Csíkszereda Musings

My life in and around Csíkszereda, also known as Miercurea Ciuc.

Archive for the ‘EU’ Category

Corruption article

Posted by Andy Hockley on 23 July, 2008

Not really my thing to just link to articles and not add anything of my own, but am a bit pressed for time, and wanted to make sure that anyone who hadn’t yet seen it, has the chance to see this article by Tom Gallagher on corruption in Romania and the EU’s response to it in the FT (today is the day that the report comes out, which will almost certainly contain the usual finger wagging inaction)

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Posted in EU, romania | 1 Comment »

Racism returns to the European mainstream

Posted by Andy Hockley on 11 July, 2008

What the hell is going on in Italy? Berlusconi is using his first weeks in power not only to evade prosecution in all the corruption trials he’s up against, but he and his government seem hell-bent on returning the country to the days of Mussolini.

Recently, for example,

Italy’s highest appeal court ruled that it was acceptable to discriminate against Roma on the grounds that “all Gypsies were thieves”

(taken from this article)

I mean…christ on a bike, this is fucking appalling (I hope you’ll excuse the language, but when talking about acts as repulsive and racist as those which the Italian government is currently engaged in and engaged in supporting, strong language is unavoidable)

When an angry mob went on the rampage and burnt down a Rroma slum, the government’s response was… to praise them.

This is a country in Western Europe. In the G8. in 2008. And it is being run by a bunch of vile extremist throwback bigots and no-one is saying or doing a thing about it. It’s appalling.

The EU prides itself (with no little justification) on helping to rebuild a Europe shattered by war and fascism, and to ensuring that the conflicts of the past could never happen again. Yet it sits idly by while one of its core members returns to the 1930s.

Posted in EU, politics, rants | 1 Comment »

Milking it

Posted by Andy Hockley on 4 July, 2008

A couple of years ago, I pondered on the impact that EU membership would have on the small farmers of Romania. Just to clarify, the farmers of Romania are not, to my knowledge, any smaller than farmers anywhere else – many are of average height and build, while some are even quite tall. There are just rather a lot of them (farmers of all sizes) and they mostly have very small farms. In fact many of their farms would not actually be described as farms by most people and more like “having a cow or two in their back garden”. In fact, I think I should probably go with smallholder, so as to not delude you as to the scale of their operations.

Anyway, I have recently learned a little bit more about what EU membership means for these smallholders (and indeed what having all these smallholders means for the EU). Specifically in the dairy sector.

You see, the way things work around here is that people in villages own a cow or two. Every morning people open their gates, and the cows wander out on to the street and follow each other and the village cowbloke who escorts them all to a field where they all spend the day quietly pondering the scenery, rambling, and painting watercolours of the tranquil countryside. At the end of the day, they are led back through the village, during which walk they all peel off and go into their own homes. Really, they do that, they don’t need to be guided or anything, and the cowbloke doesn’t need to recognise all the cows, they just go home of their own accord. I mean cows may not be the most actively intelligent of animals, but they are not, well, sheep.

[By the way, and I have no idea whether this is true or not, but the joke around these parts is that the one place that it doesn’t work like this is in the Ploiesti area, in which everybody has so little to do, that they all take care of their own cows. Sort of a one-cow town]

Anyway, before they all go out for the day to their alfresco creche (Kühegarten?), they get milked by their owners. The aformentioned owners then take the milk to the village collection point, where it is deposited and cooled and then at some point picked up by the tanker which takes it all to the dairy. I think in the past, much of this dairy activity happened in the village itself, or at least in some villages, but with the changes brought upon by the EU, the only dairies that remain are the large ones which can afford to ensure all procedures and tests are met, and which are usually situated in the major population centres. So a fleet of tankers is despatched every morning to the collection points in the villages, where the milk is transferred to the tanker and brought back to the dairy, where it is tested and pasteurised and what have you (ie converted into good things, like butter, or crimes against humanity, like cheese).

