Interview with Daniel Ioniță, Romanian Ambassador to Moldova
Don’t blame the West for the fact that the Republic of Moldova is no longer seen as a success story
Interview with the Ambassador of Romania to Moldova, Daniel Ioniță
– Romanians everywhere celebrate, on December 1, Romania’s National Day. Many Romanian citizens live in Moldova, and the relationship between Romania and Moldova is a specific one. What do you think unites us the most today?
– Relations between Romanians have always been based on a community of language, culture, and history, on dignity and freedom, on the desire to think and feel in full accordance with our traditions and customs. I think that these things are also valid for Moldova because we speak the same language, we have the same community of history, culture, and traditions and in such moments we feel that our heart continues to beat in unison.
– Are there also aspects that separate us, divide us?
– “We can never be the same.” There are times when we think the same way and times when we relate the same way to various issues. This is true from foreign policy to domestic policy.
– How would you characterize the last year in terms of Romania – Moldova relations?
– My mandate was full of challenges and opportunities. I found that there were good times when we had joint meetings of the Governments in Bucharest and Chișinău. There were also periods when I practically went into strategic waiting. I have never had a hidden agenda in Moldova. I have told all Governments the same thing and encouraged them to act consistently to implement the commitments they have made, first and foremost, to their Western partners, to the EU through the Association Agreement and its free trade component of DCFTA. Sometimes there were more important advances, other times there were periods of stagnation and, as befits some true and sincere friends of Moldova, we tried to point them out.
– For some time now, Moldova has not been seen as a success story within the Eastern Partnership, as it happened in 2010-2014. The E.U. and Romanian assistance came with several conditionalities that were not met. In 2020, the third tranche of macro-financial assistance of €100 million was missed, the Parliament ratified the agreement for another €100 million only after some ambassadors’ interventions, the Government did not sign any memorandum with the IMF. How do Moldova’s external partners view such inactions?
– Those who had to answer for Moldova’s fate are to blame. Do not blame the West for the fact that Moldova is no longer seen as a success story. It is simply a measure of the facts. External partners sometimes worry about the lack of activity in Chișinău. The economic crisis adds on top of the health crisis, which may soon be doubled by a social crisis. It is extremely important that in these difficult times, however, you have safety nets or all open relationships so that you can help your citizens. It is not the West’s fault for not fulfilling the conditions. When we talk about the theft of the billion and I have the impression that it is a rhetoric that has entered folklore, rather than a case to be carried to the end, a case that involves both identifying those guilty and punishing those who have been guilty of these issues. It creates the impression that this is collective guilt, as an original sin, which sometimes gives the impression that it is turning against development partners.
– How else is Moldova’s European course seen from Bucharest, from the European chancelleries?
– I believe that the European path has been invigorated, at least in terms of hope, by the result of the recent presidential election. I warmly welcomed the results. It was a choice that essentially has, from my point of view, a different relationship to a system of values and principles. The president-elect, Maia Sandu, is known in Western chancelleries as attached to European values and good relations with the EU. I would say that this result has just offered a new hope which must be materialized in the next period. It is important that, at least at this stage, there is still hope.
– Moldova is still at the top of corrupt states. All international reports show that too little is being done to eradicate this scourge. Until joining the EU, Romania went through stages similar to those that Moldova is going through. Where are the authorities wrong?
– The answer is simple – lack of political will. We have often observed selective justice, which has deepened the high degree of distrust of citizens in their institutions. Romania has made progress on this issue when it had the political will and when the law began to be applied equally to absolutely everyone and it did not matter that you were a dignitary or a simple official.
– We continue to insist on the reform of the judiciary, which we have been working on since Moldova signed the Association Agreement. How would you characterize the situation in our justice now?
– I believe that justice is the main element of sensitivity and the authorities should focus their efforts on this area. Unfortunately, in the last year, in this field, we have seen no progress, but rather a regression. I noticed how people who, at least, have a not very clear and transparent past returned to office. It is a maximum sensitivity when judges somehow involved in the laundromat or those who have made hyper-controversial decisions in society return to their office.
– How worrying are the inactions in the judiciary and corruption for the development of the country, for attracting investors?
-Very worrying. An investor will look with interest at any investment space when he knows that in that space he benefits from two nets – independent justice and a secure banking system. When the two safety nets are not stretched properly, you have a lot of reservations.
– Iași-Ungheni-Chișinău gas pipeline, seen as a first attempt to build a common infrastructure between Romania and Moldova… In your opinion, is there enough political will in Chișinău to start pumping natural gas and take the country out of the dependence of the Russian Federation?
– Political will is important and necessary, but not enough. There must be somewhere an economic-financial calculation on what that gas pipeline means. This gas pipeline offers an extremely important alternative to Moldova, including when it comes to negotiating prices with other suppliers. At the moment there is this alternative and we have to see if in the future it will be used by the Moldovan authorities.
– On the social field, let’s refer to Romania’s assistance offered in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. How is it that, in such a difficult period, Romania also found resources for Moldova – humanitarian assistance through the 42 doctors, and protective materials, as well as financial sources?
– Medical equipment and medicines totalling about 3.5 million euros were provided. We, Romanians, have always been with the citizens of the Republic of Moldova. We always offered aid, even if we also faced sometimes difficult situations. It is normal and natural to help in such miserable times when everyone is affected by this pandemic.
– How do you appreciate the attitude of the Moldovan party in carrying out the projects financed by Romania, the reaction to the granted aid?
– Often the assistance provided generously by Romania to the citizens of Moldova, as unconditional as possible, if you want, metaphorically speaking, put under the bridge so that it is not observed, seen or so that someone does not believe what Romania is doing for Moldova. I had such experiences in the past. However, this does not mean that Romania has not been and will not be with the citizens of Moldova, especially in difficult times. Of course, sometimes you would appreciate at least the gestures we make generously and unconditionally, without being hidden or turned into a subject of scandal, or simply ignored.
– Recently, the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced a voluntary contribution of 250,000 euros to implement projects in support of civil society and the independent media of Moldova. What should our media market be like to be considered independent and impartial?
– The press needs money and the conviction that it must remain professional. An independent press is a valuable press. Lately, I have found that some media outlets, which I felt had a balanced policy in difficult economic conditions, have given up standards. It’s a shame. Especially in difficult times, we need an independent press that presents a faithful mirror of society, whether you like it or not what you see in that mirror. Quality journalism in Moldova must be financially supported.
– What are Romania’s priorities for the next year in relations with Moldova?
– We are at the end of the year, but that does not mean that we have completed the diplomatic agenda. As soon as Ms. Maia Sandu will be sworn in as President of Moldova, most likely, the President of Romania, Klaus Iohannis will pay a visit to Chișinău. On this occasion, the common projects we want to develop will be discussed. One thing is certain, Romania remains consistent with supporting the European course of Moldova, supporting projects dedicated exclusively to the citizens of Moldova.
– What does the mission you have in Moldova mean for you, for your family?
-It’s a high-responsibility mission. A mission that honors me and obliges me at the same time. It is a mission of the soul. It is a difficult one but it is not always easy to be the ambassador of Romania in Moldova because you know that the expectations towards you are always high and legitimate both from many Romanian citizens in Moldova and from the Romanian authorities, who have always regarded the relationship with Moldova as one of the soul. This relationship sometimes goes beyond political and diplomatic canons, because we have a relationship that is based on a community of language, culture, history, and traditions. It is a relationship that unites many families on the two banks of the Prut river.
– Thank you.