Romania – Moldova Strategic Partnership: How Bucharest can support the pro-European and reform agenda in the Republic of Moldova

Authors: Victor Chirila (APE), Bianca Toma (CRPE), Alexandru Damian (CRPE)

The Republic of Moldova is entering a new stage of reconstruction, after the July 2021 elections result, which brings a pro-European parliamentary majority to a reforming president. External partners have already announced their support. Romania has a crucial role in supporting Chisinau, directly – through financial assistance or strategic projects, and indirectly – by supporting the reforms to be undertaken by the current power.

The Romanian Centre for European Policies and the Foreign Policy Association analyzed the priorities taken on by the Romania – Moldova Strategic Partnership launched on April 27, 2010, the recent actions taken in Bucharest and the immediate needs of Chisinau, and publishes today the short-term action priorities to support the reform agenda of the Republic of Moldova.

Maia Sandu elected as president of the Republic of Moldova

 Throughout a decade of Romania – Moldova Strategic Partnership, Romania has become the main trading partner, as well as an influential political ally for the Republic of Moldova. Romania has established itself as an active and loyal supporter for Chisinau within the EU and is today among the most important development partners of the Republic of Moldova. However, because of the lack of genuine reforms towards advancing the European agenda of the Republic of Moldova, the potential of the Strategic Partnership has yet to be fully harnessed.

The election of Maia Sandu as President of the Republic of Moldova in November 2020 and the victory of the Action and Solidarity Party (PAS) in the parliamentary elections of July 11, 2021 radically changed the political context. This gave Bucharest and Chisinau the chance to relaunch the Strategic Partnership for European Integration of the Republic of Moldova, drawing new perspectives for the further evolution of the bilateral partnership.

This repeated victory creates the expectation that the Republic of Moldova will quickly adopt a pro-reform agenda, will give a strong impetus to the fight against corruption and will uncouple the corrupt system in Chisinau from the state resources. However, resistance to reform is extremely high as the country is riddled with corruption and organized crime. Winning the election only sends out the first signal that power is no longer in the hands of a small group of oligarchs and that, after many years, Chisinau can really take on the anti-corruption message.

Such a paradigm shift will meet with resistance both inside and outside the system. There are many stakeholders wanting to keep Moldova in a gray area. It is no less true that Moldova needs an extremely well-prepared human resource to be able to manage a reform agenda, and this resource is increasingly limited in a country that is massively affected by migration and systemic corruption. Those reformists willing to support the agenda promoted by Maia Sandu will be difficult to find in the public administration, in the judiciary or in the state-owned companies in Moldova, but outside the public system as well.

Now the level of ambition that PAS will assume politically on major issues is to be seen, especially what it will be able to deliver from what it is set out to do. A young party, with people who mean well, but lack experience in managing unreformed public systems, will not be able to show results quickly. The political democracy, the inherent disputes of the government, to which interferences from anti-Western and anti-reform forces will no doubt be added, will test the coherence and efficiency of the government.

Strategic Partnership Romania – Republic of Moldova

The Republic of Moldova needs now more than ever the support of Romania, the European Union and the United States for the implementation of the reform agenda promised by Maia Sandu. Bucharest’s support for the Republic of Moldova must continue and even speed up with technical and financial assistance in exchange for progress on the reform agenda. Maia Sandu is the best guarantor of potential reforms in Chisinau. If Bucharest’s agenda really supports a pro-reform movement in Chisinau, it must focus on real, selfless support that will boost Chisinau’s European path. The agenda and calculations of some politicians in Bucharest proved to be completely wrong as, until recently, not only did they not give any chance to Maia Sandu’s victory, but they also ignored her anti-corruption program.

What Maia Sandu managed to do in Chisinau, that is to put in the background the cleavages intensely promoted by the Russian Federation and to propose an anti-corruption agenda and message, followed by massive popular support, must also be supported by Bucharest in its strategy for Moldova.  Once a reformist politician enters the political struggle in Chisinau – Maia Sandu in the 2016 presidential election – they remain valid for Bucharest: Romania must support Moldova’s Europeanization and reform through its deoligarchization, just as politicians in Bucharest must stop using Chisinau for electoral purposes.

After 10 years of Romania-Moldova Strategic Partnership, CRPE and FPA proposed to come up with an assessment from the perspective of the civil society on what this bilateral agenda has brought regarding each of its major objectives, in order to show the syncopes and their causes as well as come up with proposals for the future. It is clear that the challenges that the Strategic Partnership set out to address 10 years ago are different from the current and future ones. What prevails in this assessment is the urgency of some measures and the importance to adapt some initiatives to the immediate needs from the reform agenda. Chisinau promises to deliver this reform agenda with the help of the parliamentary majority obtained historically after the July 11 elections.

The report in English is available here.
The report in Romanian is available here

This report is part of the project Contribution of the civil society to the development of the Romania – Moldova Strategic Partnership for the European integration of the Republic of Moldova”, implemented by the Romanian Centre for European Policies (CRPE) and the Foreign Policy Association (FPA / APE) and funded by the Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation of the German Marshall Fund.

The views expressed in this material reflect the views of the authors and not necessarily the views of the Black Sea Trust or its partners.