Highlights from Country Focus Community Forum – Day 2

Newsroom 06/06/2018 | 08:43

The second edition of the Country Focus Community Forum will bring together Romania’s main foreign investment communities and policymakers in a bid to map the country’s future strategic economic development.

You can see here the main statements from Day 1.

With the centennial marking this year, Romania has the opportunity to start a conversation about its role in the region and its future development strategy as an EU member state. Romania is also scheduled to get the EU Council rotating presidency in the first half of 2019, compelling policymakers to navigate a complex international environment marked by UK’s planned EU departure.

Here are the main statements from Day 2:


German-Austrian Forum

H.E. Mrs Isabel Rauscher, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Embassy of Austria in Romania

  • As the Austrian ambassador to Romania, I have to note the continuous cooperation between our two countries
  • Geographical proximity, cultural and historical similarities between Austria and Romania all lead to a strong economic involvement and commitment to invest in Romania
  • Total investment – EUR 7.6-8.3 billion, clearly to the advantage of both sides – creates jobs, shares expertise, develops specialized niches
  • The Austrian commitment was never seen more clearly than in the two major investments – OMV Petrom and Erste Bank – BCR – both were the largest ever undertaken by Austrian companies abroad – over 3,000 firms with Austrian capital registered in Romania, employing more than 100,000 Romanians
  • Bilateral trade – steady annual growth – difference between 2016 and 2017 was over 9.1 percent
  • Romania has significant potential, and it is quite fascinating – remains attractive for Austrian investors – any investment requires a stable economic and legal environment – predictability and continuity in the legal framework, legal certainty
  • As always there are infinite possibilities for further cooperation

Swantje Kortemeyer, head of the Economic Section, German Embassy in Romania

  • Romania finds itself at a crucial time in its history, and we really hope that it uses the opportunities available, including the Presidency of the European Council
  • The advantages of Romania – when you travel across Romania you see that it has very close relations with Germany and that companies benefit from the things they have found in Romania
  • German companies have come to Romania with a long-term interest – they’ve tried to establish a system of dual education, crucial for their success – they invest a lot in their staff.
  • There are plenty of challenges as well – education, infrastructure
  • Infrastructure is important because Romania is growing impressively fast but the growth is not reaching the entire country – some regions don’t participate in this growth due to the lack of infrastructure, and this needs to be addressed immediately
  • Democracy is sustained if everyone participates, it’s more about just casting votes, but also about participating in political discussions, making our voices heard, taking responsibility for shaping our communities


Vera Maier, Commercial Attache Austrian Embassy, Advantage Austria

  • Country branding on an international level is important – other countries have excellent country brands
  • We need to start shaping our images, because image sticks and drives action
  • Austria and Romania have always been very close, historically and economically – Romania is one of Austria’s top 15 partners worldwide
  • What we see is that there are over 100,000 Romanians living in Austria, but they’re not really seen as Romanians anymore
  • Romania has a lot to offer, not only in tourism but there are huge opportunities for development
  • Romania is seen as one of the rising stars of Europe but you have to internalise this and portray it to the outside
  • When we talk about investments we always talk about new ones, about greenfield investments – however it’s not everything we should focus on, we should also talk about the existing German/Austrian investments in Romania – let’s talk about innovation, augmentation, investments into new infrastructure, machinery, developing markets together and identifying win-win situations – these companies are here to stay
  • The government needs to understand that we need stability, we need planning
  • Education in practical terms: this topic is definitely important in Romania; the decisions that are taken now in education will shape the country for the next 20-30 years and this will shape the future leaders in Romania
  • Education is discussed widely in Romania, but one specific form that is necessary is dual education – creating specialists in various professions – bakers, welders, sales people – this is valuable
  • Education in a tertiary sense like it is practiced now in Romania, where everyone wants a university degree, is not good enough – there are only so many leadership and management positions available, but no one else is left to fill the other positions
  • Every company in Romania has unfilled positions, largely to the non-availability of workforce and specialists in particular
  • One option is to open your country for foreign workers to allow your economy to thrive, but education is also important to build up the workforce of tomorrow
  • The Romanian government is very open to working with us on this, but more needs to be done

