|Vol.7, No.3, 18.1.01, p8
ROMANIA'S new prime minister may share a surname with his country's most famous tennis player but it is not going to be game, set and match when Adrian Nastase pays an official visit to Brussels next week.
The newly-elected Social Democrat will face a volley of questions from Enlargement Commissioner Günter Verheugen and finance chief Pedro Solbes, who must be convinced that he can deliver the political and economic reforms needed to improve Romania's last-place ranking in the accession challenge.
"The message to the Romanians will be: 'You have to push ahead with tough reforms and do them quickly,'" said one European Commission official.
The EU has expressed cautious optimism that Nastase's minority government can improve on the performance of the previous four-party coalition. One of the new prime minister's first achievements was to persuade the opposition Liberals and the ethnic Hungarian party to agree that joining the Union and NATO was a top priority for Romania and that they would support the necessary legislation in Parliament.
Nastase will need political consensus for the difficult reforms Romania must take to overcome more than a decade of missed opportunities that have left the country with the lowest per capita income levels and the weakest economy of the ten applicant countries from central and eastern Europe.
The Commission refused to pull its punches in last year's report on Romania's progress towards EU membership, saying the country "cannot be regarded as a functioning market economy and is not able to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union in the medium term".
Commission President Romano Prodi and Verheugen are expected to press Nastase to tackle the problems faced by the country's Roma gypsy community, which continues to face discrimination over work and educational opportunities.
The premier will hear from Solbes about the need to improve the state of public finances. Nastase has already pledged to boost economic growth to 4.5-6% over the next three years and cut inflation from its current level of more than 40% a year to single figures.
The Commission is urging Romania to speed up the privatisation process and put social security and health care spending back on a sound footing. It is also concerned about the country's failure to restructure its large farm sector.
In its negotiations to join the EU, Bucharest has wrapped up the fewest chapters of any of the applicant countries but is hoping to start work on six new areas during the Swedish presidency.
Romanian diplomats are confident that the new government has already taken important steps to speed up the pace of reforms. They point out that within each ministry there will be a state secretary devoted to EU affairs and to steering new legislative proposals through the Parliament.
Given the challenges he faces, the prime minister will need to serve up the kind of aces that made Ilie Nastase a champion back in the 70s.
Romania's new Prime Minister, Adrian Nastase, is about to pay an official visit to Brussels.
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