That age-old Romanian mantra of ‘blame those nasty foreigners we’d be the richest country in the world without them’ is clearly alive and well.
The PSD-dominated Romanian Senate is not, we will admit, a place we usually associate with reason, logic and common sense. Far from it. Nevertheless, it yesterday set new standards for utter stupidity when passing a populist, protectionist, unworkable, nationalist and utter reactionary law that will require all food shops – be it a hypermarket or corner kiosk – to ensure that at least 51 per cent of the meat, fruit and vegetables it sells is of Romanian origin.
Even if the law (which still has to pass the lower house of parliament) were workable (it isn’t, see below), the only tangible effect it would have would be to raise the price of food, something which will effect the poorest Romanians the most. So much for the PSD being a party of the left (what a joke that idea always is).
Why is it unworkable?
Think about it just a for a few seconds.
Let’s say a shop begins the day with a stock of 100 tomatoes. To conform with the law, 51 are Romanian, 49 are Polish. Then the first customer of the day turns up, and buys five Romanian tomatoes. What happens then? The shopkeeper suddenly has more Polish tomatoes for sale than he does Romanian. He’s breaking the law. Does he need to close until he can replenish his Romanian stock?
Then of course there is the question of what happens in the case of shops that sell only imported products, such as the many Italian or French delicatessens you now find in Bucharest? Not to mention that fact that the law breaches just every founding principle of the European Union.
Finally, laws like this are often the thin end of a very thick wedge. Where does this silly protectionism end? Will we soon see a law stating that 51 per cent of all electrical goods need to be Romanian? 51 per cent of all cars? Will 51 per cent of the texts on Bucharest Life need to be written in (or by) a Romanian? Will 51 per cent of all music played on the radio have to be Romanian? Will 51 per cent of the tarts in a massage parlour have to be Romanian?
While we understand that the law is an attempt to help local agricultural producers, a group who have been right royally buggered by every Romanian government since 1990, it is – like all desperate legislation that comes too little, too late – bad. That Romanian agriculture is uncompetitive is a result of numerous political failings (the scope of which go way beyond this brief post) going back 25 years, beginning with the disbandment of the collective farms in 1990 and the redistribution of land to smallholders. Yes, we are happy to admit that breaking up the CAP-uri was perhaps morally the right thing to do, but it is perhaps equally correct to state that doing so condemned Romanian agriculture – and the livelihoods of those who depend on it – to a slow, miserable death. This stupid and unworkable law will do nothing to change that. The only people who could possibly benefit are the owners of Romania’s very largest farms: and they are often foreigners. It will do nothing to benefit those with small, subsistence farms. The point is to get these people off the land, not keep them on it in perpetuity.
For the hundredth time: small-scale subsistence farming cannot feed large urban populations. Subsistence farming can only work at a national level if everyone in the country becomes a small-scale farmer doing back-breaking work, day-in, day-out, from dawn to dusk. Perhaps that’s what the PSD wants. Another policy copied directly from the Khmer Rouges.