Now this process is pretty much the only way that the old system of lots of people with few cows each can sustain itself (and not morph into the agribusiness model of very few people owning all the cows), but it obviously has a number of problems inherent in it. The main one is that it takes a long while to isolate a problem. If one cow is receiving antibiotics, for example, that cow’s milk cannot be sold (because milk cannot legally contain antibiotics). But if the owner and the village vet keep it secret (because obviously you lose income for a while), then the antbiotics show up at the dairy, meaning that the whole tanker full is unusable. At that point, all of the villages on that tanker’s route are under suspicion, and the next day the milk of all those villages will be checked at the collection points to determine which village it is. From that point, I guess the guilty cow can be identified, arrested, and charged, but it’s at least a three-day process. The other problem is that there are an awful lot of people who have been milking cows for a awfully long time who now have to re-learn some things to ensure that the milk they obtain is cleaner (in terms of bacteria content).

I also learned that each of these producers has to have a quota to sell the dairy issued by the EU (or I presume issued more locally, under EU rules). Because of Romania’s smallholding culture, there are 250,000 of these quota holders in this country. That is one half of all the quota holders in the whole of the EU. That’s one of those statistics that sounds like it should be really interesting, but when you delve deep down into it, it’s kind of hard to see why. A bit like this post, I fear.

Posted in EU, romania, transylvania | 2 Comments »

Germany

Posted by Andy Hockley on 3 July, 2007

What does Germany mean to you? What images are conjured up by that name? Well-engineered cars? Hitler and the Nazis? Good football team marred by that diving cheat Jurgen Klinsmann? Cleanliness and efficiency? Towels-on-the-beach at 7am? Central axis of the new European project? (Possibly unfortunate use of the word “axis” there, sorry) The country that much of Europe (and the world) aspires to be? Excellent beer? A “cuisine” that is over-reliant on sausages and cabbage? Fast trains and speedy autobahns? 99 Luftballons? Marlene Dietrich? Unnatural love of David Hasselhoff and The Kelly Family?

For much of Eastern Europe, it would seem, Germany is seen as one vast second hand car dealership. And not just cars – lorries, buses, forklifts, I dunno, probably helicopters and stuff too. Just this weekend, for example, I was passed on the road to Sovata by a bus just bought from Germany going like the clappers. It was a bendy bus too (I’m not sure if bendy bus is the technical name for one of those buses with a kind of concertina bit in the middle, but you know what I mean. Omnibus Articulatum or something.) The roads, car dealerships, and free-newspapers-that-sell-cars are filled with recently imported vehicles. In Csikszereda, most of the lorries that ply the town delivering stuff or transporting stuff around still have evidence of their German roots – slogans and logos of companies in Hamburg, stickers in the window saying “Heinrich”, that kind of thing, while sporting a Romanian number plate with an HR (Harghita) designation (It may not, in truth, be “most”, but it’s a significantly high percentage).

If ever you mention in passing that you’re looking to buy a car, everyone you know will know someone whose livelihood depends on going to Germany, buying up cars and driving them back. I’m serious. At times I wonder if there is anyone sitting on the planes that fly between Frankfurt/Munich and Bucharest, or whether there are vast bottlenecks in Hungary as swarms of Romanians drive their German vehicles home. A casual observer at the border crossing at Oradea would probably assume that Romania is a vastly popular holiday destination for Germans, based on all the German registered cars coming through.

This year the Romanian government has imposed a punitive tax on these incoming cars, the so-called “first registration tax”, by which every car being registered for the first time in Romania is subject to a high tariff. This tax, it is rumoured, comes as a result of intense pressure from Renault who own Dacia and who are therefore the biggest sellers of new cars in Romania. The EU has told Romania that this tax is illegal and a hindrance to free trade or something, but so far it has not been removed, though the assumption is that sooner or later it will have to be (court cases in Poland and Hungary have already put paid to similar laws in those countries). When it is rescinded, apparently, everyone will have to be paid back, but since this is Romania the levels of bureaucracy that will almost certainly be involved in getting it back will be so time-consuming that many people will just not bother, giving the government a nice little tax-windfall which they can use on hushing up the CIA torture camps or whatever.

