The 2011 was a good year for the foreign policy, which, in fact, is the true success story of the Republic of Moldova during the last 3 years. The positive image that our country enjoys within the Eastern Partnership, in Washington, Brussels and other EU capitals, is primarily due to our diplomacy. Nevertheless, the successes of our foreign policy, particularly in relations with the EU are increasingly dependent on internal factors, such as solidarity of the political class, cohesion of the society, pace and quality of reforms, the efficiency of state institutions, etc... From this point of view, we can presume that 2012 will be much more difficult for our diplomats.
During the previous year, our relations with the EU were the primary focus of Moldovan foreign policy. There have been achieved the most important progresses on the path of developing a new partnership with the EU based on three pillars: political association, economic integration and free movement of persons. Among the most relevant successes are the negotiation of all political chapters of the Association Agreement, the launch of negotiations on the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement with the EU, the start of the first operational phase of the visa liberalization dialogue with the EU and the Agreement on Common Airspace.
Concurrently, the Government promoted a very dynamic and proactive dialogue with all EU member states. Special attention was given to Germany, the main engine of the EU, and Poland, which has held the Presidency of the EU Council in the second half of last year. By the way, over the past 3 years, Berlin, Warsaw and Stockholm have become the most prominent directions of Moldova’s foreign policy towards the West.
Relations with Romania have overcome the normalization stage and the European strategic partnership takes slowly a practical outline. This partnership needs a real and credible content that could be beefed-up by organizing regularly joint working meetings at the level of Governments, drafting and approving a joint action plan, as well as by launching, as soon as possible, common infrastructural projects.
In relations with Ukraine, the closure of Palanca dossier has opened a vast field of opportunities for reviving cooperation in various areas of common interest. Recently, the Border Guard Services of both states have agreed on the joint patrolling of the Moldovan - Ukrainian border. This is undoubtedly a very encouraging sign, which reflects the readiness of both sides to develop a qualitatively new partnership.
Relations with Russia were stable and without major frictions. Chisinau has managed to maintain a permanent and calm dialogue with Moscow. However, the current negotiations with Gazprom on the new gas supply agreement show that pragmatic dialogue with Moscow is still not an easy task, particularly when the conditions imposed by Gazprom requires Moldova giving up its commitments agreed with the EU.
Dialogue with Washington has evolved on an upward trajectory, and was boosted by the visit to Chisinau of the US Vice-President Joseph Biden. Moldovan diplomats apparently managed to build up a solid support in the US Congress in order to remove Moldova from the list of states that are affected by Jackson-Vanik Amendment. The aforementioned Amendment places our commercial and economic relations with the United States in a disadvantageous position in comparison with other countries.
In the year 2012, our diplomats and politicians will have to take into account and deal with contradictory trends, which developed in the course of last year. Ignoring or underestimating them can affect the efficiency of Moldovan foreign policy.
For instance, according to the Barometer of public opinion (BPO) from November 2011, in spite of our successes on the "Western Front", in only six months the Moldovans’ support for EU membership dropped from 64% to 47%.
At the same time, 60.5% of citizens want to see Russian Federation as the main strategic partner of Moldova and only 23.2% opts for EU. This is taking place while our authorities have decided to develop strategic partnerships not only with Russia, but including with the EU, Romania, Ukraine and the USA. In addition, if Moldovans would be put in the position to choose between joining the Russia - Belarus - Kazakhstan Customs Union or accession to the EU, 45.6% would vote for the Customs Union in the East and only 33.8% would prefer the EU.
The results of the survey conducted by IMAS in December 2011, confirm the same contradictory trends. Support for EU membership has dropped from 62%, percentage recorded by IMAS in March 2011, to 50%. At the same time, 45% of Moldovans would vote for the Republic of Moldova joining the Customs Union Russia-Belarus-Kazakhstan.
Moreover, as more and more we advance towards the political association and economic integration with the EU, the European integration consensus of the political class reached in 2005 is increasingly eroded. More frequently we hear dithyrambs addressed to the Customs Union Russia – Belarus – Kazakhstan and the Euro – Asiatic Union that includes Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, in particular, from the Communist Party (PCRM), the main opposition party, which until recently used to boast that they have the exclusive merit of proclaiming officially the European integration as Moldova’s strategic objective. It seems that the leaders of the Communist Party are no longer sure of this. They want simultaneous integration in both directions, East and West. This is impossible, it was clearly stated a few months ago even by the President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, while referring to an hypothetical accession of Ukraine to the Customs Union of Russia – Belarus – Kazakhstan.
1. Of course, we can accept that the European skepticism of many Moldovans is caused, to a certain extent, by the current debt crisis in the EU. However, we would commit a serious error if we ignore domestic political and economic factors, which feed the mistrust towards our European perspective. In addition, Moldovans are increasingly tired of the endless discussion about the European course of their country. They expect that successes achieved in the negotiations with the EU, will be transformed, as soon as possible, into tangible benefits for them. From this point of view, 2012 should be a milestone.
