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Romanian envoy optimistic Canada will lift visa

By Kristen Shane      

Nation awaits Canadian designation as ‘safe’ country.

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Just before longtime Romanian ambassador to Canada Elena Stefoi finished her posting late last year, she remarked that she didn’t want her successor to “talk another seven years” about Canada lifting its visa requirement on Romanian travellers to the country. 

“That’s a goal that I totally share with my colleague,” said the next ambassador, Maria Ligor, with a little laugh. 

She sat for an introductory interview with Embassy in July, as city buses rumbled by her Rideau Street embassy. 

Romania is one of only three European Union countries still facing Canadian visa restrictions. The others are the Czech Republic, which had visas slapped on it back in 2009, and Bulgaria. All three have had problems with social integration of Roma people, who are thought to make up a good chunk of asylum seekers from the region to Canada, although the Canadian government doesn’t keep statistics on this.

The issue threatens to complicate the approval of a Canada-European Union free trade deal, which is stalled in the final stages of talks.

“We believe that it is difficult to speak about increased mobility in goods and services, and access to goods and services, and to still have barriers for people. Because at the end of the day, the free movement of people will bring even more trade, and even more exchanges, and even more benefits for both sides,” said Ms. Ligor. 

While she is a career diplomat, and didn’t want to speak for Romanian members of the national and European parliaments, she said she had talked to many parliamentarians while preparing to come to Canada. She wouldn’t go as far as to say that there is any possibility they would complicate the trade deal ratification if visas are not lifted, but said the issue is “very much on their minds.”

But Ms. Ligor said she is approaching the file with optimism. 

“I don’t think that there is any interest on either the Romanian side or the Canadian side to prolong this situation of visas,” she said. 

But it could still take a while. Canada established a list of countries who the government said respect human rights, offer state protection and generally don’t produce refugees—so-called safe countries. Romania and Bulgaria have been the only two EU countries that have not yet met the eligibility criteria to be considered for designation. While neither is a top source country for asylum claims, Canada is accepting too many claimants as legitimate refugees for the countries to be eligible for the fast-track list.

That’s left these countries waiting both for the right conditions for designation and for visas to be lifted.

Ms. Ligor said Romania has a policy of inclusion of minorities, and minorities are represented in the Romanian parliament. 

“We think that maybe the Canadian government needs a little bit of more information about where we are and what guarantees we offer in terms of respect for human rights,” she said.

 

Keen for visit off the beaten path

Ms. Ligor described the visa issue as the only irritant in the two countries’ relations. 

She spoke to Embassy before news last week of a Toronto Stock Exchange-listed mining company’s threat of a billion-dollar lawsuit against the Romanian government if it rejects a draft law that would kill one of the company’s projects. 

Media reports have stated that Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta said legislators are likely to reject Gabriel Resources Ltd.’s Rosia Montana gold mine bid because of growing public and political resistance to it. The Romanian Embassy did not immediately respond to questions about the issue before press time.

Canada and Romania have inked a foreign investment promotion and protection agreement that is meant to protect investments on both sides.

Ms. Ligor said she saw the EU trade deal as an opportunity to expand trade.

She said she’s also hoping to help foster more high-level visits. Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited Romania for multilateral summits in 2006 and 2008, and she said it would be a good idea to reciprocate. 

“In practical terms, our co-operation goes very well. We just need to give it a little bit more of a political boost.”

She started following Canadian news when she first learned she could be posted to Canada last October and began using her Twitter account more frequently after arriving in the country and presenting her credentials to the governor general on June 10. 

She said it’s obvious the world is changing “and we as diplomats should be where the rest of the population is.”

She has done research on digital diplomacy along with occasional teaching work at the Romanian National School for Political and Administrative Studies.

She said she’s also happy with the active Romanian-Canadian community on Facebook. Shortly after arriving, she connected on the social media site with the Romanian Pioneer Museum in Boian, Alta. The small community about 130 kilometres northeast of Edmonton is not typically on a new diplomat’s top-10 Canadian places to visit, but it’s on Ms. Ligor’s, as it’s one of the first Romanian settlements in Canada.

Nearly 200,000 Canadians have Romanian roots, and Ms. Ligor said she plans to interact with them by cribbing from her prior experience as ambassador to Spain, where there was another large Romanian diaspora community. She’d like to help bolster Romanian-Canadians’ Romanian language skills and get their degrees recognized in Canada. 

This is Ms. Ligor’s first posting in North America. She spent most of her foreign service career working on European issues, including as the director general for European affairs when Romania was negotiating its accession to the European Union. 

She is joined in Canada by her husband Adrian and teenaged daughter Anna. Anna is starting this fall in Grade 8, and her mom says she’s “very keen to enjoy the Canadian winter.”

kshane@embassynews.ca

@kristenshane1

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