By Breffni O'Rourke and Michael Shafir
Prague, 11 March 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Romania's president Emil Constantinescu today reaffirmed his nation's strong desire to join the NATO alliance, and said it is also determined at last to carry through with sweeping and speedy economic reforms.
In remarks at a press conference at RFE/RL's Prague headquarters, Constantinescu said there is "no alternative" for Romania except to become a member of the Western alliance. He said that if it is not accepted among the first wave of new members, it must persevere, and try again.
He said his country now fulfills all conditions for NATO membership except one, namely that Bucharest does not have the economic capacity to support the costs of modernizing its military equipment. He said the country has its "back to the wall" and must push through rapid economic reform because the alternative is "social chaos."
Constantinescu said opinion polls clearly show that the Romanian people want the government to carry through reform. He said it's evident that structural reform means a high social cost, and that any positive results of reform won't show up for a year or 18 months, while the social pain is already evident.
Despite that, he said, there is "a common attitude and a belief, a clear belief" that rapid reform must be carried out.
He said everything depends on the capacity of the government, led by Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea, to create an economic growth through profit incentives while creating programs that address social needs. The cabinet's program is to build up the two simultaneously, he said.
He specified four areas where legislation must be changed. He said Romania's currency, the leu, must be freely convertible with the U.S. dollar, and he called for a more disciplined banking sector. He also said that energy prices must be brought to a level that equals Western prices, and that speedy privatization of loss-making state firms must be conducted in a way that brings foreign investment into the cash-strapped country.
Earlier this month, Bucharest pledged to privatize up to 50 firms a week in the initial stages of reform. The government also said 80 laws should be changed this month to attract more foreign investment and stimulate growth.
The Romanian president is the second Eastern European leader in a fortnight to assert that his nation has the political will to push forward with free market reforms. Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov last month told a journalists at RFE/RL that his people had never before been so clearly in support of market reforms, and in support of joining NATO and the European Union.
Constantinescu also referred today to Russia's opposition to NATO's eastward expansion, saying that Romania does not feel threatneed by any other country and that Bucharest would not threaten other countries. But he insisted that Romania has the right to independently form its own policies. He said 90 percent of Romanians now want their country to join NATO.
In a speech before the press conference, he recalled the hardships of the Communist era, saying communism could exist only by "lies and a lack of information." But he said it was capable of resurgence, and he appealed for continued Western support, saying that it is easier to maintain something that is good -- such as the present democratic system in Romania -- than to try to try to recreate something that has been destroyed, as in Bosnia-Herzegovina.