Moldova seen by European partners
BSSB.BE http://www.fes.de/de/ 28.07.2015
Stefan Meister is a programme director with the German Foreign Policy Association (DGAP), specializing in Central and Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Russia, says Moldova was a priority of the German foreign policy and had a real chance to rapidly advance towards European integration, but the inconsistency and corruption of the Moldovan political class made of Moldova a big disappointment for the European partners.
Lina Grâu: One year since the signing of the Association Agreement with the European Union, Moldova, considered once the success story and hope of the EU Eastern Partnership raises more and more questions about the integrity of the political class and sustainability of reforms. How is the Republic of Moldova seen in Berlin from the perspective of the European Integration?
Stefan Meister: Moldova had a priority in the German foreign policy. You remember the Meseberg process where the German Government and the chancellor Merkel were trying to negotiate with the Russians a solution to the Transnistrian conflict. Moldovan officials travelled a lot to Berlin and there was support in Brussels and also from the German side to help Moldova become a success story.
It was read positively as a success story. What we are observing now is a deep frustration about what is going on in Moldova and about people like Filat who are not different from what was before.
There was a hope linked to the European alliance but then we found out that they are more or less normal oligarchs who want to make money and are involved in corruption.
I think there is a growing understanding that despite the support given to Moldova and the progress made by it, the EU credibility in Moldova is undermined. It’s a big problem, as we supported a government which in the end is very corrupt.
Politically, we decided in the EU there was progress in Moldova even if they did not complete everything. We did so, as we needed a success story and we wanted to see Moldova as a success.
I think that in case of Moldova the perception is the same. As a result, Moldova is not a priority any more like it was in the past. It’s just going down.
Lina Grau: How do you explain what happened in Moldova: is it the fault of the EU that needed that badly a success story and it heled it at any cost or it’s the fault of the Moldova political class which failed to implement reforms?
Stefan Meister: It depends whom you ask: me as analyst or the political discourse. I think the political discourse is that Moldova is a problem: “We expected more from you and you promised that you would do reforms and make the change, but you did not do it.
We found out in the end that you are as corrupt as the Ukrainian elites”. I think that is the man political discourse in Germany – a failure of political elites. “They had the chance but they did not use it. They are just corrupt.”
And again it made like in the past -with Bulgaria and Romania, and the orange revolutions- compromises that should have never been done. As far as I am concerned, that is the main problem – you don’t look at what is happening in the country, but you think more of yourself as EU and your own policy and that at this moment you need a success story.
Lina Grau: How big a disappointment is this? Is it possible to restore trust and what should be done for that?
Stefan Meister: If Moldova did the things that are necessary, which I don’t see it at the moment in Moldova, to be honest, it would have a much higher attention, as Moldova is not a big country, it’s not like Ukraine, where if you want to reform the economy, you need to put hundreds of billions of Euro.
While in Moldova we speak about tens of billions of Euro. So, it is a different thing and that is possible. But you need in the country elites and a civil society which do the things that are necessary. That is possible, but I don’t see how you can do it at the moment in this country.
Lina Grau: In autumn, the reform of the ENP is going to be launched. Do you know what the main changes will be?
Stefan Meister: It’s a big discussion now, because what we have observed at the Vilnius Summit with Ukraine, it was a big failure of the policy. Recently, we have had the Riga Summit and everybody was happy that it’s working to some extent – there was progress with the visa liberalization regime and so on.
I think the big problem is that the EU does not take into account the consequences of this huge conflict we have with Russia that has direct impact on the EaP Policy and countries. The EU is still afraid of getting into a conflict with Russia and is not really wiling to enter into such a conflict, so you can see in the final version of the Riga Declaration that everything which was regarded as criticism towards Russia was just deleted from the document and Germany played a key role in this.
“You don’t do reforms, so sorry then.” But we know this is a problem of the elites. They are corrupt and they don’t have an interest in reforming the country. So you need to address the real problem and involve the civil society by which I mean not only NGO, but also small-sized companies and the business community and other agents of the society.
Lina Grau: What is the strongest opinion regarding Russia at the political level?
Stefan Meister: There are different opinions. For example, the Green Party of Germany is saying that we have to contain Russia and that we have to invest money. You have parts of the Christian- Democratic Party who agree with that, but then you have another part of the Cristian Democrats and the Social-Democrats who say: “We have business with Russia, we have energy with Russia and we want peace in Europe.
So, let’s find a way as we don’t have the instruments to resist Russia.” And you have the pragmatic people who say that there are so many other conflicts in the EU to tackle – the Islamic terrorism; China is a challenge and so on. So why shall we go on a tough conflict with Russia?”
And I think that is the dominant approach at the moment: “Let’s find a way with Russia in order not to blow up the relations as Russia may use in the end its nuclear forces and attack the Baltic States and so on”.
Lina Grau: How was received in Germany the fact that the Moldovan politicians stole a billion of Euro from the banking system?
Stefan Meister: I think it would be much more difficult for Moldova in the future to get credits from the EU. So the conditions will be much tougher for Moldova. This is part of the frustration here, as we understood that they are not partners and not the people who will really reform the country and change the attitudes in the country.
That’s in the end a reality check that they should have taken earlier, before they took the money. The understanding is that Moldova is not what we wanted to have and what we expected.
This EU disappointment will make it much more difficult for Moldova and the will to integrate Moldova will get down. This is making things complicated for Moldova. All the good will which was there and which is important is gone.
Lina Grau: How do you see the future of this region – Ukraine and Moldova? Is there a EU perspective in the mid to long term?
Stefan Meister: I still believe that on one hand, the change comes from the society. In this sense, I think you have a growing gap between society and the elites. The societies are getting frustrated and even cynical, but they also understand there is a model which works. Even if the EU is also in a crisis, its model works much more for the people than their own model.
I think this is the chance for these countries –that the change comes from the civil society and that it comes from inside.
What you see in Ukraine at the moment is that young people come back as they hope to change the country. If the Government fails, they will leave the country again, but there is a hope that they will change the country.
Lina Grau: If we look back, they were saying that Moldova had real chances to join the EU in a 5 to 10-year perspective. If the positive development trend continued and if the political class acted together and did not get involved in corruption, would the EU integration chance of Moldova have been real?
Stefan Meister: It was not a chimera. As I said, Moldova is small and it is not costly to integrate like other countries. So, why not having a positive example in the case of Moldova? Some of the EU memberstates like Poland, Sweden, and the Baltic states were really willing to push this integration forward.
That will also help to integrate other countries in the periphery and maybe Moldova will become part of the core. So I think, the terms of integration will change in the European Union and this makes it easier for Ukraine and Moldova to integrate if the elites and the society change the country.
Monthly Bulletin, Nr. 7 (112), July 2015
The Newsletter is based on the radio programme broadcast on July 10th, 2015, produced by the Foreign Policy Association of Moldova in partnership with Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES). The programme is broadcast on the Radio Moldova public channel and on the Vocea Basarabiei Radio. The programme is part of the FES/APE “Foreign Policy Dialogues” Project. The content can be reproduced by mentioning the source.