2. EU membership is the driving force behind our policy of European integration. Debt crisis has changed for many years Brussels’ agenda. Again, the EU is concerned, above all, with its own domestic consolidation. For the coming years, the EU will be concerned above all with overcoming debt crises, saving the single currency, stabilizing the Euro area, avoiding protracted economic recession, stimulating economic growth and saving the EU from the political irrelevance and even break-up. In these circumstances, we can expect a slow-down of the EU enlargement in the Western Balkans and in Easter Europe, for the next 10-15 years, the level and intensity of EU engagement will be dictated by the principle "more for more, but without institutions". At the same time, it is possible that, in the light of current economic difficulties, the criteria for accession to the EU will be reevaluated as well. As a result, the economic and good governance criteria will gain weight over the political and geopolitical rationalities. Moreover, they will become decisive in the process of assessing if the country is ready to be given the status of the EU candidate. In the current context, Moldova needs to prepare for a longer period of accession to the EU. Yet, in order to avoid disappointment and deepening of the Euro skepticism among Moldovans, the driving force behind the process of European integration should be the modernization of the country, increasing the welfare of the citizens and the removal of the Republic of Moldova from the category of the poorest countries in Europe. Until Eastern enlargement, the EU was exclusively a "club of prosperous states". In the past 10 years, this principle has been overlooked. After the consumption of the debt crisis, the EU will no longer make this mistake and requirements towards potential new members will increase significantly. Requirements will increase for us too. It's unlikely that we will have sufficient support in the EU for getting the candidate status if we won’t escape of the label "the poorest country in Europe". It's time to get rid of illusions and to focus, first of all, on the objectives achievable in the short to medium term, of course, without neglecting major long-term objective.
3. Russia is the great dilemma of the Republic of Moldova. For 20 years we try to develop partnership relations with it, but without great success. The atmosphere between Chisinau and Moscow is still full of mutual resentment and mistrust. Over the past 3 years, our authorities have proposed to build relations of strategic partnership with Russia based on pragmatism. They succeeded to initiate a regular dialogue with the Russian authorities, but we are still far from a strategic partnership. No one knows, or maybe don’t have the courage to say, how such a partnership should look like, what should be its major objectives and substance. We all want cheap natural gas and unhindered access to the Russian market for Moldovan products. To obtain these material benefits it is enough to follow the experience of Ukraine and Belarus, to sign an agreement which will imply deployment of Russian troops on the country’s territory and to hand over Gazprom full control over our gas pipelines. Are we ready for such pragmatism, for such a strategic partnership? If yes, then we must be aware that such a partnership comes in contradiction to our supreme objective of European integration. As a matter of fact, if we think logically, any strategic partnership initiated by R. Moldova with other states should be focused on achieving aforementioned national objective. Is it possible, in the current conditions, to build such a strategic partnership with Russia? It is hard to believe. Russia has its own projects of economic and political integration for the former Soviet area. Then what are we doing? Do we continue to sing charming songs to the Moscow’s ear? It's time to be honest with ourselves and also with Moscow, which is a crucial partner for the development of the Republic of Moldova. It's time that we agree with Russia on a realistic, positive agenda of mutually beneficial cooperation. Ignoring or, even worse, antagonizing Russia will cost us a lot more resources, time and energy than engaging it, on the basis of a constructive agenda, which would facilitate economic development and modernization of our country.
4. In our relations with Romania, we managed to put the foundations for a strategic partnership for European integration of Moldova. This partnership has a financial coverage of 100 million euros offered by the Government of Romania for the period 2010-2014. However, Moldovan - Romanian partnership seems lacking enough power-steam. There is, of course, a permanent dialogue, the legal framework is extending, but, on the other hand, we do not have a common action plan behind our strategic partnership. Far-reaching projects, called upon to integrate/interconnect transport and energy infrastructure of the Republic of Moldova with the one of Romania and trough it with the EU, have to be launched soon. This year, is expected to start the construction of the gas pipeline Ungheni – Iasi, but neither this timetable is absolutely certain. Instead, Moldovan officials from the Ministry of transportation have already decided to abandon the construction of the European railway track Chisinau – Ungheni – Iasi, on the grounds that it's too expensive and economically it's not feasible. This is not a new excuse, at all, we heard it many times during the construction of the Giurgiulesti Sea Port. Currently, the Sea Port works, makes profits, attracts more partners and extends its activities. If we want to achieve the same result, the importance of the railroad Chisinau – Ungheni – Iasi must be considered not only at the level of Moldovan-Romanian bilateral relations, but, more than ever, in the context of the future political association and economic integration of the Republic of Moldova within the EU. The future Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement with the EU will involve the incorporation of our economy into the EU economic area. However, this process is not possible without connecting transport networks, including the Moldovan railways to European ones. Only in this way we will be able to provide unlimited access to our transports of goods throughout the entire EU territory. Thus, we will be able to attract the interest of potential foreign investors to this project as well. Our partnership with Romania is crucial for our economic, infrastructural and, finally, political integration with the EU, yet, it needs more strategic thinking, political will and resources.