Dragos Anastasiu, President, German-Romanian Chamber of Industry and Commerce 

  • The German community in Romania thinks that Romania is the country with the biggest potential in Europe
  • We are in a paradox situation because on one side we know that we have so much potential, but we are also very worried after last year – a good year economically – we should celebrate it and be very happy, but we are not, because we’re worried about what’s happening in Romania not just regarding what we’re hearing about foreign investors and that it could be a problem for Romania, and about the business environment which is also problematic in our country
  • I’ve learned that big only means something if you compare it with something – compared to Hungary, the German investment in Romania is not so big
  • Over 20 percent of Romania’s exports are to Germany – it’s Romania’s biggest trade partner – EUR 30 billion worth of trade
  • What does this mean? Why are German companies worried and why are the there 50 percent fewer calls to the German-Romanian Chamber of Commerce in the past six months?
  • We told people in the government that the biggest problem in Romania is the workforce issue – not enough people and the quality and mentality of the existing workforce is not good enough
  • Predictability is also crucial and in the past two years it has been a big issue
  • Bureaucracy is the third big problem – every day we waste time, money and energy on senseless things
  • Another problem is Romania’s image – the image is not good, but the reality is much better – but we’re not doing anything to improve our image
  • Romania’s tourism budget for last year was very small
  • Salaries – we’ve increased them and indeed, we need larger salaries in order to keep people from leaving the country; salaries are no longer a problem, but productivity needs to follow the growth of salaries
  • Public sector salaries are sometimes larger than in the private sector, so we’ve been losing employees to the public sector
  • It’s not too late for Romania, but it is time to start doing what we have to do, otherwise it will be too late soon
  • We should start working on our mentality, be open and honest and admit that we have great potential but also big problems
  • I’d establish a working group or a minister for Romania’s image – PR is the most important thing Romania has to do right now – it’s not that difficult
  • We should think about the Diaspora – Romania has four million ambassadors abroad, and although it’s a problem, it’s also a huge opportunity
  • The level of trust is very low – there is huge interest for doing things in Romania, but the lack of trust means that everyone will wait, and the results won’t be seen for years
  • What we see now – economic growth – is not the result of what the government did last year – it’s actually the effect of what was done 5-10 years ago
  • It’s clear that development is related to infrastructure and that some regions of the country are better connected than others; however the uneven development is also connected to the Romanian mentality – we’re always waiting for someone to give us something – people in Moldova are just waiting for the highway to be built, but there is another highway that they have and don’t take advantage of – the internet, which they don’t use as much as they should
  • We can control the decisions taken by the government but we have to really do something about it – not just talking, but getting involved and trying to influence – Coalitia pentru Dezvoltarea Romaniei, for example, is one organisation that can achieve great things, but we don’t have enough people to help us, because people are waiting for somebody else to change things
  • People in the less developed areas in Romania have to do things themselves, things that are not necessarily related to the infrastructure
  • If there’s anything everyone in this room should take from our discussions here is that you have to get involved and do something
  • On leadership: We in Romania are special – we lack trust, we are very competitive, we can’t work in teams and we’re always waiting for someone else to do things due to our education – therefore leadership is a problem
  • What kind of leadership do we need? A president that just tells us what direction we should take or shared leadership?
  • We don’t need one big leader, this is not the way to the future – we all need to make important decisions and do things on our own – this is leadership for me, not thinking that someone should come and tell us what to do
  • Every day, we should think about what we should do better than yesterday, not just for ourselves, but for all of us
  • 70 percent of the Romanians living abroad that we talked to are thinking of coming back to Romania, but there’s a long way between idea and decision, and the decision would be based on trust – if they don’t trust the authorities, employers, entrepreneurship and leadership in Romania, they will not come back
  • For expats to come back, money, healthcare, education are important, but the most important aspect is the lack of trust
  • The biggest opportunity of my life was spending 13 years in Germany, but an even bigger opportunity was coming back – what I have achieved in the 22 years since I’ve come back, I couldn’t have done in Germany in a million years
  • Young people today want to be part of big things – send a message to Romanians abroad that they can come and change the country – there is huge potential for this
  • The GovITHub project two years ago was a great example of how young people could be attracted to create change – we need these types of big projects and young people will get involved

