EurActiv.com Correspondent's Choice

Dan Luca: Romanians abroad want to impact on their country

Thinking ahead about the 2014 election, we need European leaders who can campaign for two or three years, like in the US, Dan Luca, candidate for the European elections based in Brussels, told Blogactiv in an interview.

You are one of the many Romanians working in Brussels after your country’s accession, and you have decided to run for the EU elections. Why?

I have been working in European affairs since 1993. Before I left for Brussels I had been involved in student organisations at the local level. I arrived in Brussels in 1997, and started out working on the executive board of the European students association.

I have since then gained extensive experience in civil society, and now I think it is time to take a decisive step towards making a bigger impact, and the European Parliament is certainly the perfect tool to make an impact.

There are many capable Romanians, not only in Brussels, but more of them need to be get involved in the politics. A lot of them have EU affairs experience, but when it comes to politics, they are reluctant to get involved, and this is a pity.

You have founded a branch of the Romanian Social Democratic party (PSD) in Brussels. What motivated you to do so?

At the beginning of 2008, a group of Romanians, including myself, decided to set up a political organisation connected to the Romanian Social Democratic party. It is the first time a Romanian political party has opened an office outside of Romania. I think it is the first time a Central and Eastern European party has taken such a step.

We looked at similar steps taken by the French, the British labour party, the Spanish; they have had officially recognised party organisations abroad since around 1990. But, of course, for us this is a pioneering initiative.

I was surprised to see just how many people want to get involved in this kind of political enterprise. Some of them are frustrated; they want to do something for their country. They may be involved in the media, NGOs or consultancies, but they feel there is something missing. As a result the arrival of a centre-left political party in Brussels received a warm-welcome from the Romanian community abroad.

Romanian diaspora is quite important?

Yes, about 10 per cent of our population is based outside of Romania. We have a significant diaspora in Italy, approximately one million Romanians; a very strong diaspora in Spain – again approximately one million; in Belgium it is not very big, about forty thousand people, with half of those in Brussels.

Not all the twenty thousand Romanians are working in European affairs. Our estimation is that about one thousand five hundred, maybe two thousand Romanians work inside the institutions, or in the European affairs circles.

If a Romanian decided to join a branch of the PSD, what would be the advantages of joining for them?

It is very difficult to talk about advantages in the short-run. An activist may join a political organisation because they wants to do something, they wants to change their community for the better, and of course, if they are active for two or three years in the local level, they might be elected to the local council, regional council, and eventually to the national assembly. For us it is very difficult to give members’ guarantees that if you work for two or three years in our organisation you will be elected to the local commune.

But what we have tried to do is build very strong cooperation with the socialist parties in Belgium. We have very good relations with Parti Socialiste and the SP.A, the two Belgian socialist parties. What we intend on doing in the future is to have Romanian candidates, who may have dual citizenship or not, in the regional and local election.

Of course the election is a very important process. It is an immense responsibility to have; to be on the list, to be a candidate, to be eventually elected, to do what you promised to do. But it is also important for people to feel that they can really do something for their country. They feel that this kind of political movement, integrated in the Romanian political system, can help Romania a lot. They find this a positive way to funnel their frustration.

Politics is about making things change. Is it easier to change things from abroad than from within Romania?

It was encouraging to discover that there was a group of us in Belgium that wanted to get involved, that we were not alone. Now we have over 100 Romanians in this movement in Brussels, and in the rest of Belgium we have started to enlarge the circle of the organisation and welcome in new members.

Of course it is very important to have an impact in the country. We are lucky in this way because we have a very good relationship with our party in Bucharest. It is a wonderful cooperation, and we hope to improve it even further in the future.

My presence on the list for the European Parliament is also a very important symbol that shows the party in Romania takes our proposals into consideration. It’s a big political system, and the changes may take time, but at least we feel that we are heading in the right direction.

You are number twenty on the list. It is difficult to imagine the first twenty candidates on the list will make it to the European Parliament. Perhaps half of them will. Will you be frustrated if you are not elected?

No. I will not be frustrated. It is true that it is difficult position to be in. It is hard to imagine that the party will have sixty or sixty-five per cent in the election needed to elect all twenty.

But it would be even more frustrating not to be involved in the campaign, to stay on the sidelines and watch this election, and only act as an expert from outside. At least I got involved, and we have a feeling in my team that we are playing. To play is the first prerequisite to be elected. If you don’t play, you will never win.

It is very difficult to define our electorate. If you don’t have streets and areas that are specifically Romanian, and where you can put leaflets through the letter boxes, then communication becomes an interesting exercise. A lot can be done with web-based communication, but not all Romanians in Belgium have an email address. It is an interesting challenge to communicate with potential voters, and it is also an interesting exercise to get people involved.

It is a paradox sometimes. There are a lot of Romanians living in Brussels who have no idea about these European Parliament elections. At least we manage to connect; we discover a lot of interesting issues that affect the Romanian Diaspora, not only in Belgium. It is a very interesting exercise.

Are you going to vote in the Romanian embassy or the Belgian commune?

Basically what I recommend, and I will do the same, is to vote in the Romanian embassy on the 7 June. Either you vote for the Romanian list or the Belgian list. If you want to vote for the Belgian list you ought to have registered before the end of March. Most of the Romanians had not registered, but this does not mean that they will all come and vote in the Romanian embassy. There are other places besides the embassy where Romanians can vote in Belgium. There are other polling stations for Romanian citizen in Liège and Antwerp.

What is next after the elections?

This election is obviously very important for us. But we also want to build something for the future, beyond these elections.

For the election our aim is to have a good result for PSD in Belgium. Also to prove internally that we can do a good job outside Romania – as you know the results of the Social Democrats outside Romania are not incredible. I know we can improve, and I hope the results can prove that we can do a good job. At the same time, it is very important for us to discuss with our partner organisations – the social democrats and socialist organisations – where we are, because I would not be surprised to see only thirty-five, or forty, or at maximum fifty per cent turn out to vote for the European Parliament election. We well have to ask ourselves why this problem of the citizens failing to turnout continues to plague European politics.

According to a Eurobarometer survey sixty-six per cent of the citizens in Europe get their political information from the media. Basically voters are impressed and influenced by the media. At the same time the media – not only the European ones, the international, the national media as well – see the EU as a political identity, a political structure. Of course, not the British press, who see the EU as an economic structure. We want to better understand the reasons for the low turnout. It cannot be that the mistake is only in the communication of Europe, but also maybe the concept must be looked at.

When we talk about elections, we talk about candidates. At the moment you see the political parties in Europe have candidates, and most of them manifestos – very good, very cleaver, full of good points – but there are not too many European faces, or personalities, who can promote these manifestos to the European voters. Maybe this is the weakness of the European system. When you have some European party groups, you cannot call them political parties because these European elections are all done at the national level, with a little bit of help from the centre.

Maybe it is time Europe starts to think about the 2014 election. You need to have European leaders who can campaign for two or three years, a bit like the American model. Why should we not take inspiration from them? The voters will connect more with European politicians if we have leaders who can give a face to the campaign. It would be very interesting to have an internal competition within each party group for the leadership. At least then people will connect more with the European political dimension, and will understand more about institutions, and all that is happening in Brussels. But it would be wonderful to vote for a person rather than party groups, because that is a little bit too technical to understand.

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