Hungary threatens to block Romania’s OECD accession

Hungary threatens to block Romania’s OECD accession
By Carmen Simion in Bucharest September 6, 2017

The Hungarian government has decided to suspend indefinitely its support for Romania’s accession to the OECD, after the Romanian authorities blocked plans to set up a Catholic high school in Romania’s Targu Mures, a town inhabited by a large number of ethnic Hungarians.

Tensions between the neighbouring countries periodically erupt over the position of the large Hungarian minority in the Romanian region of Transylvania. 

Bucharest has implied the Hungarian decision was made in the context of the general election due to take place next year, with analysts speculating that Hungary’s populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban is trying to drum up support among Hungarians living in Romania. In a brief statement, the Romanian foreign ministry expressed its regret that the issue has been turned “into a subject related to the electoral campaign in Hungary”.

“As for linking the situation at the Roman Catholic High School in Targu Mures with other subjects, such as support for Romania’s accession to the OECD, this is completely inadequate, hostile and counterproductive,” the Romanian foreign ministry said, adding that the country rejects any conditional approach in the bilateral relationship.

Bucharest had hoped the OECD’s existing 35 members would vote in favour of its membership of the intergovernmental economic organisation, whose objective is to promote policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world, on September 8. However, for Romania’s candidacy to be successful, the vote of all member states is required, the Hungarian foreign ministry pointed out in a statement.

The ministry also summoned Romania’s ambassador on September 6 over the Catholic high school issue, according to the statement.

Magyar Levente, state secretary on parliamentary issues, informed journalists that the Hungarian foreign ministry had expressed Budapest's “astonishment” to the Romanian ambassador over the fact that the Romanian authorities had decided to suspend the functioning of the Catholic high school in Targu Mures the day after Foreign Minister Peter Szijarto’s visit to Bucharest. Hungary claims the Romanian authorities did not inform the Hungarian minister about the issue during his visit.

“Hungary sees the decision as directed against the Roman Catholic Church, against the Hungarian minority, against children, families and against the restitution process. We are facing a very unfriendly and serious decision of Romania,” the Hungarian official said.

On the other hand, the Romanian foreign ministry claimed the Romanian authorities are interested in finding solutions which will ensure “a real intercultural dialogue, aimed at promoting tolerance and good interethnic co-existence”. However, it stressed that every educational institution in Romania should respect the law.

A decision by the Targu Mures School Inspectorate to allow the high school to be set up was cancelled by a court in June, according to news agency Agrepres. This followed the National Anticorruption Directorate’s launch of an investigation into the former head of the school inspectorate and a high school headmaster over the way the Catholic high school was set up in November last year. 

Hungary’s decision also comes on the background of a recent scandal involving ethnic Hungarians in the Romanian town of Odorheiu Secuiesc. A video posted on social networks appears to show a supermarket employee refusing to serve a Romanian-speaking customer in the majority Hungarian town. However, Romania’s National Council for Combating Discrimination said on September 6 that the vlogger who distributed the video had truncated the recording. It condemned any behaviour leading to interethnic tensions.