Mihai Ionescu, CEO, Deutsche Bank Romania

  • We have had a technology center here since 2013, with 1,000 employees, twice as big as we originally thought it would be – this is the result of the country’s huge potential – we found highly skilled people
  • IT/Tech – these are the jobs of tomorrow – it’s unfortunate that some of the recent developments have affected the growth of this sector
  • Romania could become an IT hub for the region
  • Looking at Romania through the eyes of investors – it’s impossible not to get noticed with such a high economic growth
  • One thing that Romania lacks is a capital market deep enough that it can offer enough opportunities for capital investments, not just foreign direct investment
  • It’s unfortunate that we don’t access the opportunities of bringing more capital in the country
  • What we do today will echo two-three years from now
  • Companies that can most easily access the capital market are the large state-owned companies – but they don’t access the equity nor the markets
  • Infrastructure, energy projects and others could be financed by accessing international capital markets – but we don’t do that
  • International capital markets and international investors are the answers to success
  • 20-25 percent of our employees are “re-pats” – people who have been abroad but have come back to Romania
  • What is important for our employees: We shouldn’t underestimate the importance of salaries, but for the young generation, the content of their jobs are very important
  • We create cutting-edge software that is used all around the world, which is meaningful for our workers

Sorin Dumitrescu, General Manager, Gealan Romania

  • From our line of business – Gealan Romania has been an investor in Romania for 19 years – we have the same issues as other industries with finding good employees
  • The main issue we face is following the rules – legislation exists, but it can definitely be improved – the government keeps promising changes but they don’t seem to happen in real life
  • We need to keep having these types of meetings and discussions and direct our demands to the authorities
  • We are not so much interested in the local finance sector – probably due to the lack of trust in the local economic environment – so we try to find our sources in other countries
  • The future decisions of the government and the legislation they put in place will be very important for our future – it’s not something we can control directly, but we need to pressure authorities to take the action we need
  • What is important for our employees: Salaries are definitely an important aspects, but of course the vision the company is able to transfer to the employee also matters – if employees feel they are part of something useful and meaningful, they will certainly be more involved
  • Many of our employees at Gealan have been with us for 10-15 years


American Forum

Abigail Rupp – Deputy Chief of Mission, US Embassy in Romania

  • US-Romania bilateral trade had a record last year in terms of exports in both directions
  • America first doesn’t mean America alone, it means working with its partners
  • This year we’ll mark 100 years of our relations, since Romania’s Great Unification, so we have a lot to be proud of
  • This year in Washington there will be a business fair where investors all over the world can come to see what opportunities are available – Romania will have one of the largest delegations, led by Ambassador Hans Klemm
  • Visa Waiver: Romania has met four out of five requirements to qualify for the visa waiver
  • We encourage companies to contact the US Congress for the waiver
  • It’s not very difficult to get visas for the US – for companies it takes research for being able to do business in the US, each state has different advantages and incentives
  • One of the reasons we put Select USA together a few years ago

Anca Harasim – Executive Director, AmCham

  • We at AmCham are turning 25 this years and our board has been discussing for the last four years what is missing from Romanian society – we’ve seen a lot of attempts by actors in Romania to propose a plan of action or roadmap for more consistent development
  • Using the example of Ireland – they started from a clean slate – no proposal on the table, just bringing stakeholders together to discuss the type of country they want to build
  • The US Declaration of Independence was the founding fathers’ vision for the country, which is still valid today
  • In May we brought stakeholders together and created a Declaration for Romania, with the objectives for the future
  • We’ll continue to work on an action plan
  • AmCham doesn’t lead this process, we just invited people to join the effort and everyone is still welcome to join us. We’ll continue to bring people together and hoping that once they’ve had a say in the plan, they will also get involved
  • How can we get companies to look for financing on the local stock exchange market?
    • We have a capital markets working group which gathers exceptional talent around the table and AmCham has an advocacy tool – the Coalition for Romania’s Development, where experts work together along with the government to identify opportunities for Romania
    • Solutions: working very closely with the government to develop the capital market and improving the level of financial education among the population
    • We recently put together a study, an analysis on the lack of investments including in the capital markets and looked at what should be done to stimulate investments, including through government action

