November 27, 2010

Moldovan Troubles arising from Transformation

Moldova is one of the smallest and poorest European countries on the immediate border of the European Union. The Sunday early parliamentary elections (28 November 2010) in Moldova may be significant for the future orientation of the country. "After scheduled elections in April 2009 and snap polls in July 2009 failed to designate clear-cut winners, the forthcoming elections have been billed as another chance for Moldova to solve the institutional impasse." (the Sofia Echo)  Vladimir Socor, a Senior Fellow of the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation, is quite optimistic and underscored: "It seems to me that after these elections, after November 28, for the first time, there will be the majority of 61 seats in parliament to elect a new head of state." Two other possibilities is a Communist alliance with a centrist party that can garner enough votes to elect a president, or a strong enough showing by the Communists that they can continue to block such a vote, Andrew Yurkovsky had alleged citing Socor.

Troubled Neighbourhood

Moldova is in an area of influence between the European Union and the Russian Federation. The short civil war in 1992 has splitted the country into two rival camps: the western part of the country seeking alignment with Romania and the small part between Moldova and Ukraine, Transnistrea, only recognized by Russia. Of course, the separatist development within Moldova is pursuing separatist ambitions and wish to reorient Moldova from westernisation. This is in addition to security risks in areas of hard security, lack of good governance, energy insecurity, widespread poverty and organized crime, lack of direct foreign investments, political instability of state structures, excessive concentration of power in the leadership of local leaders in Transnistria, and the other conflicts in the Black Sea region (Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Nagorno-Karabkh) still shape the domestic economic, social, and political development of Moldova.

Two main problems may be considered for the transformation troubles of Moldova:
  • Lack of a Moldovan ethnic identity
In vain does one seek Moldovan ethnic identity. It demonstrate the scope only of Moldovan political will to create Moldovan ethnic identity when it exists. The country has now been deeply divided into a common identity with Romania (Moldova without Transnistria) and an independent identity culture (Transnistria), with all that implies for the people and the country in its bilateral relations with Romania.

The lack of ethnic identity reflects the process of rapprochement with Romania. On 9 November 2010, Republic of Moldova's Prime Minister Vladimir Filat and Romanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Teodor Baconschi have signed a Treaty on the regime of the state border between the Republic of Moldova and Romania, on cooperation and mutual assistance in issues pertaining to the border, moldova azi reported. Both officials said the Treaty is aimed at establishing an up-to-date legal frame for the common border and at creating a necessary basis for cooperation between the border authorities of the Republic of Moldova and Romania, moldova azi continued.

"We signed the treaty now because this is when we managed to finalize the negotiations with Moldovan experts. We clarified all the unclear questions and obtained all the needed approvals. There had been 12 rounds of negotiations from 2006 until now. We only took advantage of the presence in Bucharest of Prime Minister Vlad Filat, who was here for the Danube summit. We knew he would come and agreed it would be a good occasion to conclude the process," Teodor Baconschi said in an interview.

But just days after the signing at the beginning of November, Moldovan interim president Mihai Ghimpu unexpectedly declared the treaty to be "illegal and unconstitutional", waz.euobserver stated. The lack of ethnic identity reflects the political confrontation within the political parties in Moldova. The four party governing coalition, the Alliance for European Integration (AEI) stands in opposition to the Communist party. And even if Mihai Ghimpu belongs to the party governing coalition, the general opinion is that his motives were domestic. Mr Ghimpu's reaction should be interpreted in the context of the current electoral campaign in Moldova, waz.euobserver continued.

However, Romania is carefully looking at the domestic development in Moldova. Romania's Foreign Minister, Teodor Baconschi, said: "We want Moldova, which is already engaged in reforms aimed at consolidating a state based on the rule of law and a structured dialogue with the European Union, to maintain this direction. (...) This will help reduce the economic disparities between Moldova and its EU neighbours," BalkanInsight stated.
  • Transnistria
The second main problem remians the unsolved conflict in Transnistria. Past experience in resolving the conflict (Kozak Memorandum and the Yushchenko Plan) and even the "5+2" format on Transnistrian conflict showed that many efforts are used whose purpose has never been demonstrated. To ensure that this remains so in the future, Russia constantly influenced the peace process and developed a status-quo that is exceptionally fragil. The presence of Russian peacekeepers in Transdniestria is a firm guarantee of regional security and serves the interests of both Tiraspol and Chisinau, the Russian Foreign Ministry's official spokesman Alexander Nesterenko said, quoted by KyivPost. "Leaving aside the propaganda aspect ahead of the late November snap parliamentary elections in Moldova, this is actually a message to Russian peacekeepers who are in Transdniestria as part of an international peacekeeping operation and also to guard a major Soviet-era ammunition depot on its territory."