This trade in vehicles from West to East, by the way, is not limited to the Germany-Romania corridor. As far as I can tell it is common all over Eastern Europe, and, indeed, if you go to http://www.mobile.de (which is the virtual parking lot for a large number of these vehicles), you will come across loads of dealers who specify which Eastern European languages they speak. Similarly, while Germany is the main source, other countries are also helping supply our quiveringly addictive need for second-hand cars. A friend recently went to Italy to accompany and translate for some blokes from here who drove over a couple of car transporters and bought up a bunch of cars that had been rescued from flood waters, filled with mud and obviously not working. The theory is that you bring them home, clean them up, fix them and then sell them for 4 times what you paid for them (with the danger that they will not be repairable cancelled out by the profits on the ones that are). His story about the whole negotiation and “marketplace” in which it took place is pretty funny – involving the mafia, Bulgarian gangsters, Moldovans, Romanians and god knows who else.

The reason for this post at this time? Yes, I have just bought a second hand VW Golf, imported from Germany, and currently going through the registration process. (As ever a bureaucratic and slow plod, speeded up by knowing someone who knows someone at different stages of the way). It is a very nice car though, with one small complaint – it has a cassette player in it. It was built in 2003, for christs sake, why on earth did Volkswagon think putting a cassette player in it was a good idea? Why not just go with a bloody gramophone? Vorsprung Durch Technic, and all that stuff.

Posted in EU, travel | 5 Comments »

Side effects of the smoking ban

Posted by Andy Hockley on 25 April, 2007

I spent last week in Aberdeen, which, being in Scotland, has a full on smoking ban in pubs, restaurants, etc. (England & Wales don’t yet, but Scotland does). Walking into a genuine UK style pub, and finding nobody smoking is somewhat strange at first. I’ve been in countries and states that have smoking bans before, but pubs are different – I mean I grew up passively (and, at times, actively) smoking in pubs, and having one without the all pervasive smell of smoke is almost as weird as being in one that doesn’t serve beer or sell crisps.

The hotel I was staying in, for example, had a cellar pub bit in which there were at least 10 TV screens showing football from various different locations simultaneously. The night I walked in it was packed with men – many of whom I took to be oil-workers, as they seem to make up much of the transient population of the city (“Aberdeen: Oil Capital of Europe” signs proclaimed, though I’m figuring there must be somewhere in Norway that has at least as good a claim on that title) . A bar full of burly looking blokes watching football and not a whiff of smoke. Very peculiar and somehow unsettling (much more unusual than the lack of women, for example)

But then it was that I began to realise the downside of the smoking ban. That is that the benefit of cigarette smoke is that it is extremely effective at masking any other odours hanging around. And in this bar, I soon realised, there was very definitely an odour. And it was fairly pervasive, almost to a post-match-changing-room level of acridity. Funny, they never mention B.O. when discussing the pros and cons of the ban, do they? Mind you, as unpleasant as the smell of poorly-deoderised sweat may be (and it is, believe me, very unpleasant), at least your clothes don’t stink of other people when you get home.

Not just BO, apparently

Posted in EU, travel | Leave a Comment »

Side effects of the smoking ban

Posted by Andy Hockley on 25 April, 2007

I spent last week in Aberdeen, which, being in Scotland, has a full on smoking ban in pubs, restaurants, etc. (England & Wales don’t yet, but Scotland does). Walking into a genuine UK style pub, and finding nobody smoking is somewhat strange at first. I’ve been in countries and states that have smoking bans before, but pubs are different – I mean I grew up passively (and, at times, actively) smoking in pubs, and having one without the all pervasive smell of smoke is almost as weird as being in one that doesn’t serve beer or sell crisps.

