Moldovan Deputy Prime Minister, Natalia Gherman, argues that giving an EU membership perspective to Eastern Partnership countries "is a matter of urgent necessity” and calls for dialogue with the Russian Federation.
Natalia Gherman is Moldova’s Deputy Prime Minister in charge of Foreign and European Affairs. She was previously her country’s ambassador to Sweden and Austria. She spoke to EurActiv’s Tanja Milevska in a phone interview
What is Moldova’s position on the outcome of the referendum in Crimea yesterday?
The authorities of the Republic of Moldova made Moldova's position clear on Saturday. The position is as follows: the Republic does not recognise the results of the referendum in Crimea. We reiterated what we were saying for some time now – that the solution to the crisis in the neighbouring Ukraine has to be found within the framework of the international law and we will reiterate this position.
What do you think should be the EU’s next steps? Is Moldova in favour of stronger sanctions, or more dialogue with Russia?
We are following very closely the discussions in different formats in the European Union, and we have also addressed the foreign ministers of the EU and the heads of states and governments before their respective sessions that took place recently, reiterating Moldova’s willingness to see a peaceful settlement to the crisis in Ukraine. The solution has to be found in the framework of international law. We would be very much concerned if the spillover effect of the events in Ukraine reached the Republic of Moldova.
So far, we have aligned ourselves with all declarations, and all statements produced in the European Union’s decision-making process. There will be another declaration adopted on 18 March that is open for alignment by third countries. Moldova will align itself to this next statement by the EU.
But we would also be in favour of searching the ways for a dialogue that the European Union would pursue with the Russian Federation in order to bring international law into the settlement process. And we would be very much in favour of a dialogue that should resume between the Russian Federation and the Ukrainian authorities. Just to underline in this particular context – the Republic of Moldova recognises the legitimacy of the new Ukrainian authorities that is the Parliament and the Government of Ukraine.
To illustrate, I would bring you a very clear example. On 17 March, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Moldova, Mr. Iurie Leanc? is paying a working visit to Kyiv at the invitation of the Prime Minister, Mr. Yatseniyuk.
What kind of spillover effect do you fear in your own breakaway province of Transnistria?
So far, the situation is well under control, and we are of course maintaining the dialogue with the breakaway region’s authorities. Recently, the chief negotiator in the 5+2 format, deputy Prime Minister Karpov, met with the representative of Tiraspol in the 5+2 negotiations.
We are pursuing this dialogue irrespective of the developments in the region in order to maintain a reasonable dialogue. We are of course very vigilant since there is also Russian military presence in the Transnistrian region of the Republic of Moldova and a contingent of peacekeepers that are observing the situation in the security zone. We are prepared, of course, to maintain the state of stability and security. Nobody can guarantee that there will be no provocations or incidents of different nature to which everybody will be completely prepared but so far, so good. We are hopeful that the instability will not engulf the broader region, and that there will be a de-escalation of the conflict in and around Ukraine.
This is what the Republic of Moldova would be ready to work for.
It has been said that Moldova and Georgia have not yet faced a strong backlash from Russia at the Vilnius Summit, because they were not about to sign the Association Agreement with the EU, unlike Ukraine. But as the time of signature is approaching for Moldova and Georgia, in August, there have been warnings that Russia could start a similar “offensive” as they have towards Ukraine. Do you fear retaliation from Moscow over Moldovan migrant workers, imports of wine or fruits and vegetables or else?
Well, one has to be prepared for all the developments, all the scenarios in terms of contingency of planning. But at the same time, I would advocate against entering the state of panic, because the government and the parliament of the Republic of Moldova are very stable and we hold a stable majority.
We are in control of the situation in the country and we are also in dialogue with the authorities of the Russian Federation on absolutely all the issues you mentioned. There are no taboo subjects in the dialogue between Moldova and Russia. All the concerns and all the developments and difficult issues are duly discussed.
We are ready to raise them if and when they appear in a very practical way. We are also benefiting from unprecedented support from our European partners and our Euro-Atlantic partners.
The level of solidarity, the level of engagement, and the level of practical assistance that we are receiving these days and that will go beyond the day of signature of the Association Agreement I’m sure of that, is absolutely fantastic.
We have support from our allies to continue our European integration.
It’s election year in Moldova. The opposition is rather pro-Russian. What will happen if the Communists were to win the next elections?
