Making Political Hay in Cluj

I’m afraid the Lord of Cluj is not having a good day in the local media. Neither is his fellow smoker of the unicorn dust, Alin Tise. Poor guys!

In the immortal words of Domnul Guta:

Atunci cand iti merge rau nimeni nu mai este in jurul tau.

Or “When times are tough, everybody abandons you”. Very, very true, especially when it comes to politics :)

First up, from the PSD (Ro). My translation:

PSD Cluj: Cluj government unable to keep investors

PSD Cluj has been putting questions to the [Cluj] city and county government concerning the departure of large companies from Cluj County.

The [PSD Party] gave, as an example, Wizz Air, ING, Ursus and Nokia, who have all announced that they’re either leaving or reducing their operations in Cluj.

“If Cluj City Hall and the Cluj County Council think they can rely on their buddies in the [national] government to keep receiving funds from Bucharest, I am sorry to inform them that they were elected to promote long-term development in the county and [former Cluj mayor Emil] Boc’s days as Prime Minister are numbered,” said Remus Lapusan, the president of PSD Cluj.

The [PSD Party] notes that the departure of these companies will reduce the money coming into the county and will increase the unemployment rolls.

“[Cluj County executive] Tise and [Lord of Cluj-Napoca] Apostu are incapable of keeping investors that the PSD and PNL government brought in, so let’s not talk about bringing in new ones,” said Remus Lapusan.


I’m hardly a fan of the PSD either but clearly Mr. Lapusan is thinking along the same lines as I have been.

Meanwhile the vice-president of PSD Cluj appeared on TV last night (Ro). My translation:

The most significant reasons for the recent departure of large companies from Cluj would be the legislative changes and the lack of predictability in the evolution of Romania said the vice-president of PSD Cluj, Aurelia Cristea, last night on the show “Reality in Cluj” presented by Raul Chis on Reality TV Cluj.

“The [recent] hike in the VAT, for example, was something that affected all companies and investors in our country. Besides these national problems, there is a lack of a county-wide strategy, a coherent plan to improve infrastructure, the highly-skilled workforce that Cluj has, the potential that the universities could bring and a cadre of educated people that we have but that we don’t know how to take advantage of. If we can’t see the united whole in all of this, we’ll never attract investors for the long term,” said Cristea.

A little wordy but that’s roughly what she said. Not my fault the woman loves her commas ;)

And last but not least, from here (Ro). My translation:

Investors leave, politicians point fingers

Large companies are leaving or downsizing their operations in Cluj. Opposition politicians are blaming the “orange” [PDL] administration while those in power blame the world-wide economic crisis.

Ursus is almost completely gone, ING and Nokia have downsized their activities, Wizz Air is moving flights to Targu-Mures while IBM has selected the same city for their headquarters. Local opposition leaders place the blame on the [Cluj] city and county governments while at the same time they [the city/county gov’t] say they are not at fault and that the world-wide economic crisis is to blame.

“It seems like Boc has a good team with Tise and Apostu. Boc, down there in Bucharest, is changing laws on a day-by-day basis, and therefore must take some responsibility because large companies need a level of predictability in order to make a viable business plan. But Tise and Apostu in Cluj are incapable of retaining the investors that the PSD and PNL government brought in, so let’s not talk about bringing in new ones,” accused the president of PSD Cluj, local Representative Remus Lapusan in a press release. “If the Cluj City Hall and the Cluj County Council think they can rely on their buddies in the [national] government to keep receiving funds from Bucharest, I am sorry to inform them that they were elected to foster and promote long-term development in the county and Boc’s days as Prime Minister are numbered,” said Lapusan.

He is supported in this by his counterpart, the president of PNL Cluj, Marius Nicoara. “From this point of view, unfortunately they did not bring in important new investors to Cluj and, especially unfortunately, important investors are downsizing their operations or leaving, while others, such as IBM will commit to Targu Mures or will not come [to Cluj] at all, like TATA Motors. Thus I must say that what Remus Lapusan said is absolutely correct,” said the former County executive [president], who was instrumental in bringing the Finns of Nokia to Cluj. [Nicoara] stated that the decisive factor is the manner in which potential investors are received. “I am asking that the city and county governments focus on attracting investors. Coming out of the recession will only happen by attracting new investors and creating jobs. But what we offer those who are interested in investing matters. We must welcome investors with open arms, not with half measures demanding kickbacks,” said Nicoara.

Actually in the original Romanian, Nicoara said in English, “fifty-fifty”, which I have “translated” as being “half measures”.

Update: Okay thanks to a friendly reader, I obviously didn’t understand the Romglish expression “fifty-fifty” which apparently refers to taking a cut up front (aka half now, half later), or wanting kickbacks in other words. Whatever the exact meaning, if it’s even close to being true that the city/county wants kickbacks from a LARGE corporation to do business here, that’s suicidal in the long term. Sheesh… I’d like to give these guys a little taste of some “fifty-fifty” with the toe of my boots.

Mayor Sorin Apostu blames the loss of investors on the economic crisis and politician-ism. “We aren’t to blame, just as the PSD party is not to blame for the world-wide economic crisis. But we could be guilty of politician-ism, thus chasing off potential future investors, who already are attracted to Cluj and want to come here and find a stable political and social situation. Unfortunately, these kinds of press releases makes us overlook an important point. I regret that Mr. Lapusan is making these kind of politician-ism statements,” replied Apostu.

I have no idea what “politician-ism” is, but that’s the word he used.

