Brief history of the topic
Inheriting a rather tumultuous political legacy and a gloomy history of subjection by the hegemonic powers of the past, the Republic of Moldova is now reinforcing its optimistic European aspirations. Amidst the tragic conflict initiated by Russia in the neighboring Ukraine, Moldova is said “to belong in the EU now more than ever”. This is the natural consensus among Moldova’s national Europhile voices trying to debunk the Eurosceptic propaganda of pro-Russian parties that dominated Moldavian politics after the dissolution of the USSR.
But what made a former socialist republic controlled for years by the repressive Soviet machinery stray away from Moscow and turn to the West with such a strong and deep conviction?
Even a cursory glance at history clearly confirms Moldova’s strive for genuine independence and self-determination as a sovereign nation. Despite having been united with the EU Member State and sister nation Romania during the interwar period, the part of Moldova known as Bessarabia was ceded to the Soviet Union as a consequence of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Thus, the ex-Moldavian SSR was plunged into a decade-long communist regime marked by lasting poverty, famine, stagnant economic performance, corruption, persecutions of dissident elites, and political deportations in the Siberian Gulag. The acute consequences of an autocratic governance and of an inefficient centralized economy left an almost incurable scar on the already impoverished society. However, the waves of democratization in Southern and Eastern Europe with the subsequent fall of the Iron Curtain caused by the revolutions of 1989 have given birth to a collective desideratum of slowly, but firmly, joining the ranks of the prosperous liberal democracies. In August 1991 this dream was brought a step closer – at this critical juncture, Moldova voted to leave the Soviet Union. Further, in the following year a peace treaty with the Russian Federation was signed to end months of intense confrontations between the Moldovan army and the separatist rebels from the breakaway region of Transnistria which wished to remain under Kremlin’s sphere of influence.
In spite of their continuous efforts to build a Western façade, Moldavians had to contend with the inadequate enforcement of the rule of law that allowed for objectionable privatizations and hence for the abusive personal exploitations of state assets by the kleptocratic and oligarchical elites. The post-Cold War era did not seem, at least at first, too bright for a country threatened by the specter of stalled progress, dampened living standards, and a “frozen conflict” in Transnistria, a territory officially recognized by the international community as part of Moldova but disputed as autonomous by Russia.
Timeline of EU-Moldova relations
However, the will of the people, one of the core values of democracy, continued to put pressure on the government, thus forcing the politicians to embrace the Western ideal and bring the Republic of Moldova back in the great European tradition and family. The Moldovan state had therefore no choice but to serve its courageous and assertive people eager to break free and flourish under an authentic liberal order.
The commitment to pursue friendly collaborations with the EU and implement the existing treaties manifested itself in July 2016 with the EU-Moldova Association Agreement containing a “Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area” deal. Further, in February 2018, EU foreign ministers – reunited in a special Council session – renewed their pledge to safeguard the political association and economic integration of Moldova in the Union, but with a caveat: the leaders emphasized the need for constant domestic institutional reforms in their partner state including the restructuring of the judiciary, the fight against misuse of public funds and corruption among officials, visa liberalization, as well as border security and foreign policy convergence. Moreover, in December 2021, during the Eastern Partnership (EaP) summit, the issue of energy resilience was brought to the fore due to global fears of an oil crisis, while in March 2022 the electricity grids of Moldova were successfully synchronized with the Continental European Grid. This achievement means improved energy markets, enhanced regulatory frameworks in the energy sector and a better capacity for the development of sustainable regional infrastructure.
Now there is undeniable evidence for the tremendous benefits enjoyed by Moldova under the EaP: EU imports from Moldova have increased by 62% since 2014, more citizens in the rural areas have access to safe drinking water thanks to the water supply projects financed by the EU, nearly 700 kilometers of national roads have been rehabilitated, over 40 million euros have been allocated for urban development and macroeconomic assistance and a peaceful settlement with a special status for Transnistria is under the oversight of the Union.
Reforms agenda and current talks
The 2020 Moldovan presidential elections saw yet another milestone accomplishment: Maia Sandu, founder of the pro-EU Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS), advanced an electoral platform based on anti-corruption and EU adherence, defeating the pro-Russian socialist faction led by the anti-European incumbent Igor Dodon. The grand success of the EU-oriented president was cemented in 2021 after the parliamentary elections whose outcome favored her party: the Europhile legislative group won 63 seats from a total of 101, while the rest were occupied by the former head of state’s left-wing bloc.
As I am writing, the war in Ukraine keeps unfolding with civilian shelters being indiscriminately bombarded by the Russian army and with cities being besieged by the illegitimate and wholly misguided invaders. The security risks for Moldova are salient as the conflict may undermine border stability and prompt a rather delicate refugee crisis. It is with these emerging issues in mind that the President Maia Sandu signed a formal application for her state to enter a fast-track ascension to the EU, stating boldly and decisively that “it took 30 years for Moldova to reach maturity, but today the country is ready to take responsibility for its own future”. The Moldavian people “want to live in peace, prosperity, be part of the free world” she added with a great sense of patriotic responsibility.
These brave words find echoes in the unshakable European credo that nations are the masters of their fate, that even in the darkest of hours with plenty of hurdles ahead the consciousness of liberty always prevails, that the common good is what moves a body politic towards its steady progress, that democracy is not a just an ideal to be praised with ennobling words, but rather a way of living that people fight and die for. Following the European path and reinstating its guarantees of alignment to the Union’s demands, Moldova shall set an example for all the nations struggling for freedom.