On May 21, 2023, a mass rally “European Moldova” was held in Chisinau on Maia Sandu’s initiative. The event was preceded by a speech of President Sandu in Parliament on March 17, calling for a national consensus around the idea of European integration of Moldova. The year 2030 was marked by her as the deadline of Moldova’s accession to the European Union.

The initiative of the “European Moldova” assembly provoked contradictory reactions among the local political class. A part of the non-parliamentary political forces participated in the demonstration but did not refuse to criticize the government. Another part rejected the possibility of their participation in the event, accusing Sandu and the ruling party of political PR and an attempt to distract the attention of citizens from the failures of their rule. Ilan Shor, sentenced in absentia in the “theft of the billion” case to 15 years in prison and hiding from Moldovan justice in Israel, reacted with a legislative initiative to stop any integration processes, including European integration, and a draft referendum on the external vector of the country.

In recent months, Maia Sandu met twice, on May 8 and June 28, with several non-parliamentary parties of a pro-European orientation to identify new opportunities for cooperation within the implementation of Moldova’s European agenda. However, both times the list of invitees did not include left-wing political parties. The only example of a direct dialogue between the president and political parties of the centre and left is the meeting of February 25, 2022, the second day after the start of the Russian war in Ukraine.

The question of national consensus on European integration remains open. This article analyses the potential form and content of a national consensus; the factors negatively affecting it; and public opinion trends.

Foundation of a national consensus

A national consensus can take many forms:

1) Adoption of a joint declaration by the government and the opposition in Parliament to support the nationwide course of European integration;

2) A document similar to the “Snagov Pact” signed in 1995 by 14 Romanian political parties on the recognition of Romania’s intention to join the EU, signed by the Moldovan parliamentary and non-parliamentary parties;

3) Adoption of pro-EU accession local declarations based on meetings with citizens from different regions of the country;

4) Joint vote of the ruling party and the opposition to include an article on the irreversibility of the path to EU accession in the Constitution; and others.

However, it is not the form but the content that matters in achieving national consensus. In any case, a compromise is preceded by a discussion of different points of view. In this sense, it is important to designate an ongoing platform for this kind of discussion. The National Commission for European Integration, which operates under the auspices of the president, could become a formal platform. However, an informal platform created by one or more nongovernmental organizations could promote greater efficiency and openness to dialogue among the participants.

Three basic components can form the foundation of a national consensus:

– Permanent neutrality;
– Reintegration of the country;
– Moldova’s accession to the European Union.

“Standing upright” as an important element of national consensus

In her recent speeches, Maia Sandu declares that “the EU can help us build a country where only our own citizens have the right to decide. Only Moldova and its citizens decide how the country develops. No state in the world can dictate how and what it must do.” Her most popular phrase on social media was “As long as I will be president, Moldova will stand upright.”

This wording, as performed by another part of the political class, often sounds like “being a statesperson,” “putting the national interest first”.

Such an approach seems to be a great help in building a national consensus on European integration. At the same time, it is important to define what is meant by the term “stand upright”/”be a statesperson”/”put the national interest first”. I would suggest the following point of view:

– “Standing upright”/”being a statesperson”/”putting the national interest first” means not only condemning Russia’s war in Ukraine. It also means requesting release from Turkish prisons of the teachers kidnapped in 2018 from Moldova. The official visit of Parliament Speaker Igor Grosu to Turkey in January 2023 and his personal meeting with Erdogan was a convenient moment to indicate a firm position of the Moldovan state in this regard. However, according to a statement made by a member of the ruling PAS party in an interview on February 1, 2023, to TV channel N4, the problem of teacher abduction had not been discussed because “the visit had focused on the economic and energy part, and this issue was outside of the context of the pre-negotiated agenda”.

– “Standing upright”/”being a statesperson”/”putting the national interest first” means not only criticizing the U.S. for starting a war in Iraq or NATO for bombing Yugoslavia. It also means condemning Russia for the war in Ukraine. A number of left-wing political parties motivate their silence about Russian aggression in Ukraine by the fact that it contradicts the status of Moldova’s permanent neutrality. However, in such case, they should similarly refrain from commenting on wars initiated by Western countries. Meanwhile, public condemnation and rejection of any war, regardless of the name of the aggressor, is the most effective argument for its own citizens in favour of maintaining, strengthening and the need for international recognition of Moldovan permanent neutrality.

– “Standing upright”/”being a statesperson”/”putting national interests first” means not only recognizing Ukraine’s territorial integrity. It also means rejection of any initiatives that call into question the territorial integrity of one’s own state. Meanwhile, on 17 March 2023, immediately after Maia Sandu’s parliamentary speech, the parliamentary majority legalized the unrecognized Kosovo passports, making it possible to obtain visas to enter Moldova. This has set a dangerous precedent, which may have a negative impact on the Transnistrian settlement process, making the task of unifying the country more difficult.

In fact, an equally dangerous precedent in this context is set by the leadership of the Party of Socialists, meeting with representatives of the Russian State Duma against the background of the flags of the so-called LNR. After all, the “hawks” in Moscow and Tiraspol often refer to the referendum of 2006, in which, according to them, 97% of Transnistrians voted for the option of “independence and unification with Russia.

– “Standing upright”/”being a statesperson”/”putting national interests first” means not only criticizing Russia for the lack of investment in infrastructure projects in Moldova (when even the Pushkin House-Museum in Chisinau was restored not with Russian budget money, but by Igor Chaika, Igor Dodon’s Russian business partner at the time) and shadow financial support for Moldovan politicians with questionable reputations. This also means an honest discussion with all development partners about the existence of a possible list of conditions in exchange for assistance to Moldova. The initiative of the ruling party to transfer the building of the National Library to the Metropolitan Church of Bessarabia under the pretext, voiced by PAS representatives, that “the Romanian state has invested hundreds of millions in the Republic of Moldova… and healthy relations are built on minimal reciprocity, minimal openness to the expectations of the other” is clearly contrary to the European principles of transparency and involvement in decision-making. If there is any external request to pay for their aid, this information must be communicated to Moldovan citizens in a timely manner. The decision in such cases must be made transparently and after broad consultation. This approach concerns aid to Moldova received from any state.

Accession to the European Union vs unification with Romania

It will be impossible to avoid the issue of unification with Romania (unionism) while reaching a national consensus on European integration. Especially since lately, even some respected Moldovan experts have begun to speak publicly about the fact that the possible unification of the Republic of Moldova with Romania must be coordinated with the major powers, because this must not cause damage to Romania and must not be compensated by it from its own funds.

From my point of view, unionism competes with the idea of European integration, not complements it.
Accession to the European Union and unification with Romania are two contradictory projects.

Moldova’s accession to the EU means full participation in decision-making. For example, since the seats in the European Parliament are distributed among the member states based on the share of the country’s population in the EU, there will be representatives of Moldovan political parties. The Moldovan president or prime minister will be represented to the European Council, where major decisions are made by common consent. In the key decision-making body in the EU, the Council of the EU, decisions are made by voting. Depending on the items on the agenda, one or another minister from the government of the Republic of Moldova will take part in this structure.

It is also worth noting that Moldova’s accession to the EU does not mean abandoning the constitutionally enshrined status of permanent neutrality.

In turn, unification with Romania means giving up your own sovereignty, independence, and voice both in the international arena as well as in the structures of the European Union. Also, the status of neutrality is lost since Romania is a member of NATO.

Hence, achievement of a national consensus will be possible if all parties clearly state their position of refusing to promote and speculate on the possibility of unification of Moldova with Romania as a faster way to enter the European Union.

Vox populi

The Moldovan Institute of Public Policies (IPP) has been conducting the Barometer of Public Opinion survey since 2004. Thanks to this source, one can analyse certain trends. The authors asked respondents the following question: “If there were a referendum on EU accession next Sunday, how would you vote?” Over the past 18 years of research, the highest number of citizens willing to support EU accession in a referendum was recorded in November 2007, towards the end of the Party of Communists’ rule. We are talking about 76% of citizens.

The lowest level of support for the idea of joining the EU – 38% – was observed in October 2016, after six years of the Alliance for European Integration, the same period remembered for the theft of a billion US dollars from Moldovan banks, the concession of Chisinau airport and the “Laundromat”.

The last IPP poll conducted in October 2022 showed support for European integration on the part of 51% of citizens. To find out the atmosphere in June 2023, we can rely on the data of a sociological survey commissioned by WatchDog.md, which indicates that 58.5% of Moldovan citizens are in favour of EU accession.

These figures, together with an analysis of the events of the past two decades, allow to draw some general conclusions:

– The attractiveness of the European vector depends not on the name of the political parties officially promoting it, but on the content, quality and inclusiveness of the policies they implement;
No one can discredit the European vector more than the politicians and political parties that call themselves pro-European;

– The policy of “double standards” on the part of official structures of the European Union is capable of causing significant damage to the popularity of the idea of European integration among a considerable part of Moldovan citizens;

– A national consensus which assumes that there is comprehensive support for European integration among different segments of the population is possible if there is at least one big left-wing pro-European party.

Inna Șupac, expert at the Institute for Strategic Initiatives