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The new government has a clear road map of what it has to do, developed together with its EU partners, Andrei Galbur, Deputy Prime-Minister, and Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration, told EurActiv.com in an exclusive interview.
Andrei Galbur is a career diplomat and has never been politically affiliated. He started in the foreign ministry in 1995, holding various positions. He has served in different diplomatic positions in Vienna, in Washington DC. Galbur served as Moldova’s ambassador to Moscow, then deputy foreign minister, before being appointed foreign minister on 20 January 2016.
Galbur was interviewed by EurActiv.com’s Senior Editor, Georgi Gotev.
Today (27 June) we mark the second anniversary of the signing of the association agreement between the Republic of Moldova and the European Union. What does this mean for your country?
Firstly, I would like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak in this interview. And secondly, we are indeed celebrating two years since the signature of the Association Agreement between Moldova and the European Union, but this Friday (1 July) we will celebrate the full entry into force of the agreement, as it has been ratified by all EU member states. I will try to sum it up by saying that Moldova is embarking on an irreversible path of modernisation, according to the European model, by virtue of implementing crucial reforms in the most significant areas of Moldovan life and society. This allows the people of Moldova a glimpse of a better life in the future.
In fact your country ratified the agreement in record time, in only a couple of days. You were also lucky that no country in the European Union proposed a referendum, as the Netherlands did with Ukraine. Is this because your country is smaller and didn’t attract the attention of the populists like Geert Wilders?
It is a combination of factors. Obviously being a small country helps. Sometimes small is beautiful, so this was a factor. But a key part was also the determination of our authorities to follow this model and to swiftly embark on the implementation of the agreement even before it fully entered into force. There was a serious amount of work done on the national level to prepare the ground for the signature. The job was not simple and it involved the entire governmental team, but there was always a level of trust among the EU member states in the sense that Moldova will be able to live by its commitments. So indeed, we were lucky enough not to get a referendum. Unfortunately, we were not so lucky in maintaining this level of trust, both inside the country and among our European partners. You are probably well aware of the developments in 2014-15, which led to a serious decrease in trust in the Moldovan political class. We were lucky then but we may not be so lucky now, because the expectation on our shoulders has risen significantly, not just to make nice statements but actually to deliver on them.
You say Moldova is often politically not a very stable country. It has big problems with corruption, and a huge scandal shook society when a former prime minister was investigated over the case [Vlad Filat was sentenced to nine years in jail on 28 June, the day after this interview took place]. I think that the government to which you belong has even been called a last chance government. Are there guarantees that Moldova will become more stable politically, and not change course every time it faces elections? We have seen strong pro-Russian movements in your country, Russian propaganda is very strong. Could the current pro-European attitude be reversed?
You are right, this government has indeed been dubbed a last chance government. And this is precisely the approach we take in conducting our affairs. We have a very clear understanding that we will not conduct politics inside the government, but we will only discuss policy. Politics has been left to the parliament. We have a very clear road map of what we have to do, which we developed together we our partners in the EU. It’s a political commitment signed both by the prime minister and the speaker of parliament, comprising 82 actions to be agreed by the end of the spring/summer parliamentary session on 31 July. We have completed close to 70% of these actions, and we are taking it very seriously. This government understands that the country needs stability, that it needs to rebuild the trust of its people, which was seriously shattered by the huge banking scandal, as you mentioned.
The former prime minister is being investigated, the court hearing is in its final stages and I understand that there are further cases pending and more people will be investigated. We also have to establish trust in the judicial system, to show sufficient efforts to fight corruption, to conduct serious reforms in the financial banking sector to ensure that things like this don’t happen again, to improve the business climate in Moldova, engage civil society in broad participation with a strong sense of ownership of these reforms. So it is really a last chance in that if the government doesn’t succeed it will be a failure of the entire political class, and in particular of the parliamentary majority that voted in this government. A lot of work needs to be done and time pressure is extremely high, and that is exactly the way we look at it. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel, everything is clear, we just have to do it.
You must also realise that the EU is not in the best condition, the Commission too has been dubbed “last chance Commission” and may not be available all the time to assist your country. Does this pose further risks to Moldova’s stability, as Brussels is too busy with its own affairs?
Indeed, delivering on these reforms without the assistance of our partners is not very easy, but we always say that the reforms that we are implementing right now, we are not doing them for Brussels, we are not doing them for other EU capitals. We are doing them for Moldova. That is another key element at the core of this government’s activity. The best way for us to show that we are committed to the European past is by keeping our eyes on the ball, regardless of what is happening internally in the EU. Obviously we are following very closely what happened in the UK with the referendum, and I think everyone needs a bit more time to clearly assess and understand what this will lead to. But as the Moldovan prime minister said, we are committed to continuing our reforms and we count on the support of our EU partners. The best way to encourage them to continue to support us is to implement this crucial package of reforms.
There is one partner in the EU that is of special relevance to your country, and you speak the same language. I am referring to Romania, of course. How would you describe your relationship with Romania?
We have an excellent relationship as neighbours that share a lot of historical, linguistic and cultural heritage. This is built on Romania’s recognition of Moldova’s sovereignty and territorial integrity on the one hand – Romania was actually the first country that recognised our independence – but also on the strong support from Bucharest for the European agenda of the Republic of Moldova. So we are building our relationship on these two important pillars. Like any relationship between neighbours, we have had our ups and downs, but over the past years we have been able to establish a very stable and pragmatic relationship, which I am convinced will continue regardless of political developments in either country.
The visa-free agreement has been in place for two years now. Is it working well?
Yes we have had about one million Moldovan biometric passport holders travelling to EU countries, especially to the Schengen area. Our citizens understand the rules very well. We have a very low percentage of citizens being returned for infringing these rules, so I would say we have had quite an outstanding experience with visa-free travel.
And how is you relationship with your other important neighbour, Ukraine?
This is also a crucial relationship for us. Geographically, we have only two neighbours: Romania and Ukraine. So we are building our relationships with them based on values that unite us. We know that Ukraine’s aspirations for European integration are just as strong as Moldova’s, so we are also working very closely to boost our trade relationships. Ukraine is a key partner in the Transnistrian settlement, as a mediator in the 5+2 negotiations, and unfortunately we also share the same misfortunes and problems of the separatist regions, which also imply a certain degree of cooperation with Kiev.
Is Transnistria a frozen conflict that can be reanimated any time Russia chooses to intervene?
We are not contemplating this kind of scenario, although nobody is ruling anything out. Events in Ukraine in particular make it very difficult to make any prognosis, or to predict how the situation will evolve. Our approach is based exclusively on trying to find a diplomatic solution by peaceful means, based on the respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Moldova by providing a special status to the Transnistrian region. We are working very hard to maintain a pragmatic and constructive dialogue with Moscow at the highest level, and recently there have been a number of bilateral meetings and visits at the level of prime ministers, deputy prime ministers and ministers of foreign affairs. As a matter of fact, I will be seeing [Russian] Foreign Minister [Sergei] Lavrov this Friday (1 July) in Sochi, where I will be attending the Black Sea cooperation ministerial meeting. We are trying to engage our colleagues in a pragmatic dialogue, with the help of some mediators that I have already mentioned, like Ukraine, Russia, and the OSCE. In its role as chair of the OSCE, Germany has played a very active and even proactive role in this. And we also rely on the support of our observers in the US and the EU. So our approach is just to keep the dialogue flowing, to keep the parties constructively engaged so as to avoid any pretext for escalating the situation in the region.