The head of [Cluj] County, Alin Tise, said that he has nothing to add concerning the business decisions of private companies. “In my role as president of the Cluj County Council, I appreciate PSD’s concern for the county’s development. I also acknowledge that Mr. Remus Lapusan is still fairly new to politics and has his own perspective. I assure him, as well as all the people of Cluj, that we will continue to bring development to the county and create new jobs as a result of the ongoing projects we are working on such as the Regional Emergency Hospital, the new Tetarom IV industrial park, the completion of the Cluj Arena, the airport’s terminals, a new runway, expansion of the sewage system, the improvement of more than 500 kilometers of county roads, the future ecological warehouse in the county, the development of the Clujana factory and Agro Transilvania, all of which mean the creation of new jobs in these, the largest projects in the past 20 years for the county. I invite the PSD and all other parties to join us in contributing to the development [of the county]. I believe that the time for press releases that point fingers has passed. The people of Cluj want concrete, viable results, not idle tales in the form of a press release,” said Tise.

Head of the UDMR Cluj party, [Cluj] vice mayor Laszlo Attila, appreciates that in this period when foreign investors are leaving, the local authorities must focus on domestic investors. “For the time being there’s no reason to have unusually bad problems. Most of these decisions were made by the main headquarters of these companies, taken to reduce costs and I have no idea what role the local authorities played in these decisions. Of course we regret the loss for the people of Cluj, those who have lost their job or will lose their job, but this does not mean we need to go to these companies and beg them to stay. I believe we should focus on our own [Romanian] investors, offer them the use of the same facilities, such as Nokia’s, which we built as part of a very expensive industrial park. I hope that the same conditions that we offered to those who left will be attractive to others,” said Laszlo.

He suggested that in the case of Wizz Air, the Mures [County] government might be guilty of “dumping”. “I understand that Wizz Air left because our airport taxes were too high and in Targu-Mures they wouldn’t have to pay at all. I also heard that they [Mures County] gave them a little something. The problem is that over there [in Mures County] they’re using public money for this and I have to ask how the Targu-Mures authorities plan on recouping their investments if they aren’t going to be charging Wizz Air anything,” said Laszlo.

Whew! Well as you can see, two different newspapers re-wrote the same press release. Too funny. Since I don’t receive these press releases directly, all I can do is translate whatever it is the local papers publish.

Obviously if you’ve been following along with my series on the Wizz Air Debacle of 2011, you know that Laszlo is completely mistaken and has obviously been listening to David Ciceo too much. It’s certainly not going to be FREE for Wizz Air to fly into Targu-Mures. European Union rules on this are extremely specific. What’s actually happening is that the Mures County government is subsidizing a portion of those landing fees but they’re doing it for every airline, not just Wizz Air. Whether the increase in tourism pays off for T-M, we’ll just have to wait and find out.

In the original Romanian, Laszlo also calls Wizz Air “Wizz-ul” or “The Wizz”, which made me laugh because it reminded me of a now-defunct American electronics store. Nobody beats the Wiz! :))

The deal with IBM is that last week they officially stated that they’re potentially interested in opening centers in a number of Romanian cities. They might do it or they might not do it at all. Or they might just choose one city (such as T-M) and not come to Cluj. Nobody knows.

As for the Cluj Arena, this is a very nice new stadium that’s about to be completed here in the city. That’s all good and wonderful but what I have not heard one word about is all of the concerts and musical acts that the city has booked for this stadium. Clearly those millions of euros spent to build the stadium are wasted if the local government can’t start filling the seats with headliner acts. Who is going to come play the Cluj Arena? Absolutely nobody knows!

And old Mr. Tise is clearly a grizzled politician. I like how he touts Cluj’s awesome and unicorn dust-infused airport with its shiny new terminals and spiffy runway but clearly sidesteps the fact that they just lost their second biggest customer. Oh wellzie! Plus slamming on Lapusan is completely unnecessary. But so it goes in Romanian politics, eh?

Oh and I forgot to translate this little gem yesterday:

Pascal Fesneau, a member of the board of the Cluj International Club, which brings together the expatriate community in town, is of the opinion that the local authorities could not have stopped the closing of Nokia’s research center in Cluj or the closing down of ING’s regional service center for Europe. “What could the Romanian government or the city authorities do? These companies depend on decisions from headquarters outside the country and there’s nothing the local authorities could’ve done. A company based here in town could not have made the decision to depart so easily,” said Pascal Fesneau.

Even though he’s a French citizen, I wonder how he feels about running for political office here in Romania? Clearly he’s got step 1 of the magic formula down pat, which is to eternally claim your helplessness in the face of trials and tribulations.

Now, to be completely fair (as I always, always am), some big shot in Helsinki somewhere did make the decision to close down the research center in Cluj. Likewise some executive in far away Holland made the decision to shut down ING’s service center in Cluj. It wasn’t like the local managers got snubbed at a restaurant by Lord Apostu and in a fit of spite decided to pack their bags and leave. That’s all true.

But let’s look at what’s also true:

  • ING specifically said they’re shutting down their Cluj operations because of increased fees and taxes
  • Wizz Air is leaving specifically because of increased fees and taxes
  • When Nokia announced the closure, the mayor was caught completely off guard and had no idea it was coming.

Poor, poor customer service – something Romania is known for. Mr. Lapusan is right. You need to treat your customer well. You need to visit with them and make sure they’re happy. You need to keep in touch. You need to see if there’s anything else you can do for them, not just chase off a few gypsies and call it a day. You need to be sitting down with these foreign investors on a regular basis and paying attention to their needs, not cleaning your fingernails and bragging about how you can arbitrarily charge them whatever you like.

Yes, sometimes a company will pull up stakes and there’s nothing you can do about it. But at least try, will you? Sheesh. Hundreds of people are soon going to be out of work and paving a few potholes and extending the sewage system isn’t quite enough. Quit grandstanding and do your job, politicians!!