The Republic of Moldova has been presented with a historic opportunity, after pro-European forces, represented by the Action and Solidarity Party (PAS), have secured the Parliament, the Government and the Presidency. The post-Soviet period of transition may now be over, and the pro-European track, which has been in the limelight in Chișinău for three decades, may become irreversible.
The path won’t be easy, and it will surely be ridden with major obstacles, but there’s no real excuse for failure. PAS is doomed “to succeed”, considering the bitter disappointment of the last decade after the April 7 events or the “Twitter Revolution”, when PLDM, the party of former Prime Minister Vlad Filat, missed on a very good opportunity of pursuing the European path, after a promising start. So did the kleptocratic party led by Mihai Ghimpu, hiding behind the “caviar unionists”, as well as Plahotniuc’s Democratic Party, which turned European integration into a laughing stock, using it as a smokescreen to plunder the country.
Moldova now has to push its engines to the max at home, although foreign policy will also play an extremely important role. On the other hand, Russia will try to obstruct its efforts, obviously wanting to see the pro-European forces fail. On the other hand, the Republic of Moldova will enjoy the assistance of its external partners, in particular Romania, the EU and the USA.
Romania – plans and financial assistance
Romania has already sent out a strong signal at Government level, after last week’s visit paid by Foreign Minister Bogdan Aurescu. The Romanian official explained, in brief, the main development projects, and spoke of a new non-refundable financial assistance package worth 100 million Euro, which this spring was blocked by the Moldovan interim government, at the time under the control of Igor Dodon’s Socialists.
The money Bucharest has promised will be channeled in two main directions: continuing the successful programs in the fields of education and energy infrastructure, as well as launching new projects aimed at helping develop this state. In the last two years, Romania has had a number of major contributions, of which the two most important remain the refurbishment of some 1,000 schools and nursery schools, accounting for over 80% of their total number in Moldova, and the building of the Iași-Ungheni-Chișinău pipeline. The latter is of crucial importance for Moldova, for a number of reasons: it will link the country to the European energy grid via Romania, and it will give Moldova leverage to negotiate its Gazprom contract, which is renewed on an annual basis.
In the future, Romania will have to inject “know-how” and money to build high-tension electricity lines that should interconnect the country to the European network. Right now, the Republic of Moldova is buying electricity from the Cuciurgani Russian-owned power plant in the breakaway region of Transnistria and from Ukraine. Linking Moldova to Romania’s energy grid will inevitably result in a drop in energy prices for home and industrial users in Moldova, as a result of the diversification of the offer on the energy market.
“Twinning” programs for various services will also present new challenges, and the development of SMURD (The Romanian Mobile Emergency Service for Resuscitation and Extrication) is just one example. The Republic of Moldova has one more chance to curb the toxic effects of Russian disinformation, after Romania announced additional funding for mass-media and civil society in the Republic of Moldova. In this respect as well, Bucharest will have to diversify its media sources in the Republic of Moldova, whereas Chișinău needs to somehow create a more appealing framework to attract Romanian media outlets, particularly from the private sector, in order for them to locate part of their activity to Moldova as well.
The most important aspect is the readiness expressed by both sides to boost Romanian investment in Moldova. Romania is already Moldova’s top trade partner, and has been increasing its contribution in the last five years, from 1 billion dollars in 2015 to 2.2 billion in 2019. A quarter of Moldova’s exports are bound to Romania, while 66% of total exports reach EU markets.
There’s room for much more, but for Romanian and other foreign businesses, the new administration will have to straighten up the business sector, make the legislation more investor-friendly, and, most importantly, reform the judiciary and provide legal safeguards for foreign investment in the Republic of Moldova. There are also major benefits: investments generate jobs, and the extra revenues breed prosperity.
Beyond all that, Romania will continue to lobby in Brussels for the Republic of Moldova, but for that to be efficient, you need results and you need to make them visible.
The EU and the USA, strongly committed
The European Union announced ever since the election campaign a support package worth 600 million Euro over the course of three years for the Republic of Moldova. The disbursements are conditional upon the progress of reforms.
Therefore, the current power in Chișinău is pressed to deliver these much-awaited reforms as quickly as possible. The pro-Europeans’ strategy is to bring experts from all corners of the EU to Chișinău in order to implement the community acquis and all the other EU standards. The current regime has already expressed its openness in this respect, so the process needs to be accelerated.
Endemic corruption made the approximately 1 billion euro the EU has invested in Moldova in the last decade to have little effect at the level of the population, which fuelled even further the rhetoric of pro-Russian forces, who claim that the EU doesn’t really help, and when it does, the money gets into the pockets of “crafty guys”. Which is not entirely untrue. The challenge is to make the 600 million produce tangible results – and if it does, more will come.
The United States too seems to be more determined than ever to not just keep the money coming (so far it has invested over 1.4 billion dollars), but also experts specializing in development. A signal in this respect is the appointment of a new ambassador. Former ambassador Dereck Hogan was very committed and made a number of successful interventions in key moments, the most important of which prompted billionaire Vlad Plahotniuc to flee the country.
Plahotniuc’s final meeting before his disappearance was with Hogan. Bogdan Aurescu never got to enter Plahotniuc’s office to inform him of his political termination, were we to believe the statements of former Prime Minister Ion Sturza in a recent interview.
Now, the Americans have sent a “business-oriented” diplomat to Chișinău. The new ambassador will be Kent Doyle Logsdon, who’s amassed a wealth of experience in the economic sector in Germany and Ukraine, but also in Asia, in Kazakhstan, Pakistan and Thailand. The US official specializes in economics, which sends out a powerful signal that the US intends to attract investments to the Republic of Moldova and fortify the country’s economy.
The stake is huge in the coming years, and not just for the Republic of Moldova. The EU and the USA, jointly with Romania, want to bring the Republic of Moldova onto a position of stability and on an irreversible track towards European integration. It takes a stable state at the EU and NATO’s borders, and this will require all stakeholders to pool their efforts. At the moment, the Republic of Moldova has two deadweights it needs to remove as quickly as possible: endemic corruption and the Transnistrian conflict.
These will be the two milestones for Moldova’s success. If Chișinău plays it smart, then PAS and Maia Sandu won’t stay in power just for four years, but for eight, which could in fact fulfill Moldova’s long-lasting political dream of becoming a European Union candidate. Yet that objective is still miles away, so Moldova needs to accomplish one reform at a time, tread carefully and play its hand smart with Bucharest, Brussels and Washington.