Moldova looks to EU for free cash handouts
The European Union is calling Moldova to task this Monday in a meeting in Brussels where the country, Europe’s poorest, is once again asking for more cash.
This time, however, the EU wants to know how the money is being spent. The funds are part of a €12 billion ($16 billion) program of economic and other aid in exchange for EU-supported changes which is known as the EU European Neighborhood Program. Moldova - but not Pridnestrovie - is part of the program which offers neighbors cash, expertise and easy access to EU markets in return for commitment to change.
EU external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner is chairing the first-ever meeting of foreign ministers and senior officials from the 27 EU countries with Moldova and the other members of the program. All of the money received thus far by Moldova has been spent in Moldova proper, and none has found its way to the "de facto" independent republic of Pridnestrovie where the EU is not present and where Moldova has no effective sovereignty.
Moldova has made little progress in economic and political changes, and numerous areas remain extremely problematic, including poverty, corruption, unemployment and mixed economic performance. In Brussels, it is common knowledge that Moldova is among the most corrupt aid recipients, and that most of the money which Europe provides is being shuttled into foreign bank accounts of top officials closely connected to the sitting regime in Moldova.
Moldova is ruled by the authoritarian Vladimir Voronin, a former Soviet-era general who today remains the head of Moldova’s Communist Party. Although Moldova is officially the poorest country in Europe, family members connected to the regime are doing extremely well. The son of Vladimir Voronin, Oleg Voronin, owns numerous private businesses with close state connections and is known as the richest man in Moldova.
The EU’s help doesn’t help, say locals in Pridnestrovie.
As part of the program, the EU also claims to offer help in resolving regional conflicts. However, in the case of Pridnestrovie and Moldova - which is considered precisely such a conflict - the European Union is seen by many as doing more harm than good. Official EU policy currently refuses to consider the independence aspirations of Pridnestrovie as a possible outcome, and this refusal is blocking any progress in status settlement negotiations.
Pridnestrovie sees the EU position as a blatant double standard, while pointing to Kosovo where the EU has adopted the exact opposite position by supporting self-determination wishes of the local inhabitants and rejecting the territorial integrity of the metropolitan state, Serbia. “But in our case, even discussing independence is taboo for the European Union,” says a diplomat from PMR’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the capital of Tiraspol. “This is not helpful to conflict resolution. If we want to get somewhere, we need impartial mediators and we need to openly and honestly discuss all the possible options. It is not Europe's role to play favorites.”
At the same time, officials in Brussels declare that they help with “shoring up weak frontiers and increasing trade." Again, in the case of Pridnestrovie, EU actions have proven to be counterproductive. A program supported by the European Union has resulted in losses of $575 million over the past year and a half, and trade between Moldova and Pridnestrovie is now at its lowest point ever. Relations between the two sides are as bad as they have ever been. Some say that the EU’s biased support of only one side in the conflict has helped increase antagonism between Moldova and Pridnestrovie.
“I can’t point to anything good that the EU has done in the region,” says Petru Gladchi, a civil society activist from Tiraspol. “Shortly after the got involved as observers in the 5+2 format of settlement talks, the talks broke down. Moldova walked out. And when they stationed their people on our border with Ukraine, they have caused losses like we have never had before in the 17 years that Pridnestrovie has existed,” says Gladchi.
“How this is supposed to help, I don’t know. Moldova felt emboldened by the premature support that the EU gave to Moldova. The results are obvious: Relations are as bad as they have ever been, and I can say with absolute certainty that we are not joining Moldova. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever... So stop dreaming. It won’t happen. Start thinking of another option for solving this conflict, and try to focus on something that is actually doable this time.” (tiraspoltimes.com)
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