EU Ambassador to the Republic of Moldova Pirkka Tapiola explains in an interview the importance of turning shared values into an operational reality, while transforming society for a better life.
What do you think are the important values that the European Union is promoting here, and which are shared in the Republic of Moldova?
I wouldn’t talk about values that we are promoting; I would want to talk about values which we hope would be shared between us and our close partner countries, close European partner countries such as the Republic of Moldova. Now, if you look at our core values – freedom, democracy, rule of law, functioning justice, a functioning market economy – these are values which in Europe have shown their success to the populations. Even with the problems that you sometimes see, Europeans live well, because we have managed to make these values operational.
I think that on a conceptual level, these values are there, they are shared, but there is still very much a baggage of history which comes from having lived in a totalitarian communist system, a system where you also heard a lot of good values being mentioned, but which meant nothing in reality.
Our big challenge is somehow to achieve a common understanding that these values are not just something that we talk about in speeches, in interviews, but they are something very concrete. What we are trying to do in terms of helping the transformation, with expertise, with financial assistance, with programmes, trying to help the transformation of the Republic of Moldova – that is precisely bringing the beef into these values, it’s making them operational.
Why is the partnership with the Republic of Moldova important for Europe?
Well, my first answer is to look at the map – we’re neighbours. The Republic of Moldova is just next to the European Union, it’s a neighbour to Romania, it’s in a strategically important region, and in a region where we would like to see stability, but stability precisely through making these values operational, precisely through the fact that you would have democratic societies governed by the rule of law, functioning market economies giving opportunities to people, creating new jobs, creating a feeling of the ownership of the citizen in society, and empowering people. That’s what brings sustainable stability, and that stability of course is stability for the European Union as well. So if you look at our interests, and this was recently said in a draft European global strategy, our interests and our values are very closely interlinked.
You mentioned the neighbourhood: what do you think is a good neighbour?
A good neighbour is a happy neighbour, a neighbour who has a good life, who feels that he or she is empowered, feels that he or she has protection.
If you look at the Republic of Moldova, it is a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural country, and a good neighbour is a country where every single group feels that they’re really part of society, that they really have a stake and that this society gives them possibilities.
What real impact does the European Union have in this country?
I would say that there are two levels. There is one level which is more difficult, which takes more time and where we have seen both successes but also setbacks, and then there’s a very concrete level. The level that is more difficult is state transformation. One of the goals that we talk about is EU assistance for a better state. Look for instance at what we are trying to do with 26 high-level advisers with the government, or at our justice sector budget support. I think some quantitative legislative changes have taken place here, but we’re still hoping for these reforms and this political will within the justice system to be developed to have a really independent judiciary working for the benefit of the population, without any political and other interference. If you look at this transformation level, I think we have taken some steps forward, but there is still a lot to do.
The second is the very concrete level. Look, for instance, at our confidence-building programme – and here one of the goals is to see a reunification of this country between the right and left banks of the Nistru River, with a special status for Transnistria in a Moldova enjoying full sovereignty and territorial integrity. This is a big goal, but in order for that to happen, people need to see common interests, and I think these small steps are incredibly important: if you look at our confidence-building programme, over 120,000 people have benefited from the programme, there have been kindergartens opened, sports centres have been opened, and my favourite projects there are business projects, where small- and medium-sized enterprises have, on both banks, been given start-up funds, and we have created new jobs.
In a similar vein, we have something called the economic stimulation of rural areas, where business incubators – I think altogether six – have been opened, allowing SMEs to start their operations, get themselves ready to go and leave the incubator and launch their own businesses. Then we have something called the PARE 1+1 programme, where we would like to see migrants either investing or coming back and opening businesses – they put half of the funds, the programmes gives the other half.
Look at something like the biomass programme. Energy security is very important, but it’s not just energy security, you can build a better life through the fact that you have local energy sources – like agricultural waste, you make pellets from that, and we’ve also renovated school heating systems, public building heating systems, this has brought better, cleaner, cheaper energy, but it’s also brought jobs in the production of new energy sources.
Those are just some of the examples to put on the table, and these are very concrete things. They sometimes go unnoticed because back in 2009, when our relationship started intensifying, the expectations were very high, and for very objective reasons many of those expectations have been disappointed. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater; if you really look at new jobs being created, the new SMEs, new possibilities, I think this puts into place the seeds of something which can really develop.
I think also that for the transformation of society the development of a middle class will be a key issue, because middle classes also demand a better rule of law, they take more ownership of their societies, so this is why I’m especially attached to what we’re doing in the development of small- and medium-sized enterprises.
This interview has been produced by the EU Neighbours East project
EU Neighbours youtube channel - full video version of the interview