Moldova risks becoming an entity no one wants to help. More specifically, its authorities risk such a reaction from their development partners, yet the probability of this reaction spreading over the entire country and its citizens is quite real, albeit in a more distant future.
Last week, Moldova was visited by a sufficiently high ranking official, from a sufficiently important country, or rather from the most important state in Europe, who has stated that she has “quit going to official meetings with Government representatives.” And she explained why: the official’s opinions about democracy and the rule of law do not coincide with what she claims is happening in Moldova. The dignitary was Maria Flachsbarth, Parliamentary State Secretary to the German Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the signals she has given Chișinău authorities go beyond the limits of the Ministry she represents, even beyond the limits of the German state, which, I was saying, is the most influential state in the European Union.
There were few public reactions from Moldovan authorities with regards to Maria Flachsbarth’s somewhat uncommon statements, and most of them were as carefree as the one formulated by Parliament President Andrian Candu, during a show on a public radio station: “some random official with a random statement.”
Yet the signal given by the German official, and its impact, are of much greater importance, and deserve a deeper analysis.
What did the German State Secretary say?
In short: “Moldova’s processes are contrary to its political and economic growth.” And to take out any ambiguities, she specified that: “Moldova will not grow economically, if potential investors aren’t convinced of its rule of law. Yet, what actually transpires here proves lack of this exact condition,” she said. “As State Secretary, I can assure you there will be no economic development if potential investors aren’t convinced there is rule of law in Moldova. How can German investors come here and how can I encourage them to do so? What advice can I give them, when there are diverging opinions on the rule of law?” Maria Flachsbarth added that it is impossible to “sweep under the rug” all of the facts that raise suspicions concerning the judiciary’s degree of independence. “Regretfully, trust in Moldovan politics is undermined from several sides, including through the untransparent annulment of Mayoral elections in Chișinău. From my point of view, mistrust is being spread among Moldovan voters. How can they elect anyone, when they know that regardless of their decision the higher ups can do whatever they wish. It is absolutely against all democratic rules,” underlined Maria Flachsbarth.
Who is the owner of the statement?
Maria Flachsbarth is a high-ranking official in a Ministry that handles Development and Cooperation in Germany. Her discernible message is that investments, the engine behind economic growth, require extant conditions within a democratic rule of law. Only under such conditions will she and the German Ministry that employs her will encourage German investors to come to Moldova. The German official’s point of view differs greatly from that of Moldova’s officials, who reckon focused economic growth would generate more democracy and more rule of law, including more respect towards human rights. Judging by previous reactions to certain events in Moldova, we can be certain that US Ambassador to Moldova James D. Pettit could also tell Minister of Economy Chiril Gaburici, during their meeting this week, that he cannot encourage American investors Tesla, Apple, IBM to come to Moldova, for the same reasons as those formulated by Maria Flachsbarth: justice and rule of law. It seems economic growth and the rule of law are in a relationship similar to the egg and the chicken: no one knows what came first, yet everyone knows one can’t exist without the other.
When were the statements made?
The statements were made in Chișinău, on August 2, during a conference on “Strengthening Trust in Democratic Processes: Legal and Political Challenges in Moldova,” organized, among others, by two German political foundations. Participation in a largely non-economic event of a high-ranking German Ministry representative, who mainly deals with economics/development, speaks of the equal importance that Germany places on political and economic aspects. It is worth pointing out that earlier that day, when Maria Flachsbarth was leaving Berlin for Chișinău, her agenda included official meetings with Government representatives, according to a press release that had been issued on the same day. A change of heart so sudden isn’t possible even in the case of an official from a country of the importance of Moldova, not even mentioning one from Germany. In the meantime, perhaps we will find out, or maybe we won’t, what happened, who and what interfered with the agenda of the German Parliamentary State Secretary, yet it is certain that such decisions and such statements couldn’t have been made even within the Ministry she represents. The lowest possible level is the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which, it is known, carries the country’s Government status abroad, and thus represents Germany’s official position.
What are the signals sent by Germany?
Maria Flachsbarth had a single change in her agenda. The rest of her meetings and planned activities have remained unchanged: “visits to German-funded ongoing projects in Moldova, meetings with the opposition and the civil society, in the context of Mayoral elections in Chișinău.” It was also she who brought along a new installment of nine million euros, allotted by the German Federal Government for energetic infrastructure and efficiency in 18 settlements throughout Moldova.
We read, thus, several signals.
One: Germany hasn’t quit on Moldova, and is changing its means of communicating to Moldova’s society directly, without the Government as a middleman. This could mean that it is leaving the Government without the benefit of European support to Moldova granted by the Association.
Two: Germany dropped the Government, but it did not renounce the opposition and the active members of Moldova’s civil society.
Three: Translated from a more diplomatic lingo, the expression “to cancel meetings with Moldovan officials” means “I refuse to meet” or even “I don’t want to reach out/shake hands.” Even if we admit that the Chișinău government is right in saying it isn’t directly responsible for the charges against it in the matter of the annulment of Chișinău’s Mayoral elections, other aspects, such as the perceived downslide in democracy and rule of law is real in the eyes of a significant part of the Moldovan society and of all development partners. Moreover, governments are always held responsible for both realities and perceptions, in any country.
Four: These signals are addressed to Moldova, but also, equally importantly, to the European community, which will require serious reasons to not follow Germany’s lead, disregarding its hefty role in Europe and the rest of the world.
Therefore, Moldova risks becoming an entity whose hand no one will want to shake. Specifically, its authorities risk such a reaction from their development partners, yet the probability of this reaction spreading over the entire country and its citizens is quite real, albeit in a more distant future perhaps.
Obviously, this is just a hypothesis, one that could easily be confirmed or rebutted if we knew the agenda of planned visits by European officials to Moldova and by Moldovan officials to EU countries, and to Brussels, for the coming months.
Valeriu Vasilică, IPN