Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 14 January 2015
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade
Association Agreement between EU and Moldova: Discussion
Item 3 concerns Moldova and involves a presentation by Deputy Eric Byrne. The subject of Moldova arose at a meeting of the joint committee before Christmas. It is timely that it is on today's agenda in view of the fact that the select committee is scheduled to consider the association agreements between the EU and Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia next week.
I now call on Deputy Byrne to address the joint committee.
I wish to thank the Vice Chairman and other members of the committee for affording me this unique experience to make a presentation as a member of the committee, rather than the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade giving us the storyline.
This is the first time we have used a mixture of verbal and visual elements in a presentation. I wish to thank the staff who have worked with me in making this event possible. It is an interesting day on which to have this presentation because, as members will know, in less than an hour's time Parliament will formally move that the association agreement between Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine will revert back to this committee next week. We are therefore in on time.
My interaction with embassy staff has in the main been with Georgia and Ukraine. Unfortunately, I have not yet met the Molodovan representatives in Ireland. I am going to present my own personal view and interpretation of what I experienced when I was an election monitor in Moldova. I have monitored Moldovan elections twice.
At the most recent election I have represented the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly of which I am a member. Coloured by my previous experience in Ukraine where I have covered two elections, one in the controversial areas in the eastern region of the country, I note that we should collectively learn some lessons from that to apply to Moldova. There are very interesting comparisons. I covered elections for ODIHR in Luhansk and Donetsk and am very familiar with the region in conflict currently.
We are conscious collectively, as we keep talking about it, of how this terrible disaster unfolded and what role Europe played in the association agreements with Ukraine, asking if something went wrong. There are many things which have not gone right which we hope will never be repeated. I was very impressed by the High Representative, Ms Mogherini, on Monday when she spoke about the Eastern Partnership countries being our friends. They are friends along with the southern partnership countries and we have friends of neighbours and neighbours of neighbours which Europe must relate with. In the Eastern Partnership, there was another country involved, which was Armenia, and it pulled out. The Russians started to feel threatened by the growth of European sentiment in former Soviet republics and created a customs union called the Eurasian Economic Union. Sadly, Armenia opted - under pressure - for the union.
We are now about to debate three very important countries in the Eastern Partnership. I emphasise my personal belief that they share many things in common, but one aspect in particular. For example, Georgia has a disputed territory called South Ossetia. Ukraine has Crimea and the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk and Luhansk to contend with. Moldova has a territorial conflict around Transnistria. Each of the three countries we are talking about has territorial and geographical problems. Russia is involved to a lesser or greater degree as is the issue of language, particularly the Russian language. Given the geopolitics of the region, language is a very important issue and it has to be addressed.
The official figures are that there are 3,421 Moldovans in Ireland. While those are the official census results, I do not believe them. It is fascinating when one gets to know the Romanian or Moldovan community how it can be very blurred as to whether people are Moldovans or Romanians or whatever. It is important to point out that Romania got into the EU much more quickly and is a full member. It would have been opportune for many Moldovans with a relevant mother or father to claim their Romanian passports. It gave them greater flexibility and mobility. In that, we can prove that hundreds of thousands of Moldovans opted for the choice of a Romanian passport.
I am not sure how many members have been in former Soviet republics, but I emphasise the obvious communist influences that I noted when I was in Kyrgyzstan and Luhansk and Donetsk. One sees huge statues of Lenin, the term CCCP, and hammers and sickles everywhere. As a westerner from a liberal democracy who sees that for the first time, one is made to think about the attitudes of people, their understanding of world politics and their aspirations. It is fascinating and anyone who gets the opportunity to travel under whatever guise to these countries should note that the world is rather complex.
In respect of the culture, language and the position on wars of those countries emerging from under the Russian yoke, we know the position on the right in Ukraine and should be very conscious of the fact that the Russians lost so many in fighting for the liberation of these countries from Nazi control.
