The far right is endangering Romania’s role as a strategic partner in Eastern Europe

Ivo Kesler argues that Romania’s emerging role as a strategic asset in Eastern Europe will be compromised if the far-right party AUR wins the next parliamentary elections. Romania's role as Moldova’s most important supporter and promoter could come to an end

2023 enlargement package

Moldova’s EU integration is in danger. The European Commission recently directed European Union leaders to start formal talks about the formal accession of Ukraine and Moldova. The Commission’s 2023 Enlargement Package also recommends granting candidate status to Georgia, and opening accession negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina:

Completing our Union is the best investment in peace, security and prosperity for our continent and this year’s package sets out major steps forward

High Representative Josep Borrell, november 2023

For those supporting EU integration, the enlargement package is indeed a major step in the right direction. But an electoral victory for the far-right Romanian party AUR would upset everything.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of the enlargement package, especially given the current difficulties resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But the obstacles in the way of EU integration are many.

Moldova’s rocky EU integration

For Moldova, already dealing with the breakaway state of Transnistria, Romania’s internal politics should be worrying. The internationally unrecognised state of Transnistria, between the Dniester River to the west and the Ukrainian border to the east, has, thanks to Russian support, remained de facto independent since 1992. There are currently around 1,500 Russian troops in the separatist region.

Russia exploits Transnistria’s frozen conflict to exert pressure for reincorporation of the region into Moldova, thus tipping the electoral scale to its advantage. This is feasible, because Moldova has alternated between pro-Russia and pro-Europe governments. But Maia Sandu, Moldova’s current president, is very much pro-Europe, and her movement has gained considerable support. Russia’s bet on Transnistria, therefore, might not come to fruition. Depending on Putin’s next steps, Moldova’s national security could be seriously threatened. Russia has already interfered in Moldova's elections, and even attempted to stage coups.

Parliamentary elections

Parliamentary elections in Romania are scheduled for early 2025 but will probably coincide with the 2024 presidential elections in either November or December. Political instability, corruption, inflation, and the war in Ukraine are all creating fertile ground for the far-right party AUR.

Since 2014, Romania has experienced thirteen changes of government and seventeen different prime ministers. Concomitantly, broken coalitions, political infighting, and mainstream party voter-loss has laid the ground for AUR’s growing popularity.

Polls indicate a highly fractured party-system. AUR currently stands in second place, with 20% of the vote, after the Social Democratic Party. AUR has overtaken the National Liberal Party (PNL), which would now poll third. Right now, PSD and PNL could barely form a coalition on their own. Of course, the geopolitical, economic, and societal situation might still change. But past events suggest we should assume the worst.

AUR openly denies Moldova’s right to existence, and its sovereignty. What will happen to Moldova if Romania elects AUR?

AUR’s polling data indicates the party's growing popularity. As they have done in the past, AUR will undoubtedly profit from Romania's current instability. Amid this bleak political landscape, Moldova begins its accession process.

AUR openly denies Moldova’s right to existence, and its sovereignty. What will happen if AUR gets elected? What will EU integration look like with a governing party whose sole purpose is to reincorporate Moldova into Romania? Romania’s growing importance as a geopolitical power in the region, and a reliable EU and NATO partner, sit at odds with the country's internal instability. Tumultuous domestic politics will affect Romania’s international aspirations.

AUR and Moldova

AUR does not recognise Moldova as a sovereign country. If it wins the next election, Romania’s relationship with Moldova will suffer, and Moldova's path towards EU membership will be difficult, if not impossible. Only by reining in AUR, and addressing deeply rooted and contested issues such as Romania’s role in World War Two and the fascist Legionary movement, can Moldova smooth its path towards EU membership.

AUR leader and founder George Simion is banned from entering Moldova. The government fears the 'endangerment of national security'. This sums up the party's relationship with Moldova.

The Moldovan government has banned AUR leader George Simion from entering Moldova, fearing the 'endangerment of national security'

Bilateral relations between Romania and Moldova have improved significantly over recent years, and Romania has advanced cooperation, economic and political. Romania positioned itself as a strong partner with good intentions towards Moldova, supporting the country in its EU accession process.

But this progress could be reversed if AUR’s growing popularity results in an electoral victory. The internal instability of Romania's political system could compromise yet further the country's role as a strategic asset in the region.

Moldova’s path towards EU membership is closely related to that of Ukraine. In both cases, Russia is trying to reverse the countries' Westernising trajectory. Russia did not invade Moldova, but the loaded situation in Transnistria, which basically amounts to an occupation, along with Russia's constant efforts to destabilise the country, show just how important a target Moldova is. Romania’s help and support are essential. If AUR remains true to its ideology, the implications for Moldova would be disastrous.

Romania, AUR and Ukraine

Romania’s emerging role as a geopolitical actor during the Ukraine war has been crucial. Electoral success for AUR would reverse this achievement. AUR is pro-Putin and spreads Russian propaganda. Relying on the party to further support Ukraine and NATO interests in the region would be wishful thinking indeed. Programmes such as the establishment of training centres for Ukrainian F-16 pilots would simply cease to exist.

For the West, losing Romania through political instability, low voter turnout, and a rising far-right movement, means losing a key geopolitical partner.

This article presents the views of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the ECPR or the Editors of The Loop.

Author

photograph of Ivo Kesler
Ivo Kesler
Undergraduate Researcher, University of Vienna

Ivo writes about the far-right and authoritarianism in Central and Eastern Europe, with a focus on Hungary and Romania.

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