Monday, December 2, 2013

Commission regrets Băsescu’s ‘bigger Romania’ statements

The next big project for Romania after its EU accession should be the unification with Moldova, the Romanian president has said, raising eyebrows in EU circles and providing an opportunity to his political rival and prime minister, Victor Ponta, of accusing him destabilising the small Eastern European country by siding with the pro-Russian communists in Chisinau.

At the Vilnius Eastern Partnership summit, which ended on Friday (29 November), Romanian President Traian Băsescu was asked by reporters to explain a statement he made on Wednesday on Romanian TV in which he wished his country could unite with neighbouring Moldova.

“Romania had a first fundamental project – joining NATO, a second fundamental project – joining the EU. The third one should be the union with Moldova. No doubt about it. Nothing can be done against the will of Romanians from the left and the right side of the Dniester,” Băsescu said.

“For the EU the big stake in Vilnius is Ukraine, but for Romania the big stake is Moldova”, the president also said.

The Romanian press immediately observed that Băsescu made a blunder, confusing the Dniester river, which separates Moldova from Ukraine, with the Prut river, which is the natural border between Romania and Moldova.

Moldova is a country where Romanian is spoken widely (see background), and many Moldovans have secured Romanian passports so that they can to travel through the EU’s borderless Schengen space. However, in no way could Moldova be seen as a sort of “Eastern Germany”, as was the German Democratic Republic called during the Cold War, before it reunited with the Federal Republic of Germany in 1990.

The Romanian press also commented that Băsescu’s statements indicated that he would offer support to a reunification movement in Moldova, if there was one.

A EU diplomat told EurActiv that the Commission deplored Băsescu’s statements.

In the meantime, the European Commission had apparently passed the message that the talks of a “Bigger Romania” was the last thing the EU needed to help push through its Eastern Partnership initiative, already suffering from the U-turn made by Ukraine during the Vilnius summit.

EurActiv asked the Romanian president in Vilnius to comment his idea about Romania’s unification with Moldova. He replied with a big laugh.

‘A personal opinion’

But Băsescu was asked repeatedly by the Romanian press as well to elaborate on his TV statement. He declined to comment each time, except on one occasion he said that like every human being, he was entitled to have personal opinions.

Both Băsescu and Vlad Filat, the former prime minister of Moldova, attended a pre-summit meeting of the European Peoples’ Party (EPP) in Vilnius on Thursday.

Băsescu’s Democratic Liberal Party (PDL) party and Filat’s Liberal Democratic Party (PLDM) are affiliated with the EPP.

But as it turned out, they pretended they did not see the elephant in the room.

After the EPP meeting, EurActiv asked Filat if the statements made by Băsescu helped Moldova.

‘The statement serves Russia’

Filat said that the only ones who could profit from such statements were the pro-Russian Communists in Moldova, who would only be happy if they destabilised the country.

Filat said: “[Băsescu’s statement] helps those who speculate on this issue, as the Communists, those who are on power in Moscow, yes, it helps them.”

He said that the national project of the Republic of Moldova was EU integration, adding that this "means an independent and sovereign state, which in a not so distant perspective will become member of the EU and see the borders disappear. Not only on Prut [the river dividing Moldova from Romania], but many other borders as well.”

He answered negatively, asked if he had spoken about this to Băsescu in the margins of the EPP meeting or the Vilnius summit.

Asked if Băsescu had consulted with anyone in Moldova before making his statement, Filat said: “In any case he didn’t consult with us”.

Asked if Moldova would not one day ask for Romanian protection, faced with an ever more assertive Russia, he said: “I’m sorry if this has not been noticed from the outside, but for the last 22 years we have been under constant pressure. Pressure coming directly from the outside, but exercised inside the country. And nevertheless we have been able to administer in a result-oriented way the situation. And I can assure you that we will manage also in the future.”

Asked about the idea circulated in Romanian media that Băsescu could seek election as the president of Moldova, he replied: “Let’s not go that far.”

Victor Ponta, Romania’s Socialist Prime Minister commented in Bucharest that his political rival, Băsescu, must have made his comments about uniting with Moldova “after having a glass of wine with Vladimir Voronin, the leader of the Communist Party of Moldova."

“Băsescu’s statement serves Voronin,” Ponta said.

"The most important thing Romania could do is to support [Moldova’s] integration process, to do concrete things, a gas pipeline, a bridge, a highway," Ponta added.

Indeed, Romania has championed the construction of a pipeline with EU funds, which for the first time would bring gas to Moldova from the West, and not from Russia. Also, the building of a new motorway is under discussion, but its route is not yet agreed.

In Vilnius, Moldova initialed its Association Agreement with the EU, coupled with a Deep and Comprehensive Free-Trade Agreement (DCFTA). The country also took a big step toward achieving visa-free travel to the EU's borderless Schengen area.

Chisinau hopes that visas will be effectively lifted and that its Association deal would be signed under the term of the present European Parliament and Commission, by autumn 2014.

Băsescu’s term as president expires in late 2014 and according to the constitution he cannot run for a new mandate. Romanian commentators have hinted that Băsescu may seek election as president of Moldova. Normally presidential elections in Moldova would be held in 2016.

Modern Romania was created in an unusual way. In 1859, the electors in both Moldavia (not to be confused with Moldova) and Wallachia chose the same leader –Alexandru Ioan Cuza – to be their Ruling Prince. Thus Romania was created as a personal union, which later included Transylvania.

Following the Vilnius summit, Băsescu’s plane took him to Chisinau, the Moldovan capital, where the Romanian president went to attend the reception celebrating Romania’s national day. Every year, the Romanian embassy in Chisinau hosts a large reception for the national day, 1 December.

Georgi Gotev, reporting from Vilnius

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