When asked about her vision for the future of Moldova, Maia Sandu is clear — perhaps brutally so.
She says only a “cleansing of the political class” will solve Moldova’s problems, which Sandu claims centre on migration, corruption and weak state institutions.
It hasnt been so long since Sandu was part of that political class. She was education minister between 2012 and 2015 and then — between June and November 2019 — prime minister, until she was ousted after a vote of no confidence in the Moldovan parliament.
But the pro-European former World Bank adviser, 48, is attempting a return to politics. On November 1 she is challenging Igor Dodon, president since 2016, for Moldovas top job.
Like many countries of the Balkans and eastern Europe, Moldova is torn between two forces: to its west, Romania and Europe and to its east, Russia. Dodon is unashamedly pro-Russian and has gone out of his way to cultivate ties with Vladimir Putin.
By contrast, Sandu is seen as the pro-Europe candidate, seeing the future path of Moldova to the experience of neighbouring Romania in terms of European integration.
“We are primarily interested in implementing the provisions of the Association Agreement with the EU, which aims to improve the quality of governance, institutions, welfare and security of citizens,” Sandu told Euronews.
‘A free and prosperous European country’
She sees Moldovas future along the same path as Romania, in terms of European integration. Moldova signed an Association Agreement with the EU in 2014 after an economic embargo against the country by Russia. Now, 70 per cent of Moldovan exports go to European markets.
“Moldovan citizens have felt European support over the years; they have seen the EU send aid, funds, and resources. Especially during this pandemic, the Romanian and European support was beneficial,” she said.
“People see the differences, and they want to live in a free and prosperous European country. And we are ready to put our shoulder to this change.”
Even for a small country, Moldovan pro-European parties are well connected in Brussels. In a recent intervention, the EPP leader Donald Tusk vouched for Maia Sandu.
“When someone asks me in Europe if it is worth supporting Moldova, I immediately answer: Yes! And when someone is asked who can lead Moldova to success the fastest, I immediately answer: Maia Sandu.”, said Tusk, in a video message in Romanian.
But since 1991 when Moldova declared its independence from the Soviet Union, links to the West and particularly to NATO has been used by pro-Russian or nationalists politicians to scare specific categories of citizens in Moldovan society. In reality, Sandu says, Moldovas links with the transatlantic alliance have always been strong, regardless of the party in power.
“Dodon is trying to exploit these fears to mobilise his electorate. However, there is a dose of hypocrisy because Moldova has institutional ties with the North Atlantic alliance. In recent years several governments […] have accepted collaboration with NATO,” she said.
And even if Brussels has had notable failures in the Western Balkans when it comes to its next wave of expansion, Sandu remains optimistic about Moldovas future in Europe.
“We are not Eurosceptics to focus on the alleged failures of the European project in Western Balkans,” she said.
“We understand that the evolution of any political entity, including the EU, has its sinuous periods. Still, we, as an aspiring state, want to look at things in their positive dynamics.”
If elected, Sandu wants to rebuild the relations with neighbouring Romania and Ukraine, which have been damaged by Dodon, who has not visited either country since he was elected in 2016.
“It is time to relaunch a dynamic, responsible foreign policy, for the benefit of the Moldovan citizens. We do not intend to focus only on strengthening relations with development partners in the West, and we will also work on solving problems in relations with the Russian Federation, starting from the interest of our citizens,” she said.
‘Belarus should be a warning for Moldova’
The difference of opinion between Sandu and her rival for the presidency is no less obvious than in their relative reactions to Belarus, with Dodon among very few leaders to congratulate Alexander Lukashenko for his success in recent elections, widely believed to be rigged.
Belarus, which has seen weeks of protests by Belarusians angered by Lukashenkos “win”, also serves as a warning for Moldova, she said.
“The events in Belarus become extremely relevant for Moldova. The message coming from Belarus is that today there is ‘zero tolerance’ for the fraud of the popular will,” she said.
As well as the presidential election on November 1, Sandu has an eye on parliamentary elections that will come soon after.
“The current parliament no longer represents the will of the people and has lost its legitimacy, because the actions of the deputies are dictated by interest groups, and not by the national interest, especially considering a large number of defecting deputies,” she said.
Moldova is currently ruled by a coalition of two centre-left parties, the pro-Russian Socialist Party (PSRM) and the Democratic Party (PDM), formerly led by oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc, who is currently fighting extradition to Moldova from the US on fraud charges.
The ruling coalition has just 51 deputies out of 101, making a change of government likely.
That said, like other countries in the Balkans, Moldova is split down the middle, with half the country looking towards Russia and the other half towards Romania and the EU.
Sandu believes that despite this division, a shared desire for a better life could bring Moldovans together on November 1.
“The divisions in our society have always suited only corrupt politicians,” Sandu said.
“We are convinced that they all want to live better and we rely on the support of all those who are tired of poverty.”
