The German chancellor's visit to Chisinau acknowledges Moldova's European aspirations, but the road to Brussels is full of challenges, analysts say.
By Paul Ciocoiu for Southeast European Times in Bucharest -- 03/09/12
Moldova's Prime Minister Vladimir Filat and Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel inspect the honour guard in Chisinau. [Reuters]
Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel's recent visit to Moldova shows a change of optics of the West concerning the former Soviet republic, but the country's European outlook is not as clear as it looks in theory, with many hurdles ahead, analysts told SETimes.
Moldova has made remarkable progress and has become a pillar of EU's Eastern Partnership, she said during her one day visit to Chisinau on August 22nd. Moldova has a European perspective but the country's EU integration should take place gradually and the first steps will be a free trade and an association agreement currently negotiated by the two sided and expected to be signed later this year.
"The most important message of Merkel's visit is that it took place. It has put Moldova on the European map," Dan Dungaciu, director of the Romanian Academy's International Relations Institute and advisor to former Moldavian President Mihai Ghimpu, told SETimes.
"Despite that, Moldova's road towards the EU has never been irreversible. Chisinau doesn't have any guarantee, no document signed, that the end of the road is in the EU. Unfortunately, Moldova is part of a losing package, the Eastern Partnership, unlike the Western Balkans. Let alone there is no solid pro-Western electorate there," he said.
The Eastern Partnership was launched by EU in May 2009 upon Poland and Sweden's initiative and envisages strengthening Brussels' relations with six former Soviet republics: Armenia, Azerbaidjan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.
Other analysts share Dungaciu's point of view. "There is no clear perspective for Moldova's EU integration," Cristian Ghinea, head of the Romanian Center for European Policies, told SETimes. "The country doesn't have a critical segment of population willing to join the EU and because of that it lacks the power of negotiation and a reformist drive."
In the latest poll done by Moldova's Institute for Public Policies, 57 percent of the responders opted for the country's accession into the Euro-Asian Union, a Moscow's initiative to create an economic counterweight to the EU.
Merkel also urged the pro-European administration in Chisinau to renew efforts to solve the frozen Transdniestr conflict. "I think here, too, we have to advance step by step, have patience," she said, noting that she thinks the 5+2 format (OSCE, Russia, Ukraine, EU and the US plus Moldova and Transdniester) is the best negotiation framework.
But Dungaciu pointed out Merkel had sent out conflicting messages. "She said first that Germany doesn't tolerate spheres of influence in the 21st century, alluding to Russia, and secondly that the settlement of the Transdniester conflict is a fundamental condition of Moldova's EU accession. But the second message equates to giving Russia a veto right for Moldova's accession into the communitarian bloc. Transdniester remains Moldova's biggest headache," he said.
"Moldova with Transdniester is like Serbia with Kosovo, neither being able to join EU without a final resolution of each situation," Ghinea said.
The Transdniester separatist region lying on the left banks of the Dniester River broke up with Moldova in 1900 amid fears of union with Romania. The move sparked a war two years later in which 1,000 people perished and which determined Russia to send what it calls peacekeeping forces. About 1,000 Russian troops are still stationed in the small separatist republic.
In Chisinau, Moldovan analysts look on the bright side of Merkel's visit. "Mrs. Merkel's simple presence here has come to certify the West's change of optics towards Moldova, today seen as the diligent student of the Eastern Partnership," Vitalie Ciobanu, a writer and a Moldovan political analyst, told SETimes.
"Over the 21 years after Moldova's independence proclaimed on the ruins of the Soviet empire, the Western chancelleries neglected this region, considered as being in Russia's sphere of influence. This perception changed after the anti-communist revolt in April 2009. For the people here, her visit was like a ray of light," he said.