The long road to industrialization: More than half of Romania still depends on agriculture, but one region leads Europe’s industrial revolution

Sorin Melenciuc 18/09/2019 | 08:00

Only three out of the eight regions in Romania have their economy based mainly on industry or services, while the other five regions are still considered mostly agriculture-based, showing the slow pace towards economic progress on the eastern fringes of the European Union.

According to Eurostat data on EU employment shares by economic activity, five out of the eight regions in Romania reported an employment share at least three times as high as the EU average of 4.5 percent in agriculture, forestry and fishing.

The situation is similar among the eastern and southern areas of the EU, where 27 different regions reported an employment share at least three times as high as the EU average – five out of the six regions in Bulgaria, eight out of the thirteen regions in Greece, and six regions in Poland.

The five regions in Romania where agriculture has a very high share in employment are located mainly in the southern and eastern part of the country, the former principalities of Wallachia and Moldova, united since 1859 in what was called the Old Kingdom of Romania.

But Romania also has another part that is more industrialized than many regions in western Europe.

In fact, the western region of Romania, covering the historical province of Banat and its surroundings, is the most industrialized region in Europe in terms of employment.

“The West development area of Romania had a share of employment in industry nearly three times as high as the EU average of 15.3 percent, followed by four regions that together form the northern border of Czechia,” Eurostat said.

Another highly industrialized region in Romania is southern Transylvania, with large industrial cities such as Sibiu, Brasov or Targu Mures, according to Eurostat data.

The only region in Romania with an economy based mostly on services is Bucharest and its suburbia-county of Ilfov.

This situation suggests that there are still major – and even larger – differences between Romania’s provinces in terms of economic development and modernization.

Slow industrialization

A recent BR Analysis showed that the income gap between major cities and rural areas in Romania is now larger than ever, despite the fact that Romanians have accumulated a lot of wealth during the past two decades as economic growth, investment and EU funds have spurred wage increases and welfare across the country.

Experts say that the future wealth of the nation depends on the development of the large cities.

Wealth has been associated with cities since the dawn of human civilization. The wealthy citizens of ancient Mesopotamia or Egypt dwelt in the metropolises of that time – and wealth accumulation allowed powerful leaders from the past to build architectural marvels or sponsor art and literature.

But behind these affluent leaders, millions of poor people worked hard to provide their daily bread – and this was the norm for most of our history.

Two centuries ago, industrialization changed everything in Europe and in other parts of the world, and a major effect of the industrial age was large-scale and fast urbanization.

In the 17th century, most people in Europe were still living in villages and were dependent on crops – and the weather – for their food and livelihoods.

Now, most people live in big cities and depend largely on their education and job market trends to live better or worse.

Romania missed the industrialization of the 19th century and experienced only a partial industrial revolution during the 20th century. The consequence is that its urbanization is incomplete as almost half of the population still lives in rural areas.

But industrialization proved throughout history to be a step towards a new type of economy – a third wave based on information and digital activities.

Romania entered this third wave much sooner than it entered the second wave, as it benefited from its young, technically educated urbanites.

The result was a rapid connection of part of Romania to the latest technological trends, although another part, largely rural, has remained cut off from this economic revolution.

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