Sorin Mindrutescu – Country Manager, Oracle Romania

  • The American government will never tell a company to go invest into a particular country – it’s their decision exclusively
  • At the end of the day, it is the country that wants to have investments coming to it – it needs a sales pitch – showing off their good environment for business – fiscal, legal, human resources, infrastructure
  • American companies in Romania want strategy, predictability, sustainability – but these are just empty words if we don’t take the necessary action
  • Romania has a number of advantages, but there are no new things on the table
  • Romania has proven that it’s a good place for investments – language skills, IT skills, work ethic
  • Things that are missing from the picture are the contributions from the government(s) – they keep changing, they keep trying to reinvent the wheel when it’s not necessary
  • The economy is very simple if you focus on a few key ingredients
  • We are trying to expose the administration to new technologies, to educate them
  • USD 6 billion for R&D at Oracle, which is larger than Romania’s entire R&D budget – in Romania, Oracle has 400-500 people on R&D
  • Romania has a luxury that the government doesn’t use – having such a great presence of large multinational companies in terms of content – Oracle develops its core product here, not just secondary services – software, intellectual property
  • Education is essential
  • How can we get companies to look for financing on the local stock exchange market? Why is this not happening yet? 
    • I’m also on the board of Fondul Proprietatea, which has been preaching for the Romanian stock market and has encouraged others
    • Everyone is talking about the PPP – there is no better link between the private and public than the stock market – because the private sector looks to the state to see whether they’re willing to give a boost to the stock market, but why are we only waiting for the state to list on the stock market? We are stuck in this dilemma and unfortunately 90 percent of funding is done through the banks and only 10 percent through the stock market, which is exactly the opposite of what’s happening in the US.
    • Romania has a very solid banking system but we can’t say the same about the stock market – regulation authorities like the ASF are not as good as the ones regulating the banking market
    • Romanian society has a hard time understanding the value of the stock market – the answer would be just listing – getting experience and learning what it means
    • The boost from the market is not just going to be financial – there will be an educational factor too
    • Hidroelectrica is probably going to be one of the largest listings in CEE – it will put Romania on the map and draw the attention of the whole world, including Wall Street
    • We need to understand that there are alternatives to the old fashioned bank loan for business financing
  • Why don’t we have a lot more IT start-ups building products that can reach international markets? What’s the missing link?
    • The IT market in Romania, a brand new industry, has been extremely successful and it’s a very good example
    • On the one hand everyone is criticising the Romanian education system, but we do rely on the graduates of this system, who are incredibly talented
    • The talent is not just technical – it includes languages, entrepreneurial skills and a number of other things that need to be taken into account
    • IT is a great example of a private industry that developed from scratch
    • There are a lot of entrepreneurs in IT
    • Israel has made great progress in terms of innovation – in their government they have a Chief Scientific Officer – it’s a venture capitalist approach from the government, which is excellent
    • Here I’m optimistic – we’re talking about a completely different business model and we need to help the government understand it and support innovation, incubators etc.
  • Romania is attractive, it’s sexy – but we desperately need a wise policy to attract workforce – by investing in education, connecting it to the new business model of today’s world
  • We don’t address the discrepancies in this country enough – we’re here in the center of Bucharest and we have great discussions and we will meet again, but there are people outside this room, outside this city that we often forget about and who we have to think about and include more into our plans.