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Covid: Thousands protest in France against proposed new vaccine pass
A new draft law would in effect ban unvaccinated people from public life.
Demonstrators in the capital, Paris, held placards emblazoned with phrases like “no to vaccine passes”.
Interior Ministry officials said 34 people were arrested and some 10 police officers were injured after the protests turned violent in some places.
The bill, which passed its first reading in the lower house of France’s parliament on Thursday, would remove the option of showing a negative Covid-19 test to gain access to a host of public venues.
Instead, people would have to be fully vaccinated to visit a range of spaces, including bars and restaurants.
The government says it expects the new rules to come into force on 15 January, although the opposition-dominated Senate could delay the process.
But demonstrators on Saturday accused the government of trampling on their freedoms and treating citizens unequally.
Others targeted their anger at the president, Emmanuel Macron, over comments he made earlier this week in relation to unvaccinated citizens, telling Le Parisian newspaper that he wanted to “piss them off”.
One protester, hospital administrator Virginie Houget, told the Reuters news agency that Mr Macron’s remarks were “the last straw”.
And in Paris, where some 18,000 people marched against the new law, demonstrators responded to his coarse language by chanting: “We’ll piss you off”.
TV images showed altercations between protesters and police turning violent in some places. In Montpellier officers used teargas during clashes with the demonstrators.
Turnout for the protests was estimated to be about four times higher than the last major demonstrations on 18 December, when some 25,500 people marched across the country.
But despite the vocal protests, opposition to the new measures is not widespread and recent polling suggests the vast majority of people back the vaccine pass.
France is one of the most highly vaccinated countries in Europe, with more than 90% of over-12s eligible for the shot fully vaccinated.
Meanwhile, new coronavirus infections are rising rapidly across France as the new Omicron variant takes hold.
The country recorded more than 300,000 new cases for the second time in a week on Friday and admissions to intensive care wards are rising steadily, putting healthcare systems under strain.
Some hospitals have reported that some 85% of ICU patients are not vaccinated against Covid-19.
Covid-19: ‘There is no choice between lives and livelihoods,’ OECD chief Gurría says
Issued on: 13/11/2020 – 17:26
As European countries move into their second Covid-19 lockdowns of t..
Issued on: 13/11/2020 – 17:26
As European countries move into their second Covid-19 lockdowns of the year, the head of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development backs measures seen by many as tough. Ángel Gurría tells FRANCE 24: "If you win the battle against the virus first, you will have less economic consequences." He adds that "there is no choice between lives and livelihoods; it's a false dilemma".
Mexican economist Ángel Gurría has been Secretary-General of the OECD since 2006 – throughout the global financial crash and subsequent recovery.
With hopes now high for viable vaccines against Covid-19, he's telling world leaders that the solutions to health and economic crises must carry the elements of our solutions to the environmental crisis too: "The single most important inter-generational responsibility is with the planet. That means the recovery, where we are going to make investments that have an impact for the next 30, 40 years, must absolutely have the sustainability of the planet in mind".
On the recently announced Pfizer vaccine, Gurría says: "It is a game changer […] The possibility of a vaccine being close is of enormous consequence. We still have to wait for it to be finalised, approved and distributed in sufficient amounts that it can get everywhere, so we are calculating that we are going to spend most of 2021 still living with the virus. But it changes expectations; the whole mood has improved considerably since the announcement."
On the refusal of Donald Trump, leader of the OECD's biggest single funder, to concede defeat in the US presidential election, Gurría sounds an upbeat note: "I believe that we will have an orderly transition of power in the United States come 20th January 2021. I believe in the institutions in the United States, I believe that the political forces in the United States will eventually align."
Finally, as talks drag on over a new Brexit deal on the future relationship between the EU and the United Kingdom, Gurría says he still expects a deal to be struck: "I believe that the common interest will lead to a deal […] The impact in Europe is going to be limited to the trade with the UK. The impact in the UK is going to be very serious, not only because of the flows of trade and flows of investment, but also because the overall business mood will be affected. So I am still counting on a deal."
Produced by Mathilde Bénézet
Attacks in France and Austria: Europe’s response to extremism
Issued on: 13/11/2020 – 17:40Modified: 13/11/2020 – 17:42
TALKING EUROPE © FRANCE 24
Issued on: 13/11/2020 – 17:40Modified: 13/11/2020 – 17:42
This Friday marks the fifth anniversary of the Paris terror attacks, in which 130 people were killed. The last few weeks have seen more bloodshed, with attacks in the Paris region, in Nice and in the Austrian capital Vienna. European leaders are looking for solutions: ways to stop hate being preached, broadcast and acted upon, while defending individual freedoms of speech and of conscience. In our debate we ask two leading members of the European Parliament, from France and from Austria, what they believe should be done.
Produced by Yi Song and Perrine Desplats
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- Andreas SCHIEDER, Austrian MEP, Socialists & Democrats
- Nathalie LOISEAU, French MEP, Renew Europe