One of the leading CIS reform countries during the ‘90s the Republic of Moldova ultimately felt behind the Baltic States in its evolution. Moldova looked at other states and also followed its own path, which proved to be winding, and at the end became a “two steps forward-one step back VS one step forward-two steps back.” Internally, one way or another, this poorest country of Europe is still regarded in these terms. It uses all the opportunities to stay afloat, search new development ways, and the Eastern Partnership is a frame of a window towards a developed Europe.
Towards Europe in the 1990s: From being the leader, to a hiccup
The idea to recognise that the country is 2nd best in something, and that it needs an external example, is a difficult one and can hardly become a prime motivator. However, a healthy competition or a friendly lead in such cases can be accepted by the decision makers of a country.
In the Republic of Moldova the idea of having a lead country was not accepted until recently, and it might look that is not acknowledged wholeheartedly up to now. The idea of “lead” or “example” countries came up recently, not as long as 2009, with a sincere and more open stance towards the European integration. Such an idea was not clearly aired up to 2009, since most probably it had been more emotionally and not necessarily reasonably motivated. Thus, during 1990-2009 – the first models were the Baltic trio: Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The Baltics were considered in Moldova as a more progressive Soviet West yet during USSR times, and afterwards they continued to be treated as an example of organisation and focus. The Republic of Moldova shared a part of the Soviet history, repressions and state building, perhaps sometimes size and some ethnic tensions with Lithuania, Latvia or Estonia. The Baltic trio managed to enter the EU and developed more rapidly than Moldova. However, the more relaxed, not as focused and less competent path Moldova followed on its way disrupted in time its 2nd best position after the Baltic States.
Even neighbouring Romania, which became free after the anti-Ceausescu revolution, was not considered an example up to the begging of this century, despite potentially close and rebuilding ties. Since Romania was created at the end of the XIX century by the unification of Wallachian and Moldovan principalities one could have thought that the Republic of Moldova would seriously orient itself towards its other half – the bigger part of Moldova, which created Romania – that could have created a sufficient bond (countries shared the same language and with some interruption, history, particularly between Ist and IInd World War and during that last one). However, throughout the Soviet times Romania was considered to be less developed than the Soviet sponsored Republic of Moldova. Romania, subsequently, was never considered an example by the Republic of Moldova in the 90s. Both were newly free, in one way or another, thus the Moldovan capital Chișinău[read: Kishinau] viewed both states as equal, with equal chances. However, after the revival and fall of national movements, and after the Transnistrian separatist conflict and Moscow’s involvement, the decision makers took in 1994 a swift political shift back towards closer ties with Moscow and only a partly pro-European direction.
Some of the political circles in the Moldovan capital cite the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) with the EU as an example and recognition of Moldova’s partly pro-European direction during 90s. Thus the PCA was signed in 1994, while it entered into force only four years later, in 1998, with the election of the new government of the Alliance for Democracy and Reforms (ADR).
Via EaP from 1998 to 2009: A Pro-Against Europe Roller Coaster
As mentioned above the fact that the PCA between the Republic of Moldova and the EU ultimately entered into force, although after four years from its approval, was considered as a positive sign for the European integration. Various parties in Moldova started to discuss the European way more seriously. In 1999 the first European integration agreement is signed by the Moldovan political parties.
However, the new government was politically hindered to go further with the European integration due to the economic and financial crisis that struck Russia – the main trade partner for Moldova. The crippling results of the crisis, against the background of internal political games between the governing ADR partners, brought to the failure of the coalition and a strong resurrection of the Party of the Communists of the Republic of Moldova (PCRM). PCRM won the 2000 early elections against the economic fall, with the promises of bringing Moldova back to USSR prices and to the current Russia-Belorussia Union, linking those two – the old Russia and the new one in the minds of the voters.
European Integration process however, became more interesting for the PCRM after they have realised that it can become a motivator for Russia to pay more attention, and more help, to the Moldovan Communists. The turning point that brought Moldova to the Eastern Partnership was done far earlier than in 2009. Thus the refusal to sign in 2003 the Russian made Kozak Memorandum on Transnistrian separatist conflict settlement – in reality aiming to permanently linking Moldova to Russian sphere of undeclared influence – made Moldovan Communist to choose the only way for retreat, the European Integration. Moldova could not sustain itself without external support, therefore the EU became the only alternative.
