Sunday

18th Apr 2021

Feature

New year, old problems for one of EU's poorest places

  • High unemployment, alarming school dropout rates, and low economic potential have all been plaguing Vaslui region of Romania since the fall of communism 30 years ago (Photo: NGO World Vision Romania)

The year is off to a rocky start in Vaslui, one of EU's most impoverished regions and Romania's poorest county, where two 12-year olds were found in alcohol-induced coma after having spent their Christmas carol-singing money on alcohol.

High unemployment, alarming school dropout rates, and low economic potential have all been plaguing Vaslui region since the fall of communism, 30 years ago.

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  • 'Corruption and embezzlement of public money by local politicians continue to fuel underdevelopment and social problems in this part of the country', Mihai Botez, Save Romania Union (USR) MP for Vaslui county told EUobserver (Photo: NGO World Vision Romania)

"Corruption and embezzlement of public money by local politicians continue to fuel underdevelopment and social problems in this part of the country", Mihai Botez, Save Romania Union (USR) MP for Vaslui county told EUobserver.

Another MP representing Vaslui, Daniel Olteanu from the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats party, told EUobserver that the lack of infrastructure is what keeps this region poor and since he came into office in 2017 the central government has done little to help improve the region's standings.

Consistently at the bottom of Eurostat's ranking for regional gross domestic product (GDP) per inhabitant, the county of Vaslui has seen little economic growth over the past decade.

The region's population is still amongst the poorest in the European Union with recent Eurostat numbers showing that the GDP per capita is at 39 percent of the EU average.

At the opposing end of the economic divide, the leading EU regions in terms of GDP per capita are light-years away from the harsh reality of Romania's north-east region.

According to Eurostat, the Inner London-West region in the United Kingdom is at 626 percent of the EU average, while Luxembourg stands at 253 percent.

Southern Ireland also clocks a high level of economic development with a GDP per capita standing at 220 percent of the EU average, much like Hamburg (202 percent) in Germany and the Brussels Region in Belgium (196 percent).

Amongst the high scorers is also a region from the former communist bloc. Prague in the Czech Republic has a level of economic development almost twice the average of the European Union (187 percent).

Vaslui county on the other hand displays less flattering statistics with 400 of its 700 schools equipped with only outdoor toilets, with no running water or heating and wooden floors that can collapse at any time.

Numbers from the Romanian ministry of national education show that in the north-east region of the country one-in-three pupils has no access to indoor toilets in schools.

The northeast county of Vaslui is also a place where tragedy meets comedy, as earlier this year a man won a court case against police who fined him for making an unwarranted emergency number call while he was allegedly drunk.

It was later proven that the man wasn't drunk but had in fact a stuttering problem and called the 112 number to report that his son was attacked by someone with an axe.

Welfare and subsistence farming

Far less amusing is that Vaslui has one of the lowest employment levels in the country with 40,000 workers supporting 90,000 people living on welfare and more than half of the population living as subsistence farmers.

The region is also known for one of the highest dropout rates in the country with one-in-10 high school students failing to complete school.

"The highest dropout rate is present in the rural areas as poverty, long commutes and improper classrooms force many children to leave school early ", Andreea Bujor, communications manager at World Vision Romania, an NGO fighting children exclusion in Vaslui told EUobserver.

For most of the 30 years since the fall of communism in Romania, the region of Vaslui has been influenced and locally government by various representatives of the Social-Democrat Party (PSD).

Dumitru Buzatu, a former professor of Marxism-Leninism and leading figure of PSD has been regarded by the media as a local strongman, a politician who came up through the ranks to become County Council president, the main decision body in Romanian local administration, an office he has held since 2012.

Politics runs in the family as Buzatu's wife has been a Social-Democrat MP representing Vaslui county since 2004, and their son worked as secretary of state in the previous PSD-backed government.

EU observer reached out over phone and email to Dumitru Buzatu's office to learn what the local administration is doing to alleviate the county's economic woes, but there was no reply.

The future doesn't look bright either. Data from the National Commission for Strategy and Prognosis shows that over the next three years the county of Vaslui will see little progress and will continue to be one of the poorest regions of the European Union.

For the 100,000 children growing up in the northeastern Vaslui county education appears to be their only chance to escape poverty and a continued reliance on social welfare.

Author bio

Cristian Gherasim is a freelance journalist contributing to EUobserver, Euronews, EU Reporter, Katoikos, Von Mises Institute, and bne IntelliNews, with a particular focus on European and regional affairs.

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