Wednesday

20th Jan 2021

EU puts its weight behind Moldovan leader

  • Mr Filat (l) and EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso in Brussels (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

The EU's poorest neighbour, Moldova, has secured €1.9 billion in international aid in the first solid recognition of the country's 'post-revolutionary' government.

The money, to come from the EU, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and third countries such as the US and Japan, was pledged in the form of loans and non-returnable grants at a donors' conference in Brussels on Wednesday (24 March).

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The European Commission is shortly expected to top up the sum with a macro-financial assistance grant of at least €90 million, as well as to launch talks on a free trade agreement in March and on visa-free travel in June.

The developments come in reaction to reform promises put forward by Moldova's liberal-democrat prime minister, Vlad Filat, with a team of EU experts to be parachuted in to Chisinau in the coming months to help steer the process.

Speaking to EUobserver in an interview, Mr Filat said Moldova has undergone a profound change since the bloody events last year that helped bring his party to power.

"For some, these events represent an authentic revolution. If you ask me, I say it was a very sincere revolt of young people who didn't want to live in the same conditions as in the past eight years," he said.

Thousands of young people took to the streets of Chisinau in April 2009 to protest against voting fraud. The demonstration turned violent when the crowd attacked official buildings, while a subsequent police crackdown saw three protesters die in suspicious circumstances.

The events led to the fall of President Vladimir Voronin and his Communist party, which had held sway in the country since 2001.

One year down the line, Mr Filat, a 40-year-old former businessman, rules over a fragile pro-EU coalition which depends on a splinter group of former Communists to stay in power.

Chisinau has a new atmosphere of media freedom and political debate, but remains mired in corruption and maladministration. Meanwhile, some 1,300 Russian troops guard a Cold War-era arms dump in the breakaway Transniestria region in the east of the country.

"Our final and most important goal is accession to the EU," Mr Filat said. "But in the meantime we need to create a European state, with all the rights and values that this implies. An independent sovereign state, which means the unconditional withdrawal of Russian troops and weapons. I would like to repeat: unconditional."

Hearts and minds

Mr Filat said that opening talks on visa-free travel would be another "clear signal" of EU engagement for ordinary Moldovans, in the absence of any enlargement promise.

The actual visa-free deal is years away. But the prime minister said that Eubam, the EU's border patrol mission on the Transniestria-Ukraine frontier, should receive extra staff and resources to help Moldova comply with visa-related security requirements.

As to prospects for ending the 20-year-old frozen conflict, Mr Filat has little hope of a constructive deal with the Russian-financed clan that controls the eastern side of the Dniester river.

Asked by EUobserver if Moldova's recent initiative, to suspend an EU visa ban on the rebel leaders, saw a positive reaction from Tiraspol, Mr Filat said he got "nothing" in return.

The new leader aims instead to win favour among the region's younger generation by making Moldova a more attractive prospect than the Transniestrian no man's land, with noisy EU support giving him a weapon in the battle for hearts and minds.

"I'm not the only one here in Brussels impressed by the progress of the Moldovan government during its 100-plus days in handling difficult reforms," EU enlargement and neighbourhood commissioner Stefan Fuele said during a press briefing in the EU capital on Wednesday.

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