There’s nothing like shooting yourself in the foot.
That is what Moldova’s parliament did on February 12—coincidentally the same day that French, German, Russian, and Ukrainian leaders negotiated a ceasefire in Minsk to end the fighting in eastern Ukraine.
Moldova’s legislature voted down the government proposed by the country’s pro-European acting prime minister, Iurie Leancă, two months after parliamentary elections. Since November 2014, the main political parties have been squabbling over cabinet posts and other issues.
The constant bickering plays into the hands of pro-Russian parties in Moldova precisely at a time when Chişinău should be implementing the Association Agreement it signed with the EU on June 27, 2014.
Elsewhere in Eastern Europe, there is a danger that the Euro-Atlantic attraction could fade, especially in Macedonia and Montenegro. A weakened commitment by the EU and NATO in the Western Balkans, particularly after the Minsk II agreement of February 12, would not only be shortsighted. It would also jeopardize the Western direction of these countries.
Moldova signed the political and economic association accord with the EU despite immense pressure from Russia, which had threatened to cut off gas supplies and restrict migrant workers from entering Russia.
Leancă said the parliamentary vote “raises questions about the functionality” of the Association Agreement. That’s all very well for him to say. What is at issue is the ability and the political will of Moldova’s pro-European parties to stay united, embrace reforms, and end the systemic corruption that has plagued the country’s politics.
With a frozen conflict supported by Russia in the breakaway region of Transnistria, Moldova does not have the luxury of time to stall reforms. Yet that is exactly what it is doing, much to the frustration of the EU. That frustration is shared by Moldova’s civil society movements, whose efforts to stem the corruption in the judicial, banking, and media sectors have repeatedly hit brick walls.
The same could be said of two countries west of Moldova in the Balkans: Macedonia and Montenegro. Both are knocking on the doors of the EU and NATO. While the two states are far from ready to join the EU, both could be members of NATO tomorrow, if the alliance had the political will and courage to make such a decision.
Macedonia’s efforts to join NATO have been stonewalled by Greece because of a dispute between Athens and Skopje over Macedonia’s name. Officially, the country is currently called the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, or FYROM, because Greece objects to the use of the name Macedonia without a geographic qualifier.
Since there is no resolution to this dispute in sight, perhaps NATO should admit Macedonia without making the name hostage to Athens. Macedonia’s membership in the alliance would have the advantage of strengthening stability in this part of Europe, giving a fillip to reformers and stemming the rise of Euroskepticism in the region.
That would certainly help in Macedonia. Skopje had begun economic and social reforms but is now mired in a major scandal over alleged wiretapping. On February 15, the opposition leader, the Social Democrat Zoran Zaev, accused Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski’s government of wiretapping 20,000 people, including reporters, religious leaders, and political figures, according to Reuters. In turn, the government had accused Zaev of plotting to seize power and colluding with a foreign spy agency.
The allegations coincide with large protests by trade unions and students—with the unions protesting against tax hikes, and the students against a new law to restrict the autonomy of universities. The poisoned political atmosphere is doing nothing for reformers who want Macedonia to join the EU and NATO.
In Montenegro, Prime Minister Milo Đukanović is under increasing pressure from the European Commission to combat the corruption that is rife in this small republic. Đukanović, a skilled politician, has made surprising decisions in recent months, most notably supporting EU sanctions on Russia and distancing the country from Serbia, with which Montenegro traditionally had close political ties. Serbia has opposed the sanctions.
Đukanović has also become an ardent supporter of his country joining NATO, a move that could counter Russian influence in Montenegro. Yet at its summit in Wales in September 2014, NATO did not admit Montenegro, much to the disappointment of those who believed that such a step would have strengthened Euro-Atlantic ties—a bond that is sorely needed in this part of Europe.
These ties are all the more important in the wake of the Ukraine crisis, and whatever the fate of Minsk II. As Russia seeks to expand its influence in the Western Balkans, the EU and NATO cannot take their own attractiveness in Eastern Europe for granted, let alone the region’s stability.