I would not speculate because I am absolutely confident that pro-European forces and parties in Moldova will score a very convincing victory in November this year.
Should the EU offer Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia full membership in the European Union? Criticism has been raised about the fact that the AAs don’t go far enough. Do you want to become members of the EU?
I am absolutely confident that offering a membership perspective to the Eastern Partnership countries that are willing, eligible and capable of performing it is a matter of urgent necessity. It will not cost you very much to offer at this stage membership perspective, but it will have a very important, mobilising effect on those countries in order to continue the course of pro-European reforms, to mobilise all the resources and to have a sense of direction and objective.
As the European perspective worked miracles for the Western Balkan countries at the time of their accession, I would very much like to see the same result on these countries and citizens that will ensure the victory of pro-European forces within those countries, and will be the driving force for the mobilization and transformation that will ultimately bring my country, because I am speaking first about my country, the Republic of Moldova, where it truly belongs: the European community of nations.
Why in your opinion is the EU reluctant to offer this perspective?
It is interesting to observe that a big number of the European Union member states are in favour of offering this membership perspective. These are the countries that recently have performed all the reforms that brought their countries to full-fledged membership in the EU. They remember how important it was in their time. They remember how well it consolidated their societies. I think that this example, together with our determination towards European integration will convince even the doubting European Union partners that this is very important. And actually enlargement is alive.
We have seen the recent accession of Croatia into the EU as one single state adhering to the Union and for us in the Republic of Moldova that was a very convincing example that if you set your agenda right, if you respect all the accession requirements, at the end of the day even the most hesitant ones would say yes because European Union enlargement needs an extension of the area of security, stability and democracy to those countries that are voluntarily embracing it.
And my country is one of those countries which are absolutely willing to become a member of the European Union, hopefully in a foreseeable future.
Wouldn’t such a move anger Russia even more?
Each country is entitled to decide its own future and faith as a sovereign and independent state. This is exactly how the Republic of Moldova is construing its internal and external policy. The choice of Moldova is actually convincingly reflected by how the Moldovans are electing their leaders. For the third consecutive time – because we’ve had a lot of elections for the last four years – the Moldovans were electing pro-European parties and this is how the choice of my people is represented in the Parliament and this is how the Moldovan coalition government is functioning, pursuing its European integration agenda.
So, we in Moldova believe that we are the ones to decide our faith as a sovereign nation and we will perform accordingly in November this year when the next election time comes.
There have been opinions from various people that if the Russian invasion in Ukraine continues, we might see in the future Russian offensives even in EU member states with significant Russian-speaking minorities. Do you share this view that the EU’s stability is at stake?
I would share the view that the important developments that took place in recent weeks and days will definitely shape for a foreseeable future the agenda of the relationship of the Russian Federation and the European states.
And it will also shape the agenda of Russia-US relationships for a long term.
We will have to see how the events in the coming days and weeks will unfold and we will take decisions and analyse the situation accordingly. Events are developing in such a dynamic fashion recently that I would stop short of predicting any evolution with any precision but one thing is certain: Moldova has made its strategic choice and that is to align itself with the EU in foreign and security policy and we will stick to this choice because it is reflected in the Association Agreement that we have negotiated and initialed and that we are very much looking forward to sign as soon as possible.
Your country has been raised for the way it manages the Transnistria region, Moldova doesn’t answer to provocations from the other side, that you have succeeded in maintaining stability in spite of all so what would your advice be to the Ukrainian authorities?
Whatever is undertaken should stay under the framework of the provisions of international law because this is the only and best instrument so far that Ukrainian authorities have to defend their rights and national interests.
Do you fear destabilisation in your country?
I wouldn’t say that we operate in a regime of fear. We evaluate the situation and the risks to stability within Moldova on a permanent basis. We are a stable government and we are capable of reacting and taking the right decisions according to our own analysis and what is comforting is that we are very much supported by our European and Euro-Atlantic partners these days which gives us not only a sense of direction but also resources to tackle potential situations as they would appear. And we will continue to operate in this very vigilant regime for a long time because as you mentioned this year is an electoral year and as we approach the start of campaign, different political discourses, different evaluations of the situation are becoming a bit more acute but this is normal for a country that passes through electoral times.
I am confident that we will stage very open, democratic and transparent elections as we always do and that the pro-European parties will have a very convincing victory because Moldovans are Europeans and they identify themselves with Europe. Moldovans are very much looking forward to go back where they belong – to the European family of nations.