. Gabriel Șopandă, has been a career diplomat for more than two decades focusing mainly on the Middle East and Northern Africa, non-proliferation and disarmament issues, as well as Transatlantic and European affairs. He was dealing with EU affairs in Brussels and worked as Chief of Staff of the Minister of Foreign Affairs between 2007-2009. He holds a PhD in Economy and a MSc in International Business with The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Before being appointed as Ambassador of Romania to the Republic of Turkey, he coordinated the political team of the Embassy of Romania in Washington D.C. and worked as the deputy head of mission of the Romanian Embassy in Tel Aviv. He presents the situation of the Romanian-Turkey relationship.
TGR: How would you describe the importance and role of the bilateral relationship between Romania and Turkey?
Turkey is a key partner of Romania. This is reflected both in our bilateral cooperation in political and economic terms, as well as in our common efforts in the wider Black Sea region. Turkey and Romania are also members of the Transatlantic Alliance and they share security and defense interests. For many years, Turkey has been a privileged commercial partner for us and this is due primarily to the geographical proximity, but also to cultural and social connections that facilitate cooperation.
Underlining our solid bilateral relation, Romania and Turkey have a Strategic Partnership, which was signed in 2011, at Presidential level, as well as a Joint Action Plan since 2013that identify the key areas of cooperation, ranging from investment to culture and education.
Beyond our continuous dialogue on bilateral, regional and multilateral challenges and opportunities, in 2018 we celebrate two very important landmarks: the Centennial of the Great Union of Romania and 140 years of Romanian-Turkish diplomatic relations. Notwithstanding any challenges that the future may present, Romania and Turkey can always rely on their close traditional friendship.
TGR: What are your main priorities currently and for the future as Romania’s Ambassador to Ankara?
Overall, the priority of an Embassy, and, implicitly, of an Ambassador, in a strategic partner country like Turkey, is to do its utmost to build a solid and trust-based dialogue between our governments, to identify new opportunities, to support and enhance the bilateral relationship through ongoing high level and work level contacts, and then implement such opportunities.
Priorities will also be dictated by the political agenda of Bucharest and Ankara. This will be the case during Romania’s rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union, during the first half of 2019, when Romania will also be a voice for European Union’s continued support for refugees hosted in Turkey, as well as for strengthening Ankara – Brussels dialogue.
High level contacts also set our current priorities and imprint a new dynamic into the relation – the Romanian Prime Minister’s official visit to Ankara in October allowed for a comprehensive review of our most important bilateral co-operation projects in the areas of defense, transport, trade, agriculture, health and education.
We will continue to facilitate the contacts between the Romanian and the Turkish authorities in the bilateral, regional or multilateral frameworks and will aim to ensure that they also bring added value to business, academic and cultural environments.
Romania and the Romanian community have a good image in Turkey. We share a common appreciation of our historical bonds, reflected in gastronomy, culture and hospitality. Tourism has a significant contribution in building such bonds, as Romanians are one of the top nationalities among international tourists in Turkey, particularly with regard to occupancy levels of the Turkish sea-side resorts. When referring to Romanian personalities in Turkey, the most known are the football players, but also cultural personalities who contribute a lot to building a positive image of Romania in Turkey.
I think there is an important potential to develop these human ties, particularly by promoting tourism in Romania for Turkish nationals. Also, student exchanges, thanks to Erasmus and Erasmus Plus, are very appreciated and play an important role in building bridges between our countries. Another important, and recent development is the increasingly tighter cooperation between our administrations, as we are a top nation for developing cross-border and twinning programs with Turkey.
TGR: What is the status of economic relations between Romania and Turkey? What opportunities can Turkish investors find in Romania and vice-versa?
As I mentioned before, Turkey is a privileged trading partner for Romania. It is the largest partner outside EU, ranking on the 6th place overall.
The increase in trade volumes in the first nine month of 2018 has been significant, although with fluctuations recently, as a result of the variations in the Turkish lira exchange rate since August 2018. Maintaining this trend is likely to result in a total of 5.5 billion euro on bilateral exchanges by the end of the year, which means an increase of 10%. During the recent visit of the Romanian Prime Minister, the ambitious goal of reaching 10 billion USD in bilateral exchanges, in the upcoming period, was reiterated by the Turkish side. The Romanian trading companies can contribute to reaching this goal, by taking advantage of the scale of the Turkish market, encompassing 80 million inhabitants.
Investments are present and viable on both sides. The major Turkish investment projects in Romania, in areas like banking, manufacturing, food processing or constructions, are doubled by a strong presence of Turkish small and medium enterprises in our county, another good example of the ease with which our peoples are working together and developing partnerships. On the governmental sides, there is a marked interest to develop more private-public partnerships, in important sectors such as construction and health.
TGR: What is your personal message to our international audience?
The 21st Century together with its shifts and challenges has brought along a very complex society where common ground between cultures as well as open dialogue with each other is getting more and more difficult. It is high time we show tolerance in all relations and more openness in the inter-cultural dialogue. No one is better or worse, be it based on religion or ethnicity and what I genuinely hope is that in the future we will simply live together. I would end by recalling a campaign launched by the Council of Europe in 2006, ”All different, all equal” hoping that each and one of us will consider this not only at international level but also at inter personal, individual level.