Romanian links could prove rewarding for Wales

By John Stevenson
BBC Wales political correspondent

media captionRoad names in the seaside resort still recall the queen's visit more than a century ago

What was then known as the Adelphi on Llandudno's promenade was at the turn of the 19th Century seen as a hotel that was fit for a queen - in this case, Queen Elisabeth of Romania.

She stayed for five weeks in what is now known as the Marine Hotel, where a letter of thanks from the queen still proudly hangs.

Her patronage of Llandudno traders is still recorded in the town's motto 'Hardd, Hafan, Hedd' - translated into Welsh after she described the resort as "a beautiful haven of peace".

Around the town, there is Carmen Sylva Road, a nod to the pen name she used to publish novels and poems, and a Roumania Crescent and Drive, all in her honour.

Before she left, the town's children paraded past her hotel, with a farewell concert in the Pier Pavilion and an official send-off by the town commissioner - marked by 21 lifeboat maroons fired from the Great Orme as her train departed for London.

When Queen Elisabeth of Romania visited Wales her entry into the UK was unrestricted - she could come and go just as she liked.

Migrant curbs

However, while Romania may have joined the European Union in 2007, its citizens, along with those from Bulgaria, face some restrictions on working and living in Britain.

But those barriers will be lifted in January 2014, prompting some to voice concerns that thousands of eastern Europeans could flood into the UK.

Others are wondering if this might be a business opportunity for Wales.

During a recent visit to Cardiff, the former foreign minister of Romania, Dr Andrei Marga told BBC Wales that it is important to recognise that the European Union is now "a family".

"In Europe, all countries need to know each other. It is normal to exchange views and values and even to have the occasional disagreement," he said.

Dylan Jones-Evans, professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Wales, takes the view that the Welsh government and Welsh businesses are missing a trick.

"Central Europe is a huge market for Wales' businesses and there are sales opportunities throughout this relatively untapped market of 100 million people," he argued.

"As for Romania, a recent article in the Economist highlighted the problems the Romanian government has in spending the European money they get for infrastructure projects, agriculture and similar development schemes.

"The Welsh government knows how to spend European finance... so they have the expertise which is valuable to an emerging economy such as Romania.

Forging links

"There's a trick being lost here, particularly in terms of the links we could set up and establish with the Romanian and Bulgarian governments to actually partner with them to see how basically we can support them, help them, aid them in addressing this underspend in structural funding."

The Romanians are already forging strong links with Scotland. They have opened an orthodox church in Glasgow and say that they also want to intensify economic dialogue with local councils and the Scottish government.

Since his appointment, the Romanian ambassador Dr Jhon Ingha has been to Scotland almost a dozen times.

On a recent trip to Cardiff to present over 300 Romanian books to the city's Central Library, Dr Ingha stressed that his government also wants to improve ties with Wales.

media captionInflux or investment - Romania's relationship with Wales

As Britain prevaricates over its role within Europe, the focus of influence and economic power within the EU shifts towards former Eastern Bloc countries

That means that central Europe, including countries such as Romania, will play an even greater role in European affairs.

This week, the First Minister heads a trade mission to San Francisco. He recently visited Turkey, which he described it as "a fast developing economy" and he looked forward to developing closer ties.

But what of Romania and other countries in central Europe - a potential market of 100 million people?

A Welsh government spokesperson said: "Romania has been a market for Welsh companies in the past and we are always open to exploring further opportunities."

It is more than 100 years since Queen Elisabeth of Romania visited the seaside resort of Llandudno, as a respite from looking a suitable bride for her wayward son.

A century later it is fitting that Welsh companies and Welsh businesses are now being urged to make the same journey in the opposite direction for entirely different reasons.

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