Now that the post-Cold War era has ended it is hard to find small, inspirational states who seek to cement a new-found independence and yearn for what the West has to offer. Georgia looked like such a state until Russian aggression and Tblisi’s behaviour put an end to the country’s westward journey. Ukraine is too big, and too bolshy to count. Belarus is happy in Moscow’s embrace.
But one country still fits the bill – Moldova. Sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania, Europe’s absolute poorest country is undergoing a new political spring after the recent elections. A new, Western-minded, youthful coalition government has replaced the old-style communists. It faces enormous challenges, not least from a well-entrenched, Russian-backed secessionist province, and a forthcoming constitutional crisis.
But its ministers are approaching their task with a vigoUr and useful naiveté that all reformers need and which has long since been lost elsewhere on the EU’s Eastern borders. They want to be part of Europe, and they want to build their state. Having inherited a 16.5 GDP deficit, the government has managed to push it down to 7.8 (HM Treasury, take note please). Crucially, they seem to have learnt from Georgia’s mistakes. They are not trying to militarise their internal conflicts. Nor are they looking to antagonise Russia or join NATO.
But they are looking for the EU’s help. So far, the Chisinau government has received a trickle of support rather than flow needed. To that end, they are compelled to turn to China for loans.
Europe should, however, look to do more and quickly. Governments that want to join the West are today few and far between. Most, like Ukraine, are torn, or, like Belarus, uninterested. The Moldovans are different – and willing to reform. They should be helped.
The new government may not last. Late last year, the Moldovan parliament failed to elect a president, with the coalition’s candidate blocked by the Communist Party. Normally, that would trigger the holding of early elections later this year. If elections are held, the coalition will need some record of performance to ensure that they repeat their success. Letting the Communists back in would be a step backwards worse than Viktor Yushchenko’s election in Ukraine.
So European governments should lend assistance. They should offer the prospect of visa-free travel, at least to students and young people, into the EU. Later this year, Albania is likely to be given visa-free travel into the EU. Every day, Albanians are deported from Britain for violating their terms of stay. The Home Office reports nothing comparable with Moldovans staying in the UK. They come, keep to the rules and go back when their visas expire. Then EU governments should examine ways to help get Russian “peacekeepers” out of break-away Transnistria, perhaps to be replaced by a hybrid EU-Russian civilian mission.
Western-oriented Moldova deserves Europe’s help. It may not be the biggest foreign policy issue. But it’s a good one.