Laurentiu Lazar – Managing Partner, Colliers International Romania

  • Lately we’ve seen large American investments in the real estate sector and important decision makers from investment funds are coming to see Romania as a potential investment area
  • They know how things are done here and they have seen that Romania has made important progress in many areas, except infrastructure
  • We spend a lot of time talking about politics, but let’s try to take another point of view
  • We are expecting American funds to invest in Romania, and they have started, and I believe that this year will be a benchmark for American funds coming to Romania, in the real estate sector specifically
  • Laurentiu Lazar ColliersWe’ve been on the map in the past, but it’s important to see that things are actually happening
  • I have a positive view, although there’s room for improvement from the administrative side of things and for branding
  • Why investment funds are looking at Romania: there are lots of reasons. First of all, there’s a lot of money in the real estate market globally, and companies are looking for good return on investments, predictability and stability – we still have to work on the last two
  • The growth of the last years has put Romania on the map for these company
  • The rate of returns in Romania looks better than in other European countries – in Bucharest, the return on investment rates have exceeded the levels seen in the economic boom period before 2007, while in other countries the rate is still lower than before the economic crisis
  • It’s enough that one fund makes an important investment here to trigger other funds to follow and take a look at Romania
  • Investors looking at the office space market in particular, and there have been very large transactions lately and hopefully at least 3 transactions around USD 150 million in the following 12 months, which would be quite significant for Romania
  • Amazon, GoPro, FitBit and others have come to Romania and they have rented large office spaces, while other large companies have expanded their office space significantly

Dorin Pena – General Manager, Cisco Romania

  • Let’s not waste too much time talking about slogans
  • My view is also positive – the cooperation between US and Romania is great and it’s continuously growing
  • I don’t think that we have a much bigger volatility than other country
  • Cisco’s point of view: we have great things in Romania and we’re expecting things to develop over time
  • I’m rather optimistic about what’s happening here – there are significant parts of Romania’s government or public sector that are adopting new technologies and educating themselves to improve
  • Many of the people currently in the administration have been educated at Cisco’s centers
  • We have to push our proposals as much as we can through different commitees
  • We have to be transparent and also get involved at the local level – Cisco has been involved in the biggest incubator for innovation in Romania – Innovation Labs, which Microsoft was also a part of – these are out of our comfort zone but they help the local environment
  • Why don’t we have a lot more IT start-ups building products that can reach international markets? What’s the missing link?
    • I’m also optimistic about this and we need to understand that every country has to go through different stages of evolution, Romania can’t turn into Silicon Valley overnight
    • What we need to understand is that we act and play in a global market
    • If someone develops a product/service that brings some value for international players, that product will probably sell
    • We have to support local entrepreneurs more, and both the government and the large IT companies should do something
    • Like it or not, the local IT market is not necessarily the best – multinationals have the advantage here and the local entrepreneurs can’t compete yet
    • Companies should look to support local companies to develop products/services on top of our products and promote them


Greek Forum

Christodoulos Seferis – President, Hellenic Romanian Bilateral Chamber of Commerce

  • A long history of friendship and cooperation between Greece and Romania
  • The volume of bilateral trade, excluding petroleum products, has significantly increased in 2017 v. 2016 – EUR 1.8 billion
  • Greek exports to Romania increased y/y by 18 percent
  • Romanian FDI in Greece is still limited, but expected to grow in the following period, primarily in real estate and tourism sectors
  • Positive trend in the number of Romanian tourists who come to Greece for their holidays (1.3 million people, who spent EUR 550 million)
  • The government needs to understand how to retain people and stop them from leaving the country
  • There is a need to change the way people are being educated, particularly at universities, to make it more market-oriented as opposed to intellectually-oriented; more practical, more professional
  • The short-term solution for the workforce crisis – so many opportunities are not being exploited because of the lack of skilled people – the answer is importing good people from lower-cost jurisdictions – other countries in the EU are doing it
  • In Greece, we’ve started to have a shortage of doctors in certain areas – because other countries are attracting them with larger salaries and more benefits
  • What I would ask government officials is for the civil service to become a bit more effective and efficient, more transparent, to allow the questioning of decisions to be more acceptable rather than frowned upon; I would also say they should try to use the structural funds in areas that would benefit the country as a whole and to really start to strengthen the administration of these funds; to still be at 11 percent absorption of these funds is sad. These funds are here to help the economy and the country
  • Another thing I would ask the government is to move away from the trade union mentality in a number of industries in Romania – in Greece in recent years we’ve made huge progress to opening up the way things are done in certain businesses and it’s been hugely beneficial for the country
  • Lastly, to copy what other EU countries are doing in terms of importing talent from other countries – because people have left, they are highly unlikely to come back, so Romania has to improve the life of everyone who’s left in the country, both in the urban and rural areas, and the only way to do it is by diverting structural funds in these lagging areas

