Since the end of the Cold War, Romania has sought to integrate into Western institutions, in particular the EU. Its efforts, however, were hindered by Romania's slow pace of reform and lingering communist legacy. In 1993 Romania signed an agreement with the EU, which called for greater economic cooperation, expanded trade relations, and political integration. In 1995 Romania formally applied to become an EU member. It was not among the "first wave" of prospective Eastern and Central European candidates for membership, however. In 2000 the EU formally accepted Romania as a candidate for membership, along with 11 other Central and Eastern European nations. France and the United Kingdom officially support its accession to the EU, but it was not one of 10 countries to be invited to join the body in December 2002 (with accession planned for 2004). Instead, the only two formerly Communist non-Soviet countries not to be invited to join, Romania and Bulgaria, were tentatively slated to accede in 2007.
Romania was the first country to sign up for NATO's Partnership for Peace program, which is designed to enhance cooperation with partner states via consultations, joint exercises, and information sharing. Romania also joined the growing ranks of former Warsaw Pact countries that sought full NATO membership. After the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland were admitted, its chances seemed to improve, but its political and economic troubles in the late 1990s drew NATO's attention elsewhere. Romania returned to the forefront of consideration in 2001 as the alliance began preparations for a summit to be held in Prague in the fall of 2002. At the Prague summit, Romania was formally invited to join the organization, with accession planned for 2004. One problem with Romania's candidacy was the presence of members of the former Securitate who still serve in government. As a member of NATO, Romania will be granted access to all its intelligence; and many Western leaders are still reluctant to share that information with leaders they consider unreliable. This obstacle appears in large measure to have been overcome. Romania has participated in international peacekeeping operations in Angola, Albania, and the former Yugoslavia and supported the NATO action in Yugoslavia in 1999. It has declared itself firmly on the side of the United States and NATO in the socalled international war on terrorism begun after the terrorist attacks on the United States in September 2001.
Traditionally Romania has had strained relations with its neighbors Moldova and Hungary, though for very different reasons. Moldova was traditionally a province of Romania and was simply carved out of it as a separate republic by Stalin following World War II. Many Moldovans consider themselves to truly be Romanians and most linguists deny there is a true distinction between Romanian and Moldovan, the official language of the state. In the mid-1990s, there were drives in both nations toward unification but such initiatives have languished in recent years.
Romania's relations with Hungary are strained due to the large number of ethnic Hungarians living in Romania, primarily in Transylvania. For years the government of Hungary protested that they were treated unfairly by various regimes in Romania. After years of poor relations, in September 1996, the Romanian and Hungarian prime ministers signed a Treaty of Understanding, Cooperation, and Good-Neighborliness. Among other things, the pact declared that the two countries harbor no territorial claims, and outlined the rights of national minorities according to European standards. Contentiousness resumed in 2001 when Hungary passed a law extending Hungarian government benefits to any ethnic Hungarian, regardless of place of residency. Iliescu considered this a subversion of Romania's sovereignty and protested vehemently. He even threatened to invalidate the 1996 Treaty of Understanding. Iliescu was unable to garner any European support for his position, so he soon remitted. In March 2003, however, Romania and Slovakia criticized Hungary for failing to amend the "Status Law;" the Council of Europe criticized the law in 2001 for not being in accordance with European principles of nondiscrimination and Romania underlines the law's undemocratic nature.
Iliescu supported the United States position on the disarmament of Iraq, by force if necessary, during the international diplomatic crisis preceding the start of war on 19 March 2003. In this he risked alienating Romania from France, Germany, and other European nations which adopted an anti-war stance. Iliescu stated in mid-March that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein would be faced with the choice of abandoning power and complying with United Nations (UN) Security Council Resolution 1441—passed in November 2002 and calling on Iraq to disarm itself of all weapons of mass destruction—or submitting to war. Iliescu pledged to open Romanian airspace to allied planes, provide allied troops with ground logistics support, and contribute post-conflict and non-combatant military troops for humanitarian purposes. U.S. president George W. Bush expressed gratitude for Iliescu's support.
Romania was a founding member of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation group, a forum of Balkan countries that seeks to encourage regional trade and economic ties. Romania is also a member of the Central European Free Trade Association (CEFTA), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization.