In the Republic of Moldova, the European option has first gained shape in the administrative structures rather than inside the political parties. For the first time the Moldovan authorities expressed their intention to pursue European integration in 1997 when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs drafted a relevant letter, which was later signed by the President and sent to the European Commission. Following the relative victory of pro-European forces in the 1998 elections, the idea of European integration has become a dominant theme in the domestic political discourse. After the Russian financial crisis of 1998, the Alliance for Democracy and Reforms, which held the majority in Parliament at the time, voted in 1998 for a decision to designate European integration “a major strategic objective for our country.” On 1 July 1998, the EU-Moldova Partnership and Co-operation Agreement entered into force and instituted an institutional basis for the EU-Moldova relations. Some members of the legislative body would put forward various proposals to create a specialised department or even ministry and take firmer action, including leave the CIS. However, the configuration of forces in the Parliament did not allow for those proposals to materialise. In 2000, following intense consultations, 25 political and social formations, notoriously with the exception of the Communist Party of Moldova (CPM), signed a Document-Appeal calling for a nation-wide consensus on the objective of European integration. In 1998–2001, parliamentary and governmental delegations worked consistently in order to orient Moldova towards European integration and thus laid the foundation for a permanent co-operation with the EU.
In the 2001 electoral campaign, the liberal, Christian democratic and social democratic parties tried to win votes under the flags of national rebirth, reforms and European integration. Still acting as an anti-system party, back then the CPM deemed wrong the pledge for national rebirth and modernization on the basis of capitalism and liberal democracy. The communists vehemently criticised the foreign policy of the previous governments and promised that if they won the elections they would pledge for Moldova joining of the Russia-Belarus Union. On 25 February 2001, the CPM gained the absolute majority in the new Parliament. The attempt by the CPM to impose non-popular decisions likely to restore the status quo of the Soviet period were toughly sanctioned and the Christian Democratic Party organised ample street manifestations for about three months. One of the favourite slogans of the demonstrators, who were mainly young, was “We want to go to Europe”. In spring of 2002, the Christian democrats proposed to organise a referendum on Moldova joining the EU and NATO, but the proposal was rejected by the authorities. The mediation of the Council of Europe put an end to the demonstrations. At the same time, the Social-Democratic Alliance, a parliamentary party, the Liberal Party, not represented in Parliament, and a number of other parties set up a Round Table with Permanent Status which was supposed to be an alternative to the communist excesses and the street demonstrations. The Round Table was to identify solutions to defend the democratic values, continue the reforms and enhance efforts at European integration. On 5 June 2002, a series of political parties from the parliamentary and extra-parliamentary opposition, as well as a few non-governmental organisations signed an Appeal to the President calling upon him to set up the National Commission for European Integration to draft the Strategy of European Integration of the Republic of Moldova, i.e. her joining the EU. The CPM failed to sign the Appeal, although later, in view of the domestic and external circumstances, its leaders, who were also in government, pursued a number of opposition proposals. The Statement of the participants in the Round Table of 2 October 2002 singled out in relation to the proposal by the communist President Voronin to set up a National Commission for European Integration that the official application for EU membership by the Moldovan authorities would be a first concrete action to justify the proclamation of European integration as the foreign policy priority of Moldova. The change in the message of the state leadership has been noted in Brussels too, and a statement adopted in October 2002 saluted “the European aspirations of the Republic of Moldova and its serious intentions to deepen the general relations with the EU”. In November 2002, the President issued the Decree on founding the National Commission for European Integration, which was charged to draft and submit to Parliament the Strategy of European Integration of the Republic of Moldova, draft and approve the action plan to apply the said strategy and co-ordinate the application of the plan.
Thus, both the political opposition and the active part of the society have succeeded in imposing a fundamentally important decision for the European future of our country, a decision which will have an irreversible nature after and if Moldova applies officially for membership. Although the Communist Party has not programmed European integration as a political priority, and despite its categorical victory in the 2001 elections, its earlier decisions are still in force. The leadership of the Republic of Moldova has been stating ever more fervently that it will further pursue European integration. At least three hypotheses may be formulated with regard to this new approach of the CPM. It could be a provisional manoeuvre, one dictated by contingencies, an eventual considerable change in the political programme of the communists through an abandon of their ideology, or the prevalence of political pragmatism, of the Realpolitik. The opposition has regarded with scepticism and suspicion this new approach of the communists being aware of CPM earlier positions. The leaders of the opposition have doubted not only the seriousness of the rulers regarding this idea, but also their very ability to rule the country. Thus, the Alliance of Independents believes that Moldova needs — now more than ever, a pragmatic, credible and efficient political alternative. The Liberal Party has warned: “the political direction promoted by the communist leadership leaves one with ever fewer hopes with regard to Moldova’s chances to meet the political, economic and social European standards”.
