Moldova has been increasing its political and economic ties with the European Union since the signature of the Association Agreement on June 27th, alongside Ukraine and Georgia. In comparison to the turmoil created in Ukraine by its rapprochement with the European Union, very little attention has been given to former Soviet nations such as Moldova and Georgia who are involved in a similar move westwards. Nevertheless, European agreements have large implications for these countries.
Increasing ties with the European Union
Historically, Moldova has a strong link with Romania: the country still has Romanian as an official language and shares many cultural features with the country. There is thus tension between Russian and European influences: only in 2009 were the pro-European parties able to establish a majority, against the communist party, traditionally closer to Moscow. This date marks the beginning of Moldova’s move towards the West, under the rule of the Alliance for European Integration which was replaced in 2013 by the Pro-European coalition. The current ruling coalition includes the Liberal Democratic Party, the Democratic Party and the Liberal Reformists Party, who advocate for modernization in accordance with European standards and requirements as well as a progressive economic and political integration in the EU. Relations between Moldova and the EU are currently taking place within the European Neighbourhood Policy under a Action Plan that lays out the objectives necessary for further integration with European economic and social structures.
Georgia has been undergoing a similar push towards the West and the European Union. Since the 2008 war against Russia, who backed separatist claims in South Ossetia, Georgia has largely seen EU as its only option. There is today very little opposition to the Association Agreement in Georgia and the western orientation is widely accepted. Former President Mikheil Saakashvili stated that “this region is drifting toward the West regardless of the governments.”
The Association Agreement with the EU was the starting point of Ukraine’s recent instability. Pro-European demonstrations started in Kiev in November 2013 when former President Viktor Yanukovych toppled the rapprochement with the EU to follow Moscow’s line. The presidential change and new President Petro Poroshenko finally resumed negotiations. The Agreement’s signature as well as the end of ceasefire in separatist Eastern regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, led to the resumption of offensive military actions which look set to enable Kiev to regain control of the area. Vladimir Putin thoroughly condemned Poroshenko’s decisions while the EU is likely to intensify its economic sanctions against Moscow.
The political unrest in Eastern Europe since the Crimean crisis has greatly affected Moldova when the region of Transnistria started asking for an official recognition of its independence from Chisinau [this region is de facto independent since the dissolution of USSR in 1991 but is not recognised by any UN member states]. Moscow said it would increase its ties with the region, which is for 30% inhabited by ethnic Russians. A similar trend is visible in Moldova’s other volatile (though not break-away) region, Gagauzia. It is important to note that separatist groups have successively been backed by Moscow in Georgia’s South Ossetia, Ukraine’s Eastern regions, and Moldova’s Transnistria. Today, all three countries have a part of their territory under Russian control.
Scepticism and challenges
The Moldovan government congratulated itself with the Association Agreement, President Nicolae Timofti declaring "Long live Moldova in the European Union!" and "The next step is to ask for and get a clear timetable for joining the EU." For its part, Georgia has emerged as a regional power in South Caucasus through political and economic reforms, leaving its Armenian and Azerbaijan neighbours on the side.
However, scepticism remains widespread in rural areas. Moldovan agriculturists could suffer from Russia’s bans on certain Moldovan agricultural products if it follows through with its threats. In Europe’s poorest country, where the Human Development Index hardly reaches 0,660 when Romania’s is 0,786 and Norway’s 0,955, further economic sanctions may have tremendous consequences on everyday lives. Moreover, Moscow has been pressuring Moldova, Georgia and other post-Soviet countries to join its “Eurasian Union” with Kazakhstan and Belarus, while using threats of export bans and tighter immigration policies. Indeed, Moldova remains totally dependent on Russia’s natural gas, and Russia’s markets to sell its agricultural and industrial production : last year, Moscow cut its export market for Moldovan wine, one of its largest industries. It has been using gas as a potential weapon and a bargaining tool in Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova among other countries.
Despite high pressure, the treaty signed on June 27th reinforced the three countries’ intention of moving closer to the EU. Last Wednesday saw popular celebrations in Tbilisi, Kiev and Chisinau, where at the same time the 38 Communist MPs walked out of the parliament session in protest. Moldova’s Foreign Minister answered the event by reaffirming that the government does not “believe that by constraint you can force someone to marry you”.