The ambassadors issue has been the focus of attention during the last few weeks and this is explicable. Moldova has not had ambassadors in the capitals of a number of partner countries for over six months. Among these are Washington, Brussels, London, Paris, Berlin, Madrid, Lisbon, Budapest, Prague, Stockholm, Sofia, Warsaw, Vienna, Vilnius, Beijing, Ankara, Kiev, Minsk, Baku, and Tel-Aviv. There hasn't been any ambassador in Bucharest for more than a year. Most of the ambassadors hold more than one position, working simultaneously in several states. Consequently, the number of partner states where Moldova is not represented by ambassadors is much higher.
Meanwhile, the Alliance for European Integration (AEI) did not manage to solve this problem. The public opinion has been fed rumors and promises that the new ambassadors will be named after the Easter holidays. It is not yet known what Easter – the Moldovan or the Greek one.
This political row over the appointment of new ambassadors seems to have positive consequences as well. Recently, the Foreign Affairs Ministry said the country economized €200,000 on the Moldovan ambassadors. This fact has been yet neglected by the public opinion even if we experience economic austerity. I dare to presume that this indifference is due to the fact that the diplomatic service is not an area where one should make savings. On the contrary, the authorities should invest significant financial resources so as to make the diplomatic service modern, professional, motivated and effective. Otherwise, we will continue to send our negotiators to Brussels with the money of Sweden, as it happens now. In other words, our politicians want good diplomacy with little money, or, in the best case, with the EU’s money. However, the information made public by the Foreign Affairs Ministry can make the Opposition seek the suspension of the Parliament until the next elections so as to save money. As we know, the very good practices are very catching….
The truth is that by endlessly delaying the cutting of the Gordian knot in the issue of the ambassadors, the AEI has damaged its image at the internal and foreign levels. The Alliance’s incapacity to agree the list of ambassadors in a reasonable period of time shows once again that there are unfavorable trends inside the AEI. No matter what plausible arguments can be used to justify the delay in taking a consensual decision, both the citizens and the foreign partners will have an additional reason to question the Alliance’s capacity to implement serious reforms that continue to be in a stand-by regime. It seems that the Alliance has not yet realized that the consultative donors’ meeting held in Brussels on March 24, 2010 constituted the apogee of the ‘honeymoon’ between Moldova and its Western partners, in particular the EU, which has lasted for more than half a year.
From now on, there will be real life. As they say in Moldova, the honeymoon is sweeter than the daily life in couple. The EU and the other partners expect that the promises made by the present administration in the March 24 meeting in Brussels will be fulfilled. But the EU’s patience is not bottomless. The results or the failures of the AEI in fulfilling the promises will have a direct impact on the openness or receptivity of the EU towards Moldova. Unfortunately, our expectations and the expectations of our foreign partners as regards the AEI’s ability to implement reforms at a constant rate will remain a matter of pessimism until the Alliance continues to show inability to solve minor technical problems, like the issue of ambassadors. If this trend persists, now when the country faces economic problems and the PCRM continues to exert pressure, the AEI risks being accused of chronic institutional and managerial incapacity.
On the other hand, the mystery that surrounds the process of selecting and appointing ambassadors fuels, volens-nolens, the opinion that the lack of transparency in decision making became a fatidic norm inside the Alliance. Besides, the AEI does not openly, promptly and constantly communicate with the citizens, regardless of their political orientation. In fact, it appears that the rumors became a preferred means of informing the society about the quasi-secrete deliberations inside the AEI. It is very dangerous to make these realities permanent as this can gradually lead to the Alliance’s estrangement from the society. The fact that the Alliance is perceived rather than a misalliance between four ambitious leaders and a kind of quatro-umvirate is worrisome as it should be regarded as a solid alliance between four political parties.
At the same time, the way in which the ambassadors are selected shows that our diplomatic service is reformed slowly. The appointment of Iurie Leanca, one of the best diplomats in Moldova at present, as Foreign Minister imprinted dynamism, intelligence, coherence and predictability on our foreign policy. Iurie Leanca suggested innovatory and bold ideas of reforming the Moldovan diplomatic service such as the professionalization of the post of ambassador; hierarchic promotion according to merit-based criteria, not nepotism, relations or political algorithm; the rigorous accreditation of the personnel of the Foreign Affairs Ministry by checking their experience and compatibility with the pots held; or naming employees of the diplomatic service only by public contest.
If the proposals submitted by Iurie Leanca are put into practice, the image and internal, human, intellectual and moral content of our diplomatic service will improve significantly. Unfortunately, I must say that these courageous ideas can remain simple ideals until the AEI does not have a strategy and plan of action for reforming the bureaucracy inside the central administration, including the Foreign Affairs Ministry. The recent case of passive corruption at the Ministry, if confirmed, will cast doubt on the quality of the process of accrediting diplomats, which at the start of this year took place under the supervision of the same diplomats subject to examination.
The reformation of bureaucracy at the Foreign Affairs Ministry is an essential condition for successfully reforming the diplomatic service according to Iurie Leanca’s ideas. A possible failure will allow the same bureaucrats, who felt comfortable while the previous Foreign Minister had been in office as well, to take over and stop the reformation, to corrupt and use Leanca’s proposals according to their wishes and corporate interests. Therefore, it is sensible to seriously examine again the diplomats. The assessment must be carried out by an impartial jury composed of representatives of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, the Presidential Office, the Parliament, the civil society and the academic community. Only after such an accreditation should the diplomats be entitled to apply for hierarchically higher posts and allowed to examine their subordinates or possible external candidates for vacancies in the Ministry.
Both the current diplomats and the external candidates must be subject to this impartial assessment. Until this is not done, the current diplomats do not have the moral right to examine other persons, especially their former colleagues who had the courage to leave the Foreign Affairs Ministry when the Communists were in power, because they did not agree with the foreign policy pursued then and with the state of affairs at the Ministry headed by Andrei Stratan. They dared to say what they think and take a civic attitude, took part in public and scientific debates on Moldova’s foreign policy and promoted the country’s interests at conferences and forums without being remunerated for this. Regretfully, these persons are neglected, while those who knew to stay quiet in their places are offered conditions for being promoted.
The non-reformation of the internal bureaucracy at the Foreign Affairs Ministry will ultimately lead to the abandonment of the idea of professionalizing the post of ambassador. At the same time, obedient professionals with a dubious political status and moral performance could be promoted on the pretext of professionalization. We witnessed such cases during the last few years and the practice will not be new. Certainly, we can presume that until Iurie Leanca heads the Ministry, such cases will be avoided. But what will happen afterward? Will we start again from the very beginning?
In order to exclude such practices and avoid institutional blockage in the process of selecting and appointing ambassadors, we should adopt and institutionalize a clear principle of choosing and naming them so as to be sure that the ambassadors will not only be professionals, but will also have a political and public status fitting their responsibilities. It is important that the parliamentary commission for foreign policy is empowered to take decisions in approving the candidates fielded for the post of ambassador by the Government. This way, there will be created an additional filter in promoting suspicious candidates. At the same time, this will strengthen the political status of the future ambassadors before our foreign partners. A professional ambassador without clear political support at home will always be a half-ambassador, or, as the American say, a lame duck.
Victor Chirila, Executive Director of the Foreign Policy Association, for Info-Prim Neo