Interview with US Ambassador Kathleen Kavalec: It’s important to increase the capacity and efficiency of the Port of Constanța/ The Port could be kept in the sights of the Cross-Border Criminal Investigation Unit/ The city could do more to highlight the quality of its workforce

ambasador sua hathleen kavalec ambasador sua hathleen kavalec
sursa foto: Cristian Andrei Leonte/ Info Sud-Est

ambasador sua hathleen kavalec
sursa foto: Cristian Andrei Leonte/ Info Sud-Est

Kathleen Kavalec, the US Ambassador to Bucharest, was present in Constanta for the exhibition “We The People”, set up in Ovidiu Square, and spoke in an interview with Info Sud-Est about the Port of Costanța, how the region could become more attractive for American companies, the role of the Ovidius University in improving the quality of life on the seaside, but also the phenomenon of extremism or the state and role of the local media in the context of the general degradation of the press.

Reporter: First of all, Madam Ambassador, welcome to Constanta. This is your second official visit here since taking office. How do you find the city? What do you like and what could be changed for the better?

  • Kathleen Kavalec: Well, yes indeed, this is my second visit as Ambassador to Constanța. This is a very important city, strategically located on the Black Sea, and it has become even more important since the war started, of course, because of the role of the Port of Constanta. What do I like about this city? How can you not like a city like this on the coast, with beautiful beaches, historic buildings, a long history, you know, beautiful places to walk. So I can see why many tourists come here all the time.

Rep: About the Port of Constanta specifically. Are there any cooperation projects on the agenda between the Romanian state and the US regarding the Port of Constanța? And if so, what would this project involve?

  • Kathleen Kavalec: No, we currently do not have any cooperation project, as far as I know. I am aware that the EU is involved in supporting various projects, which, as Romania is a member of the EU, makes a lot of sense. From the US perspective, we have companies using the Port of Constanta, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), for example, ships grain here, and we visited their facilities in the port. But no, nothing specific in terms of American projects.

Rep: The United States is opening a Cross-Border Criminal Investigation Unit (CBIU) in Bucharest to fight cross-border organised crime groups. Will the Port of Constanța also be targeted by this unit?

  • Kathleen Kavalec: I can’t talk about the specifics of what the Unit will be doing, but obviously any issue that involves, you know, they’re looking at cross-border activities – that will involve any place where there’s people coming in and out across the border. So, Constanța seems to fall into that category, but I can’t talk about the specifics of their activities. It is possible. I think it probably depends on the types of cases that will be presented.
ambasador sua hathleen kavalec
sursa foto: Cristian Andrei Leonte/ Info Sud-Est

Rep: Now, coming back to development, what regional development opportunities do you see for the Port of Constanta? Especially in the current context of the Three Seas Initiative and the war in Ukraine.

  • Kathleen Kavalec: Well, I think, as we’ve seen, the Port of Constanta has seen a tremendous increase in shipping volume since the beginning of the war. A lot of grain and other products are coming through the port and being shipped. I think the likelihood is that this capacity or volume will continue to grow and that what is important now is that the port authorities try to increase the capacity and the efficiency of the port. We have seen that there are now many delays in accessing the port because of demand. So I think there are probably opportunities for companies working on improving port operations. But I think it remains to be seen what the level of interest will be from American companies in these projects. Of course, being on the Black Sea, there is the whole issue of oil and gas development in the region. There is an American company, Black Sea Oil and Gas, which is present in the area. I know they are very active and they are looking for new opportunities.

Rep: Ambassador, you said a little while ago that there are about 1,000 American companies in Romania. Can you tell us what would convince more American companies to invest in Constanța, but also in other segments outside the Port?

  • Kathleen Kavalec: You know, American companies, when they come, they don’t necessarily look at a specific region. They generally come because of opportunities in Romania, so they look all over the country. And I think what I’ve noticed, particularly from the high-tech sector, is that they tend to look particularly at cities that have strong university systems, because they’re looking for areas where there’s an educated workforce. So I think the city of Constanta, having a university here, is a potential source of talent. I know that when I talk to people at the university, they say that many students are recruited in other parts of Romania or even abroad. So I think, you know, Constanta could do more to highlight the quality of the workforce, I think that would be a way to attract companies. And, of course, I think that the more they invest in improving the quality of life in the city, the more companies, including American companies, will possibly be attracted.

Rep: Now, moving away from the sea a bit, how do you rate the local press in Romania, especially considering the degradation of the Romanian press in general in recent years? And, of course, the many concerns that have been raised about the state of press freedom in Romania. Also, from your point of view, what is the importance of the local press in this ecosystem?

  • Kathleen Kavalec: I think, first of all, freedom of the press is essential for any democratic society. It’s important to have independent media coverage and voices that raise issues, concerns that exist in this society and that are able to report on the performance of government authorities and just general issues that affect the population. And the local press is, I think, even more important because it speaks to the day-to-day concerns of citizens. It is usually the type of press that most people are most interested in, knowing what is happening in their immediate city or town. It’s a difficult time for the media because of financial pressures, the advent of social media and the ability to get news from many other sources. So in many countries, including Romania, I think financial pressures are creating problems. But beyond that, I think some of the concerns we have about media freedom include concerns about transparency and funding. I know that there are funds that are given to certain media organisations, and they are not always clear or transparent. So, in our human rights report, we talked about the need for transparency and funding of the media and we talked about the importance of protecting the rights of journalists and ensuring that they can work safely.

Rep: Let’s also talk a bit about extremism. We see more and more signs every day that extremism and radicalism are increasingly present in Romanian politics and society. We also have a far-right political party that is in second place in the polls. How do you assess this phenomenon and how much do you think it could affect democracy in Romania in the coming years?

  • Kathleen Kavalec: I think the rise of extremist rhetoric in politics is a problem that is shared by many countries these days and seems to be a growing challenge in many democracies. I think it’s important for citizens to be informed, to understand, to think critically about the information they receive, and to support leaders who, I think, offer solutions to real problems, and to be wary of leaders who try to use divisiveness or create enemies of other people. These types of political narratives are damaging, I believe, to society in general, and have destructive potential. So I think it’s important for everyone in civil society and in education to support policies that encourage critical thinking, that support learning how to work together, learning how to participate in a community in a constructive way, and supporting leaders who offer real solutions to problems that affect society.

Rep: And for the second part of the question, how much do you think this phenomenon could affect democracy in Romania in the coming years?

  • Kathleen Kavalec: Well, it’s hard to talk hypothetically about the future, so I’ll refrain from doing so. We’ll have to see what happens. But I think there are a lot of sound-minded people in Romania who understand, you know, where they want to go and are serious about the development of the country. So I think we have to put our trust in the voters to make good choices.

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