Much ado about Moldova
Chișinău, April 17th; crowds of police officers and traffic jams plague the centre of the city. For those who didn’t catch the news, every corner of the capital of Moldova was being monitored as a congressional delegation from the United States, headed by Senator John McCain, visited Moldova.
The members of the Foreign Relations Committee came with a clear message: “We support the democratic and economic transformation and we believe in you.” During the meeting with the Moldovan prime minister, Iurie Leancă, Washington officials spoke about the importance of enhancing bilateral dialogue, attracting US investments and enhancing trade relations between the two countries. For McCain, it was his second official visit to Moldova (the first took place in 2011 when the US Senator called for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Transnistria) and again he pointed out the importance of Moldova’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.
No other perspective
Leancă expressed confidence that the strategic dialogue launched during his recent visit to the US (March 2014), will bring bilateral cooperation to a new level. “We highly appreciate this visit as an expression of solidarity and as a message of continuous political support. This friendship between our countries acquires a special significance in 2014, a crucial year for Moldova’s European future,” said the head of government in Chișinău.
The US senators confirmed not only political but also financial support for the development of Moldova and further implementation of reforms. McCain said that the US will help Moldova through this difficult period on its way towards European integration. Indeed, the actual government sees no other perspective for this tiny country on the EU border. During an economic forum held in Berlin, Leancă once again confirmed that sustainable development of the country is seen only through the European perspective.
Furthermore, he urged investors from Western Europe to come to Moldova: “Our country has enormous potential and opportunities to offer you. We have a skilled workforce, access to all regional markets and one of the most liberal trade regimes.”
The prime minister’s confidence is boosted through a recent European Parliament’s resolution that stated Moldova has a right to ask for EU membership. The adopted the resolution sets up the basis to allow Moldova to apply for membership in the European Union in the future.
Marian-Jean Marinescu, a Romanian Member of the European Parliament, insists that the Association Agreement with Moldova be signed no later than July 2014: “The Chișinău government should respect the commitments taken up by the initialling of the EU-Moldova Association Agreement. I understand that it’s easier said than done, but it is possible. The application of the agreement will have a positive influence on the quality of life of Moldovans and I am sure that in this way it will increase their support for the EU. And when Moldova will be ready, I am confident that the EU will have nothing to say against Moldova’s accession.” the politician said.
Still, among the key criteria for EU membership include a competitive market economy and stable institutions guaranteeing the rule of law. “The principle ‘more for more’ is often confused by Moldavan politicians with ‘more for me’,” says political analyst Olga Nicolenco. Taking into consideration these conditions, it is not clear when Moldova will be prepared to join the EU family.
A recent public opinion survey carried out by the Slovak Atlantic Commission (SAC) shows that 44 per cent of Moldovans choose the EU over the Eurasian Customs Union (ECU), with 40 per cent preferring the former. A significant drop in public support of European integration (in 2009 it was 55 per cent) can be explained by the lack of noticeable results in fighting corruption and no real improvement of living standards. The head of the EU Delegation to Moldova, Pirkka Tapiola, says that Moldovans are afraid of change, therefore the polarisation of society is a natural reaction.
The law of action-reaction
Meanwhile the state with limited recognition, Transnistria, is not wasting any time. The example of the self-proclaimed independent Republic of Crimea has encouraged the Transnistrian Supreme Court to send Russia a bold request – to draft a law that would allow the breakaway region to join Russia. Even if Moldovan and EU authorities would consider such a move as illegal, Transnistrian politicians have reinforced their appeal to the Russian Federation with an indisputable argument. According to a referendum in 2006, about 97.2 per cent of the population supported ideas of independence and annexation to Russia.
Yevgeny Shevchuk, President of Transnistria, has set high goals. Shevchuk not only wishes that Transnistria independence be recognised by Moldova, but also that they maintain diplomatic relations, ease border travel and lift trade restrictions. Shevchuk pleads for “the wish of Transnistrian residents be respected” and urges for a “civilised divorce” between Chișinău and Tiraspol.
Roman Khudyakov, a deputy in the Transnistrian parliament (Liberal Democratic Party) who comes from Tiraspol, has enthusiastically collected signatures in favour of Transnistria joining Russia: “Transnistria endures a tight blockade by Ukraine and Moldova, therefore the most important thing for Transnistria now is to join the Russian Federation. If not, it would be completely destroyed,” Khudyakov stated recently. “Transnistrians are ready to hold another referendum and to reconfirm their will.”
