22 April 2011

Day-Dreaming over the Danube (EN)

we are BDZ [or CFR]—we don’t care, we don’t have to!
Five years ago, on the Good Friday, I received a letter about being accepted for a Master’s in European Public Affairs at Universiteit Maastricht.  During the time of my studies, Romania and Bulgaria joined the European Union, so we organized a nice accession party :-)  With my 4 Romanian and 4 Bulgarian colleagues, we took over Tafelstraat 13, and treated our 17 European colleagues to some great Balkan cuisine.  As you’re already aware of my strong ties with Bulgaria, I guess I felt like “the most integrated” person in that dining room…  But that illusion simply shattered to pieces last week, on my trip to Sofia :-(

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colleagues at EPA Master 2006-2007
Romania and Bulgaria may have acceded to the EU 4 years ago, but they’re not yet integrated—at least, they’re definitely not integrated with each other!  In the Integration class at AUBG (1997-98), Bobby introduced us, among others, to Puchala’s Pluralist theory, stressing on the need for increased “people-to-people interactions and transactions.”  Let me tell you, from personal experience, that opportunities for such interactions across the Danube actually decreased, especially if you’re anything like me, and you don’t have a car or you don’t drive:
  • several airplanes are available between Sofia and Bucharest, but the price of about €250 for a round-trip is almost prohibitive, since that money can buy you at least 2, if not 3, round-trips to Brussels;
  • the day-train takes 10 hours to cover a little over 400 km, at a cost of about €60 for the round-trip, while the night-train no longer has a sleeping wagon;
  • one bus takes you there in about 6 hours (only €20 for the round-trip);  yet, arriving in Sofia after 10 pm is a bitch, and traveling back by night, knees to your chest, to arrive at 6 am in Bucharest, is a bigger bitch.
There’s no poetry in this post, but a lot of bitterness :-(  10-15 years ago, the night-train had 3 sleeping cars, the day-train had cleaner wagons, the seats had cloth covers, rather than vinyl.  A combination of buses was available, via Ruse, for less than 6 hours.  [I never took the plane, as a student!]  Similarly, the 300 km from Bucharest to Varna, on the Bulgarian seaside, takes 6 to 8 hours by bus, as there’s no direct train available.  As long as Romanians and Bulgarians can’t cross the Danube easily, to interact and transact, to learn more of their mutual needs and interests, we may be members of the European club, but we’re not integrated :-(  Not by a long shot!

I need improved infrastructure to link Romania and Bulgaria.  Only one decrepit bridge at Giurgiu-Ruse is not enough!  The bridge at Vidin-Calafat will be completed in 2017, if we’re lucky?!?  I know it’s crazy to be dreaming of more bridges at Oryahovo-Bechet, Turnu Măgurele-Nikopol, Zimnicea-Svishtov, Tutrakan-Oltenița and/or Călărași-Silistra, but Maastricht has 4 bridges (one pedestrian) over the Maas, and I’m used to greater mobility…  Still, I’m open to compromise—if bridges take lots of time and money to complete, please, PM Boc and PM Borisov, invest half the money into research, and give me the RO-BG environment-friendly flying car by 2020! ;-)

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