Republic of Moldova
Historic Rally in Chișinău: Europe is Moldova, Moldova is Europe

Around 75,000 Moldovans took part in a pro-European rally on Sunday, expressing their will for EU accession.

Around 75,000 Moldovans took part in a pro-European rally on Sunday, expressing their will for EU accession.

© picture alliance / EPA | DUMITRU DORU

"Moldovans are Europeans, and Moldova must become an equal member of the European Union by 2030." With these words, Moldovan President Maia Sandu appeared before more than 75,000 people from all over the country who had accepted her invitation to a pro-European rally in the country's capital Chișinău on Sunday. The President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, had also arrived, having announced to the crowd already in her speech in Romanian: "I have come to deliver a message: Europe is Moldova, Moldova is Europe".

EU accession to be enshrined in the constitution

Under the name "European Moldova", a solemn declaration was also read out at the meeting, calling for, among other things, a constitutional amendment "to definitively and irrevocably enshrine in it the accession of the Republic of Moldova to the European Union". It also notes the broadening of the international context of negotiations on a final peaceful settlement of the Transnistrian conflict and the use of the EU accession process as a catalyst for strengthening the prosperity and living standards of Moldovan citizens in the reintegrated Transnistrian region. Similarly, it calls for "strong condemnation of the illegal and inhumane war instigated by Russia in Ukraine, which undermines stability and seriously affects the entire region, including Moldova."

Of the 101 deputies in the unicameral parliament, the president's Party for Action and Solidarity (PAS) has 63 members. In Moldova, a constitutional amendment can be introduced as a legislative initiative by the government or by one-third of the deputies and with the approval of at least four constitutional judges. The vote in parliament must then be confirmed by a two-thirds majority. PAS alone still falls just short of a constitutional majority, because in addition to the six openly pro-Kremlin SOR representatives, 29 seats belong to the Socialist and Communist bloc, which is also pro-Russian, and three independents. In December 2022, however, Moldova's justice minister initiated proceedings to ban the ȘOR party. If this is confirmed, the redistribution of mandates would give PAS alone the majority it needs. Other steps in this direction can also be observed: A week ago, Parliament Speaker Igor Grosu announced that Moldova would initiate the procedure to withdraw from the Agreement on the Inter-Parliamentary Assembly of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), of which it is a member.

Political situation remains complicated

Despite Sunday's impressive images, the situation in the country remains tense. Protests against the government have been taking place in Chișinău and other parts of the country since October 2022, reaching a peak in March of this year with up to 10,000 people in Chișinău. These were initiated and financed by the pro-Russian oligarch Ilan Șor, who founded his own party under his own name in 2016. The ȘOR party stands for federalization of the country, introduction of Russian as a state language, and is deeply anti-European. Șor himself was finally sentenced in April to 15 years in prison by Moldovan courts in the largest corruption case in the country's history, through which Moldovan banks were looted of $1 billion. Born in Israel, he already finds refuge there since 2019. The protests on the ground were organized by the party's deputy and vice-chair, Marina Tauber, who is now herself under indictment for illegally financing these protests and is not allowed to leave the country. Although the party itself has only six members of parliament, it is now at 15% in the polls. It was also able to provide the governor of the separatist republic of Gagauzia a week ago after a runoff election against the Socialists, who are also pro-Russian. Once elected, the region's governor will constitutionally become part of the government cabinet, so further tensions are to be expected. The election results have not yet been confirmed by the central election authority. The region is considered to be 90% strongly pro-Russian. In the pro-Russian camp, the bloc of Socialists and Communists would also come to 25%.

Despite approval in the capital, Sandu and her government are finding less and less support among the country's outdated and impoverished population, also due to the pandemic, the war and the resulting refugee crisis, and the economic imbalance. The results of a nationwide survey conducted by the FNF at the beginning of the year testify to this: still elected to parliament in July 2021 with 55% of the vote, PAS would then only have 32% of the vote in the Sunday poll. It is accused above all of poor governance (56 %). The most frequently cited problems were economic (62 %): rising prices, low incomes, lack of jobs and poverty. PAS also cannot yet count on other pro-European coalition partners, especially since none of the parties would clear the 5 % electoral hurdle.

With 42%, the president is still high on the confidence vote, but here, too, an important opponent is lined up for next year's presidential elections. Once considered a favorite of Moscow, the incumbent mayor of Chișinău is now outing himself as an independent. With 60% in the Sunday poll, his re-election in the local elections in the fall also seems uncontroversial, only to contest Sandu's re-election from this position. After all, 56% of voters in the country already have a favorable opinion of him.

Under these conditions, Sunday's large-scale demonstration should not only counteract these tendencies and give citizens new hope for European prosperity, but also convey stability and steadfastness to European partners externally. Indeed, on June 1, 47 presidents and heads of government are expected in the Moldovan capital at the second meeting of the European Political Community to discuss joint efforts for peace in the context of the war in Ukraine and related crises, the defence of democracy, the strengthening of energy security and the resilience of European states. While 48% of Moldovans already want to join the EU, 34% still stand with Russia. But for some of the 18% undecided, the choice might be easier after this demonstration.