EU membership gives Romania new opportunities in its relations with Moldova

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sat Jan 20 15:04:05 UTC 2007

EU membership gives Romania new opportunities in its relations with Moldova

 After the 2004 parliamentary and presidential elections in Romania,
relations between Romania and the Republic of Moldova improved markedly.
As soon as the new administration took office, bilateral relations with
Moldova were placed high on the Romanian foreign policy agenda and the
destination of the new Romanian Presidents first official visit abroad was
Moldova, in January 2005. This improvement was also made possible by the
newfound consensus amongst the political class in Chisinau regarding
Moldovas integration with the EU as the countrys main strategic foreign
policy goal, which culminated in the signature of the EU-Moldova Action
Plan in the framework of the EUs Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) in February
2005. The Party of Moldovan Communists, led by the Moldovan President,
Vladimir Voronin, subsequently won the parliamentary elections in March
2005 on a pro-European platform.

Despite these developments, bilateral relations have been sorely strained
since early December 2006. The Moldovan President again came out strongly
against overtures by Romania to assist Moldova in its efforts to integrate
with the EU. On 1 December 2006, precisely a month before Romanias formal
accession to the EU, President Voronin posted the following declaration on
a Russian-language news portal, Economicheskoe Obozreniye: Romania is
trying to impose certain rules of the game and principles on Moldova,
which it is trying to force-feed on us during all our 15 years of
independence. If one were to objectively assess this situation, this
should be qualified as interference in the domestic affairs of a sovereign
state. Moldova is capable of ensuring its European integration and
internal democratic development, , without such a warming [of relations
with Romania], without friendships and advocates [in favour of Moldovas
integration with the EU] that are imposed on us from the right bank of the
Prut river [i.e., Romania] (see

This chill in Romanian-Moldovan relations coincides with a decisive thaw
in relations between Chisinau and Moscow, following Russias announcement
on 29 November 2006 that it would end the economic blockade on Moldovan
wine. Hence, President Voronins declaration with regard to Romania issued
two days after the end of the Russian blockade can by no means be
interpreted as an isolated gesture. Russias lifting of the economic
blockade also came in the aftermath of the so-called referendum of
independence in the separatist Moldovan region of Transnistria in
September 2006, and just days before the so-called presidential elections
on 10 December 2006 in that same region. Moscow views these two events
favourably and continues to openly support the Transnistrian separatists.
In 2006 alone, the Russian Federation provided the Transnistrian region,
which has a population of over half a million, with aid amounting to $77
million. In comparative terms, Moldova minus the Transnistrian region,
with a population of 3.3 million, has received 320 million (approximately
$415 million) in EU assistance for the period 1991-2006. In addition,
Russia continues to supply Transnistria with free gas, whereas the gas
price for Moldova was raised yet again in December 2006 to $170 per 1000
cubic metres. Despite these hard facts, the Moldovan President still
clings to the belief that by playing up to Russia, a breakthrough in the
conflict settlement with Transnistria will come about in 2007. Thus, in a
manifest gesture of goodwill, Moldova already a member of the WTO agreed
to Russias accession to the WTO on 28 December 2006, thereby forgiving
Russia the damage inflicted on Moldovas economy by Russias economic
blockade and the gas price hike.

If only to make matters worse, Romanias accession to the EU means that the
Moldovans are facing new restrictions in conducting trade with and
travelling to Romania. The free trade area between Romania and Moldova has
ceased to exist upon Romanias accession to the EU and Romania introduced
visas for Moldovans for the first time in its history. Add to this the
fact that in the last months alone, around 530 000 Moldovans applied for
Romanian citizenship due to Romanias new-found attractiveness as an EU
member, and it becomes clear that Romanian-Moldovan relations face a bumpy
road ahead. Romanias official position with regard to the Republic of
Moldova is that of one nation, two states, which is justified in the
official discourse by stressing their shared history, language, culture
and traditions. Such a position implies a special relationship and clashes
with the position promoted by Moldovas communist authorities, which rests
on building pragmatic relations with Romania. In such a context, it is
helpful to review the general principles that guide Romanias foreign
policy vis--vis Moldova:

 A basic treaty regulating bilateral ties between Romania and Moldova is
considered unnecessary by the Romanian authorities, despite the insistence
of the Moldovan communist authorities. Instead the Romanian authorities
favour a political agreement, focusing on cooperation in the field of
Moldovas integration with the EU. Moldova is a European state with very
close links to Romania and its future lies with the EU, alongside Romania.
Romania will lobby relentlessly for Moldovas eventual accession to the EU,
despite the unfavourable climate in the EU towards further enlargement.
Offering to act as Moldovas advocate in the EU and other international
forums, Romania also promises other forms of assistance (economic,
financial, energy-related, and with regard to the adoption of the EU
acquis communautaire).

 Moldova should be grouped together with the Western Balkan states
belonging to the Stabilisation and Association Process (SAP), which have
an accession perspective. Currently, Moldova falls under the ENP which
enjoys no such perspective. Moldova should join all other European
regional organisations so as to increase its chances of EU accession. For
example, Romania has successfully lobbied for Moldovas inclusion in the
Central European Free Trade Area as of 1 January 2007. With regard to the
Transnistrian conflict, Romania supports the territorial integrity and the
unitary nature of the Moldovan state and favours the EUs involvement on
the ground as a post-settlement guarantor.  Romania will be in a position
to contribute to the EUs policy towards Moldova after its accession to the

Romania and the EU remain comparatively weak vis--vis Russia in terms of
what they presently are able or willing to offer Moldova, namely market
and labour access, energy deliveries and leverage in the Transnistrian
conflict. This comes at a time when Moldova is increasingly isolated, due
to Romanias accession to the EU. Moldovas quiet rapprochement with Moscow
in the autumn/winter of 2006 has shown that the ENP is not currently
matching Russias political and economic pressures on Moldova. The ENP
cannot immediately offset the effects of Russias economic blockade on
Moldovas main export products, i.e. wine and other agricultural products.
However, the EU doubled its financial assistance to Moldova to 254 million
for the period 2007-10 at a donor conference in December 2006, thereby
making it the second highest per capita beneficiary of EU aid under the
ENP after the Palestinian Authority.

Now that it has achieved EU membership, will Romania fundamentally change
its foreign policy towards Moldova? The answer of course is no, but the
new country might consider a number of additional steps to make its policy
towards Moldova more pro-active.

 Moldovas commitment to European integration has opened up new avenues for

- Romania should make concrete offers of assistance on the implementation
of the EU-Moldova Action Plan (specifically in the domain of economic
reform, justice and home affairs and border control) and propose twinning,
training of officials and offer financial aid.

 Romania is likely to continue to lobby, this time from within the EU, for
Moldovas inclusion in the group of states with an accession perspective:

- It would be interesting for Romania to develop a closer partnership with
those EU states that are very active in the EUs neighbourhood and that
favour further enlargement, e.g. the Baltic states, Poland, the Czech
Republic, Germany, Sweden and the UK.

- Romania should get its Moldova message across to the incoming German
Presidency in a simple, structured and intelligible way.

- The new Romanian MEPs will also contribute to the EU debate on
enlargement and on the further development of the ENP.

 Increasing the level of assistance, joint projects and exchanges could be
another way through which Romania can develop a more pro-active policy:

- Moldova is eager to diversify its trade and Romania is well placed to
provide assistance through its Chambers of Commerce to its Moldovan

- More Romanian investment in the Moldovan economy, especially in the
energy and banking sectors, would be welcome.

- Romania is coping with labour shortage and is willing to give Moldovan
workers priority access to its labour market.

- Cultural and academic exchanges and investment in Moldovan civil society
remain essential for the continuing democratisation of Moldova.

- The presence of Romanian language media and press in Moldova should be

 In addition, several other measures could be considered by the Romanian

- Now that the opening of two additional consulates for treating visa
applications has been approved at the highest level, the amount of
paperwork required by Moldovans for obtaining a Romanian visa should also
be reduced.

- A streamlined procedure should be adopted to allow Moldovans to recover
Romanian citizenship under the best possible conditions. The Romanian
authorities issued 93,000 Romanian passports to citizens from the Republic
of Moldova during the period 1991-2002, but virtually froze this process
in 2002, issuing only 2,442 passports since then.

- An open, public debate should be launched in Romanian society on its
relations with Moldova so as to explain and legitimise a more pro-active
and hence more costly policy towards Moldova.

Romania is already taking steps to offset the effects of its accession to
the EU on its relations with the Republic of Moldova. The most urgent
challenge at the present time is to effectively cope administratively and
logistically with the huge demand for Romanian visas and Romanian
citizenship. Several other possibilities for increased cooperation with
Moldova from Romanias perspective have been outlined above. It remains to
be seen how the ENP will be reformed under the German Presidency of the
EU, but so far the incentives on offer have not been sufficient to ensure
the irreversibility of democratisation or a sustained process of economic
reforms in Moldova. Romanias efforts in this regard are therefore most


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