Moldova could be serious EU contender
Work remains to be done before Moldova can join the EU, but European accession would be mutually beneficial, argues Andi Cristea.
As we speak history is being written and age-defining changes are underway. In the coming years, we should be able to look back to now with the conviction that we did the right thing and provided the right response to the critical challenges facing eastern Europe.
The truth is that beyond security issues, propaganda and geopolitical offensives, Moldovans deserve to stay on track to the EU.
The Riga summit, just like its 2013 predecessor in Vilnius, comes at a crucial and testing time for our eastern partners. Its fundamental significance should translate into bold and ambitious actions. Stagnation and inertia would be detrimental not only to the path ahead, but also to the progress made so far.
- Edgars Rinkēvičs: EU committed to peace, prosperity and stability on its eastern borders
- Johannes Hahn: EU interests to have greater focus in review of eastern partnership
- Bogdan Andrzej Zdrojewski: EU remains open for Belarussian nation
- Heidi Hautala: Russia is punishing the eastern partners for EU relationship
- Othmar Karas: EU, Russia and Ukraine: What future for the eastern partnership?
Our partners must continue to undertake and strengthen reforms - their citizens deserve a prosperous, secure and bright future. The promotion of EU values and principles and the vision of a democratic society benefiting from the rule of law and modern, effective and accountable institutions, as well as higher living standards, have a unique role to play in this regard.
Moldova's case is extremely helpful in assessing what has been done and what could be achieved. The country's political leadership had the ambition and determination to progress for a number of years - 2014 was a milestone - but it then fell into the spiral of status quo and inertia, becoming a prisoner of local political interests.
Valuable time was wasted by post-election negotiations, in which leaders were unable to unite behind the interests of Moldova and incapable of putting citizens first. Political forces were finally able to overcome their differences and the new government is now committed to putting the country back on track.
Of course, much needs to be done, and words are less credible than concrete and tangible action, but the EU should send a clear signal to Moldova that its future is with the 28 member states, as long as it genuinely fulfils its obligations and shows real commitment to the association agreement's reform agenda. As long as reforms continue at a consistent rate, Chisinau can be a serious candidate on the road to the EU.
Brussels should not ignore the fact that there is dangerous competition for Moldovans' hearts and minds, as well as the substantial geopolitical pressures they are subject to. The latest polls suggest that the average Moldovan citizen is unhappy, strongly disappointed with politicians at all levels, does not trust the justice system and has become somewhat Eurosceptic - only 40 per cent of the population still think that the EU is a good prospect for Moldova.
Clearly, good governance has a role to play, but Brussels should improve its presence in Chisinau with enhanced visibility and better communication on what the EU path really means and can deliver.
The visa-free regime has helped. Yet for Moldovans, the 'European dream' must go further and become more closely associated with their immediate needs and demands: decent jobs and higher wages, better functioning public administration at central and local level, as well as a reliable justice system.
And speaking of a reliable justice system and a credible rule of law agenda, the recent Kroll report on the huge banking fraud by party-linked private operators - €1bn was stolen - should be a crisis turned into opportunity. It is up to the political class, prosecutors and judges to prove that there is zero tolerance towards perpetrators of such offences.
Miracles occurring before the Riga summit are unfeasible, but the signs are certainly encouraging. On the Kroll report, parliament speaker Andrian Candu has opted for transparency and on 3 May, tens of thousands of Moldovans took to the streets of Chisinau to call for better living standards. These examples could form the pillars of a new trend, and a much needed turning point.
The country is at a crossroads. Next month's local elections will be crucial in evaluating Moldova's current stance and its political class. But no matter the challenges, Moldovans should be given the opportunity to progress, and Riga should credit their medium and long-term future as a European country by investing in a clear commitment and a strong political message to Chisinau.
Reforms are indeed key for any potential EU accession, but the door is there and it is open. The EU must prove it can succeed in its neighbourhood. Therefore, investing in Moldova's success in a complex geopolitical environment could prove just as important to the EU as it is for the Moldovans.
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