Moldova: on the edge of the Union, looking in…

The expansion of the European Union over the past two decades seems to have come to an end, at least for the time being, leaving the countries of the Western Balkans and the Black Sea region in a position of being accession candidates without much prospect of actual accession any time soon. It was with this in mind that I set off to find out about the situation in Moldova last week.

Moldova is a country with a unique set of challenges. First of these is its frozen conflict on the River Dnieper, where the predominantly Russian population fought, and won, a battle for its independence in 1992 with the aid of the Russian 14th Army. And still, more than a quarter of a century later, the self-proclaimed Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (better known as Transnistria) continues, unrecognised by any other country.

The economy is based on the country’s agricultural sector, as most of the heavy industry was in Transnistria, and when Moldova sets its face towards the European Union, Russia responded by putting restrictions on its exports. This has contributed to Moldova’s status as the poorest country in Europe.

And finally, and perhaps most intriguingly, many Moldovans see themselves as Romanians, something which Romanian policy reflects by granting Moldovans the right to apply for a Romanian passport – nearly 20% of Moldovans have one. The Moldovan language is, in fact, Romanian, and the lands west of the Dnieper were part of Romania between the World Wars.

The country’s politics is divided between pro-European and pro-Russian forces, with recent polling showing the Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova (pro-Russia) leading with about 50% of the vote, whilst a newly-emerged opposition, the Party of Action and Solidarity, has about 25% of the vote.

I met with Ana Nichita, the International Officer of the Partidul Liberal, our sister Party in Moldova, who currently control the Mayoralty of Chişinău, the country’s capital. We discussed the prospects for Moldovan accession to the European Union, and I was surprised to hear that the mostly likely route was for the country was thought to be through absorption back into Romania. Indeed, whilst I was walking around the city, I noticed young people inviting members of the public to express their views on merger with Romania.

The Association Agreement with the European Union has helped nudge Moldova on the path towards reform, but corruption is still a major issue, whilst the governing party, the Democratic Party, has attempted to subvert the democratic process by effectively buying the loyalty of key figures and changing the electoral system to its advantage.

The Moldovan response to Brexit is, you might not be surprised to hear, one of bemusement. And yes, that might be entirely expected of a small country on the edge of the continent, but the European Union is seen very much as a means to raise living standards and to allow the country’s young people to stay at home, rather than head abroad in search of opportunities as is the case at present.

My view, for what it’s worth, is that, for Moldova to be secured for democracy and liberal values, the European Union needs to find a way to ensure that the fruits of democracy and free trade actually reach the ordinary voter, which isn’t happening sufficiently at the moment. If it fails, Moldova will look back towards Russia for succour, and an opportunity will be lost.

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This entry was posted in Europe / International and Op-eds.

One Comment

  • Richard Underhill 9th Apr '18 - 5:01pm

    This is helpful, but would absorbtion by Romania also include NATO?
    Did we make promises to Boris Yeltsin, and if so, are they considered current?
    I believe that West Germany reserved a place for East Germany in the EEC, but those were different times.

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