In 2005 Moldova and the EU sing a joint Action Plan that was supposed to formally expire in 2008. However, internal political developments showed the PCRM that the implementation of the Moldova-EU Action Plan went against their business practices and political methods. Therefore the local communists were seeking a rapprochement with Kremlin. Thus the period of 2008-2009 was marked by a reviving relationship between the governing PCRM and official Moscow. The Moldova-EU Action Plan was extended indefinitely in 2008, as a number of commitments were unfulfilled. The official visits to and from Russia during the winter of 2008-2009, ahead of April 2009 general elections increased. The Moldovan Foreign Minister previously stated that Moldova does not need advocates on its European path. The pre-electoral attitude towards the EU and EaP were if not hostile, then at least cold.
In February of 2009 the Moldovan President criticises the Eastern Partnership in a very specific manner – he gives an interview for a prominent Russian newspaper “Kommersant”, possibly with direct ties to Kremlin. The Moldovan Communists leader and by that time also the President of the country in a 2nd term, Vladimir Voronin, states in the February 2009 interview that the “Eastern Partnership resembles a ring around Russia.” This statement was done sometimes after the meeting with the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and echoed by the Russian Foreign Affairs Minister one month later. The Russian top diplomat stated that the “Eastern Partnership is an EU attempt to expand its "sphere of influence". Hence one can presume that the attitude of the communist government was rather hostile towards the EaP, although the foreign diplomats reported in private discussions that the Moldovan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration (MFAEI) was insisting that Moldova is taken into account in this framework, while being treated separately from the rest of the future group – Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Ukraine and Belarus.
One of the clearest examples of the Moldovan policy towards the EaP was the way the Foreign and European Integration Minister travelled to Prague, to the launch of the EaP. The Minister received instructions to first go to Moscow and discuss the launch of the EaP there, as well as other matters, and only after arrive from Moscow to Prague to the launch of the partnership.
Ultimately the politically heated elections spring in Moldova brought up a Twitter revolution and repeated elections in July, and as of September 2009 a new government formed the Alliance for European Integration (AIE). The name of the Alliance suggested that the road towards the European Integration would be the Moldovan priority.
Back to leadership - with “good EaP” and political instability as a new “Ukraine 2”?
The governing program of the new AIE coalition of four parties (Liberal, Liberal-Democrats, Democrats and Our Moldova Alliance) in 2009 foresaw the European integration as the priority of the Government, and the development of a strategic partnership with the EU as one of the objectives.
If comparing what EaP offers with the new governing programs, one can see this was closely and purposefully linked to the Eastern Partnership objectives. Thus the EaP offers:
- new association agreements
- visa liberalisation agreement with the EU
- expanding human contacts (People-to-People)
- increase energy independence, with the EU
- a comprehensive capacity building program
Respectively, as priority actions the working group from the civil society and governmental experts included:
- To fully use the opportunities provided by the “Eastern Partnership”;
- Sign the Association Agreement with the EU;
- Promote real economic integration with the EU, particularly by signing the Deep and
Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement;
- Launch the dialogue with the EU, for the purpose of signing a new Roadmap on visa liberalization, so as to obtain the liberalization of visa regime for the citizens of the Republic of Moldova;
- Implement actions consistent with the Mobility Partnership between the EU and the Republic of Moldova;
- Ensure the energy security of the country with the help of EU instruments and join the European energy market; etc
Due to internal political instability the president was not elected and new elections took place in November of 2010. The democratic parties won again – three this time (Liberal, liberal-Democrats and Democrats) – however, one more time without the necessary number of votes to elect the President. Meanwhile the three parties recreated the Alliance for European Integration 2 (AEI2), remaining on the path of European integration, while adjusting their Governing programme. It is interesting to compare the two programmes of 2009 and 2011. Thus the 2001 Programme stipulates first of all “Program of the Government as a whole, aims to create a high level of welfare of Moldovan citizens, and achieve other important changes in society, which in their totality, would accelerate the integration of Moldova into the European Union.” In terms of objectives the strategic partnership with EU remains a priority. A new element was the candidate objective – “Strengthening dialogue and cooperation with EU member states to boosting political, economic, social and legal-oriented alignment with European standards in order to obtain candidate status for EU membership.”
