This year will be remembered over time for many different events, but for Moldovans, 2020 will be remembered as the year when they overwhelmingly elected Maia Sandu as their first pro-EU woman president, writes MEP Siegfried Muresan.
Siegfried Muresan is a Romanian EU lawmaker for the centre-right European People’s Party group (EPP). He is also the head of the EU-Moldova Delegation in the European Parliament.
While congratulations started pouring in from all corners of the world, including the Russian president, the win has a symbolic meaning not only for Moldova but also for the region and the West as a whole.
The Eastern Partnership countries might not be a priority for the EU at the moment but it would be a strategic mistake not to use Moldova’s shift to prepare for a deeper involvement of the EU in the region, for a number of reasons.
Firstly, the victory of President-elect Sandu comes at a crucial moment. It is good news not only for Moldova but for the entire region and the West. It shows that people in the region still want change and still care about democracy. No Russian propaganda or the Covid pandemic have kept the Moldovans at home from voting.
No long queues, long travelling hours or weather conditions dissuaded the diaspora to turn out in massive numbers across the world to cast their vote for the first woman president. This is a sign that mentalities and generations are changing and are ready to push out the old, corrupt political system and replace it with politicians like Maia Sandu.
Secondly, EU geography will not change. It is almost amusing but also tragic to observe the shock across Europe when a Russian-led invasion or a conflict in the East erupts overnight.
The recent war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, or the uprising in Belarus, are not long-term planned events but they were certainly not unthinkable scenarios in the foreign affairs and security and defence circles.
This global pandemic has shown how interconnected we are and we need to take a broader look at the global picture, not just through the lens of trade and economic alliances. Our security and stability, it turns out, is also very much in the picture and we need to up our game on that, both in the East, the Balkans, and other strategic parts of the world.
Thirdly, Russia is still there. It did not, and will not stop its aggressive techniques to weaken, divide and control the EU’s immediate border countries. It had no shame in openly supporting anti-EU populist politicians with the sole aim of destroying the EU.
It has even less shame in supporting anyone who would bend the rules to serve its interest in our neighbourhood. Now, year after year, we are being confronted with the same aggressive neighbour, with ever-more sophisticated attack tools, with weakened democracies in our partner countries, and with a soft-power response from the EU.
The EU’s soft power has worked wonders for decades but we need to adapt to new realities and start combining it with strategic investments in our security and stability.
The EU has been the biggest donor in Moldova since the beginning of the Covid crisis. But despite the massive disbursements and offered aid, the Russian propaganda made sure this message never reached the big majority of the population in Moldova.
Our financial aid must come together with policies on closer cooperation in security and defence, countering propaganda, and economic strategic investments.
Moldova’s choice of a pro-EU president is a message to its corrupt political class that people are ready for a change. But it is also a message to the EU that it should capitalise on this win, revive its involvement in the region, and invest more in security around its borders.