I will move on to the main presentation which will not take that long.
Can we have the first slide? In fairness to the Moldovans, we should respect in this presentation the fact that Moldova is an independent state. This is their national emblem and this is their national flag. I thought we should show the flag as the first symbol of Moldova. These are on the screens if anybody wants them.
In respect of the next slide, it is important for us to see where Moldova is vis-à-visthe region. I understand that Moldova was formerly part of Romania and that there would be people in Romania who would try to reunite Moldova with Romania. This does not go down too well with the Moldovan Government but the facts are that they speak essentially the same language. Although it is called Moldovan, it is actually Romanian. Geographically, it is important to know that it is sandwiched between the huge countries of Ukraine and Romania. It is important to be aware of the geographic location of Moldova. Despite the fact that the language is officially known as Moldovan, according to my interpretation, it is actually Romanian. There is a political force in Romania that would argue that Moldova should be reunited with Romania.
I experienced the number of Moldovan shops in Dublin. They are extremely well stocked. The range of goods and the business they do are phenomenal. This indicates that there are more than 3,400 Moldovans living in Ireland because over 100,000 Moldovans got Romanian passports and as members know, Romania has been a full member of the EU for some years.
The next slide shows the ballot paper for the Moldovan election. Members do not have to count them but there are 25 candidates, some of who were independent. I wish to draw members' attention to the one with the blue stamp in it which is ten up from the bottom. Ten up from the bottom represents the cancellation of a political party's presence in the election. There were 25 candidates. In this election, they had to reach a threshold of 6% so these candidates must reach this threshold to survive. The one that was removed is a party called Patria. My understanding is that this party was controlled by a very wealthy Moldovan living and making his money in Russia. About 14 hours before the actual casting of votes, this party was struck off the list by the Supreme Court of Justice of Moldova on the basis of financial irregularities. It was discovered that over €1 million had been flushed into this party's campaign, which broke the electoral laws. The leader of the party subsequently went to Russia. There were suggestions that raids were carried out on the homes of his supporters and that arms, munitions and other subversive tools were discovered. The party was struck off the list. At the time, it was suggested that Patria was polling at about 14% in polls, which would have given it seats in the Parliament. Others suggested that the party was on target to reach as high as 24% so it obviously had a degree of popularity. It is interesting that 14 hours before the casting of votes started, this party was suddenly struck off the list.
Members will notice that some complaints were made about the emblems. The Communist Party uses the hammer and sickle, but a reformed community party also used the hammer and sickle. The major Communist Party fought to have the reform party struck off the list on the grounds that the emblems were the same.
The liberal party had a split and there was some debate on whether the other party could stay on the ticket. During this election, given the geopolitical complexities of the area, complaints were made about regional interference, for example that the Ukrainian president appeared before a Liberal party meeting, ostensibly giving support to the Liberal party of Moldova. Russia, in retaliation because of the many Moldovans who earn a living as illegal workers, decided to allow the illegal Moldovan emigrants to return to Moldova to vote and be allowed the right to return to Russia. One can see the game that was being played by the President of Ukraine and how the Russians retaliated.
We might note that when we start to talk about the votes for our diaspora, that this tiny country, deemed to be one of the most impoverished countries in Europe opened 95 polling stations throughout the world. There were substantial complaints emanating from the Russian Federation that there were insufficient polling stations for the Moldovan workers who were resident in Russia.
The election took place on 30 November 2014, but Moldova still has no government.
The next slide shows images of how the parties campaign. The party on the right is the PLDM, Pro-EU Liberal Democrats, the second largest party that got 20% of the vote. The banners are those of the Patria party, which was struck off.
On the next slide, we see the Socialist Party. In the West, we think of socialists as social democrats but in Moldova, this is the most pro-Russian party in the campaign and one can see the image of Mr. Putin on its campaigning literature. This party won the election achieving 20.5% of the vote and winning 25 seats. One clearly sees the geopolitical issues at play, as the Socialist Party is linked to the Russian Federation.
