Europe Needs to Pay Attention to What’s Happening in Moldova

Without EU support, the next election could turn out to be a win for Russia.

Maia Sandu, leader of Moldova's Party of Action and Solidarity, attends the European People's Party congress in Malta, March 29, 2017
Maia Sandu, leader of Moldova’s Party of Action and Solidarity, attends the European People’s Party congress in Malta, March 29, 2017 (EPP)

After five months in power, Maia Sandu’s pro-European government in Moldova has collapsed. President Igor Dodon, whose sympathies are with Russia, has appointed Ion Chicu, a Euroskeptic, as interim prime minister.

The situation worries Moldovans — but it should also worry the EU.

Moldova tries to reform

Moldova was one of the richest republics of the Soviet Union. Now it is one of the poorest countries in Europe. Political instability, organized crime and high inequality are just some of the problems that have plagued Moldova since independence. According to a 2016 UN report, nearly one in ten Moldovans lives in absolute poverty.

The situation is slowly getting better. Since 2016, economic output has been increasing by 4 percent per year. Sandu’s election victory in June was seen as another step forward. A Harvard-educated former World Bank advisor, she implemented political reforms and tried to steer Moldova closer to the EU.

Pushback

That attempt was cut short earlier this month, when the anti-NATO, pro-Russian Socialist Party withdrew its support from the government.

Sandu had little in common with the Socialists to begin with. What ultimately brought the coalition down was a dispute over the appointment of a prosecutor general. Sandu argued for an independent candidate, who could fight corruption. The Socialists insisted that the appointment should be left with the Ministry of Justice, ensuring that the post would remain under political control.

The fight for reform is not over. Presidential elections are due next year. Sandu might be able to defeat Dodon. The last time she tried, in 2016, she got 48 percent support against Dodon’s 52.

However, without EU support, the election could turn out to be another win for Russia. Instead of promoting autocratic leaders who seem to offer stability, which is what the EU does in Serbia and what it has to some extent done in Moldova, the bloc’s priority should be empowering average Eastern Europeans to overthrow the oligarchs who have held their countries back for decades.

Why should the EU intervene?

Russia has steadily gained ground in the region. If the EU doesn’t pay attention, Moscow could leverage its influence and force Moldova to recognize breakaway Transnistria as a “state entity” with equal rights.

Transnistria is a Russian-controlled enclave straddling the borer between Moldova and Ukraine. If it gains more influence in Moldovan politics, it would mean an end to Moldova’s aspiration to join the EU.

But supporting reform in Moldova is about more than curbing Russian influence. The main goal should be raising living standards in a country that has been left behind and promoting liberal and social democracy, so Moldavans can wrestle themselves free of corruption and Russian influence.