5. Deepening our relations with Ukraine is essential for economic development and political stability of the Republic of Moldova. Until recently, our relationship seemed to be stalled in time, being dominated mainly by the agenda of the 1990s, in particular, by the problem of properties remained from the ex-USSR on the territory of both states and the issue of border demarcation. Solving the Palanca subject unlocked Moldovan – Ukrainian relations and this is a positive step towards the launch of a new chapter in their further development. However, as in the case of Romania, the partnership with Ukraine needs strategic thinking, political will and more resources. In addition, we need to update the bilateral cooperation agenda and to synchronize it with the European integration agendas of both states. In fact, this process is already under way, and it has been initiated by the joint Moldovan – Ukrainian Joint Commission for Economic and Trade Cooperation, which met in Chisinau, on 10-11 November 2011, after a five years break. Visa liberalization with the EU, economic integration with the EU, full integration with the EU energy market, strengthening energy security, modernization of electrical and transport infrastructure between both countries, common border management, cross-border cooperation, revival of Euroregions, set up of new Euroregions with the participation of the Eastern districts of the R. Moldova, resumption of the trilateral cooperation Kiev – Chisinau – Bucharest, these and other topics should constitute the essence of the new agenda of Moldovan – Ukrainian strategic partnership.
6. After 20 years of independence, Republic of Moldova is still looking for the most appropriate formula for strengthening its own security. According to its Constitution, our country is a neutral state. However, its permanent neutrality doesn’t prevent Russia to maintain on our territory a military contingent of around 1,300 soldiers and over 20 thousand tons of ammunition. Despite this, according to the BOP from November 2011, 61.9% of citizens consider that neutrality is the best solution for ensuring the security of the Republic of Moldova, at the same time, NATO membership is preferred only by 14.2%. Hypothetically, permanent neutrality has to protect Moldova from any foreign military attacks. The paradox of our situation lies in the fact that the main and eminent threats to Moldova’s security are already inside it and not outside. Its neighbors, Ukraine, to the East, and Romania, NATO, the EU, to the West, do not represent military threats to its security. Instead, the separatism is a real threat to the existence of the Republic of Moldova. The experience of the 1990s show how easy separatism can be manipulated from abroad and how quickly it can be turned into a real military threat to the territorial integrity of our country. Is our neutrality able to defend us from such military threats, which would come from inside the country? Are such threats impossible/unreal? Maybe, but the war on Nistru for sure was not a dream, it was quite real and in order to counter such threats we must take necessary steps now. Taking into account present domestic socio-political context, but also external background, accession to NATO in the foreseeable future is unlikely. In this case, which are the Republic of Moldova’ options? Theoretically there would be two solutions: 1) strategic partnership with Russia, which would entail legal deployment of Russian troops on the territory of the country for at least 20 years as it was stipulated in the Kozak Memorandum; or 2) accession of Moldova to the Collective Security Treaty Organization (OTSC), composed of Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. In both cases, Russia would have to assume the role of guarantor of our territorial integrity. The two options could be quite real, if one considers that according to the BOP, 60.5% of citizens believe that Russia should be our main strategic partner, and, in accordance with the IMAS poll from December 2011, 73% of Moldovans consider that Russia wants only good to Moldova. Of course, both scenarios would put an end to our European integration and they will have adverse consequences on our relations with Romania, the USA and the EU. The Republic of Moldova will simply cease to exist as an independent state for them. Then what can we do? What are our feasible options? No matter how strange it may look, the resolution of the Transnistrian conflict, with the possible participation of the US and EU as mediators and, why not, guarantors, would offer Moldova a good opportunity to strengthen its own security. Yet, in order to succeed, we should change the current logic of the negotiations. Presently, all the international actors of the "5 + 2 format" are mainly focused on the need to negotiate a special status with strong guarantees for the Transnistrian region. This logic is flawed and dangerous for the Republic of Moldova, because it ignores a fundamental truth: the Transnistrian separatism was an attack to our security, territorial integrity and independence, inspired and supported from abroad. Starting with this fact, Moldova has the right to request firm guarantees against separatism and its manipulation from the outside. The future special status for the Transnistrian region, firmly guaranteed just for it, will not eradicate the problem of separatism. On the contrary, the separatism will simply take a legal form and will continue strengthening itself, blackmailing us, waiting for the right time to revenge. To avoid such a scenario, the eventual solution of the Transnistrian conflict, should contain not only a firmly guaranteed special status for Tiraspol, but also a set of solid guarantees for Chisinau, for the Republic of Moldova, from the part of the international actors. These guarantees have to discourage the resurgence of separatism and its support from the outside.
These are just some of the major challenges, which the Moldovan politicians and diplomats would have to face in the coming years. Otherwise, the current successes can turn sooner or later in bitter disappointments for all of us.
Victor Chirila, Executive Director, Foreign Policy Association, Rome, 10 January 2012, for Info-Prim Neo