Bringing the Unirea Closer. Moldova and Romania on the Way to a New Stage of Integration

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Sergiu CEBAN
Chisinau and Bucharest set their sights on a faster process of rapprochement between the two states
Yesterday, a delegation led by President Maia Sandu paid a one-day official visit to neighboring Romania. Another trip to Bucharest was meant to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. As a result of the highest-level negotiations, a roadmap of priority areas of cooperation between Moldova and Romania was signed, as well as an intergovernmental agreement on mutual recognition of educational documents and scientific degrees. Despite the ongoing internal political crisis in the neighboring states, our officials held meetings in Bucharest with the entire leadership: President Klaus Iohannis, Acting Prime Minister Florian Chicu, as well as the Chairmen of both houses of Parliament Sorin Grindeanu and Anca Dragu. At the final press conference, Klaus Iohannis, among other things, said that Romania and the Republic of Moldova are united by “extremely strong ties, common language, culture and history”, therefore Moldova enjoys the “consolidated support” of all political forces in Bucharest. According to Iohannis, the Romanian authorities are striving to strengthen the strategic partnership for Moldova’s European integration and are doing everything to ensure its development according to the European model. In addition, the Romanian leader stressed that every effort is being made to ensure that Chisinau remains a priority in the policy of the European Union, as well as in relations with other important international actors like the United States of America. Maia Sandu, in turn, said that her Romanian counterpart and she discussed cooperation on strategic projects for the energy interconnection, the development of transport infrastructure, as well as strengthening trade relations. In her opinion, our countries have all the necessary conditions to build a strong and mutually beneficial partnership, and Chisinau still counts on Romania’s important vote in the European Union. It was not without the usual chants that European integration is the main goal of the Republic of Moldova, which can be achieved with the support of friends in Bucharest. “It is a politically unique moment for Chisinau, and we have received strong support from Bucharest. Our relations have all the prerequisites for obtaining historical results”, said Maia Sandu. It is curious that on the eve of the delegation’s departure to Bucharest, a reminder arrived from Gazprom about who the Moldovan authorities should actually owe to. In particular, the Russian monopolist has set an ultimatum to Chisinau – to pay within 48 hours all short-term debt for gas consumed in October and November this year. The reasons for this unexpected setback are yet to be sorted out. Perhaps it was a deliberate decision of the authorities, so to speak, to strengthen the information background during their stay in Bucharest. However, at the same time, it should not be ruled out that such “deterring notes” from Moscow will become quite a common occurrence. Despite the fact that the new team is, relatively speaking, starting out, the Moldovan-Romanian negotiations on the results of the 100 days of Natalia Gavrilita’s government and the year of Maia Sandu’s rule are a good reason to understand the positions of the current Moldovan authorities and what kind of assistance the republic’s leadership needs from the closest partner to ensure the efficacy of their work for the next four years. In this regard, the major event in the program of the visit was the signing of an updated roadmap on priority areas of cooperation, which includes issues of energy interconnection, technical and financial assistance, cooperation in the field of cybersecurity, regional and territorial cooperation, etc. Despite the low status of the document, its contents may well be regarded as a preparation for the development of a much more meaningful project aimed at accelerating rapprochement between the two states. The integration narrative has long been a part of domestic and foreign policy. However, during a recent trip to Moscow Nicu Popescu was unusually cautious when replying to the question from the Echo of Moscow radio editor about the prospects of unification with Romania. Instead of giving a direct answer, he started reflecting about history, thereby triggering ambiguous reactions from both strong supporters and opponents of Unirea. The minister acknowledged that the majority of the Moldovan population opposes this project, but at the same time mentioned that “the common culture and history does not exclude Moldova’s independence at this stage.” This should be understood as a gentle hint at the possibility of different forms of the Moldovan-Romanian coexistence at certain historical stages, and in some periods the independence of Moldova is far from being a constant. This episode clearly demonstrates that our politicians are still feeling a certain constraint when talking about their natural aspirations to build the closest possible relations with a neighboring country. At the same time, the same example of Belarus convincingly proves that, pursuing the integration logic in relations with the nearest neighbor superior in its potential, it is quite possible to protect national interests even in negotiations with such a difficult partner as the Kremlin. As Nicu Popescu mentioned in his recent interview, Moldova has lost several decades, therefore Chisinau is not yet able to send a credible message to Brussels. Nevertheless, 30 years of independence is another historical milestone which offers a reason to analyze the current state of affairs in the country and reflect, inter alia, on what relations with Bucharest should actually be. It is obvious that our political elites failed to fully succeed with the state-building process - unlike Romania which during the same period became a full member of the European Union. Relations between the two countries need an ambitious program that will go beyond the inertial and stereotypical perception exclusively through the prism of the frenzied unionism ideas. Whether the mono-majority party, which has many representatives really sympathizing with the most radical ideas of the Unirea, is able to develop such is a big question. The last visit to Bucharest is presented as a request for a more adequate integration model with high-quality content for the real rapprochement of Chisinau with Bucharest, and, consequently, with the European Union. On the other hand, putting excessive optimism aside, the results of yesterday’s negotiations can be interpreted as the beginning of a new stage of linking the two countries with the prospect of reaching, as Mai Sandu put it, a “historical result”. However, the latter is unlikely to imply such things as independence and sovereignty of Moldova.