In mid 2002, we thus witnessed a stratagem of the communists who declared European integration the principal direction of the government and thereby assumed the pro-European rhetoric and passed the hostilities into the opposition’s field. Since then, the criticism against the policy of the ruling party is always made with the mention that in the issue of European integration the actions of the government seem to be driven by the logic of the objective tendencies on the continent.
On the issue of European integration there is to be made, nonetheless, a systemic distinction between the opposition and the ruling party, which resides chiefly in their differing visions of the concept of normality. While the majority of political parties have conceived the Soviet period as one of occupation and the independence and European integration as a reversal to normality, the CPM regards the “Soviet values” as beneficial ones. If one paraphrases the plastic formula of the social liberals, one can say that the opposition aspires towards European integration facing the future, while the communists adopt the European idea more facing the past. Whereas the Christian democratic, liberal, social liberal and social democratic parties advocate for reforms to abolish the communist mentality and practices, the message of the ruling party is intent on creating the impression that many of the “socialist achievements” could be applied today. The opposition parties pledge for denationalisation and privatisation and for decreasing the role of the state in the economic processes, while the communists’ programme, truthfully reflected in the government activity, refers to moving backwards and a comeback to economic guidance and planning, increasing the weight and role of the state and collective sector and the Soviet administrative model. The democratic parties believe that the 1988–1989 National Movement “has liberated us from the patterns of an anachronic world and has offered us the chance to return to the European realm where we belong naturally”. The communists interpret the same events as ones that have put an end to a period of prospering and, hence, independence is a result of previous mistakes and of the global capitalist conspiracy. The communists have not yet given up their “invaluable Soviet spiritual legacy”, while the opposition is wary of the gravity of problems caused by the “mentality of Soviet type, which is primitive, egalitarian and docile to any sort of power.” To conciliate these two diametrically opposed visions is almost impossible, and yet the task of European integration requires consensus on recent history.
The programmes of various Moldovan political parties include more or less coherent references to the re-dimensioning of the external actions of our state around the objective of European integration. To make the retrospection easier, we will take an overview of Moldovan parties, from right to left, which is not intended as a classification thereof by their degree of Europeanness.
People’s Christian Democratic Party believes that the Republic of Moldova needs to adopt a firm and irreversible position with regard to integration into the EU and NATO. The prospect of joining the EU is to become the sole realistic and viable strategy of development of the state, which can succeed only if it gathers a wide national consensus and is conscientiously and honestly shared by the power, the opposition and the entire society. The Christian democrats stress that “joining in the foreseeable future the EU if for us a major strategic objective. The European orientation involves legislative and structural reforms, the normal functioning of democratic institutions, the respect for human rights, the exercise of government according to European practices and the fulfilment of all recommendations and requirements of the Council of Europe and the EU”.
Liberal Party opts for the priority of European and Euro-Atlantic integration, through a maximal match of the political, economic and security structures of Europe. The political priority of Moldova is integration into the European Union. For this purpose, the following must be achieved: “modernisation, based on the west European values, of the society and the state, taking into account, at the same time, the specific conditions and traditions of our people”. The conclusion of our state building efforts involves setting up a national entity favourable to modernisation and European integration, which would ensure the strict obeisance of laws by all citizens and by all state and public institutions. The Liberal Party has announced that it will draft and later apply a series of wide-ranging economic, social and cultural programmes to align the Republic of Moldova to the European standards on a relatively short term.
Alliance of Independents speaks of “adjusting the Moldovan peculiarities to the EU requirements”. The party pleads for more efforts at the gradual integration of Moldova into the EU. “The lack of a strategic plan of European integration is Moldova’s biggest weakness”. No government has ever had such a plan and that is why the reforms have not been properly concluded.
Social-Democratic Alliance reminds that Moldova’s integration into the European structures needs “adjusting all standards — political, economic, human rights and freedoms”. This is the way towards edifying a socially oriented market economy, founded on the principles of modernisation and development and able to capitalise on all resources and capabilities of the Moldovan society, so that our people can take its well deserved place in the family of European civilisation, the Alliance’s programme reads.
Social-Liberal Party believes that by reactivating the economic potential and self-determination, Moldova can go for a change that would gradually bridge the gap with the rest of Europe in order to catch the ’train’ of European integration. The place of Moldova in the new European geopolitical landscape, still in the process of configuration, will be decided upon by the results of our own development efforts, the performance of our economic agents and the capacity to manage our resources efficiently. The party reminds that the individual effort is the fundamental source of improvement, in the context of ample economic and cultural integration in the contemporary world. As for the European integration, the role of the state is essential. The state has the duty to prepare the national economy for compatibility with the EU norms, and apply such active commercial, industrial and agricultural policies as to make the Moldovan production export oriented and attract foreign investments. The state should support through balanced protection the becoming and enhancement of the local capital, in accordance with the commercial agreements signed with our foreign partners. Special attention should be paid to programmes seeking to foster the competitiveness of our national economy.
