The Netherlands will never agree to Romania joining the Schengen area, for fear the port of Constanța might become the biggest port in Europe, thus irreversibly impacting the Dutch economy, which is largely based on trade coming in and out of the port of Rotterdam, a false narrative promoted in Bucharest reads. In fact, a real competition between the two ports is out of the question, since the port of Rotterdam is better positioned on the map and has superior infrastructure and operational capacities.
NEWS: “Amateurish media claims the port of Constanța story is a conspiracy theory. That’s not true. Let’s take another look at the problem. Rotterdam, if I’m not mistaken, is a port city that accounts for 10% of the Netherlands’ GDP, I believe. Why? Let’s take an example: let’s say I want some merchandise shipped from Frankfurt, Germany, to Georgia, on the Black Sea. For that, the goods are sent to Rotterdam, they are loaded, for which they charge top dollar, and then they are transported through the Dardanelles to the Black Sea. And the whole thing takes a couple of weeks. The moment Romania joins Schengen, the port of Constanța becomes the gateway into Europe. And then it will be a lot easier for people in Frankfurt to get their goods transported via Constanța, from where they are shipped on the Black Sea. And then, there’s also the Dutch lobby, here, at home. Few people recall that, prior to 1989, the Dutch Embassy was a hotbed of foreign intelligence agents. We all reported to the Dutch ambassador, who did a lot of travelling. And the situation persisted long after 1990. This is one the reasons, because Schengen is no longer about customs.” (Ion Cristoiu on the Marius Tucă show, starting min. 23:50)
NARRATIVE: The Netherlands will not admit Romania into Schengen, because the port of Constanța will compete with the Dutch port of Rotterdam.
BACKGROUND: Romania and Bulgaria were originally slated to join the Schengen area in March, 2011, as per an EU-wide agreement. The accession was repeatedly postponed, some the reasons invoked by countries that opposed the move including corruption and the lack of real reforms in the two countries’ justice systems. Germany, Finland and Austria were the most vocal at first, while France and the Netherlands remained reluctant. Surprisingly, towards the end of 2011, the Netherlands became adamant about Romania’s Schengen accession and joined Finland in claiming that Bulgaria and Romania pose a threat of illegal migrants entering the community bloc via Turkey. Bucharest’s diplomatic efforts to solve the issue remained unsuccessful, whereas the Netherlands remained unyielding in its opposition.
Before long, the Voice of Russia tied the story to the legislative election of 2012 in Romania, promoting in Romanian media the conspiracy theory of Dutch trade interests regarding the port of Constanța, and their being tied to the Netherlands’ refusal to greenlight Romania’s Schengen bid. The story was quickly picked up and disseminated by various politicians and maritime transport experts. Suffice it to say that the Voice of Russia is the old name of Sputnik news agency, the number one propaganda tool and the promoter of Russia’s fake news, in order to get a clear idea about the truthfulness of the arguments supporting this theory. Since then, the narrative has been periodically reiterated in news articles every time sovereigntist propaganda runs out of stories to publish.
In the context of the war in Ukraine and amplified by growing European solidarity in response to the ensuing crisis, Romania’s chances of joining the Schengen area have increased considerably. German and French leaders, as well as institutions in Brussels, have overtly supported the move, the only country to still have misgivings being the Netherlands. As a result, the Rotterdam-Constanța theme has been brought back in the spotlight by Ion Cristoiu as part of a number of statements made in TV shows hosted by other journalists who are at least as controversial as him.
PURPOSE: To erode public trust in the European Union, to undermine European solidarity, to promote the idea that the West considers Romanians second-tier citizens, and that in order to ensure equal rights, we will have to surrender our sovereignty and economic independence.
WHY THE NARRATIVE IS FALSE: An unbiased analysis that should underscore any potential benefits one port might enjoy to the detriment of the other should factor in not just the geographical position of the two, but also aspects pertaining to port infrastructure, the network of land access corridors and, last but not least, social, economic and political developments in the areas under scrutiny. At present, Rotterdam is the biggest port in Europe. The volume of merchandise transiting the Dutch port is superior to the aggregate trade volume of the second- and third-largest ports on the European continent, Antwerp and Hamburg. By contrast, the port of Constanța is isolated. Any maritime transport targeting this port must first go through two straits, which entails higher costs and longer delivery deadlines, and also comes with certain maximum draught restrictions. The port is growing more and more irrelevant in trade relations with Asia, China in particular, for two reasons:
- With each passing day, the New Silk Road is one step closer to becoming an alternative trade route bypassing the Black Sea. For a few years now, a direct freight railway route travels directly between the Chinese east coast and London, crossing a number of European cities, including Rotterdam and Hamburg. Furthermore, land transport infrastructure (railways and roads) in Central and Western Europe is more developed compared to Romania, where transport out of the Port of Constanța remains an unsolved problem. We should, however, mention that, in the current context, land trade crossing the area of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict poses certain difficulties.
- Although it has equally been the target of a great deal of controversy, the Chinese takeover of the port of Piraeus has created a new regional hub on the map of global trade routes. Compared to the investments and profits reported by the Chinese in Greece, it is unlikely China will be interested in relocating part of its operations to the Black Sea. Ideally located to service Asian trade routes in the Mediterranean, Piraeus holds real chances of becoming the most important port in the Mediterranean, which will further diminish the role played by the port of Constanța.
Constanța is facing not just geographic shortcomings, but also technological and financial issues and red tape. The port of Rotterdam is fully automated, which makes it the most technologically advanced port in the world. Conversely, the technological development of the port of Constanța has been stagnating or worse, appears to grow obsolete with the passage of time. The lack of modern technology is also transparent in related activities conducted at port level, such as veterinary-sanitary inspections. Whereas in other European ports such an inspection takes a few hours in the case of goods imported from non-EU countries, in Romania it can take days. Moreover, port access fees are huge, which can only be explained by the high number of wages that need to be paid. The number of workers here is almost the same as in the port of Rotterdam, where the volume of activity is however 25 times higher compared to Constanța.
The truth about the Netherlands’ reluctance to greenlight Romania’s Schengen accession is essentially tied to the domestic political landscape in this country. More specifically, Mark Rutte’s government relies on a fragile majority in Parliament. Sworn in nearly 300 days after the parliamentary election, the current government is based on a four-party coalition. One of them is the Christian Union, a Conservative party represented by only 9 MPs in Parliament, 5 deputies (from a total of 150) and 4 senators (from a total of 75). This political party strongly opposes immigration, particularly Muslim migrants coming from Central Asia and the Middle East. For fear Schengen borders will no longer be as secure as they are today, this party has been blackmailing the government, threatening to break the ruling coalition, particularly if the Netherlands votes to support the Schengen accession of Romania and Bulgaria at European level. Last but not least, our country’s accession is closely tied to Bulgaria’s, for reasons that are both political as well as geographic. Unfortunately, our southern neighbors seem to be less ready to join, which is why the Schengen area stretches as far as the Nădlac crossing point for the time being, regardless of Romania’s progress in meeting accession criteria.