Rebuilding with energy

Rebuilding Romania
May 26, 1995

Romania was the "basket case" of the East European economies which underwent revolutions in 1989. The last to fall, Romania is also likely to remain a laggard in the economic growth stakes for some time to come. One means of averting this fate is a successful transformation of the energy sector, the theme of Walt Patterson's book, which benefits from an intimate first hand knowledge of Romania and its problems.

Under the Ceausescu dictatorship, Romania's energy sector (oil, gas, coal, lignite, electricity) was so run down that the population was deprived of light and heat as industry was prioritised in energy requirements. Romania was also condemned to be a late starter in transition because, unlike several other East European countries, no liberalisation had occurred before revolution.

This is as much a book about what ought to be done as about what has been achieved in the energy sector during the transition period. In the latter respect, subsidies had been reduced and energy prices raised by 1994, but were still controlled by the government. There is clearly a long way still to go.

Accordingly, Patterson's book is also published in Romanian and it is to be hoped that some of its prescriptions will be taken on board in Romania.

Considering that he has such a diversified audience to address, Patterson succeeds remarkably well in juggling their interests all together. The emphasis is on energy efficiency and end-use. After a brief potted history both of Romania and its energy systems, Patterson's work proceeds to deal in detail with the rebuilding process in its many aspects: the key transforming agencies, financing transition, energy efficiency, individual industries, international co-operation and overall energy policy. The wide array of tables should meet the needs of most economic historians (although a table showing electricity tariff changes would have been useful) and a list of contact addresses of energy organisations in Romania.

Energy literature is often difficult to read and overburdened with technical jargon. Happily, this is not the case here: Patterson has an easy style which helps him to make his points tellingly. The text is also enlivened by Patterson's personal experience of Romania. The use of convenient sub-sections also makes the volume convenient to dip into for specific topics. His book is strong too on overall change in Romania. Energy policy is appositely related to domestic factors and to the industrial implications. Nor does Patterson ignore the international context both in Eastern Europe generally and further afield.

Both energy specialists and those interested more generally in transition policies in Eastern Europe should benefit from reading Patterson's work. Whether the Romanian authorities will show more than passing interest remains to be seen.

The one major disadvantage, as with all books in this field, is that this volume will soon become out-of-date and it is to be hoped that a second edition will appear in due course.

Steven Morewood is a lecturer in economic history, University of Birmingham.

Rebuilding Romania: Energy, Efficiency and the Economic Transition

Author - Walt Patterson
ISBN - 1 85383 207 3
Publisher - Earthscan
Price - £12.95
Pages - 212

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