The program LEADER to boost rural development of ATU Gagauzia and Taraclia district by uniting the potential of communities in the region was started in southern Moldova. On November 15, 44 villages signed between them eight partnership agreements with the aim of mobilizing local authorities and citizens for empowering local economies and improving access to public services in rural areas. The official Facebook page of the program says this is a European initiative that is implemented in Moldova for the first time.
LEADER is part of the SARD (Support for Agriculture and Rural Development in ATU Gagauzia and Taraclia district) program whose goal is to develop agriculture and stimulate rural development in Gagauzia and Taraclia. SARD has worked for two years and provided support in a number of directions. In particular, about 40 projects were financed in the region’s villages to improve social infrastructure, to ensure access to drinking water and repair roads. The European investments totaled 26m lei, with the regional authorities also providing a considerable part of the funds.
Apparently, the financial support provided to startups in the field of entrepreneurship and to business development initiatives is the most important direction of the SARD. During the past two years, the European Union has financed 30 business projects that were proposed by inhabitants of ATU Gagauzia and Taraclia district. Both beginner entrepreneurs and more experienced businessmen willing to extend their businesses benefited from support. As a result, dried fruit production lines, bakeries, wood processing, car repair and cheese companies started to work in the region. The support for each beneficiary totaled up to €20,000.
GAMCON (Gagauzia Modernization Convention) is another European project that is yet implemented in Gagauzia only. This has been launched this April and is carried out by the Slovak Foreign Policy Association, the public association “Youth of Gagauzia” and the State University of Comrat. The budget of the project is €850,000.
GAMCON is aimed at supporting youth programs and at involving young people in the social life. According to project manager Dumitru Furtuna, support in the form of grants will be provided in such areas as youth and sport, social infrastructure, education and culture and tourism development.
Gagauzia and Taraclia have older experience of cooperating with the European Union. At the same time, the attention devoted to the region during the last few years is unprecedented. Not only the number of programs or the volume of assistance should be noted, but also the systematic character of the support. For example, besides financial support for entrepreneurs, the SARD also envisions expert consultancy at the initial business development stage. All these and especially the fact that the assistance is aimed at a concrete part of the Republic of Moldova generate questions as to the causes for such activism.
Compensations for shortage of attention
According to first vice governor of Gagauzia Vadim Ceban, the implementation of EU projects in the region stemmed from the fact that the region faced a shortage of state financial and technical assistance during the last few years, compared with other districts of the country. For an overall picture, he suggests analyzing official statistics, especially the volume of public investment per capita in the region and the country. Thus, the investments in long-term tangible assets from state budget funds per resident in 2014 totaled 154.0 lei in Gagauzia and 648.0 lei in the Republic of Moldova. In 2015, the difference widened: 37.0 lei for Gagauzia and 522.0 lei for the Republic of Moldova.
“The conclusion is that Gagauzia didn’t systematically benefit from the necessary volume of investments from public funds and the given information served as one, I repeat one of the factors that stimulated the implementation of projects and investment in our region by different donors!” stated Ceban, commenting on the provision of foreign assistance to ATU Gagauzia on a social networking site.
Speaking about foreign donors, Ceban referred not only to the European Union, but also to other partners of Gagauzia, especially Russia and Turkey. But these countries offer Gagauzia great support on a traditional basis. During the last few years, the assistance increased suddenly namely from the EU. It should be noted that Comrat during many years has asked for targeted assistance from the European Union. This could be a delayed reaction to this request. However, we cannot also exclude the geopolitical factor that would imply the EU’s interest in struggling itself for the sympathy of Gagauzia.
In a consultative referendum held in Gagauzia in February 2014, about 98% of the electors voted against Moldova’s entry into the EU. Taraclia district supported then the referendum in Gagauzia by holding gatherings of citizens in the district’s communities where the same issue was supported unanimously. Given that both the population of Gagauzia and that of Taraclia support the European standards of democracy and rule of law principles, largely have the nationality of one of the EU member states and during debates on the rights of national minorities and powers of autonomous units make use of the European experience, the results of the February plebiscite make you question the rationality of the choice and to presume that the negative image of Europe was artificially exaggerated.
If someone has doubts about the states of spirit of the inhabitants of Gagauzia and Taraclia district expressed in the referendum of 2014, we can make reference to the sociological poll carried out by the Institute of Public Policy in the region two years later. The figures are not so categorical, but are yet rather relevant: 79% of the inhabitants of Gagauzia (82.9% of the residents of Taraclia district) are against joining the EU, while 3.1% of the citizens of Gagauzia (5.1% of the people in Taraclia) are for joining the EU. The others either didn’t answer or were undecided.
We cannot expect the way in which the EU provides assistance to have a quick effect and to suddenly change the state of spirit of the residents of Gagauzia. This is yet not the humanitarian assistance that has been provided by Russia and Turkey during many years. By donating medical equipment, special vehicles and books and by erecting social infrastructure facilities, the “traditional partners” of Gagauzia satisfy the momentary needs of the inhabitants, but solve the key problems to a lesser extent.
The European Union acts according to another model: besides the social component, major assistance is provided for developing the business climate and stimulating civic initiative. So, this is a relevant example of the known story of what’s better: to offer a poor man fresh fish for this to eat plenty or a rod for this to learn to catch fish himself.
For example, according to the SARD program, about 155 new jobs are to be created by the end of 2018. It is rather improbable that this thing will right now improve the image of the EU, but this is an investment that will produce results in the medium and long terms. Besides reinvigorating the real sector of the economy, such projects contribute to strengthening the class of active entrepreneurs who identify their success with the European standards and resources. The quantitative and qualitative growth of this group of society can ultimately influence much more efficiently both public opinion and the authorities, determining a new political reality in the region.
Veaceslav Craciun, Comrat
IPN publishes in the Op-Ed rubric opinion pieces submitted by authors not affiliated with our editorial board. The opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily coincide with the opinions of our editorial board.