Generally remaining along the lines of the 2009 programme, the 2011 document contained a couple of new details:
- Creating conditions for political and economic integration in the EU by signing the Association Agreement, in accordance with the Eastern Partnership;
- Negotiating and implementing free trade agreement regulations and Comprehensive of the Republic of Moldova and the EU;
- Ensuring freedom of movement within the EU for Moldovan citizens by implementing the Action Plan on visa liberalization;
- Implement actions included in the Mobility Partnership EU-RM;
- Harmonization of national legislation with the acquis communautaire in the negotiation of an Association Agreement, other agreements under negotiation between RM and EU, respectively, the process of visa liberalization;
- Strengthening legal and institutional framework necessary to promote European integration;
- Capitalizing fully on the opportunities offered by the Eastern Partnership, both bilateral and multilateral;
- Ensure the energy security of the country with the help of EU instruments and join the European energy market;
Having little differences between the two governing programmes, it will be noted that the EaP is mentioned twice in 2011 programme, making a particular distinction that the capitalisation on the opportunities offered by the Eastern Partnership can be done in direct bilateral contacts as well – with EU countries. This time, unlike during the 90s, all the former socialist countries were taken as the “Friends of Moldova”, thus the statement of the previous government that Moldova does not need advocates on its European integration path was reconfirmed as discarded.
The Freedom House freedom of media rating of Moldova increased in two years by 50%. The first AIE and then AIE2 governments managed to negotiate the Association Agreement foreseen by the EaP in a relatively short term – just a bit over 8 months. This prompted the political commentators to notice the difference in speed, and most probably in EU’s approached towards Moldova, as compared to the neighbouring Ukraine before. It is understood that Ukraine presents itself as a much bigger country and respectively a state with more intricacies when it comes to the local governments. On the other hand Moldova is smaller and seems to be more manageable. Nevertheless, Moldova has hopes that Ukraine will remain an important country for the Republic of Moldova and hopefully for the EU. Meanwhile, while the shared political Europeanism allowed the new Moldovan government to restart negotiations with Ukraine, and to focus seriously on the EaP provisions, the focus was not complete. While the Moldovan diplomacy, MPs and politicians excelled in external actions, there is a popular feeling, as well as a feeling in a number of political circles, including from AIE, that the Government could have done more in terms of internal reforms.
The optimistic and pragmatic view over EaP
The EaP is viewed as a framework for and an ambitious partnership between the EU and Moldova. Association with the EU means a new contract for Moldova, an Agreement that presumes internal reform and fulfilment of the Copenhagen criteria:
- Adopting European values that we fully share, leaving from a totalitarian to a democratic political culture – in a country where the elections of the president are stil a problem this is particularly important.
- That the Republic of Moldova would have to implement reforms in the judicial field, which is one of the most difficult and painstaking areas for the country.
- It would mean, both along the lines of the Eastern Partnership and its interests, to ensure a free and developing economy – in line with DCFTA idea, while also having in mind a better infrastructure.
- It would also help Moldova better use one of the most reach resources that both the RM and EU have – people’s ideas. The Declaration on the Eastern Partnership allows for a Flagship Initiative on comprehensive programs to enhance institutional capacities (Comprehensive Institution-Building Programmes) of states such as Moldova.
- Undoubtedly, another aspect of the Eastern Partnership is the visa liberalization regime, which as Moldova understands, has to be conducted in a safe environment for both the citizens of our country and the EU. Travel liberalisation is important for the youth who wants opportunities to study abroad in the EU, youth being the future of Moldova, while ensuring the sense of freedom and belonging to a united Europe.
These are only some of the priorities that the Republic of Moldova shares with the EaP and sees in its own way, from internal migration, economic and political perspectives. However, there are two elements that the Moldovan side is constantly bringing up to EU’s attention – the first element is the balance between merits and differentiation in the EaP. The authorities of the Republic of Moldova are glad to be again the forerunners of reforms in the region. However, this generates a certain desire to see an EU treatment based on performance.
Another important element is the long discussed financial coverage of the EaP – one of the elements that in Eastern Europe, and particularly in such a modest country as Moldova, plays an important role. There was an understanding and, at the same time, wariness about the fact that the EU planned to allocate to the EaP counties only 600mln. Euro – a 6 Euro/capita. A small positive signal was that the EU was planning to increase the spending to 20Euro/capita until 2020. However, Moldova rather relied on the direct contacts, not necessarily within the EaP – the partnership presented itself in this respect indeed as a part of the overall EU Eastern Neighbourhood Policy. Thus, a more positive achievement was that in the spring of 2010, with the support of the EU, Moldova managed to secure 2billion Euro funds from the EU and other partners (IMF, WB, individual countries) in grants and loans. Hence, the EaP presents itself as a framework, rather than as a direct EU body and at this point Moldova is seeing the EaP as a good political instrument on the Unions eastern border, however unsupported yet by a more substantial financial instruments.
Moldova, nevertheless, ultimately proved that one thing that it can do well is to use – in a good sense – all available resources to its advantage. Hopefully the EaP would be an advantage for both Moldova and the EU in the future.