Ioannis Markos – General economic & commercial counselor, Embassy of Greece in Romania

  • Greece is very close to Romania
  • Romania has economic and political stability – it is a member of NATO and EU, open to 500 million consumers
  • 2017 was a landmark year for the Greek economy as it ended a multiannual period of economic crisis and recession, bringing it back to the pathway of growth
  • Greece is a world superpower in terms of commercial fleet and has a developed infrastructure
  • Romania attracted EUR 4.5 billion of FDI in 2017
  • Greek investments in Romania: around EUR 4 billion according to estimations based on feedback by companies
  • Greek companies or companies pertaining to Greek interests in Romania: 6,998 registered, 1,500 actually active, employing about 25,000 people
  • Fields of activity: agroalimentary products industry, construction, building materials, trade, banking sector, services, distribution channels
  • Main export partners of Romania: Germany, Italy, France, Hungary, UK, Turkey, Bulgaria, Poland, Spain, Czech Republic, Netherlands, Austria – Greece is on 18th place for exports and 20th for imports – there is room for an increase in bilateral trade
  • The number of Greek tourists in Romania is steadily increasing – 116,000 Greek tourists visited Romania in 2018 – not including business trips
  • Opportunities for Greek companies in Romanian market & advantages for Greek companies, special opportunities in priority sectors
  • What I would say to the Greek investors who are thinking of coming to Romania: to be patient, perseverent and serious as the three main principles

Nawaf Salameh – CEO, Alexandrion Group

  • There are important opportunities for Greeks to invest in Romanian tourism
  • We’ve already invested in Sinaia and next year we will build more in the same area
  • We want to implement the Greek tourism hospitality in the Romanian mountains – year-round tourism can take place in the mountains, only a limited summer period for the seaside
  • We would never invest in the Romanian seaside, because we have better opportunities for the Greek/Cyprus seaside
  • American tourists can come to Europe and spend one week in Greece, and one week in Romania – there can be joint ventures between operators in Greece and Romania
  • There’s a big issue with the workers in Romanian tourism – they don’t have a services culture and the right attitude and experience to work in hospitality – they can learn a lot from Greece
  • In Romania, you don’t get any help to invest abroad – you need a holding and that’s not done in Romania
  • Romanian banks don’t have products to invest abroad, only in Romania
  • The main product of our distillery in the US will be exported around the world
  • There are two issues that must be solved urgently in Romania – the people who have left will never come back, you’ll have a very hard time convincing them; but Romania needs to open the door to foreign workers. Secondly, it needs to be easier for Romanian companies to invest abroad; a lot of companies want to do that but they don’t get any support from the government

Alexandros Ignatiadis – Co-Founder, Octagon Contracting & Engineering

  • In tourism, it’s not just a matter of skill – the issue of hospitality goes beyond – apart from the trade, developing a culture of hospitality takes time – it will happen and there has been great progress from when I first came to Romania
  • On the workforce crisis in the Romanian construction sector: 
    • The main reason is the number of people who leave Romania and go work in other countries
    • Solutions – it’s very difficult to bring those Romanians back and it would require sustained state policies and long-term plans
    • The only solution for the current needs of the economy is to simplify the process of hiring foreign workers
  • There is no growth in the construction sector from 2016 to 2017, there’s actually a slowdown – there may be in the private sector, but the total collapse of public investments in infrastructure has taken down the entire industry
  • I would personally invest into restaurants and entertainment – I would use Greek talent in the idea of forming Romanian talent, and also in the IT sectors, where I would use Romanian talent
  • The set of problems any business person is confronted with in Romania is the same no matter what nationality the investor has – from Romanian officials I would ask to stop changing governments every six months, don’t change the laws all the time – in short – legislative, regulatory and political stability. You do your jobs, let us do ours.
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