Since Deauville, the Transnistrian issue become more assertive. German Chancellor Angela Merkel suggested "that Russia, along with Ukraine, Moldova, Transnistria, the O.S.C.E, the European Union and the United States, revive the so-called 5+2 talks. (...) Germany also wants Russia to eventually withdraw its troops from Transnistria so that Moldova can regain full control of the country. At the same time, Transnistria could be granted some degree of autonomy. In return, Mrs. Merkel is offering Russia something it has long sought: the establishment of an E.U.-Russian Political and Security Committee where Europe and Russia would work closely together in civil and military crisis management operations. Russian diplomats have made it clear they see such a committee as a chance to influence Europe’s security policy," The New York Times reported. "Thus, Moldova emerges as a pilot project and a litmus test for budding EU-Russian security collaboration." (Dmitri Trenin in a commentary for the National Interest)

The recent development and Germany's proposal have given rise to initiatives coming from EU Member States and Ukraine. Romanian President Traian Băsescu suggested the replacement of the Russian troops by European troops. The Romanian Foreign Mnister explained this by the fact: "Let's say a calendar for a gradual withdrawal is agreed. Then [Russian troops] should be replaced by a predominantly civilian peacekeeping contingent and under the EU umbrella. Of course, Russians can also be included in such a force. Romania has no business being there as a participant in the eventuality of such a change." He also pledged for the strengthening EU's role in Transnistria: "Currently, the EU is just an observer under the current negotiation format, but I believe it is justified for the EU to assume a clearer role, not only that of an observer. In this respect, Romania participates in the process only as an EU member," Teodor Baconschi said in an interview.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini offered an active involvement of Italia in the settlement of the conflict. Ukraine also supports Moldovan and Transnistrian efforts in resolving the conflicting issue in the framework of "5+2" talks and Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). The question remains how effective are all these suggestions? Therefore, the EU, the EU Member States and Russia should engage all parties concerned about the settlement of the conflict to demonstrate that all ideas and interests are considered.

Moldova's European orientation

Vladimir Filat, Štefan Füle and Iurie Leancă
(Archiv, 27/07/2010). Foto: Credit © European Union, 2010 
Moldova was already included into the framework of the European Neighbourhood Policy and the Eastern Partnership. A joint EU-Moldova ENP Action Plan lays out the strategic objectives based on commitments to shared values and effective implementation of political, economic and institutional reforms. The key of these policy instruments is to prepare Moldova for the European future. On 12 January 2010, the European Commission started negotiations on Assocciation Agreement with Moldova. In addition, an important objective is also signing a free trade zone and visa-free travel agreement with the EU for the future.

In a comment for, Vlad Filat (Prime Minister of Moldova and chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova) issued his vision for Moldova and tried to improve the image of his country in Europe. Perhaps, one of the most important steps for the Prime Minsiter is the move towards a visa-free regime with the EU. 
"What matters deeply for Moldova's citizens is to move towards a visa-free regime with the EU. We are already working on implementing all the necessary technical conditions to make this possible. We also pursue a dialogue on visa-liberalisation with the EU and our aim is to become a contributor to the creation of a European space of liberty, security and justice. From January 1, 2011, the country will be the first Eastern partner of the EU to switch to the exclusive issuance of biometric passports. Moldova's customs officials and border guards have been working actively with an EU mission to modernize our border infrastructure. Moldova is an increasingly safe neighbour for the EU and a good partner in managing migration flows."
What is more important, a large majority in Moldova supports the European futute of its country. "Moldovans believe they can learn from the EU's achievements on the market economy, democracy, social protection and national security. The respondents believe that Moldova is perceived in the EU as a friendly and peaceful yet somewhat weak and backward country. Respondents maintain that Moldova should eventually join the EU. They believe membership would accelerate its economic development, increase wealth, improve the political situation and reduce unemployment. The only negative consequence of possible EU membership is expected to be a rise in consumer prices," reported.

Moldova - Regional Projects under ENPI.
Source: ENPI Info Centre
The deeper inclusion into the framework offered by the Eastern Partnership must be carried on consistently. The European Commission organized multilateral thematic platforms (Democracy, good governance and stability; Economic integration and convergence with EU policies; Energy security; Contacts between people) and proposed flagship initiatives that will give additional momentum to the Eastern Partnership and possibilities for the partner countries to cooperate in selective policy areas.

Moldova may use assistance from the European Union Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI). The aim of the funding assistance under ENPI is to conduct a more in-depth exchange on the respective cooperation and to confirm a deeper relationship between the EU and Moldova, and Moldova and the other partner countries. Partly, this can be attributed to a lack of adequate membership perspective. Success in the area of cooperation under ENPI will be largely determined by the willingness and capability of those involved in all areas and at all levels (joint ownership) of the Eastern Partnership initiative to enter into deeper cooperation.

What future for Moldova?

Moldova must cooperate with the European Union, regardless of the election results. Top priorities must be the settlement of the Transnistrian conflict and restoration relations with Russia. Moldova must exploit all the chances provided by the European Union through synergy potentials of other regional initiatives such as the Black Sea Synergy, the Baltic Sea Strategy, and the Danube Strategy.

Cooperation in the Baltic and Black Sea regions provide the bordering countries with an alternative system, thus closing the gap in the further European integration. At the international conference “A New Region of Europe: Regional Development Paradigms in the Baltic−Black Sea Intermarum”, which began on 26 November in Vilnius, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania Audronius Ažubalis emphasized the importance of cooperation among the countries of the region between the Baltic and the Black Sea. “Sub-regional cooperation proved itself to be a very effective tool to tackle emerging problems and to jointly defend common economic and political interests," the Minister said.

The new tool of the European Union to create "Macro Regions" like Baltic Sea, Black Sea or Danube Region could be able to better connect all stakeholders in the region and will be able to organize new links between the different programs for the region by avoiding duplication for more useful allocation of funding. This could be an appropriate platform for more engagement of Russia and some partner countries like Ukraine and Moldova. This platform could be more linked to similar structures in the Black Sea region for exploiting the synergies offered by the strategies (Baltic Strategy and the Black Sea synergy). Policy areas such energy, border management or environment could be mentioned here. This could be the best possible way for integrating poorer countries like Moldova into the European Union without offering a membership perspective in the short and medium term.

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