Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Republic of Moldova has oscillated between East and West, but President Maia Sandu and the head of the Government, Natalia Gavrilița, who recently took power, want to change this situation. The two women won an absolute majority with the help of the Action and Solidarity Party (PAS) in the July 2020 elections. The two politicians are currently determined to integrate their country into the EU.

However, the obstacles are great. The Republic of Moldova is one of the poorest and, at the same time, the most corrupt countries in Europe, writes the quoted source. In 2014, the small state on Romania’s eastern border attracted the world’s attention when one billion US dollars disappeared from state-owned banks. Other issues include the emigration of skilled workers and the unresolved conflict over the Transnistrian region, controlled by pro-Russian separatists.

An association agreement between Moldova and the EU, which is by far Moldova’s most important trading partner, has been in force since 2016. However, there is currently no realistic prospect of EU membership – several EU countries reject a new expansion to the east, if only because they fear that the EU will then become even less able to act, especially in areas such as foreign or financial policy, in which member countries have to decide unanimously.

However, Germany supports the political change proposed by the new Moldovan government. As the first German federal president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier traveled to the Republic of Moldova for two days on Wednesday. Through his visit, he wants to promote economic cooperation and strengthen the pro-European course of the new government. In an interview given to the quoted source, Prime Minister Gavrilița explains how he wants to orient his country to the west.

Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilița: “We have always been European. We want to be part of the European family “

SPIEGEL: Madam Prime Minister, where do you see your country in ten years: in the European Union, in the Eurasian Economic Union, or will it remain “suspended” between East and West?

Gavriliţa: We have always been European, our place is in the EU. We won a historic victory in the last election, based largely on an internal agenda. Moldovans have made it clear that they want a government that cares about them and their well-being, a government that builds democratic and accountable institutions, where there is fairness and the rule of law, and where there is far less corruption than at present. We believe that these values ​​are better represented by the EU. Finally, we want to be part of the European family.

SPIEGEL: The association agreement between the EU and the Republic of Moldova has been in force since 2016, but some EU member states are strictly opposed to a further enlargement of the Union. They fear that the union would become almost incapable of acting by admitting other members. And considers that, given the minor economic importance of the smaller countries in Eastern Europe, this risk is not worth it.

Fighting corruption as a priority task. “It will take years”

Gavriliţa: These are legitimate concerns. But problems with the judiciary do not just exist outside the EU. We must certainly “whip” our institutions and increase the prosperity of our citizens so that they want to stay in Moldova and not emigrate. A society must reach a certain level of attitudes and values ​​for judicial reforms and the fight against corruption to become irreversible. This is a long-term task and we know it will take years. But the EU integration process has proven to be the best way to create space for stable, democratic and prosperous countries.

SPIEGEL: And how exactly would the EU benefit from the accession of the Republic of Moldova?

Gavriliţa: Moldova is a wonderful country, with very hardworking people. There are even studies that show that Moldovans are more enterprising than the average (number of European citizens), probably because of the difficult times they went through. We have a growing IT and microelectronics industry. We believe that our pharmaceutical industry has potential. And, most importantly, we can be a bridge between West and East, because we understand both cultures.

SPIEGEL: Federal President Steinmeier visited your country this week, you met with him. Are you more confident than before that Germany will help you become an EU member?

The Republic of Moldova has an important European leader on its side

Gavriliţa: Germany is a strong, committed and active partner. We see this in economic and development projects, in political cooperation, in investment and in cultural exchanges. I was honored to meet with Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and had a fruitful discussion. I am confident that the foreign policy of the future German government will ensure the continuity of these special relations, which are based on mutual interest. We also expressed our desire to continue to attract German investment in the Republic of Moldova. We currently have successful experience in the automotive industry, retail, agriculture, food production, banking and other industries.

SPIEGEL: You have already mentioned widespread corruption as an obstacle to further EU integration. In 2014, one billion euros disappeared from Moldovan banks – almost a sixth of the country’s GDP. What has happened since then?

Gavriliţa: The state had to save the banks, and the citizens still pay a lot of money every year for it. Because the beneficiaries of the deception were the powerful, once these people were removed from power, people expected justice to be done. Instead, those arrested were released. One of them managed to escape and is now seeking asylum in the UK. And, unfortunately, our attorney general did not confiscate any property from abroad. This attitude must be changed and that is why we have a strong political mandate to achieve results.

External evaluation of the judicial system. “This type of operation requires a scalpel, not an ax”

SPIEGEL: You met this week with the European Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders, and with the Vice-President of the Commission, Věra Jourová. Are they both satisfied with the situation in the Republic of Moldova?

Gavriliţa: Everyone knows that there have been many reforms in the Republic of Moldova, but in practice they have not been successful. And everyone understands that the situation is so serious that something dramatic has to happen.

SPIEGEL: How do you ensure that the judiciary remains independent of your government, despite planned reforms?

Gavriliţa: Institutional independence does not mean independence from the will of the people. We are not trying to intervene in the activity of the general prosecutor. We ask judges and prosecutors to do justice to the citizens of the Republic of Moldova. Therefore, we intend to introduce an external examination of their activity, quickly but carefully. This type of operation requires a scalpel, not an ax.

SPIEGEL: In an interview with SPIEGEL, President Maia Sandu recently called for the prosecutor’s office to be “cleaned up” – a difficult choice of words. From whom do you expect to meet resistance?

Permanent conflict on the issue of Transnistria. “Moldova’s integration into the EU would make the border between the two countries disappear”

Gavriliţa: We are already facing enormous resistance. Many interest groups are affected by our approach. Some have teamed up to fund trolling activities on the internet and distorting the news, for example. Of course, there are also actions by the judiciary and the prosecutor general himself.

SPIEGEL: An even greater obstacle to closer ties with the EU and NATO is the decades-long conflict in Transnistria. The region has declared its independence from Moldova, and Russian troops are still present. How did the Kremlin respond to President Sandu’s request to withdraw?

Gavriliţa: The Moldovan leadership is asking Russia to withdraw its troops for 30 years, so there is nothing new. We are a small country in a complicated region, so we need a balanced approach in our foreign policy. We are open to talking to the Russian government to see what we can do to improve the situation of our people. The president recently had a meeting with negotiator Dmitry Kosak. So far, the Kremlin’s response has been cautious and calm. We hope it stays that way.

SPIEGEL: Russia can easily prevent Moldova’s accession to the EU or NATO by leaving its troops in Transnistria and maintaining the conflict. Could Moldova separate from Transnistria and unite with Romania as a solution?

Gavriliţa: Romania is a kind of soul mate for us. We have a common history, we speak the same language, we had similar problems, we have the same mentality. Both countries strongly believe in the integration of the Republic of Moldova into the EU. This would make the border between the two countries disappear, and the issue of reunification would no longer play a role. We believe in EU integration and work together to achieve this goal.

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