Insolvent town exposes gulf between EU dreams and reality

Sun Sep 1, 2013 10:09am EDT
 
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By Luiza Ilie

ANINOASA, Romania (Reuters) - On an abandoned storefront, an old poster advertises one of the few career opportunities available in this Romanian town: naked webcam models wanted for Internet chatrooms.

If joining the European Union was supposed to lift Romania out of poverty, it has yet to work in Aninoasa, a town of 4,800 people in the mountainous central region of Jiu Valley.

Six years after Romania's accession to the EU, not only is Aninoasa still poor - it has also become the first town in Romania to file for insolvency.

Town officials took out a bank loan to fund investment projects, they could not repay it, they fell behind on paying other bills and over the years they got themselves so deep in debt they could not carry on.

"Our mayor likes to joke there are only two major towns in insolvency in the world, Detroit and us," said deputy mayor Adrian Albescu, brought in last year after the previous administration lost the election. "For the past year we have done nothing else but pay debts."

Aninoasa's experience raises a question: did the European Union make a mistake when, six years ago, it admitted Romania, a country with living standards and levels of governance well below the average for the bloc?

It's not just about Romania. Bulgaria joined at the same time and is still saddled with corruption and poverty, Croatia joined in July bringing problems of organised crime and the legacy of war in the 1990s, and EU candidates such as such as Albania and Macedonia have even deeper troubles.

In Romania's case the calculation was that pressure from Brussels, coupled with EU development cash, would help the country catch up. In many ways it has: Romania's economic output has almost doubled since 2006.   Continued...

 
Apartment blocks are seen in Aninoasa, 330 km (202 miles) west of Bucharest July 31, 2013. If joining the European Union was supposed to lift Romania out of poverty, in Aninoasa, a town of 4,800 people in the mountainous Jiu Valley region, it has yet to work. Six years after Romania's accession to the EU, not only is Aninoasa still poor - it has also become the first town in Romania to file for insolvency. Picture taken July 31, 2013. REUTERS/Bogdan Cristel