Moldova's return to Europe
By Vlad Filat
As a rule small states rarely attract international headlines. When they do so - this is for very good reasons, as with Estonia or Singapore; or for very bad ones – when affected by wars or natural disasters. In its 20 years of independence Moldova has been in none of these categories. But now Moldova has the chance to leapfrog from the category of 'muddling through' transition states into a regional success for democracy and economic modernisation.
The regional stakes for Europe are important. Moldova is the one place where the success of EU foreign policy can become most evident, and the 'reset' of moods in the US-EU-Russia triangle can acquire physical shape if palpable progress in settling one of Europe's last remaining secessionist conflicts in Transnistria is made.
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Since September 2009 Moldova has been governed by a coalition of liberal-democratic parties, which came into power after eight years of rule by a Communist party. In little over a year the government has managed to launch a whole series of sweeping reforms aimed at transforming Moldova and bringing it closer to the EU. But now, at the end of this week, Moldova will hold early elections which will decide whether Moldova's transformation continues, or the country will lapse back into a state of lethargic non-reform.
Generally, Moldova has had a bad image over the last two decades. But over the course of the last year we have worked to change both the stereotypes and the reality in Moldova.
Politically, Moldova has had its share of political instability over the last two decades. But looking back one can claim that Moldova is today the only post-Soviet (the Baltics aside) state where every single transfer of power took place as a result of elections. Moldova boasts a vibrant media where governmental actions are scrutinised literally day and night. These are the type of achievements that rarely generate international headlines, but are structurally important.
In the economic sphere we have acted to stir the country through the economic crisis, while also building the basis for mid-term growth. Whereas in 2009 the economy fell by 7.8 percent, the first half of 2010 it grew by 5.6 percent. Whereas the previous Government's recklessly populist budget deficit for 2009 was expected to reach 16 percent, in 2010 it is 4.12 percent. Despite significant belt-tightening, the country has managed to avoid the massive social unrest that endangered the stability of many European countries in the last two years. This year has been difficult, but the outlook is positive.
This spring Moldova launched in Brussels a mid-term reform strategy entitled Rethink Moldova which obtained pledges of support worth €1.9 billion by the European Union, the United States, the IMF, the World Bank, and other donors. The country also managed to improve the business environment and investment climate by cutting red tape and simplifying the administrative burden on foreign investors. The World Bank placed Moldova among the Top 10 reformers in the world when it comes to the costs of doing business. The government also set up an E-Governance Centre to drastically cut red-tape, bureaucracy and corruption when it comes to any interaction between the state and its citizens.
The driving force of many of these achievements is Moldova's desire to join the EU. Close to seventy percent of the population supports EU accession; over 50 percent of external trade is with the EU; our language is an official EU language since Romania joined the EU in 2007. Moldova is a European country with European citizens. This factor determines Moldovan domestic and foreign policies in a much more substantial way than is the case of virtually all other EU's neighbours.
No wonder then, that EU-inspired reforms give the country a strong sense of direction and provide the template for necessary reforms. The EU and Moldova are currently negotiating an Association Agreement, which would anchor Moldova even deeper in the European space. We will also sign a far-reaching free-trade agreement with the EU.
What matters deeply for Moldova's citizens is to move towards a visa-free regime with the EU. We are already working on implementing all the necessary technical conditions to make this possible. We also pursue a dialogue on visa-liberalisation with the EU and our aim is to become a contributor to the creation of a European space of liberty, security and justice. From January 1, 2011, the country will be the first Eastern partner of the EU to switch to the exclusive issuance of biometric passports. Moldova's customs officials and border guards have been working actively with an EU mission to modernize our border infrastructure. Moldova is an increasingly safe neighbour for the EU and a good partner in managing migration flows.
Progress has been made in settling Moldova's secessionist dispute with the region of Transnistria. For years Moldova's secessionist conflict was dumped into the category of "frozen conflicts" with few chances of resolution. Obviously the conflict is not frozen not because it is boiling, but because a solution is not unimaginable. In domestic politics, the aim is for Moldova for become a state that is more attractive for the residents of the Transnistrian region. That is why every step that brings Moldova closer to the EU, not least the existence of free-trade and the free circulation of citizens, is also a step towards resolving the conflict.
International developments can also help. In the context of the US-EU-Russian 'reset,' Moldova is emerging as one of the key pieces of the puzzle around which the some of the new elements of the European security architecture can be built. In June this year the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev announced their intention to step up co-operation on conflict settlement in Transnistria. The US are also strongly supportive and very engaged with conflict settlement in Moldova. It is important to turn these openings into palpable progress on the ground such as internationalising the existing peacekeeping format and re-energising conflict settlement talks.
There is no doubt that Moldova still has a lot of challenges to overcome. The first such challenge are the elections on 28 November. But Moldova has already made its choice – it wants to become a mainstream European state by integrating with the European Union and I have a firm belief that the outcome of the elections will reflect that.
Vlad Filat is the Prime Minister of Moldova and chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova