Some Western diplomats and experts increasingly question the sustainability of debt- and corruption-ridden Moldova. Not so long ago, they deemed the tiny state to be a European success story, but it has become a symbol of economic failure following last year’s revelations of a $1bn bank fraud and a multi-billion-dollar money-laundering scandal, both implicating senior officials.
The financial consequences of the former are so dire that government enterprises now struggle to pay salaries, while the state could soon be left without sufficient funds to make pension payments or service its mounting external debt.
With Moldova’s politicians and bureaucrats seemingly incapable of dealing with the economic mess, some international observers wonder whether the only option left is union with its neighbour. While Romania has many flaws, it has managed to overcome or shown itself willing to tackle many of the governance and economic problems currently plaguing Moldova, in the process becoming a member of the EU and Nato.
Moldova became a part of Romania in 1918, but was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940, before declaring independence in 1991 after the fall of communism. Since then reunification has been regularly discussed in political circles, indeed declared a priority by a number of pro-Romanian parties, the most prominent being the Liberal Party of Moldova (PL), whose supporters believe their lives and prospects would be significantly improved under Romanian rule.
In recent years, a number of pro-unification rallies have been held in the capital Chisinau, the latest in March, which drew tens of thousands of people, was organised by the PL as part of a series of events marking the 98th anniversary of the 1918 union. These included the revival of a council, the Sfatul Tarii, that approved the latter – a piece of political theatre aimed at rallying Moldovans, the majority of whom are ethnic Romanians, to their cause.
The recent events were condemned by both the Socialist Party, the largest parliamentary party, which calls for closer ties with Russia, and the pro-Kremlin Our Party. Latest opinion polls indicate that they would win the most votes in an early parliamentary election, suggesting that unification would be opposed by the majority of the population. In Romania too there appears to be little enthusiasm for it. While some leading figures, including former President Traian Basescu, openly promote the idea, most politicians adopt a cautious approach and most people want no more than the closer ties that EU membership would bring.
Moreover, there’s significant resistance within the EU to its incorporation of an impoverished population and a failed economy, particularly since Brussels has spent hundreds of millions of euros in the last five years in a vain attempt to reform Moldova’s institutions and infrastructure.
Given Russia’s recent intervention in Ukraine over its European orientation, the EU would also be wary of similar events unfolding in Moldova should it signal its intention to unite with Romania. Moscow supported Transnistria’s violent separation from Moldova following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. Fierce fighting left hundreds dead – and quarter of a century on there’s little prospect of the ethnic-Russian breakaway region being reintegrated. The last thing the EU wants is to give Moscow an excuse to seize more Moldovan territory.
However, as Moldova’s economy continues to deteriorate, the numbers of Moldovans advocating union with Romania is likely to grow. But there’s little chance of them making much headway given the strength of opposition to their cause. Unification, it seems, will remain a dream for some time to come.
Nicolae Reutoi is an analyst at Alaco. Alaco Dispatches is the business intelligence consultancy’s take on events and developments shaping the CIS region.