As I arrived in Moldova, by train from Kiev, the two feet of snow that had fallen over the previous two days had stacked travel chaos on top of Moldova’s political and financial crises. As a result, our meeting/conference took place with a limited number of foreign attendees (me being the only one that I know of) and without the key speaker (Christian Busoi MEP) who was unable to reach Chisinau from Bucharest in Moldova.

However, those who managed to arrive made good use of the opportunity to explore some of the challenges facing Moldova and offer their opinions on Moldova’s future and possible EU integration. The attendees had been invited from the different groups in the Liberal coalition government and was mostly (although not entirely) made up of young Moldovans who were eager to see change in Moldova and a rapid move towards EU integration.

Discussions touched on different areas of reform in Moldova and gave a good insight into the differences in attitudes that continue to complicate progress. For example, when someone suggested that politicians should re-connect with the voters and travel to work on a bus as normal citizens must, another delegate thought this would be unacceptable as (presumably) he ascribed to the belief that political office grants you status and a certain degree of privilege. We heard how many young people seek change whilst others working in the large Moldovan civil service are happy to vote for the communists because a vote for change may mean they have to do more work! We also heard an interesting story of a project that ran with the help of the British Embassy. Various farming standards, rules and procedures were introduced to help Moldovans sell their products abroad and the project seemed to be going well until the procedures were audited some time later. It soon became apparent that, on paper, the procedures existed but in reality none of them were followed. The need to do so or the benefits of them had clearly been lost on those who stood to benefit from them.

This institutionalised indifference to rules and procedures isn’t unique to Moldova, it’s a hangover from years of communism. However it needs to be addressed and doing so is no easy task. Proper enforcement of rules (where bribery is not the answer to everything) and proven results will help but, ultimately it will require a change in attitudes and mentalities and this will take a lot longer.

As is the case in Ukraine, the words ‘European’ and ‘Western’ are synonymous in Moldova with ‘better’ or ‘high standard’ and (as is usually the case in the EU institutions) the words ‘Europe’ and ‘European’ were  unhelpfully used to refer to the EU.

The problem I have with this is that, it creates the idea of a unified set of ‘European’ values that doesn’t exist and in referring to the subset of European countries as ‘Europe’ implies that those who have been refused entry are not European. It creates an unhelpful ‘us’ and ‘them’ inside one continent.

It was clear throughout the discussions in Chisinau that there is a deep appetite for reform and a shift in values from the corrupt and somewhat morally bankrupt Soviet era to a system that is open, transparent, and fair. However, the values sought are universal values – they are not ‘European’ and they certainly don’t exist across all EU countries. Whilst administrative and legal reform are important, they will not bring an immediate change in social attitudes. A Romanian and an Italian may for example share linguistic roots (and EU membership) but they do not share some special EU values that are alien to Moldova.

If Moldovans are to be successful in joining the EU they need urgent administrative and legal reforms which will only work if they are enforced and supported with sound law enforcement. They must do this to satisfy the EU institutions who, in turn must convince the existing members to support Moldovan membership. If Moldovans want social reform then they must do this for themselves as the EU cannot and should not attempt to create a society.

Sadly, the ‘meat’ (in the form of MEP Given Christian Busoi) was missing from the meeting and so we didn’t get a deeper insight into the EU thinking on Moldovan membership or indeed any official insight into Romanian efforts to support Moldova. Also, as the time frame for the conference was just one day we obviously couldn’t touch on every issue relating to the EU/Moldova however, the most obvious topic that wasn’t on the agenda was the issue of Transnistria. Without a serious and workable solution to the problem of Transnistria I can’t see how any amount of legal and administrative reform will lead to EU membership.

When I left Moldova in April this year, the city had just experienced a failed election and mass street protests and violence and the police had resorted to heavy handed tactics of arbitrary arrest and violence. There was an uneasy feeling of gloom as even my proudest Moldovan friends decided that they wanted to leave if the Communists increased the use of force to remain in power. One successful (fair and non-violent) election and eight months later and a lot has changed. Moldova is still poor and life is undoubtedly hard but, progress is being made, reforms are taking place quickly and the international institutions (IMF, World Bank, EU etc) are all using the change from communist to Liberal government as a ‘window of opportunity’.

I hope the window stays open long enough to see real progress in Moldova. Change is happening but without continued (and enhanced) solidarity from other European countries (both EU and non EU-members) things could easily slip backwards. Once Moldova shakes of the real winter, there is no reason why it can’t shake off the political and economic freeze as well. Thankfully, it now has new EU member and increasingly influential neighbour – Romania. If Moldova can model its reform on the Baltic states or indeed Romania, the EU should be willing to extend it’s support and, if you ever need an example of how EU membership can bring enhanced prestige and confidence, stand on the Moldovan or Ukrainian border and look at Romania.


PS, As Moldova is currently in grid-lock over the issue of electing a President, a number of options are available. 1. Another election (leaving the change that the communist party may be re-elected) 2. A change to the rules to allow Parliament to elect a president with a simple majority or; 3. A constitutional change to have a directly elected President. Given the situation in Ukraine, I have serious reservations about the third option. Whilst it may break the deadlock in the short-term, the move to a directly elected President in this part of the world may simple serve to guarantee the future political influence of the richest Oligarchs – i.e. those with the money to stand as President or to fund their own choice of puppet.

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