Not a success story yet
Monday, 10 December 2012 13:56

MOLDOVA is an increasingly popular destination for European leaders. And it’s not just because of the wine. In August Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, visited Moldova. At the end of November, José Manuel Barroso (pictured on the left), president of the European Commission, made his first visit to Chisinau.

“My visit to Moldova was long overdue”, he announced in front of 2,000 people at the National Palace on November  30th. Mr Barroso, who is Portuguese, made a joke about how he can understand Moldovan (similar to Romanian), another Latin language. He praised Moldova for its reforms and urged it to keep going. The audience was buzzing.  

Among the EU’s eastern neighbours, Moldova is distinguishing itself. Visa negotiations with the EU, which will eventually allow Moldovans to travel to the Schengen area without a visa, are making progress. Moldova topped the Eastern Partnership Index, which compares reforms across the six former Soviet states grouped under the EU’s Eastern Partnership. Unsurprisingly, Belarus came last.

In contrast to Moldova, the EU’s relations with Ukraine are particularly chilly at the moment. Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister, is still in prison. The association agreement, which would deepen EU-Ukraine relations, remains in limbo.  Allegedly rigged parliamentary elections in October didn’t help. They were criticised by international observers as “a step backwards”.

A former-Soviet state of 3.6m people, Moldova still has big problems. It is one of the poorest countries in Europe even though, as Mr Barroso pointed out, Moldova receives the highest level of support in the European Neighbourhood, at €41 per capita.  (The EU’s European Neighbourhood Policy seeks to tie countries to the east and south of the EU into the EU with conditional financial assistance.) Corruption is rampant. The “frozen conflict” in Transdniestria, the breakaway eastern region of Moldova, remains unsolved, despite progress this year. Until March, Moldova went without an elected president for nearly three years.

Vlad Filat (pictured on the right), the Moldovan prime minister, will report to Brussels on the government’s reforms on December 13th. The date to watch is the Vilnius Eastern Partnership, planned for late 2013 when Lithuania holds the EU presidency. Speaking to our correspondent, Ambassador Dirk Schuebel, the head of the EU Delegation to Moldova, was optimistic that the EU-Moldova Association Agreement would be ready by then.

EU membership is also becoming less of a taboo. Off the record, some European diplomats lament that Moldova was grouped with authoritarian Azerbaijan and Belarus, rather than with Balkan countries like Albania or Bosnia and Herzegovina, which are listed as potential candidates for membership. Yet in October, Štefan Füle, the European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, spoke about Moldova applying to join the EU one day.

Still, Moldovans should not hold their breath too soon. “Moldova will never join the EU. Never!”, said the editor of a major Moldovan newspaper, speaking in his office. Like many others in Chisinau, he would like to see Moldova in the EU. But he is sceptical about the pace of reforms and the fight against corruption, regardless of the government’s pro-EU stance.

“It is very convenient for Brussels to hold Moldova up as a so-called success story”, he said. Europe needs success stories at the moment but Molodva isn’t one (yet).

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