The Moldovan government reacted immediately to Transnistria’s pro-Russian signals. “The appeal [by Transnistria] is nothing but a direct defiance of the conflict settlement process and Moldova’s territorial integrity. By such action, Tiraspol ignores the objective reality,” Leancă said. In this way, Moldova condemned “the unilateral and categorically counterproductive action” and once again reminded that “the pseudo-referendum carried out in Transnistria in 2006 was not recognised by the international community.”
Furthermore, in April a Moldovan delegation headed by the president of the Moldovan parliament, Igor Corman, took part in the Inter-parliamentary Assembly of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), held in St. Petersburg, Russia. A meeting with the Chairman of the State Duma of the Russian Federation, Sergey Naryshkin, and Chairwoman of the Russian Federation Council, Valentina Matviyenko, was another occasion to discuss the situation in the region. While Corman argued for avoiding confrontation and preventing the expansion of separatism, Naryshkin reaffirmed Russia’s position based on the respect of sovereignty and territorial integrity of Moldova.
“We opt for Moldova’s European integration and for the development of cooperation with our traditional partners in the east. Transnistria is seen as an integral part of the Republic of Moldova by all international actors participating in the process of five-plus-two negotiations,” Corman said.
Political strategies and their high price
If we look back at history, Transnistria declared itself independent in 1990 in response to the active movement called “the national awakening”. Even today, the fear of a potential loss of language and cultural rights worries people from the left bank. The anxiety is constantly stirred up by Romanian president, Traian Băsescu, who seeks Moldova to reunite with Romania.
Traian Băsescu, Romania’s president, advocates for a unification of Romania and Moldova
“When a nation has the opportunity to be together, it should not give up. I think this is the right time to say that we have this objective, if the Moldovan people want this. I am convinced that if Moldova wants to unite, then Romania will accept it,” Băsescu said, outlining his main political project during the Vilnius Eastern Partnership Summit in November 2013.
Still, even if Moldova and Romania have close ties, the Moldovan government tries to keep a safe distance. The Alliance for European Integration would like to prevent “inappropriate statements” which could “destabilise the situation in Moldova”, Leancă said. The European Commission has also deplored Băsescu’s statements, as the situation in the Eastern Partnership countries has taken a turn for a worse since Ukraine’s political crisis.
Victor Ponta, Romania’s prime minister, has also tried to distance himself from the idea of a “larger Romania”: “The most important thing Romania can do is to support Moldova’s integration process, to do concrete things, such as a gas pipeline, a bridge or a highway,” Ponta said.
In a recent interview for the Moldovan news agency Unimedia, Băsescu affirmed that “in his soul he will forever remain pro-unification”. The acting president of Romania also stated that about 80 per cent of the Romanian population is also pro-unification. “If you ever have problems on your way to the European Union, just call Bucharest and say ‘we want to unite’ and it will happen … no matter who will be the president of Romania, whether a right or left governing party, we will want unification,” Băsescu said.
Meanwhile, the financial and economic weekly magazine Capital has calculated how much it would cost for Romanians to reunite with their brothers on the other side of the Prut River. According to the data offered by the national bureau of statistics, the average salary in Moldova is about 2907 Moldovan leu (157 euros), while in Romania it represents 1500 Romanian leu (336 euros). Today there are about 235,000 employees in public administration, education and public health and about 10,000 in the military. Thus, the salary equalisation in public institutions alone would annually cost Romania an extra 2.4 billion Romanian leu (nearly 540 million euros).
The comparative analysis also demonstrates that in order to bring pensions (in Moldova around 51 euros; in Romania about 178 euros) to the same level, the Romanian budget would have an additional annual expense of nearly one billion euros. Another rough calculation shows that Romania would also need to find about 50 million euros to ensure the equal payment of child allowances in the both countries.
All these preliminary estimations are of minor importance, as they are speculative. What really matters now is how Moldovans will implement the new visa-free travel law which will enters into force on April 28th and if put into practice, these reforms could continue to bring tangible results.
Mila Corlateanu was born in Moldova and studied at the Berlin School of Journalism and interned at the German Bundestag. She is a member of the International Francophone Press Union and is a regular contributor to the online magazine Europe & Me.