22nd Feb 2020

Moldovan president rejects treaty with Romania as 'illegal'

The signing of a treaty in Bucharest regulating the border between Moldova and Romania was initially hailed as a major breakthrough in relations between the two countries which have been strained for most of the last two decades.

But just days after the signing at the beginning of November, Moldovan interim president Mihai Ghimpu unexpectedly declared the treaty to be "illegal and unconstitutional".

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  • Moldovan interim president Mihai Ghimpu has declared the treaty "illegal". (Photo: Romania Libera)

The two countries share a difficult history. After Moldova's independence following the collapse of the USSR, Romania systematically refused to sign a border treaty with any of the successive regimes in Chisinau.

Moldova was part of Romania until the Second World War, most Moldovans still speak Romanian and it was felt in Bucharest that accepting the reality of the border between the two countries would lead to acknowledging the separate identity of the Moldovan state.

The treaty signed in Bucharest on 8 November by Moldovan prime minister Vlad Filat and Romanian foreign minister Teodor Baconschi seemed designed to settle, at least temporarily, the main disputes.

All this was ruined one week later when, on 16 November, Mr Ghimpu harshly condemned the freshly signed agreement. The rejection of the treaty, coming from one of the most pro-Romanian and pro-European politicians in Moldova, triggered huge surprise.

The general opinion is that his motives were domestic. Mr Ghimpu's reaction should be interpreted in the context of the current electoral campaign in Moldova. General elections will take place on Sunday (28 November) and the result could go either way.

The four party governing coalition, the Alliance for European Integration (AEI), is in a shambles, weakened by foul play among its members. It has no common policy on relations with Moscow on one side or with Romania and the EU on the other.

"Ghimpu rejected the treaty out of envy," Igor Botan, director of the think-tank Asociatia pentru Democratie Participativa (ADEPT) told WAZ.EUobserver. "Ghimpu is simply jealous that Filat, who heads another party from the governing coalition, scored such a success in a field where he, as chief of state, wanted to be the first – relations with Romania. So, as a result, he rejected the treaty under spurious reasons."

But presidential advisor Vlad Lupan vigorously rejected this interpretation. "Mr Ghimpu does not disagree with the content of the treaty," he said. "There is simply a technicality at stake. International treaties have to be signed by the president, not by the premier."

On the Moldovan side, the paper was signed by prime minister Vlad Filat, while on the Romanian side it bears only the signature of foreign minister Teodor Baconschi. There is a heavy suspicion in Chisinau that Romania wanted to avoid giving the treaty a political dimension, which explains why it was signed "only" by the foreign minister as a mere technical document.

Mr Lupan also denied that Mr Ghimpu is weakening the AEI coalition by rejecting the treaty in the crucial weeks before the general election. "The one who is weakening the alliance is Mr Filat, who signs international treaties knowing very well that this is not his prerogative," he said.

Mr Ghimpu's reaction to the signing of the treaty with Romania could also be a move to placate the suspicions and fears of the older generation of voters. Owing to decades of exposure to Soviet anti-Romanian propaganda, that generation views Romania as Moldova's historical enemy rather than a sister country of which Moldova was a part until the Second World War.

At the time it was occupied by the USSR, a result of the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact with Nazi Germany that led to the two powers to carve up Eastern and Central Europe.

And there is also another, simpler explanation to Mr Ghimpu‘s reaction. By rejecting the treaty, he is countering the fears of the pro-Romanian part of the electorate, which was deploring the consolidation of the border between the two countries into an international frontier.

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