Bucharest has understood in the last decade that investments in the sentimental part of the relationship with the Republic of Moldova should be replaced by concrete and long-term support. The policies of the 1990s and 2000s with regard to the relation with Chisinau should not be ignored, ridiculed or trivialized, because they helped crystallize the national consciousness and the unity of language of the Romanian-speaking communities on both banks of the River Prut. It was a preliminary step and must be seen in the light of a medium to long-term strategy.
However, the current times call for a different approach, focused on pragmatism and economic development. For the first time in 30 years, the leaders in Chisinau are completely open to that approach, and Romania today is a state that has a GDP almost three times higher than in 2007, when it joined the European Union. The Romanian economy is not “booming”, but it certainly has a much bigger towing force for the development plans of the Republic of Moldova than 15 years ago, when Romania joined the EU.
In numbers, trade amounted to 2.4 billion USD in 2021, and since 2015-2016, Romania has been Moldova's number one trading partner. 25% of the exports of the Republic of Moldova go to Romania alone, out of a total of about 65% at the level of all EU countries. Moreover, the two states enjoy a fair balance of trade. Judging by these figures, it is clear that Romania is also the main “economic advocate” for the Republic of Moldova’s European aspirations, not just a “voice advocate” defending Chisinau’s interests in Brussels.
This is the background against which the joint meeting of the governments of Romania and the Republic of Moldova was held last Friday. It was a historic first, because before that, such an event had only taken place in Romania. For the first time, the meeting was organized in Chisinau, a message that Chisinau is completely open to receive Romania politically and economically on the right bank of the Prut.
A historic number of bilateral agreements. From financial assistance to infrastructure projects and anti-corruption actions
Representatives of the executives in Bucharest and Chisinau signed no less than 13 agreements, an impressive number that shows a special preparation for this event. The three most important agreements concern 100 million Euro non-reimbursable financial assistance, the construction of border bridges and the reduction of roaming charges.
The speed at which progress has been made since the visit of President Maia Sandu to Bucharest, on November 23, 2021, when a Roadmap was signed, is also worth mentioning. Therefore, in about two and a half months of technical training, 13 such documents of particular strategic importance were developed.
“Several bilateral documents will be signed covering a wide range of areas with a direct impact on citizen’s lives. Of course, Romania has been a constant supporter of our citizens, regardless of the political inconsistency that has characterized, unfortunately, the public life in the Republic of Moldova in recent years. But now we have a historic opportunity: both in Bucharest and in Chisinau there are governments that have the prospect of a lasting stability that we can capitalize on by putting on our agenda long-term projects such as energy security”, the Romanian Prime Minister Nicolae Ciuca said in Chisinau last Friday.
The Prime Minister of the Republic of Moldova, Natalia Gavrilito, also stressed the importance of the agreements and gave as an example the Ungheni bridge project, the importance of which goes far beyond its actual construction:
“The bridge that will be built in Ungheni is a bridge that will bring prosperity to the people on both banks of the Prut. It's not just about fuels and travel, it’s also about new opportunities […] Chisinau will get closer to the European road network”, Gavrilita said.
The future bridge over the Prut in the Ungheni area will also be part of the “Union Highway” (A8), linking Chisinau and Targu Mures. In April 2021, Romania signed the design contract for this highway that will connect the historical regions of Moldova and Transylvania.
The bridge project is also related to the creation of a Iasi – Ungheni metropolitan area. The construction will shorten the travel time by 50 minutes and, moreover, will help the development of the local economies of both cities.
The creation of a metropolitan area in the coming years will be a model of development showcasing the benefits of the European Union with the strategic interconnection between cities in the Republic of Moldova and cities in Romania.
A similar model could be applied in the south, at the common Prut border, in the area of the town sof Galati and Giurgiulesti and beyond.
In addition to the three big agreements - 100-million-euro assistance, reduced roaming tariffs and the construction of the Ungheni bridge - ten other documents are also meant to take the Bucharest-Chisinau relationship to a higher level.
They are bilateral documents on consolidating the investment environment, consolidation works for the Galati-Giurgiulesti bridge, cooperation in the fields of energy security, digital transformation, military education, on modernizing the education system in the Republic of Moldova, cooperation in the field of internal affairs, the joint action plan to prevent and combat corruption and organized crime, as well as cooperation on strengthening the rule of law and justice reform.
Public investment doubled by private investment. The importance of strenghning the rule of law
However, the most important challenge remains attracting Romanian investments across the Prut. As in 2017, when the EU insisted in Bucharest on eradicating corruption and building a state governed by the rule of law, it is Chisinau's turn to use all its tools to achieve a similar goal.
Attracting foreign investment is impossible without the rule of law, because nobody wants to invest in a country where their investment cannot be guaranteed. The government in Chisinau is also aware of this.
“We are welcoming investors from across the Prut. We will provide a predictable and safe framework, and we will definitely secure a good legal framework […] Their businesses will be able to grow properly without the intervention of obscure groups. Those times are over”, Gavrilita stressed.
In his turn, Nicolae Ciuca called for strengthening the rule of law precisely in order to create an overall landscape of trust for foreign investors, Romanian in particular.
“The joint declaration on strengthening economic and investment cooperation, signed today, sends a friendly signal to the business environment, including to the Romanian investors. Our political commitment at governmental level will contribute to the further development of bilateral economic and investment ties, as well as to the promotion of products and services in both directions”, Ciuca said.
Acccording to statistics, in 2020, more than 1,300 Romanian companies were operating in the Republic of Moldova, and some 6,000 were set up in Romania . Also, in 2019, Romania had invested 300 million Euro in the Republic of Moldova.
The development of Romanian-Moldovan relationship, seen as a threat by Moscow and pro-Russians
Last Friday's joint meeting was marked by pragmatism and excessive “political correctness”, but even so the pro-European government did not escape criticism from the pro-Russia forces in Chisinau. The Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova (PSRM), still de facto led by the former pro-Russian President Igor Dodon, issued a statement in which it presented the whole event as a hidden attempt by the government to prepare for the union with Romania and attract the Republic Moldova into NATO. These are classic obsessions of the pro-Russian propaganda in Chisinau, used to hinder the development of the state on a European and democratic framework.
“We understand very well that the strategy of the current regime in Chisinau is to bankrupt our country, to finally announce that the Republic of Moldova must disappear as a state and join Romania, a NATO member state”, PSRM said in a statement.
The growing rapprochement between the Republic of Moldova and Romania is ruining many of Russia's plans, which is aware that this would diminish much of its influence in Chisinau. However, the Republic of Moldova must choose its own natural path of development, without anyone else dictating its interests.
Most citizens have long opted for an European type of development, and the illusions of prosperity achieved by the side of Russia are already seen for what they are: shallow propaganda. Overall, this is a time of maximum opportunity for the EU and Romania. It would therefore be a good time to support the Republic of Moldova in its most vulnerable sector - the energy sector.
Freeing the Republic of Moldova from its energy dependence on Russia and its separatist satellites would also mean a change in the development paradigm for Chisinau and will pave an easier way for the reforms that are needed to modernize the state.