Romania and Moldova Seek Rapprochement

A treaty signed between uneasy neighbours could help both in their bids for EU integration.

Romania and Moldova Seek Rapprochement

A treaty signed between uneasy neighbours could help both in their bids for EU integration.

The news came as a surprise. After seven years of negotiations, foreign ministers from neighbouring Romania and Moldova last month finally initialed a treaty between their respective countries.

Romanian Foreign Minister, Petre Roman, enthused over the new pact, saying it would contribute to European stability. But his optimism contrasted with the widespread belief that it had done nothing to solve longstanding disagreements between the two states.

Moldova and Romania have long had an uneasy relationship. Before the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and its subsequent annexation by the Soviet Union, Moldova - an area known as Bessarabia and northern Bukovina - was part of Romania. Most Moldovans speak a language almost identical to Romanian, though after a referendum it was defined in the constitution as "Moldovan".

Throughout the recent negotiations, Romanian diplomats insisted that the treaty repudiate the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and acknowledge the illegal separation of Moldova from the Romanian state. Moldovans though, were opposed to this on the grounds that this could invalidate their 1991 declaration of independence from the Soviet Union. Unsurprisingly, the issue has been firmly fudged in the pact.

The same political fudging is clear in the treaty's description of relations between the two countries as "privileged". Bucharest had pushed for a "fraternity" treaty and references to "two Romanian states," none of which was acceptable to Chisinau.

The language issue also remains unsolved. Long-standing negotiations had centred on which language the treaty would be written in. The treaty is clearly drafted in Romanian, but Moldova insisted that its language be used too.

Delicate issues like frontier disputes will be settled later, though the "principle of the inviolability of borders" is set out in the treaty. Romanian sources say this does not rule out border changes (i.e. reunification), since, according to a Radio Free Europe report, "the Helsinki Final Act stipulates that peaceful border modifications - with the agreement of both sides - are possible."

Despite the problems, both foreign ministers declared the treaty a success. "It is codifying the special relationship between the two countries," said Moldovan Foreign Minister, Nicolae Tabacaru. Roman went on to assure Moldovans of Romanian support in their "international efforts to secure sovereignty and territorial integrity."

The treaty must now be ratified by the presidents of Moldova and Romania and their respective parliaments. It is expected to come under fire from opposition parties, especially nationalist ones. Many view it as a compromise that solves nothing. In reality, though, the treaty is likely to be a positive step for both countries in their quest to join the EU.

Romania furthers its EU ambitions by expressing its eagerness to solve problems with neighbours. Moldova should also benefit in its efforts to achieve EU associate status and become a more involved member of the South East European Balkan Stability Pact.

The treaty comes at a moment when, despite the close economic and cultural ties, relations between Moldova and Romania hover between friendship and hostility. Their agreement represents an acknowledgement by both parties that rapprochement can best be achieved within the context of wider European integration.

Marian Chiriac is a regular IWPR contributor

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