Social-Democratic Party stresses that Moldova’s joining of the EU is totally consonant with the basic parameters of the societal model adopted by the party. Thus, the social democrats demand speeding up the drafting of the National Strategy of joining the EU. Obviously, Moldova does have certain economic and intellectual potential that could contribute efficiently to the edification of a stable and prosperous Europe once integrated.
Democratic Party mentions the issue of European integration only indirectly by proposing to “implement the European democratic values”.
Communist Party approaches the subject of European integration and refers to the need “to integrate into the CIS and the European space”, and believes that to get closer to the EU it is enough to adjust the CIS standards to those of the EU. The ruling party does not have a European model of development for the Republic of Moldova and recommends, in its programme, to undergo two stages in order to overcome the current crisis. In the first stage the communists will go for “removing the consequences of reforms, stopping the illicit privatisation of collective property, reanimating the economic, technical and scientific potential of the country and going back to the former model of social relations”. In the next stage of reviving socialism, the party intends to ensure the “direct participation of the working class in the leadership of the state. A passage to the socialist organisation of the economy aimed at meeting the needs of the social class will be achieved”. The communists’ policy seeks to “build socialism with the ultimate end of building communism”. It is worth looking in more detail at the position of communists, since they are the ruling party, and their conversion to the European idea is a singular experience of its sort. The programme of the CPM clearly indicates what its attitude to economic integration is, and specifies: “despite the reform of the capitalism, its essence remains the same — to explore cheap labour forces.” This, the communist programme writes, “leads to heterogeneous development and the exploration of some countries by others”. The communists believe that “an argument in this sense is the tendency of western states to subdue the Moldovan economy, impose itself in our market and enter into the possession of our property, press unfair contracts on us, grant us credits under suffocating terms and accentuate our state’s dependency on foreign creditors.” In March 2003, the CPM newspaper Comunistul published a methodical indication in which the secretary of the central committee of the CPM and chairman of the parliamentary standing committee for foreign policy admitted that the idea of raising Moldova’s foreign debt while getting it deeper into the integration process is very popular among the party inner circles. The party members were reported to delve on what would be more convenient: to retain membership of various European organisations or carry out social programmes. The analysis of the CPM programme and publications begs the conclusion that the issue of regional integration is often regarded in the context of social antagonisms of Marxist type, and the objective trend towards regional integration is judged in pronounced anti-globalisation terms.
In its dialogue with the outside world, the communist leaders avoid to attack overtly the system set up during the years of independence and declare themselves advocates of democratic values, the market economy and the open society. However, the opposition parties believe that through the policy promoted by the government and the institutions controlled by the CPM, the system of pluralist democracy, market economy and foreign investments in the real sector of the economy, which is a key element of the European integration policy, are being undermined from within. The Liberal Party declared that the process of nationalisation, promoted by the rulers against the principles of the market economy, started by liquidating the “Eurofarm” Group and, later, “Drezdenbank” — the partner of “Air Moldova”, as well as “Sudzuker”, “Lafarge” and other western companies. The intimidation of the largest yet foreign investor in Moldova, the Spanish “Union Fenosa”, manifested in the “rulings of a corrupt judiciary, totally controlled by the government, creates an extremely unfavourable image for our state and compromises our chances of getting connected to the European political and economic processes”.
The successive governments that come to power without clear projects, learn from experience and often implement their opponents’ programmes create incertitude and weaken the social basis for European integration. Our current government is no exception to this rule, and it has needed two years to understand that there is no alternative to Moldova’s European integration. The political parties have different visions on the strategic objective of European integration, especially on the place and role of the state in this process, the concrete ways of reforming and adjusting the Moldovan economy and society to the community standards, the structure of economy and property, the role of foreign investment, the administrative model, the role of the civil society etc. From the point of view of a concrete and responsible approach to the complexity of their tasks, our political parties are still immature and unprepared. Their predilection for macro modelling and schematics may be fatal for the mobilisation of all social strata and of the entire society towards achieving the objective of European integration. Those political parties that pretend to have coherent projects have yet to get over the stage of general declarations of sharing and joining in the efforts at European integration and plan the existential trajectory of the 4.5 million people for the next 10–15 years, i.e. encapsulate 4.5 million mini-projects into their global project of European integration. The people’s approval of the idea of European integration is directly proportional with the interest that each of the 4.5 million might take in the mini-project developed by his/her party. Otherwise, parties risk getting as much support for European integration as they did for building communism. If people will not see their interests reflected in the projects of European integration, there is little hope that the development and modernisation of Moldova will enjoy the individual input of its every citizen and the sum of all energies nationwide.