The hotel I was staying in, for example, had a cellar pub bit in which there were at least 10 TV screens showing football from various different locations simultaneously. The night I walked in it was packed with men – many of whom I took to be oil-workers, as they seem to make up much of the transient population of the city (“Aberdeen: Oil Capital of Europe” signs proclaimed, though I’m figuring there must be somewhere in Norway that has at least as good a claim on that title) . A bar full of burly looking blokes watching football and not a whiff of smoke. Very peculiar and somehow unsettling (much more unusual than the lack of women, for example)

But then it was that I began to realise the downside of the smoking ban. That is that the benefit of cigarette smoke is that it is extremely effective at masking any other odours hanging around. And in this bar, I soon realised, there was very definitely an odour. And it was fairly pervasive, almost to a post-match-changing-room level of acridity. Funny, they never mention B.O. when discussing the pros and cons of the ban, do they? Mind you, as unpleasant as the smell of poorly-deoderised sweat may be (and it is, believe me, very unpleasant), at least your clothes don’t stink of other people when you get home.

Not just BO, apparently

Posted in EU, travel | Leave a Comment »

What the EU means for me

Posted by Andy Hockley on 18 January, 2007

Yesterday, I got my new residency permit for Romania. Things have certainly changed. In the space of two years I have now had (and reported on) three entirely different documents which allow me to remain here. The first was a kind of rubbishy handwritten passport thing. The process to get this document was both expensive and baffling.

This document lasted a few months before being superseded by a fancy hi-tech card that had to be issued in Germany. Once again this was not exactly cheap. In fact by the time I’d got that one, I’d spent somewhere in the order of €200 in total on various documents enabling me to live here (and that doesn’t include the money it cost me to set up a company which gave me legal permission to even start applying).

But now things have changed. Out has gone the German-issued laminated card, and in has come some other official looking large scale piece of paper. Because now, of course, Romania is in the EU, and my ability to stay here is determined by that new status. (Romanians can’t stay in the UK longer than 3 months, but fortunately for me the Romanian state chooses not to reciprocate – though I would quite understand and even applaud them if they did). Anyway, the new piece of paper, with all the documentation and stuff that was needed to get it, cost me a sum total of 4 Lei. That’s approximately €1.20. That sum still involved two different receipts of 1 and 3 Lei each from two different offices in two different parts of the town, with associated queueing, but let’s not quibble about that.

The only downside of the whole thing is that while the card was very convenient and easy to carry around with me, this new document isn’t, and if I were to stuff it in my wallet it would disintegrate within a couple of months, necessitating a replacement. And of course, being British, I don’t possess an ID card. I don’t fancy carrying around my passport all day every day, so will have to come up with some system to cope with the Romanian need for people to have official ID on their persons at all time. Hopefully my driving licence will do the trick.

Anyway, I thought you’d all be glad to know of the advantages of EU membership for me. It’s not all strict legislation and baffling regulations you know.

Posted in bureaucracy, EU | 1 Comment »

What the EU means for me

Posted by Andy Hockley on 18 January, 2007

Yesterday, I got my new residency permit for Romania. Things have certainly changed. In the space of two years I have now had (and reported on) three entirely different documents which allow me to remain here. The first was a kind of rubbishy handwritten passport thing. The process to get this document was both expensive and baffling.

This document lasted a few months before being superseded by a fancy hi-tech card that had to be issued in Germany. Once again this was not exactly cheap. In fact by the time I’d got that one, I’d spent somewhere in the order of €200 in total on various documents enabling me to live here (and that doesn’t include the money it cost me to set up a company which gave me legal permission to even start applying).

But now things have changed. Out has gone the German-issued laminated card, and in has come some other official looking large scale piece of paper. Because now, of course, Romania is in the EU, and my ability to stay here is determined by that new status. (Romanians can’t stay in the UK longer than 3 months, but fortunately for me the Romanian state chooses not to reciprocate – though I would quite understand and even applaud them if they did). Anyway, the new piece of paper, with all the documentation and stuff that was needed to get it, cost me a sum total of 4 Lei. That’s approximately €1.20. That sum still involved two different receipts of 1 and 3 Lei each from two different offices in two different parts of the town, with associated queueing, but let’s not quibble about that.

