Senior diplomat on Romania’s many USPs, the Prince of Wales’ preferences and the highlights of an enriching tenure as UK ambassador
By Douglas Williams
The British Ambassador to Romania Paul Brummell spent last Christmas deep in Transylvania partaking of a very traditional Romanian Festive and enjoyed it immensely, but this year he may just stick with the British roast stalwarts including an obligatory mince pie or three.
The ambassador’s sojourn in Romania is in its final furlong, he will leave in August, but his love for this country will endure.
“I first arrived in Romania in 1982 on an epic school bus trip en route from the UK to what was then the Soviet Union. We had three days in Romania, in Oradea, Târgu Mureş and Iaşi and I can tell you Romania was a very different country back then,” regales the ambassador, 52. He was to subsequently visit another two times with 10 years in between in various official capacities before being officially posted here in August 2014.
“Upon arriving in 2014 I was immediately struck by just how welcoming the people were and especially so when I expressed an interest in their country’s history and culture,” said the ambassador. Following his intensive Foreign Service language training in London, he underwent a full immersion course living with a family in Iasi. Upon expressing his interest in the poet Mihai Eminescu he was promptly, and to his great delight, whisked up to the great bard’s birthplace Botoşani.
“This country has many unique selling points.”
To the question of Romania’s unique selling point the ambassador says that it depends on the context. “To His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales it’s the sustainable farming practices found in Transylvania and the high value natural grasslands along with the traditional architecture. If, however, you ask an IT company invested here it’s the dynamic, educated, English speaking workforce that can be hired at a significantly lower cost than elsewhere in the EU. This country has many unique selling points.” He cites rapid internet speeds, steep GDP growth rates along with simple geographic location as further strengths for Romania before countering that there are also, of course, weaknesses. Brummell outlines these as a crucial lack of predictability within the business environment and the, at times, woefully inadequate infrastructure.
There are four areas that are key to the relationship between Romania and the UK according to Her Majesty’s highest official here: continuing the warm welcome of Romanian nationals to the UK where they contribute a great deal generally, as the UK’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson outlined during his visit to Romania in September, is “numărul unu”. Then there is the not insignificant issue of the post-Brexit depletion of the EU coffers which bolster the Romanian economy. Thirdly this past year has seen an awesome array of defence related partnerships between the UK and Romania with troops, fighter jets and destroyers from the UK all visiting Romania. This partnership is solid and set to continue regardless of Brexit. Lastly but by no means least there is the €4bn worth of UK-Romania trade, the bulk of which is in Romania’s favour, and which both sides wish to see continue and ideally expand still further.
On the subject of Brexit the ambassador is pragmatic: “It was a democratic vote, with a high turnout and the vote was to leave the EU. We must now work towards ensuring the best relationships possible with our European neighbours that ensure free and frictionless trade across the board.”
Regarding the current political situation here in Romania, the consummate diplomat says: “The future of Romania is in the hands of the Romanian people and it is up to them to decide, I can’t offer any fail safe recipes. I’d only say that it is important that any changes to be made are discussed as widely and openly as possible and that justice and the rule of law are put at the heart of any decisions.”
Through February and March of this year Romania was in the international news as thousands took to the streets nightly and nationally in anti-government protests, this demonstrates, according to the ambassador, a lively democracy and a strong belief in the freedom of expression. “It was almost entirely peaceful, there were huge numbers despite the weather conditions and they even cleaned up after themselves!”
The past three and a half years have seen Brummell involved in myriad projects but the one that springs foremost to his mind involves the tragic events of October 2015 and the nightclub fire at Colectiv. Nine of the casualties of the fire were treated by UK doctors and UK medical support took a small but important part of the strain off their Romanian counterparts. More recently, and for the second year in a row, the ambassador has been actively involved in a “sleep out” to raise awareness about the problems of homelessness in Bucharest. “This year was warmer and drier than last year thankfully. I was delighted to be able to promote the important work of the Casa Ioana NGO. Events like this help throw a spotlight on the huge problem of homelessness that afflicts Bucharest along with most other major cities.”
Prior to Romania Brummell was Her Majesty’s High Commissioner to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean and prior to that he worked for the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office in Turkmenistan and in Kazakhstan. His next posting will be somewhat less exotic and a lot more familiar, London. So we’ll begin with what he will miss the least when he says “la revedere” in August? “Well the driving in Bucharest, it’s … exciting to say the least… And I’ll miss the phrase ‘immediate’ which can mean anything from ‘shortly’ to ‘forget about it’ or ‘never’.” And, what he will miss the most: “The warmth of the people, their enthusiasm and the stunningly beautiful countryside. I love this country and will most definitely be back to visit, probably not officially but most certainly privately.”
Bradt Travel Guides have published a newly updated guide to the region of Transylvania. “Romania: Transylvania” authored by the British Ambassador to Romania Paul Brummell and travel-writer Lucy Mallows, remains the only standalone English language guide to this legendary and enchanting region. Comprehensive chapter-per-county coverage is offered, including details to cater for the diverse range of travellers to the region, from city breaks to rural escapes, ski enthusiasts to charity volunteers.
The guidebook is available from bradtguides.com and OZB readers can claim a special 20% discount when they quote “OZB20” at checkout.