Opinion. Bill Avery: Why is Romania on the rocks?

Newsroom 09/10/2010 | 08:35

Like so many of my international friends doing business in Romania, we all want investors to return one day.  I can count on one hand the number of American expats still active in business here in a significant way.  Business life has regressed to 1995 levels but without the optimism.   Sure, there are plenty of explanations and excuses for this.  It is the world economic crisis, and the frozen credit markets imposed by Western European banks that control 95% of this country’s private money.  It is the Greek bailout and the recent wrong-headed austerity measures imposed by the IMF that cripple private initiative here in Romania.  It is a former communist political apparatus based on patronage trying to rule over a free-spirited Latin population.  Talk about a disconnect…

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for paying taxes.  I think rich companies and rich people should pay more than poorer people and start-ups.   However, as a persistent business ‘booster’ for Romania over the years, I feel it is time to stand up because the current conditions in Romania make it basically impossible to start, maintain and develop a business along normal lines.

Why do I feel that increased dialog on these issues are important?  Should we all just keep crying in our beer or voting with our feet?  The small business owner is now treated like an enemy of the state, and in the coming weeks I will elaborate on this thesis.  Most people I meet- whether expat or Romanian – are completely down on Romania.  Most Romanians will leave the country permanently if given half a chance.

For over 12 years, Business Review has documented the political chaos of the late 1990’s, the long slow build-up of foreign interest and business development 2001-2007 when Romania finally entered the EU, and the economic bust-up since late 2008.  We’ll be entering the third year of recession in 2011, and I truly hope we can turn things around, because I am getting too old for this!

This blog will hopefully be a place where people can sound off, challenge my assumptions, and basically bring back a useful dialog on what we can do to change the current defeatist thinking about Romanian business.

Topics in the pipeline include:

  1. Investor confidence in 2008 vs. now.  Our 10 year anniversary issue came at the height of Romanian business fever.  I will republish my own editorial from this special collector’s issue of Business Review, along with those of many other business leaders, and colleagues in media.  I think it will help our readers gain some perspective.  It will also buy me some time before my next post!
  2. Why are so many Romanian companies sold to dead people?  Don’t taze me for revealing the answer in my future posts.  The answer to that question gets to the heart of the current austerity measures which actually make it nearly impossible to run a business within the legal tax regime.  I will bring experts from local chambers of commerce and business consultants to explain why no entrepreneur in their right mind should start a business in Romania in the year 2010.
  3. Romanian media moguls – how the Sorin Ovidiu Vantu case is a useful lesson for us all.  For years one of our key selling points was that we offered independent business information, without the slants offered by the mogul-run media.  Well, folks, I dare say we may finally see a future where the Romanian-language media is either going to learn their lesson, or die on their swords defending their right to brainwash the populace.
  4. Romania’s image abroad – I am continually amazed that Romania still gets more international news coverage for witches and wild dogs, than for meaningful social or economic matters.     I started commenting on this back in the mid-90’s and if you don’t believe me I promise to dig out my old viewpoints on this to demonstrate that nothing has changed.

I invite readers to send in their ideas.  I would love to hear from old friends and colleagues that I have lost touch with.   Drop me a line with your discussion thread ideas and we’ll get into it.



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