The next slide shows the Communist Party that came third, winning 21 seats and achieving 17% of the vote.
In summary, the Socialist Party is the largest party in Moldova. There were two electoral blocs, an electoral bloc, called Moldova's choice for the Customs Union Russia. There was a clash between the parties that supported the Customs Union and those that supported the European Union.
The next slide has a heading unify the family of NATO and EU and is the bloc in favour of the EU. This party won 13 seats and was the fifth largest party in the election.
The next slide shows the reformed liberal party which received nearly 2% of the vote, which was not sufficient to do anything.
The next slide shows an interesting party. It is officially affiliated to the socialist group in Europe, they claim to be social democrats, now there were other parties of social democrats in the election. The group in this slide did quite well, coming fourth. It achieved 15.8% of the vote winning 19 seats. There were complaints about this party, which I will read out. The complaint was that the General Media Group, a company associated with the deputy chairman of the PDM - who was also a candidate in the election - controls four out of the five national television stations. He also controls the largest advertising company in Moldova and therefore it was alleged that he was given a disproportionate amount of air time by his own stations.
The next slide has an image of the Mafia, which plays a role in Moldova. This was an anti-Mafia party that achieved 1.7% of the vote.
The following slide is the most important as it shows the area of conflict. It shows Moldova but it also shows that the problem area of Transnistria has a demarcated area on both sides of the River Dniester. The Russians patrol it. Transnistria is officially part of Moldova. It has broken away from Moldova but the Moldovans want to reunite it with Moldova. The Russians are involved. Given the political problems in the area, and what happened in Ukraine, Moldova would have some concerns about interference in its desire to progress towards Europe.
In conclusion, Moldova is a fascinating country. It produces wonderful wine. We will have a wine competition one day to see if those who say it is better than wine from the Georgian Republic are correct.
During the Irish Presidency we particularly targeted Transnistria as a region. We had made some progress in getting people to talk around the table.
Let us hope that very soon Moldova will have a government. In this context what is interesting is that the Communist Party, unlike the Socialist Party which is pro-Russian, is more Moldovan nationalist and prefers to represent Moldova as a nation, not in favour of Europe or not in favour of the Russian Federation. We must wait to see what happens.
Thank you, Vice Chairman
I thank the Deputy. As we have other serious matters on the agenda, which will take time to deal with, I will not delay much longer but I have a quick question. Does Moldova have direct access to the sea? Does it have a seaport? I see that Odessa is nearby, but as far as I can see the inlet does not give access to Moldova. From a trading point of view sea access is very crucial.
I thank Deputy Byrne for his presentation. He obviously put a good deal of work into it. All the political parties seem to be left wing parties. I wonder if there were any parties that were centrist or to the right. Would the fact that all the parties are left wing account for the fact that GDP is only $2,500?
What percentage of alcohol is in the wine?
Moldova was a republic of the USSR and from the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Moldova was run by the Communist Party. As Moldova progressed the Communist Party split and other democratic forces came into play. Among the minority groups that got no seat there were probably some right wing parties with which I am not familiar, but they are not to the fore.
I suppose one could say the Socialist Party might be one of the most right-wing parties given that it is affiliated to such an extent to Mr. Putin. I have studied the map but I do not really have the answer. I was wondering about the same question. The Liberal Party and the coalition that has been in power during the past four years has been strong and has moved more towards the European Union as against the Russian customs union. The Russians cut off a major outlet for the country. It is a poor country that produces a great deal of agricultural produce. Agriculture is the main sector. Russia banned the importation of vegetables, fruit and wine. Moldova has a major wine industry. Did someone ask about the price of wine? One can get a fine bottle of Moldovan wine for €5.
Deputy Eric Byrne, we thank you for a comprehensive report on an important subject. You obviously spent considerable time and put a good deal of effort into it. We might follow up the point about access to the sea with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.