The only downside of the whole thing is that while the card was very convenient and easy to carry around with me, this new document isn’t, and if I were to stuff it in my wallet it would disintegrate within a couple of months, necessitating a replacement. And of course, being British, I don’t possess an ID card. I don’t fancy carrying around my passport all day every day, so will have to come up with some system to cope with the Romanian need for people to have official ID on their persons at all time. Hopefully my driving licence will do the trick.

Anyway, I thought you’d all be glad to know of the advantages of EU membership for me. It’s not all strict legislation and baffling regulations you know.

Posted in bureaucracy, EU | 1 Comment »

Irony

Posted by Andy Hockley on 8 January, 2007

With much of the far right of (old) Europe convulsed by the threat of the vast number of Romanians (read: gypsies) flooding across the continent, it seems that Romania has given those scummers something to be glad about: “Romania’s first gift to the European Union” is apparently Vadim Tudor and his coterie of extremist nationalist wankers, making up the numbers for the European Parliament to have a neo-fascist caucus.

(But what I don’t understand is that this is possible because this bloc now has enough MEPs in it to be formed – but Romania has never had any MEP elections – where are these MEPS from? Can anyone help?)

Posted in EU, nationalism | 4 Comments »

Please the Press in Belgium

Posted by Andy Hockley on 8 January, 2007

Romania’s accession to the EU has thrust the country into the international media spotlight. Well, to be more accurate a few people with metaphorical torches are poking around looking for the latest human interest story / political bombshell / zeitgeist-capturing headline. In so doing, one or two of them have happened upon Csikszereda Musings and have asked for help.

In my role, then, as the Ciuc Depression’s resident media slut, I have been contacted by the following:

  • A journalist for a reputable English national newspaper (there are only two reputable English national newspapers, and it wasn’t the Guardian), who had been asked to write a story on the floods of Romanians heading for the UK and the glorious hopefulness of a new life in Hull or Stoke or somewhere. I told her that it was not much of a story, and if there were floods of migrating Romanians they would almost certainly be going to Spain or Italy. She managed to wangle her way out of doing the story, but pointed me in the direction of the story she probably would have written had her editor not relented. (It’s pretty good and worth the click). It turned out that a grand total of 4 Romanians flew into Heathrow on January 1st – two of whom were students there and the other two of whom had established work contracts. [Later edit: Apparently this is ambiguous and could be interpreted as me saying that the Times is Britain’s other reputable newspaper. As it is owned by Rupert Murdoch, I’d like to refute that right now. OK?]
  • I got interviewed on a podcast! It was only very recently that I worked out what a podcast was, and now I’ve been on one. By the time they’ve been yesterday’s news for about 5 years, I might do one myself. By then you’ll all be blogging with video chips wired into your eyeballs so we can all see exactly what you’ve been seeing. Anyway, Mark from Amsterdam interviewed me and you can listen to it on his website here (and so learn what I actually sound like. I realize that this is such a tempting thought that I must ask you to refrain you all from clicking at the same time in case it buggers up his bandwidth or something. I’ll draw up some kind of rota or something so you can all find a quiet time to go on). I daren’t actually listen to it myself, since my entire recollection of the interview is Mark asking me a question about what Romanians think, or what the reaction has been in Romania, and me egotistically answering with what I think, like that’s more interesting to people.
  • Someone from BBC Radio (Cambridgeshire) might be in touch, I’ve been informed. It’s a mate of my brother’s actually, who may have agreed that talking to me live on air was a good idea at some point on New Year’s Eve (the night of the year when we make all our best decisions), and be now trying to avoid making the call. So, we’ll count that as an unlikely occurrence until further notice.
  • That’s it actually

In the cold light of day, that’s not exactly the world’s media beating a path to my door, I must confess. Still, if anyone else wants to contact me to pick my brains on the EU, Romania and the relationship between Romania and Britain, take this as a come hither look with a saucy wink.

Posted in EU, media, romania | 2 Comments »