On the 21st of November, a roundtable discussion entitled Moldova after the presidential election was organized at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The participants of the discussion were Ambassador Dr. György Varga, advisor of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and rapporteur for Moldova and István Pataky, deputy columnist of the daily Magyar Nemzet. The discussion was moderated by János T. Barabás, senior analyst of the Institute of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
The conversation was held in the aftermath of the presidential election in Moldova where in the second round, held on 13th November, Igor Dodon, the socialist candidate calling for closer ties with Russia took the first place before Maia Sandu, the candidate favouring Western integration.
In the introduction, György Varga presented the domestic and foreign policy of the Republic of Moldova and Hungarian-Moldovan bilateral relations, mentioning that the trade turnover of the two countries lies around 80–30 million euros per year (90-95% of it is Hungarian trade surplus) but recently, it has unfortunately dropped. Hungary has been trying to help Moldova’s approach to the European Union with initiatives such as the Hungarian-led visa centre operating in 16 countries that helped visa applicants with Moldovan citizenship up until the introduction of the visa free regime for Moldova (April 2014) or the inter-parliamentary twinning project. We continue to help Chisinau in its Western integration co-operating with other EU member states of the region. Moldovan guest workers living in Hungary have excellently integrated and do not constitute any kind of problem.
With regard to the presidential election István Pataky said that although the win of the pro-Russian candidate was interpreted by many as a significant turnaround, because of the ethnic and linguistic divisions of the country, the support of the two main political camps are balanced, therefore usually small differences decide the outcome, like at the present elections when about 70 thousand votes decided the outcome that cannot be called a significant difference and by no means can be evaluated as the manifestation of a significant change in social mood. He noted that the pro-EU political forces have lost credibility recently due to corruption cases that could also contribute to the election result. The fall of popularity of the European Union in recent years can probably also be explained by the corruption scandals. According to István Pataky, although the presidential position is not strong in Moldova, Dodon will likely try to influence the parliament. He has promised to hold a couple of referenda that, among other topics, would deal with the renunciation of the association agreement with the European Union. Dodon’s first official visit abroad will likely be to Russia and he is also expected to harmonize his steps with the Russian leadership. Therefore, we can expect a shift towards Moscow, but the country’s policy pursued towards the EU is likely to remain, as the association agreement with the EU has significant benefits regarding the export, travel, the acceptance of investors. More significant changes can be brought by the parliamentary elections in 2018 where the Socialists who are now in opposition, the circle of the businessman Vlad Plahotniuc leading the Democratic Party that seceded from the communist party and the and the pro-Western group of Maia Sandu will be able to run with fair chances. In the camp of pro-EU parties, Sandu’s party will likely get stronger while the parties involved in the allegations of corruption are expected to weaken, however, the main winner could be the Democratic Party if they manage to convince voters from both camps.
János T. Barabás told that 70% of Moldova’s foreign trade turnover is realized with the EU while Russia has a much smaller share in the Moldovan economy, but it includes gas supply, that is why Russian influence cannot be neglected. He also added that for Moldova currently the only option for modernization is the EU development aid, therefore it is not likely that the country would completely distance itself from the European Union. In this position, Hungary’s task in the medium term is to help to reinforce Moldova’s commitment to the West. This purpose is served, inter alia, by the Friends of Moldova group in the EU, created with the participation of Central European countries.
János T. Barabás also pointed out that during the presidential campaign the unmistakable signs of information warfare appeared, including not only rude comments on internet sites making political discourse impossible but also directed statements (from the representatives of the Orthodox Church) and the purpose of the published disinformation was to instil fear and destabilize. He also mentioned that the unification of Moldova and Romania could only come to the floor after the accession of Moldova to the European Union and the autonomy of Gagauzia is exemplary and it should be welcomed.
Regarding the settlement of the situation in Transnistria, it was said that the result of the presidential election in December in Tiraspol will also influence if there could be any steps forward and at it is currently in the interest of all parties to maintain the status quo, just like in the case of Gagauzia.